A Recap of the War in Ukraine: a succinct summary of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and what lies ahead

Gonzalo Lira, “A Recap of the War in Ukraine” (Twitter, 26 April 2022)

For those people confused by the sudden invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine or suspicious of the reporting on the intervention in the Western news media, a quick recapitulation / summary was helpfully provided by Gonzalo Lira on his Twitter account on 26 April 2022. Lira is a Chilean-American citizen currently in Kharkov in north-eastern Ukraine where he has lived with his Ukrainian wife and children for some years. Lira rose to prominence as an online citizen journalist with the outbreak of hostilities in late February after Russian forces entered Ukraine for reporting what was actually happening around him in Kiev (where he happened to be at the start of hostilities) and then later in Kharkov on his YouTube channel. Western audiences aware of the disinformation being pushed on them by Western MSM outlets began following Lira and soon alternative news media websites began featuring his reports and interviewing him. His profile rose even more when he failed to turn up to a Zoom interview with British journalist George Galloway on 17 April 2022 and for several days he did not post anything to YouTube or Twitter, causing alarm among his audience who feared he had been arrested, tortured and even murdered by the feared Ukrainian SBU or neo-Nazi gangs. The Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed his disappearance after searching for him. On 22 April 2022, Gonzalo Lira announced through an interview conducted by Alex Christoforou of The Duran that he was alive and well, and had been detained by the SBU since 15 April 2022. As far as I am aware, Lira is currently under house arrest in Kharkov and has lost access to his mobile phone, computer and his social media accounts.

On 26 April 2022 Lira put out no fewer than 24 tweets summarising what has happened so far in Ukraine since 24 February 2022 when Russian forces entered Ukraine from northeast, east and south of Ukraine’s borders. The tweets have been compiled into an article by Bernhard H at his Moon of Alabama blog for easier reading. Lira noted that Russia invaded the country with 190,000 troops against 250,000 combat troops fielded by Ukraine: a figure contrary to what most military strategists would have advised governments intending to invade other countries – a ratio of 3:1 would have been advised, in other words, Russia should have fielded an invasion force of 750,000. 30,000 Russian troops were placed near Kiev: not enough to capture the city but enough to pin down 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and stop them from joining Ukrainian troops amassing in eastern Ukraine and preparing to launch a massive blitzkrieg invasion of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. This blitzkrieg campaign was the immediate reason for Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, to pre-empt this invasion after eight years of harassment of the breakaway republics that resulted in the deaths of 14,000 people in their territories. By attacking from the north and south as well, the Russians cut off supply lines from western Ukraine – supply lines that would have been fed by NATO countries bordering western Ukraine – and effectively isolating Ukrainian forces in the east. Surrounding Kiev was a brilliant feint, tying up Ukrainian forces there and compelling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to flee to Poland.

The Russians had hoped to pressure Zelensky to negotiate a political settlement that would allow Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts and other oblasts in eastern and southern Ukraine to decide on their future, whether they wished to remain in a federal Ukraine, form a new country or join Russia. Under pressure from the West however, Zelensky refused to negotiate and instead (probably with help from outside) launched a massive propaganda campaign to motivate Ukrainian forces to fight to the death, demoralise Russian forces and get money and weapons from the West: this campaign included fake stories about an ace fighter pilot called the Ghost of Kyiv shooting down Russian fighter jets and deliberate staged murders of civilians in Bucha and a missile attack on people at a train station in Kramatorsk. These outrageous acts of brutal violence and others carried out by Ukrainian forces, neo-Nazi battalions and/or armed gangs were blamed on Russian forces and Western mainstream news media dutifully reported the Ukrainian version of the events.

However Kiev’s refusal to negotiate and Western economic and financial sanctions on Russia – which have hurt Russia’s economy but only temporarily, after Russia announced that everyone buying its gas had to pay in roubles (thus sending the value of the rouble back to the level it had before 24 February 2022) – have apparently led the Russians to change their lightning raids and feinting, and adopt a different strategy in which they intend to hold onto the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. If Lira is correct, this would deprive the rump Ukraine access to the Black Sea and Russian-held territory would reach as far as Transnistria in Moldova and Odessa near Romania. The richest parts of pre-2022 Ukraine, agriculturally and industrially, would be claimed by Russia. Hungary might claim the Transcarpathian oblast in far western Ukraine where Hungarian communities live. Poland would claim Volhynia and Halychyna (Galicia) in north-western and western Ukraine, these areas having been part of the old Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth before the 1800s and then part of a reconstructed Poland between World Wars I and II. Significantly Volhynia and Halychyna are hotbeds of neo-Nazi extremism, this phenomenon having had its roots during Polish rule in the early 20th century when forced Polonisation aroused resentment among Ukrainians and encouraged them to form nationalist political movements. Good luck to Poland if it can hang onto these areas!

So far Lira has given a succinct summary of the war in Ukraine, the reasons for Russia’s invasion and the reaction of Kiev to the invasion and its obstinacy in refusing to negotiate despite losing thousands of soldiers and the total destruction of its materiel, not to mention its economy, and the Moon of Alabama blog has made the summary more accessible to readers. Initially the Russians were careful not to destroy Ukrainian civilian infrastructures but in their new strategy they may destroy those civilian structures and networks being used by Ukrainian forces and their NATO allies to maintain supply lines. The Ukrainians themselves may even destroy their own civilian infrastructures in order to use the materials for war purposes.

Lira ends his tweets musing on the senseless waste of human lives and potential, and the equally stupid destruction of a nation, however unstable it was originally when it became independent in 1991, by a government led by an incompetent President egged on by Western nations (mainly the United States) that were only interested in harvesting Ukrainian resources for their own elites. The greed, stupidity and short-sightedness of the West, in expanding NATO into eastern Europe right up to Russia’s western borders (despite having promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s / early 1990s that NATO would not expand any farther into central and eastern Europe after the reunification of East and West Germany) and encouraging neo-Nazi infiltration in Ukraine’s government and security agencies, at the cost of stability and even the lives of thousands in eastern Ukraine, have been on full display over the past three decades.

Before he began living in Ukraine, Gonzalo Lira had been a film-maker and writer (with three novels to his name) in the United States and Chile. He began publishing economic analyses in 2010 and contributed the same to other blogs such as Naked Capitalism. By 2017 he was active on social media under the monicker Coach Red Pill. Lira is obviously a highly restless and curious character, not always careful or conscientious as demonstrated by his dubious collaboration with Australian economist Steve Keen, and his chameleon past and mercurial ways have put him in the right spot at the right time to finally make his reputation.

