Red Notice: Putin’s apologists spread dangerous message


russia browderBill Browder’s Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice is a sizzling account of his rise, fall and metamorphosis from bombastic financier to renowned human-rights activist, The Economist reports:

Born into a leftish academic household (his grandfather led the American Communist Party), he rebelled by turning to capitalism. …The book begins with Mr Browder’s surprise deportation from Moscow in late 2005. It was not the first sign that something was awry in Russia, but the first time it affected him. The intervention came directly from the FSB, the state security service. Russian officials then raided his offices, beat up someone who unwisely resisted them and confiscated documents….. But his downfall in Russia was the beginning of the story, not the end. Corrupt officials were interested in the fact that Mr Browder’s companies had been some of the country’s largest taxpayers. Using the stolen documents and a bewildering series of phoney lawsuits, they took over the companies and wiped out the previous year’s profits, allowing officials to reclaim the tax paid. The $230m refund, the largest in Russian history, was paid out in a single day.

All this would have remained a mystery, had it not been for the dogged efforts of Mr Browder’s Moscow tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who pieced together what was happening and began to seek redress.

The two central messages of the book are moving and simple, The Economist adds:

The first is that Mr Browder and his team have made Magnitsky’s fate into an international cause célèbre. The second is that the book exemplifies both the corrupt and brutal way in which the Putin regime does business at home and the cynical help it gets from foreigners when it launders profits abroad. RTWT

putins preventive counter revContrary to the claims of his Western apologists, the real sources of Putin’s recklessness are to be found not in Western diplomacy but in his terror of democratic revolution, argues Dr Robert Horvath, the author of Putin’s Preventive Counter-Revolution. As an uprising against a corrupt dictatorship, the Euromaidan represented an existential challenge to Putin’s rule, he writes:

The anti-Western hysteria raging in Russia’s state-controlled media is an integral part of the Putin regime’s anti-revolutionary strategy. For more than a decade, Kremlin propagandists have justified the suppression of democracy as the defence of the Russian nation against Western aggression. They have fabricated thousands of conspiracy theories about Western plans to provoke an anti-Putin uprising, dismember the Russian state, pillage its natural resources and enslave its population. They have created an entire literature devoted to exposing the West’s democratic ideals as a screen for global domination, the promotion of sexual perversion, and the crushing of disobedient peoples.

russia Yevgeny Vitishko vitishkoThose in the West trying to figure out how to resolve the situation in Ukraine without Putin losing face should be focusing on precisely how to “help him lose face and break his neck” at the same time, Aleksandr Skobov says (HT: Paul Goble):

A social-economic system has emerged in which “personal success is determined by status in a hierarchy which is in fact feudal and which gives access to the distribution of resources.” ….   “This system,” Skobov argues, “is camouflaged by decorative institutions of private property and the market.” …. That means that Russian elites feel threatened by “the very existence of much more successful and attractive societies in which all these institutions really work.”

Such a sense of being threatened underlies Putin’s ideology of anti-modern conservatism, and that in turn means that “the current opposition of Russia and the West bears a more fundamental ideological character that the opposition of the West and the USSR,” both of which offered “modernization projects.”

Freedom of speech in Russia is being defended only by those few who refuse to recognize state censorship, notes analyst Alexander Podrabinek. “Those who really need free speech pay for it. Those who only pay lip service to free speech comply with the demands of the censors,” he writes for The Institute of Modern Russia.

The Institute continues its series of articles dedicated to Russian political prisoners. This article is dedicated to the Krasnodar environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko (above, left), who in 2012 faced charges in the “Tkachev’s dacha” case.

Ecuador ‘following Russia’s lead’ – USAID forced out

USAIDUnder pressure from Ecuador’s left-wing government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is shutting down its operations in the South American nation after 53 years, John Otis reports for NBC News:

In a telephone interview with GlobalPost, Adam Namm, the US ambassador to Ecuador, called the decision “very disappointing.” But it was no surprise. The government in Quito had refused to allow Washington’s aid agency to renew its programs or start any new activity in the country.

President Rafael Correa is a fierce US critic who has already pulled the plug on US counter-narcotics operations at a Pacific coast base and expelled Namm’s predecessor as well as 14 US military advisers, whom he claimed were infiltrating Ecuador’s security forces.

The agency had worked in Ecuador for 53 years and spent more than $800 million in development projects, AFP adds:

The US embassy has said it tried for two years to reach a deal that would allow USAID to keep working in the South American country.

“Officials can now essentially decide what groups may say or do, seriously undermining their role as a check on the government,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said after Correa signed Decree 16.