The Military Situation in The Ukraine: background to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Western complicity in it

Jacques Baud, “The Military Situation in The Ukraine” (1 April 2022)

In the wake of Russia’s demilitarisation / de-Nazification campaign in Ukraine that began on 24 February 2022, many people in the West have been scrambling to understand the background of the Russia-Ukraine conflict as the Western mainstream news media can only offer little apart from the parroting of government propaganda and superficial analysis based on limited or prejudiced information. An online article by Jacques Baud, a former NATO military analyst and intelligence officer from Switzerland, titled “The Military Situation in The Ukraine” has become quite popular among various alternative news media websites and blogs for many reasons: it gives a good outline of the roots of the conflict starting in February 2014 with the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych by extreme nationalists and their allies in the country secretly backed by the US and its allies in NATO and the EU; it deals with the immediate causes of the conflict that led to Russia taking the decision to intervene in Ukraine at the request of the breakaway Donbass republics Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine; and it explains what is actually happening as part of Russia’s demilitarisation and de-Nazification plans. Along the way Baud skewers the Western narrative of Russian invasion of Ukraine to install an authoritarian regime loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and exposes deliberate Western ignorance of the 8-year civil war in the Donbass region during which the post-Maidan government in Kiev killed some 14,000 people in that part of Ukraine and the Western cover-up of neo-Nazi infiltration of the Ukrainian government and those of its forces and agencies concerned with the country’s defence and security. Baud demonstrates that behind the Western agenda is the goal of overthrowing the Russian government itself and replacing it with a puppet government that would enable Western governments and corporations to plunder Russian lands and resources at the expense of the Russian people.

The article is very straightforward and easy to read though readers unfamiliar with the recent history of Ukraine might have to re-read it a few times and consult other independent sources that confirm what Baud says. Baud leads off with the situation in Ukraine just after Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014 and the new government that replaces him made Ukrainian the sole official language and outlawed the use of Russian and other minority languages. The new law caused outrage among the Russian-speaking population in eastern and southern Ukraine, leading to repressive actions against them by the new Kiev regime. In March 2014, after an incident at Korsun in which a passenger bus convoy returning to Crimea from supporting Yanukovych in Kiev during the Maidan protests was ambushed by neo-Nazis who then tortured and killed several passengers, the Crimean Parliament held an independence referendum which was supported by voters. After declaring its independence from Ukraine, Crimea then asked Moscow to be accepted into the Russian Federation. On 18 March 2014, Crimea became part of Russia. Parts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts declared themselves People’s Republics and Kiev moved to suppress these republics with military force and violence. Over the summer of 2014, Kiev fought a hot war against Donetsk and Lugansk which the breakaway republics unexpectedly won thanks to (as Baud sees it) the defection of Russian-speaking Ukrainian military units to their side, bringing with them weapons, tanks and ammunition.

While Ukraine then signed the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements that guaranteed the autonomy of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics within its borders, the country consistently refused to carry out its part of those agreements with encouragement from the US (and probably other nations in NATO). At the same time, with the Ukrainian armed forces in a demoralised, corrupt state, Kiev resorted to the use of paramilitary forces composed of foreign mercenaries (many of them fervidly fascist / neo-Nazi in their ideological orientation) armed and trained by the US, the UK, France and Canada, to harass and violently abuse those breakaway republics.

The accession of Crimea to Russia was never accepted by Kiev or the West and in March 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree to regain Crimea and began building up military forces in southern Ukraine. In early 2022, Kiev began making preparations for a military assault on Donbass with an increase in shelling against the people living there. These actions led to the Kremlin in Moscow recognising the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and to organise an intervention in Ukraine under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. All this was deliberately never reported in Western mainstream news media, as part of a general propaganda campaign to mislead the general public in the West into believing that Russia was illegally invading Ukraine.

So far Russia’s conduct during its demilitarisation / de-Nazification campaign has been steady if gradual so as to minimise civilian casualties and where possible preserve industrial, commercial and residential buildings and infrastructure. On the other hand, Ukrainian forces (especially the paramilitary forces) have been brutal and violent, employing tactics hitherto the preserve of ISIS and their fellow jihadists in the so-called Syrian Civil War (2011 – 2017) which might suggest that the same people who taught the jihadists their violent methods taught the Ukrainian neo-Nazi fanatics the same. Baud uses the example of the siege and destruction of the maternity hospital in Mariupol to illustrate Ukrainian sadism and aggression: militants of the notorious neo-Nazi Azov Battalion took over the hospital, throwing out the civilian occupants including pregnant women. In Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities, Ukrainian militias have been treating civilians as hostages or using them as human shields.

In his conclusion Baud examines the conduct of the West, principally the United States, towards both Russia and Ukraine and finds that Western leaders have consistently egged on Ukraine in provoking a conflict with Russia, even as such provocations have led to increasing instability in Ukraine. At the same time poverty is increasing in Ukraine, young people in the country are voting with their feet to find work, and the natural gas pipeline network (on which Ukraine is dependent as a transit country for income) and other major infrastructures are deteriorating. The questions Baud poses for us Western readers are deeply troubling for they expose Western hypocrisy, arrogance, ignorance and stupidity in using Ukraine as a pawn and tool to provoke Russia into a war that is sure to devastate not just Ukraine but much of continental Europe itself.

Baud’s argument might have been stronger had he gone into some detail about the interest of the US State Department and individuals like Anthony Blinken and Victoria Nuland in fomenting conflict and war between Ukraine and Russia; likewise he could have said something about the artificial nature of modern-day Ukraine itself and how that contributes to the country’s instability. Ukraine’s domination by diaspora politicians or politicians married to US State Department employees, pursuing their own interests or US interests rather than the interests of the Ukrainian people, is also significant. It is likely though that such information might bog down his article unnecessarily and obscure the aim of his article which is to call out Western hypocrisy and disinformation in the way the West deals with Russia and Ukraine.

Obstacles to the China Path in Latin America: a talk that fails to address the elephant north of Latin America

Paul Cockshott, “Obstacles to the China Path in Latin America” (19 December 2021)

This video is a recording of a brief talk that UK economics academic Paul Cockshott gave to a panel at the World Association of Political Economy in Shanghai, in December 2021. The talk is accompanied by a small series of slides which essentially illustrate significant points in Cockshott’s talk. The main thrust of this brief lecture is that without significant land reform in Latin America, the continent will be unable to replicate China’s path from poverty in the 1970s to global success with the world’s largest economy and largest middle class – and the political clout that goes with that economic success – in the space of roughly 45 years.

In his talk, Cockshott quotes from 18th-century British classical economists Adam Smith and David Richardo, both of whom noted that in a society where the bulk of national income or the income from production goes to a landlord class that spends the income on unproductive uses (such as gambling, property speculation or spending on luxury goods), there is little capital accumulation that can be directed into investing in production. Production cannot expand and new jobs cannot be created for workers. In a later century, Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto wrote that the unproductive landlord class had to be abolished through heavy progressive taxation, the abolition of inheritance rights and the abolition of property in land, with rent income from land to be used for public purposes. These principles were followed by the Communist Party of China after 1949, with rent income going to communes for local investment purposes or, in the form of taxes, to the government for national public projects; the result has been that China has been able to accumulate large amounts of capital necessary for investment in major economic projects and enterprises, both public and private. In turn, labour productivity rises, new jobs are created, the demand for labour rises rapidly, and real wages (what people are able to buy with the money they earn) rise quickly as well.

There are other principles that Marx noted in The Communist Manifesto – the centralisation of credit in the form of a national bank controlled by the State; State centralisation of the means of communication and transport; extending factories and State-owned instruments of production by improving soils and bringing waste-lands into productive use – which the CPC has also followed, with the State controlling or regulating China’s financial industry and transport networks, investing in or controlling essential industries, and carrying large-scale conservation projects that have turned huge areas of desert into forest and land that can be cultivated.

For Cockshott, the path that Latin American nations need to follow is clear: these nations must do what China did and get rid of their unproductive, parasitic and corrupt landowning classes (who may also dominate politics and the media, financial and transport industries) and establish governments under the leadership of workers and peasants.

Unfortunately in his brief talk, Cockshott does not say how the power of the landowners in nations like Brazil, Chile or Ecuador can be broken and transferred to the working classes; neither does he note that all Latin American nations may have distinctive characteristics that mean that following China’s path precisely may either be difficult or need to follow a different path. The failure of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to revive agriculture in his country and make it more self-sufficient in staple foodstuffs because, among other things, the oil industry offered more money and easier working conditions to labourers illustrates that Venezuela’s particular path must take a direction that acknowledges the country’s particular characteristics and economic context in which dependence on energy resources will hamper efforts towards economic autarky. Above all, in carrying out revolutionary economic reforms aiming at redistributing wealth, especially land, among the working classes and being able to control credit and capital accumulation for investment purposes, Latin American nations risk the ire of a huge and jealous power to their north, one that will not hesitate to overthrow their governments either directly or indirectly and replace them with governments that maintain corrupt elites whom that jealous power the United States can control.

On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today): a vision and path for capitalist societies towards Communism

Paul Cockshott, “On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today)” (25 June 2021)

In response to a request, UK computer scientist / Marxist economist Paul Cockshott produced a slideshow presentation on what he believes a new Communist program (that is, one that transforms a society from capitalism to Communism) should involve. His presentation is structured chronologically, starting with the founding documents of Communism written by Karl Marx in 1848, and moving through the experience and failure of liberal democratic parliamentary systems and Soviet-style Communism to the current global environmental crisis created by neoliberal political / economic ideologies. Cockshott then alights on why Communism is needed and what its goals are: because the capitalist classes are organised internationally, working classes must also be organised internationally; because the control of science and technologies is in the hands of the capitalists, they are able to use such knowledge and tools to reshape the world according to their own narrow vision with the result that socio-economic inequalities are rising, working classes are becoming more impoverished and global ecosystems are suffering.

Cockshott is careful to distinguish among different groups of “socialists” such as reactionary socialists who use the language and tools of socialism against Communism (examples being the National Socialists of Germany in the mid 20th century); bourgeois socialists who demand a cradle-to-grave welfare-net socialism (that benefits them and which they can deny to working classes if the latter don’t vote the way they are expected to) while retaining capitalist structures and institutions; and classical social democrats who want some Communist measures to patch the loopholes of capitalist structures and existing constitutional systems. From there, Cockshott outlines a vision of Communist economy and society in which digital technologies can be used to restructure resource allocation, production and distribution of goods and services, and how these are accessed by the public according to its needs. Money as it is currently used, the debt-based systems that generate and circulate money and the global financial structures based on those systems will be abolished.

Cockshott then explains how modern States arose and how current political systems are structured to protect the interests of the wealthy and the classes that support them. He goes on to outline what changes are needed for political systems and their institutions to represent working classes and serve their interests. These changes are far-ranging and include changes to the judicial and legal systems, the educational systems from elementary education upwards, and the armed forces and security forces including the police. Cockshott advocates for land nationalisation and economic rents to be paid to local communities. Essential infrastructure and the creation and circulation of money, credit or their fungible equivalents should be centralised under public control.

The presentation ends very abruptly which I find a pity as Cockshott provides no explanation as to how such changes can be brought about and moreover can be sustained in the face of a vicious backlash by capitalist classes and their allies, some of whom will claim to be “socialist”, even “Communist”. As the long history of Western social democracy and its erosion and corruption by neoliberalism, and the failure of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union illustrate, those tasked with maintaining socialist and Communist systems and institutions can easily become a new wealthy class identifying with those they are supposed to combat. State-controlled infrastructures can be privatised, their assets sold off and the people working within them made unemployed. The constant struggle of Communist and socialist governments and systems in nations like China, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela to rediscover their original goals and visions, relearn hard lessons and remake themselves where necessary surely serves as a warning to us all.

AUKUS and the danger of war: a persuasive if simplistic argument on the stupidity of the AUKUS pact

Paul Cockshott, “AUKUS and the danger of war” (23 September 2021)

After a Twitter exchange on whether the US was in a fit state militarily to challenge China, and in the wake of the AUKUS naval and defence pact formed by the US, the UK and Australia – it should have been called USUKA but AUKUS flows more mellifluously than “you-suck-ah” – in September 2021, with the pact’s first initiative being to supply nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy (and those submarines to be purportedly built in Adelaide, compelling Australia to break its current contract with France to build 12 diesel submarines), Scottish computer scientist / economist Paul Cockshott created a slideshow explaining how the AUKUS alliance endangers Australia and the US in the event of a war with China in the western Pacific Ocean region. The slideshow demonstrates how dependent Australia will be on the UK and the US in obtaining highly enriched nuclear fuel to power the submarines (and the proliferation risks involved, since enriched nuclear fuel can be used to make bombs) as Australia lacks the know-how and the infrastructure (including nuclear plants) needed to enrich the fuel. From there Cockshott looks at why, after 70 years, Britain has suddenly decided to sell Australia its nuclear technology and expertise, and concludes from examining speeches made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory MP (and Johnson’s predecessor as Prime Minister) Theresa May that the reason for Australia having nuclear-powered submarines, as they are designed for attack and not defence purposes, is that they ultimately will be part of a US-led naval blockade of China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan based on Western assumptions that China will invade Taiwan – even though over the past 70 years China has respected Taiwan’s physical, political and economic integrity to the extent that China’s hi-tech industries depend on Taiwan for its semiconductors and other raw materials, and tourists, business people and others regularly travel from one country to the other quite freely.

After reaching this conclusion as to the purpose of AUKUS, Cockshott spends the rest of his presentation examining the most likely course of a war between China and AUKUS, and makes his case that a Western blockade of China would be extremely risky and hazardous to AUKUS forces. China would quickly establish air and sea dominance over Taiwan’s territory (including airspace and maritime territory) and US support would be limited to the kind of hurried airlift “rescues” of US citizens seen recently in Kabul when the puppet Ghani government there collapsed in the wake of the Taliban’s peaceful victory in Afghanistan. A possible US attack on China itself, on the assumption that US forces can break through Chinese air and sea defences, is shown to be nigh impossible due to the severe decline in US military capabilities and the advanced age of US bomber planes since 1945. An economic blockade based either on blocking trade routes in Southeast Asia or on sanctions on nations trading with China would disrupt economies all over the world – and encourage even more integration of the Eurasian continent in China’s Belt Road Initiative to circumvent a blockade or sanctions. Cockshott looks at the shipbuilding capabilities of the combatants and finds that China’s shipbuilding capabilities far outstrip those of the US. South Korea would most likely declare neutrality in the war but in the event that Seoul is compelled to side with AUKUS, South Korea would be exposed to attack from North Korea and China.

The result is that the economies of the AUKUS members and any others participating in the war against China will be severely damaged, so much so that their societies and politics will become unstable and the very polities themselves liable to break up. They will lose cultural prestige as well and the very concept of Western liberal democracy – itself hazy and contradictory with its emphasis on free markets unhindered by government oversight and regulation – will be discredited. While China and its allies will also suffer economic damage, they will be in a better position to recover through China’s BRI.

While Cockshott’s presentation is well set out if a bit slow and repetitive, it does appear simplistic to the point where the figures and facts he pulls out look cherry-picked. In a real war, China would have Russian support which could include Russia cutting off natural gas supplies to the UK. An economic blockade initiated by China or Russia of the UK and any European countries allied with that nation and involved in the US war against China could strain relations among them and among other things encourage the British public to turn against London, especially as (with the phasing out of the use of older fossil fuel technologies like coal-dependent technologies) Europe is becoming more and more dependent on importing Russian natural gas. The Taiwanese people themselves, as opposed to their government, might prefer Beijing’s domination to the extent that their forces might pledge to fight on the Chinese side. Australia itself will be a target for attacks and economic blockades and sanctions from China, Russia and their allies, and Australians themselves would have to choose whether remaining part of AUKUS or any alliance with the US is worth risking their future for.

At the same time Cockshott’s presentation is silent on China’s submarine capabilities against future combined AUKUS submarine attacks. One could argue though that there are many ways to fight “hot” wars and not all of them have to be purely military, let alone match one nation’s sub-set of military weapons against another’s exact equivalent. For China, the war AUKUS will wage against it will be a defensive war and defence calls for different strategies and the necessary tactics and hardware those require: the problem is how varied and how deep China’s defensive capabilities are, and if they can withstand the offensive strategies and capabilities of the AUKUS alliance. Cockshott’s presentation suggests that China will have more flexibility and more strategies, tactics and weapons (especially soft non-military weapons) at hand than the AUKUS alliance will.

The issue that remains is why Australian political and defence elites were so stupid and idiotic to sleepwalk into a pact that robs Australia of any sovereignty over its land, sea and air territory, and ultimately puts their own survival in doubt.

Unadulterated Propaganda versus Accuracy: Alexei Navalny versus the ‘underpants poisoner’

Latika Bourke, “Alexei Navalny versus the ‘underpants poisoner'” (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 2021)

As examples of crude mainstream media propaganda bashing Russia and in particular the Russian President Vladimir Putin go, few breathlessly pack in as many lies and falsehoods as this article for the Sydney Morning Herald by British-based Australian journalist Latika Bourke. The online article reads like a story written for primary school-age children but the print article in the Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald is hardly much better when it comes to patronising its readers.

Firstly Navalny is claimed to be a thorn in Putin’s side, though the evidence Bourke puts up to justify this is assumed when it is really non-existent. The incident in which Navalny was supposedly poisoned with Novichok while on a plane from Tomsk to Moscow in August 2020 has yet to be investigated by police and examined in a court of law because Russian authorities are still waiting for German authorities to pass on their evidence that Navalny was indeed poisoned with the nerve agent. The film that Navalny recently made purporting to show that a palace in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast in southern Russia is owned by Putin has been debunked by Russian journalists who visited the palace and discovered that it is actually a luxury five-star hotel still under construction and owned by Russian billionaire businessman Arkady Rotenberg. (A video of the building can be viewed here.)

Bourke then goes on to give a potted history of Navalny starting with his blogging activities in which he presents as an anti-corruption campaigner targeting corruption in government-owned companies. He did this by buying shares in various enterprises so he could get access to company financial reports and attend shareholder meetings, and also by establishing his Anti-Corruption Foundation (its Russian acronym is FBK) to compile reports from ordinary citizens of everyday government corruption. Along the way Navalny collected over six million YouTube subscribers and over two million Twitter followers, not all of whom necessarily live in Russia. One notes that Navalny limits his investigation of corruption activities to those where the people involved in corruption may be linked to senior figures in the Russian government; to take one example, he does not appear ever to have investigated the corruption of former Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov who was fired by Putin in 2012.

What Bourke fails to mention though – and this is critical to understanding why Navalny was arrested, charged and convicted in court, and subsequently jailed as soon as he arrived in Moscow in January 2021 – is that Navalny was embroiled in at least two cases of embezzlement and fraud. In 2008, Navalny and his brother Oleg formed a transportation company (Glavpodpista) to deliver goods on behalf of the Russian branch of French cosmetics company Yves Rocher: the transportation company turned out to be a shell company that paid another delivery company to transport the goods for less than what Glavpodpista was paid by Yves Rocher Vostok to do. Both Alexei and Oleg Navalny were found guilty of embezzlement on 30 December 2014 and Alexei was sentenced to 3½ years of house arrest while Oleg Navalny went to jail for the same period of time. In the second case, Alexei Navalny was hired as a business consultant to advise a publicly owned timber company, Kirovles, in Kirov region; instead Navalny formed a company to buy timber products from Kirovles at reduced prices and resell the timber to Kirovles’ customers at prices they would normally pay Kirovles if buying direct from that company. As a result, Kirovles went bankrupt and its employees lost their jobs. For this, Navalny was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on 18 July 2013. The reason that Navalny is in jail at this time of writing is that he violated the conditions of his house arrest (from the Yves Rocher case) throughout the first several months of 2020 before he made his trip to Tomsk in August by not reporting regularly to the police authorities as he should have done.

Putin’s supposed targeting of Navalny, which Bourke devotes much space to, revolves around that August 2020 incident in which Navalny fell sick on the plane flight from Tomsk to Moscow and the plane had to divert to Omsk so Navalny could be taken to hospital there. Not long after he fell sick, the German government sent a plane to collect Navalny from Omsk hospital, even though hospital doctors declared he was too ill to travel, and took him to the Charité Hospital in Berlin, where the doctors apparently found he had been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor. In early September 2020, the German government announced that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok. There then followed weeks of farcical news as, first, the tea which Navalny drank just before boarding the plane in Tomsk was said to have been poisoned; then the water bottle that Navalny drank from at his Tomsk hotel was supposed to have been poisoned (and which was later revealed to have been bought at an airport vending machine by FBK member Maria Pevchikh while travelling with Navalny back to Moscow; Pevchikh then flew back to the UK where she lives and works, avoiding questioning by Russian authorities over Navalny’s supposed poisoning); and finally and currently, Navalny’s underwear was revealed by so-called “citizen journalism” outfit Bellingcat to have been smeared with Novichok. How FSB agents tailing Navalny managed to contaminate his underpants while he and his FBK and other associates were not looking seems never to have been broached.

One notes that Bellingcat apparently acquired information about the FSB agents tailing Navalny by buying phone records with cryptocurrency through a black market dealing with phone data obtained from phone databases. One wonders how accurate such information can be when it is gathered from sources and in ways that are not transparent. Might it be that the FSB agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev, who Bourke says was duped by Navalny into revealing that the latter’s underwear had been smothered in Novichok, actually had never spoken with Navalny, that his identity details had been stolen from a hacked phone database, and that the person who spoke with Navalny was actually an actor pretending to be Kudryavtsev?

On being jailed for violating the conditions of his house arrest, Navalny and his close associates took to social media platforms such as TikTok to implore people (many of them schoolchildren lured by advertisements of parties) to attend illegally organised protest rallies across Russia. Some 40,000 people attended these rallies, which sounds like a lot of people until one remembers that the city of Moscow alone now has 12.8 million (as of late 2020 / early 2021) and so 40,000 represents just over 0.003% of that city’s population – hardly a significant proportion of Moscow’s population, let alone the rest of the country.

The Western MSM spotlight on Navalny’s recent activities from 2020 onwards comes at a time when “Color Revolution” regime-change activities and other means of overthrowing governments that the US and its Western allies happen to dislike have been failing in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela and other parts of the world. On top of that, the responses by Belarus, China, Russia and Venezuela to the COVID-19 pandemic among their peoples and their healthcare sectors have resulted in relatively low death rates from the disease compared with the catastrophic mortality rates in the US, the UK and across the EU. Western public attention to the differences between the West on the one hand and on the other Russia, Belarus and China in the way they have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic – Russia and China in particular developing their own vaccines like Sputnik V to the disease – and to rising socio-economic inequalities generally in all Western nations must be deflected to issues involving apparent human rights violations: for China, this means focusing on Uyghurs supposedly incarcerated in holding camps where they are beaten, tortured or raped; and for Russia, this means focusing on supposed “opposition political figures” like Navalny, who incidentally has never enjoyed more than 2% support from the Russian electorate and who has never been a politician. An opinion poll conducted by Levada-Center in September 2020 demonstrates the aversion and contempt most Russians have for Navalny.

Why Bourke then repeats the stale lies about Russia annexing Crimea (no, the Crimeans held an independence referendum and voted to leave Ukraine in March 2014); helping to shoot down Malaysia Airlines MH17 (still not proven despite numerous court hearings in The Netherlands); or trying but failing to kill Sergei and Julia Skripal in the UK with Novichok (still not proven either, despite the ever-changing narrative in which among other things the door-handle of the Skripal house was supposedly contaminated with Novichok, necessitating the removal of the house’s roof), in concluding her article, there is certain to be one answer: through banal repetition over and over, Bourke’s article serves to reinforce the Western propaganda narrative that Russia is governed by a devious, untrustworthy and corrupt government that oppresses its people and relies on a faltering economy dominated by fossil fuels to maintain a supposedly failing order. Putin is consistently portrayed as a despotic dictator who steals from his people and relies on an economy dependent on fossil fuel exports, and surrounds himself with excessively kitsch wealth. The Russian business community which has links with the government and Putin – necessary if it needs government approval and funding for major infrastructure projects – is seen to be packed with corrupt Putin cronies. (One can see considerable psychological projection of the desires and beliefs held by Western political elites onto what they imagine passes for backroom politics in the upper levels of the Russian leadership.) The sooner the Russian government and its President are replaced by leaders amenable to the US – so that Russia’s resources can be privatised and plundered by US and other Western corporations – the better: that is the message being hammered into the mass Western consciousness. The objective behind the message however is obscured.

Vladimir Putin’s Davos online forum speech (2021): a plea for cooperation and mutual respect in striving for peace and prosperity

Vladimir Putin’s Davos online forum speech (2021)

Invited to the Davos online forum organised by the World Economic Forum over 25 – 29 January 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech on what he believes will be the state of the world over the third decade of the 21st century and what governments everywhere should do to ensure that everyone everywhere can live in peace and prosperity. After acknowledging the effort made to hold the annual Davos forum during the COVID-19 pandemic, Putin commented on the effect the pandemic is likely to have on current trends in societies and that problems and imbalances that have already built up may worsen. In particular models and instruments of economic development are undergoing a crisis, social stratification and inequalities are increasing and these trends are encouraging the growth of populsim and extremism in nations’ political cultures, with the result that violent conflicts have broken out. In turn, international relations are becoming unstable and unpredictable, regional conflicts that were once dormant or simmering are now escalating into violence and war, and the rules-based international order is breaking down.

Putin then describes what he believes to be the main challenges facing societies across the world: socio-economic challenges such as the wide and widening differences between the wealth of a small global elite and the wealth of the vast majority of humanity; socio-political challenges such as rising inequality which is leading to social conflicts and intolerance; and the worsening of current international problems such as global debt and the increasing militarisation of the world. He notes that governments need to create programs that restore and stabilise economies adversely affected by the pandemic and that this restoration is sustainable and overcomes the problems created by socio-economic inequalities. Putin proposes that government should concentrate on reducing socio-economic disparities in their own sovereign states and between states. Four key priorities are identified by Putin: the universal need for shelter and decent living conditions with access to transport and public utilities; the need to provide gainful long-term employment for everyone that ensures a decent standard and quality of living; access to high-quality and effective healthcare; and children’s access to education that develops their talents and skills and enables them to achieve their ambitions in the long term. Putin concludes this part of his speech by emphasising the need for nations to cooperate to tackle common problems and for nations to respect diversity in the approaches and policies used to deal with grave issues and problems. This requires the recognition that the world can and should be a multi-polar one in which several axes of power can exist, instead of being a world where only one superpower is allowed to dominate and to dictate to the rest of the world how they should govern themselves.

Putin then narrows his scope to speak about Russia and its role in helping to stabilise different regions in particular parts of the world by stopping armed conflict and bringing warring parties to negotiate, and in developing a COVID-19 vaccine and cooperating with other nations to ensure the vaccine Sputnik V can be made available to their populations.

Not much is new in Putin’s speech that he has not said before, in stressing the need for cooperation and partnership, and for diplomacy and negotiation over conflict and violence. Putin makes no suggestion as to how nations should coordinate their efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic or with any other pressing issues such as climate change. He does not say what he believes are real as opposed to artificial global problems, though one can guess that the real problem is the West’s intransigence in refusing to work with and to respect other nations, and insisting that it alone has the answers to other nations’ problems. Putin says that nations should disabuse themselves of unrealistic ambitions about always being leaders and instead humbly and honestly deal with one another as equal partners. One really cannot ask for more than this, and yet Western nations are likely to refuse to follow this advice, simply because it is coming from a leader the West fears and hates for his ability and effectiveness as a world leader.

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech (2020) / Q&A Session

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XVII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Moscow, 22 October 2020) – Part 2: Q&A Session

After his speech (see Part 1), Russian President Vladimir Putin took several questions from Fyodor Lukyanov, the moderator of the plenary session, and various attendees at the Meeting both in person and online. These questions covered a wide range of topics, not all of which had been mentioned in Putin’s speech, and several were general, even abstract almost, while others were specific and covered incidents that were topical at the time.

As moderator, Lukyanov probably had the lion’s share of questions (though he may have been relaying questions from parts of the audience) and one pertinent question was why Russia would not pursue an economic lock-down again if it were hit by a second wave of COVID-19 and if this meant that Russia’s priorities in dealing with the pandemic had changed to favour the economy rather than people’s health. The examples of Sweden and Belarus as nations that did not introduce economic lock-downs were cited. Putin replied that during the lock-down during the first wave in Russia, the government mobilised resources and funding to support individuals, families, small to medium-sized businesses and even companies and industries, and to build up the healthcare system so it has the flexibility (including a reserve of hospital beds) to cope and deal with the pandemic should it flare up again. Putin believes that the funding allocated to support the health sector and other economic sectors was used effectively, and that this will enable the country to ride through a second pandemic wave without having to introduce a second nationwide lock-down that would destroy jobs and threaten distribution networks, and create distress including mental health problems among the public. The President notes also that Sweden and Belarus had their particular reasons for not introducing lock-downs, and that interestingly Sweden did not mobilise its resources to support its economy or its people during lock-down.

Several questions raised the issue of arms control and whether Russia has made too many concessions in adhering to international treaties and limiting its arsenal in the wake of recent US belligerence in refusing to renew treaties or to walk away from them, or even to accuse other nations of violating treaties when in fact those nations had done no such thing. Putin’s response is that arms control treaties are still necessary if the world is to have a future; but if other nations wish to throw their weight around and ignore arms control treaties, the Russians are prepared to build on what has already been achieved in the past, even if it was one step forward and two steps back, and are ready to work with others to achieve arms control no matter what stage or level of global arms control has been reached.

Because I am familiar with Anatol Lieven as a writer and policy analyst, I took note of the question he asked about what position Russia would take with regard to the outbreak of war in Nagorno-Karabakh, whether Russia would side with Armenia against Azerbaijan and Turkey if ceasefires and other attempts at peace fail, and if this conflict might be an opportunity for Russia to work with France and other western European nations. Putin’s reply is to point out that Russia does not favour Armenia over Azerbaijan simply because of having Orthodoxy in common as a religion, and that Russia’s connections with both countries make it ideal as a mediator. As for allying with France against Turkey’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean Sea region, Putin states Russia is not keen on picking sides. While perhaps Putin’s replies might not satisfy Lieven and others who want Russia to take one side or the other, one should understand Russia’s reluctance to take on such roles that could give an opportunity for the US and its allies to aid the opposing side, to sap Russian military power and at the same time create other conflicts that would try to draw in Russia as well and force the Russians to fight on several fronts. It is not Russia’s intention to act as the world’s enforcer or police officer and its stand on potential conflict between France and Turkey, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan, reflects that intention.

A related issue was posed to Putin, as to what Russia’s fundamental foreign policy goals are towards nations around its borders that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Putin’s reply is that Russia’s foreign policy goals are taking place within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and that all the post-Soviet states will recognise the common interests and overlapping histories and cultures they share which will help to draw them closer and achieve stability.

The issue of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his recent poisoning while flying from Tomsk to Moscow, during which his plane was diverted to Omsk where he received hospital care, later to be transported to Berlin (at the request of his family, which Putin granted even though Navalny was technically under house arrest) where doctors reported he had been poisoned with Novichok, brought into the spotlight the question of whether Germany and Russia still had a special relationship (due to the mixed history of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union / Russia in the past) or whether that relationship had changed. After noting that Russia had opened an investigation into Navalny’s poisoning, in which investigators had asked for information from Germany to assist (and that information had not been supplied), Putin notes that the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev played a major role in allowing East and West Germany to reunite in 1989, that Germany is Russia’s second largest trading partner (after China) and that having mutual interests such as trade and stimulating employment will always be at the heart of Russian-German relations.

Questions on Chinese-Russian relations were dealt with by Putin emphasising the areas in which Russia and China are working together (trade, sharing military technologies, developing infrastructure, holding joint military exercises).

A question from Anton Roux, head of the ADC Forum in Melbourne, on how Putin might wish to be remembered, brought forth Putin’s reply that he is not concerned about his reputation or how future generations of Russians might see him. (A very interesting response indeed, given that many Western leaders seem anxious about leaving a highly burnished reputation behind despite being very mediocre politicians.)

The last question put to Putin concerned the lack of government support for Antarctic research, even though a research station was already under construction with government funding, and Putin promised to bring up this issue with the relevant government department and find out why the research funding is being neglected.

While the range of questions put to Putin covered many different areas, and many related to domestic Russian issues as well as international issues, Putin’s responses generally err on the side of caution, with a conservative attitude that stresses co-operation and mutual agreement, and Russia’s strategic interests. While this means Putin’s answers are not exciting or particularly revelatory, one can understand the caution given that many questions came from people living overseas in countries where anti-Russia propaganda is in full swing among people at all levels of society and some of these questions may have required careful answers.

Perhaps the most significant revelation for Western audiences is that Putin actually approved the transfer of Alexei Navalny to Germany for medical treatment despite knowing that Navalny was a criminal. Amazingly, no-one seems to have asked why he personally intervened and gave permission for Navalny to be flown overseas. Surely Putin’s action casts a slur on the heroic attempts of the doctors, specialists and nurses at the Omsk hospital to save Navalny’s life?

Several of the questions asked were typical of questions Putin gets during his annual Q&A sessions with the Russian public and one might expect that in future Valdai Club Meetings, the moderators perhaps should steer questions away from issues of a domestic nature and encourage people to ask questions relevant to the topics raised in the annual Meetings. The downside of this suggestion though would be to make the Valdai Club Meetings rather less attractive and accessible to the Russian general public and perhaps limit its access to Putin to raise his awareness of important national and regional issues. For his part, Putin may not mind being asked questions concerning domestic issues at the annual Valdai Club Meetings if he is keen on keeping a finger on the public pulse.

It seems very odd that Westerners in Putin’s audience did not press him further on his vision of what constitutes a free, strong and independent civil society with vibrant institutions supported by the state and the citizenry, or challenge him on what he says or insinuates about the United States and its alliesi, or those NGOs and international organisations that act as regime-change agents and creators of instability and chaos. In my view, we have missed an opportunity to learn something from Putin and what his vision of Russia might be.

A transcript of this Q&A forum and of Putin’s speech preceding it can be viewed at this link.

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech (2020): finding hope, opportunity and direction in a world in crisis

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XVII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Moscow, 22 October 2020) – Part 1

The 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club was held in Moscow over 20 – 22 October 2020 with the theme “The Lessons of the Pandemic and the New Agenda: How to Turn the World Crisis Into an Opportunity for the World”. For the first time in its history, the Club’s programme, ranging over the global COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the escalating US rivalry with China, the possibility of global tech war and global climate change, all inter-related and in which a common theme of the world falling apart through suspicion and paranoia rather than coming together with an open spirit can be detected, was open to the news media and the general public. On the last day of the Meeting as per custom, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered the final speech via video link. At the end of his speech, Putin took questions from various individuals attending the Meeting, both physically and via video link: the questioners included Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, well-known writer / journalist / policy analyst Anatol Lieven, Anton Roux of The ADC Forum in Melbourne, Hans-Joachim Spanger of The Leibniz Institute Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt and Zhao Huasheng of The Institute for International Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai.

Putin opens his speech by observing how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Valdai International Discussion Club’s ability to hold debates and discussions and introduce new experts to share their views and opinions. He then goes on to describe how the Russian government has met the challenge of the pandemic in Russia itself, and how this challenge has emphasised the importance of certain values such as mutual assistance, service and self-sacrifice within the country. Putin stresses that only strong and secure states can deal effectively with the crisis presented by COVID-19, and that such states are strong because of the trust and confidence their citizens place in them. For states to be strong, they must have their own political cultures and traditions, and their own visions of what they want for their citizens and their particular pathways to achieve those visions. The state must support public initiatives by providing them with appropriate platforms, infrastructure and resourcing to sustain them and by opening up opportunities for them to grow an thrive. To the extent that this can be possible, other nations cannot impose their visions of “democracy” and “civil society” on states developing their own political cultures and traditions. (This is a clear jibe at Western nations interfering in other countries’ affairs to the extent of infiltrating and grooming non-government organisations and charities in those countries to carry out regime-change activities and overthrow their governments.) Putin then describes how Russia in the 1990s, and other countries in a similar situation, were dependent on foreign funding to finance non-government organisations and the threat this posed to Russia’s survival as a single nation.

Looking at the world in 2020, Putin observes how much it has changed since the end of World War II in 1945. Then, the post-war order was (as Putin sees it) established by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Since then, the Soviet Union has disappeared and Russia has taken its place to some extent; the United Kingdom has become a waning power; the United States still believes in its own exceptionality and invincibility but is also a declining power; and other nations such as China and the Federal Republic of Germany are rising to superpower status. Putin notes that international organisations established to carry out particular missions as part of the post-war international rule of law have been subverted by particular nations and behave in particular ways according to ideology, and not on the basis of reason, pragmatism or need depending on the context or the situation. The result is that various issues end up highly politicised and cannot be resolved properly because they are interpreted and polluted by false propaganda narratives.

On the other hand, there have been initiatives established by nations coming together to solve specific issues and Putin expresses hope that mutual help between nations can and will continue to achieve international stability and security, fight terrorism and solve problems beyond the ability of any one nation to solve successfully. These problems include climate change as it manifests in different parts of the world: in Russia, it manifests in the melting of the Siberian permafrost, leading to the sinking of buildings in towns and cities, disruption in utilities and necessary infrastructure, and the large-scale release of methane into the atmosphere which will accelerate global warming.

Lastly Putin discusses the impact of COVID-19 on cyber-technologies that enable distance communications but which also exposes people and communities to issues of cyber-security such as hacking and other cyber-crimes, and unwanted and intrusive surveillance by governments and corporations, public and private. All these plus the other crises and challenges Putin has mentioned in his speech can certainly pose threats to our security but they also present opportunities for transformation to a better way of life and a more secure and stable planet.

Throughout his speech Putin poses the choice facing us all: we can choose to react with fear and paranoia to the challenges brought about by changes that have occurred throughout the world since 1945, as a result of a relatively long peace in First World and Second World nations (in large part because they cynically used Third World nations as their proxy battlegrounds), the fall of Communism in the late 1980s / early 1990s, and the arrival of new technologies, in particular digital technologies, that changed cultures and societies; or we can choose to overcome our fears, prejudices and presumptions about others to reach out to friends and foes alike, find common ground, and work together to find solutions to the threats endangering Earth and humanity’s future. The point here is that what appears at first to be a crisis with potential for great loss, destruction and chaos can be turned into an opportunity to achieve better and greater things – but only if we are prepared to work with others, and that means respecting their rights, opinions and beliefs, and not insisting that they change to our expectations.

Significantly as in previous Valdai Club plenary session speeches, Putin does not name those nations that seek to undermine other nations’ governments and security through overthrowing their leaders and installing their own increasingly despotic and vicious versions of “democracy”, “freedom” and “civil society” but his audience will well understand him to mean the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other EU nations, and their allies.

The Q&A session that follows Vladimir Putin’s speech will be dealt with in a separate essay. An English-language transcript of the speech and the Q&A forum following can be found at this link

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Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Speech to the Russian Federal Assembly (15 January 2020): a vision of a future democratic Russia

Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Speech to the Russian Federal Assembly (15 January 2020)

Under Article 84 of the Russian Constitution, the Russian President is required to give an annual speech to the Federal Assembly on the current state of the Russian Federation and on what he believes should guide the nation’s domestic and foreign policies. The annual speech does not have the force of law. Since 2018, the current President Vladimir Putin has been giving his annual speech early in the year but 2020 marked the first time the speech was given in January. The reason for the early delivery is apparent in the opening paragraphs of the transcript of the speech: the theme of the entire speech is change, evolution and development of the necessary institutions and structures in order to face and deal with oncoming issues of social, political, economic and technological importance that cannot be swept under a carpet and assumed to be gone. These changes involve direct active personal participation by all Russians.

Most of the speech (roughly two-thirds of it) is taken up by serious issues and potential crises of an internal domestic nature. The demographic issue of a small generation of young people born during the chaotic and impoverished Yeltsin years from 1991 to 1999 is having an effect on population growth; there simply are not enough young people coming into the critical phase of their lives in which they form families and have children of their own. Unfortunately at the same time people’s incomes are not high enough for them to be able to afford having more than one child. To this end, Putin proposes that programs be adopted to provide more subsidies to families under more social welfare programs so that people can afford to buy homes and create environments into which babies can be born and children can thrive. Such programs include increasing monthly benefit payments for low-income families, increasing “maternity capital” payments to mothers of two children, subsidising mortgage payments when a family welcomes a third child, building more schools and providing free hot school lunches to pupils.

As a consequence of urging more government assistance to families to encourage them to have more children, Putin also foresees more schools will have to be built, more teachers must be trained and the institutions and structures that support teacher education and employment must also be improved. This in turn leads to the general issue of the quality of university education and boosting university education and enrolments across the nation, particularly in regions that lack or are short of medical staff, teachers and engineers. From there, Putin’ speech focuses on issues of healthcare, the training and remuneration of medical staff, and the resourcing of regional medical centres with medication supplies.

Other issues of a domestic or internal nature in Putin’s speech include government investment in vital industries and in research, and in particular the infrastructures that support and provide the environment in which industry can thrive and research can be carried out. Digital technologies and digital network infrastructures, of which the Internet is the most obvious manifestation, receive attention as forums in which the public is able to participate in the life and culture of the nation.

So far, Putin’s speech lays out a vision of an ideal Russia, provided that the relevant government departments and regional governments get off their backsides and work diligently to pursue the President’s vision. What has got Western mainstream news media fired up (in the belief that Putin is appropriating more power to himself) though is the final third part of Putin’s speech in which he proposes various changes to the Russian Constitution, of which some include the devolution of some of the powers and duties of the President to the Prime Minister, and the transfer of the power of the President to appoint the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime Ministers and all Federal Ministers to the Duma (the lower House in the Federal Assembly). One very significant reform proposal is to require prospective Presidential candidates to have had at least 25 years’ permanent residency in Russia, to have no foreign citizenship or foreign residency permits; another significant proposal is that Presidents cannot serve more than two successive terms. These proposed reforms are aimed at decentralising and diffusing political power through the executive and legislative institutions, undoing the changes that previous President Boris Yeltsin made to the Constitution (with the help of the CIA) and concentrating power in the Presidency in the 1990s; and at reducing as much as possible the potential for foreign interference in Presidential elections and in the executive function.

At the same time, Putin states that Russia must continue to have a strong Presidency, and that the President must retain the right to dismiss the Prime Minister and the government, and remain head of the nation’s armed forces. He then goes on to propose other reforms that have the effect of spreading power through the executive, legislative and judiciary functions of government and at the same time place checks and balances that each function can exercise on the others. Significantly Putin proposes that his proposed reforms be put to public referendum.

The entire document reads like a manifesto mapping out a future democratic society in which everyone has as much opportunity as possible to contribute to the well-being of all; moreover, a society that genuinely cares for people and supports them, and expresses love through concern for their development as well-rounded, educated and capable human beings. This is the legacy that Putin wishes to leave Russia when he retires as President in 2024.

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