Vivanco added: “Instead of adopting reasonable measures to facilitate the work of NGOs, the Correa administration is following the lead of countries such as Russia, Bahrain, Uganda, and Venezuela, which have imposed unjustified restrictions that violate fundamental rights and limit spaces that are critical to democratic society.”

Since Decree 16 went into effect, several other Ecuadorean NGOs have closed their doors, NBC adds:

So has Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which runs civic education programs in more than 100 countries and is affiliated with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union political party.

The foundation said the group was shutting its Ecuador office Sept. 1 due to the government’s “increasing control” over NGO work. Quito’s international cooperation department “reserved the right to see and ultimately modify [independent organizations'] plans,” Konrad Adenauer Foundation director Winfried Weck told Germany’s Deutsche Welle…..

About 10 percent of USAID’s $12 million annual budget for Ecuador was earmarked for “democracy and governance” programs. For example, the Quito-based free expression group Fundamedios received about $280,000 from USAID in 2011…..

“The attacks against NGOs have been fierce,” said Cesar Ricaurte, the director of Fundamedios. “The government tries to paint us as destabilizing the country.”


Kremlin’s propaganda war underpins clash with West

sovietpropagandaAttempting to legitimize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s “disinformation offensive differs from its Soviet forebear in both style and intensity,” The Economist notes:

The propaganda machine is fuelled by a “cocktail of chauvinism, patriotism and imperialism”, says one journalist. It plays on deep feelings among the Russian public: post-imperial nostalgia for the Soviet Union, an inferiority complex towards the West, and a longing for self-justification.

The coverage relies on the scale of lies and the elimination of other sources of information, says one senior editor. When Ukraine suspended the broadcasts of Russian state TV channels, substituting the liberal Dozhd channel that had been cut off by cable providers in Russia, it was accused by the Kremlin of suppressing free speech. In Russia the state-controlled media creates an illusion of uniformity of thought. Many are scared to voice their opinions not because they may be punished, but because they may be isolated. Any dissenter is described by Mr Putin as a “fifth columnist” and a “national traitor”.

sovietmotherland_smThe propaganda campaign has seen several stages since the protests on Kiev’s Maidan began, says Lev Gudkov, head of the Levada Centre, an independent pollster:

It portrayed Maidan as a conspiracy by the West. It showed the protesters as nationalists, fascists and anti-Semites who had staged a putsch, posing great danger to Russian-speakers. It faked stories of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Russia (using footage of a border crossing between Ukraine and Poland). The case for taking Crimea, to defend the Russian population from an imagined threat, morphed into Russia’s reclaiming historic lands.

“Trumpeting Russia’s moral superiority, the Kremlin is preparing ordinary Russians for an economic downturn that it will no doubt blame on America,” The Economist adds:

Yet Mr Gudkov argues that, although most Russians support Mr Putin’s actions, they are not prepared to take responsibility or bear significant costs in lives or money. “Televisionwatching does not imply participation,” says Mr Gudkov. That gives some hope that Russia may not go farther into eastern Ukraine.


In short, as Abraham Lincoln reportedly said: You can fool some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Prospects for Democracy and Press Freedom in Hong Kong

HKDEMNEDUnder China’s “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong residents enjoy greater freedom and autonomy than people in mainland China, including freedoms of speech, press, and religion.  China has stated it intends to allow Hong Kong residents to elect their Chief Executive by universal suffrage for the first time in 2017 and to elect Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by universal suffrage in 2020.  

As Hong Kong’s government contemplates electoral reform in the run-up to the 2017 election, concerns are growing that China’s central government will attempt to control the election by allowing only pro-Beijing candidates to run for Chief Executive. Concerns over press freedom have also grown in the wake of several incidents in which journalists have been violently attacked or fired.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Chairman and Representative Christopher Smith, Cochairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China announce a roundtable on

“Prospects for Democracy and Press Freedom in Hong Kong”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Russell Senate Office Building, Room 385

The roundtable will feature two prominent advocates for Hong Kong democracy, Martin Lee and Anson Chan, who will examine the prospects for Hong Kong’s democratic development.   


Martin Lee: Barrister, founding Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, former Member of the Drafting Committee for the Basic Law, and former Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (1985–2008).     

Anson Chan: Former Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong, former Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (2007–2008), and Convener of Hong Kong 2020, a political group working toward achieving universal suffrage in the 2017 election for Chief Executive and 2020 Legislative Council elections.

This roundtable will be webcast live here.

Click here to download a copy of the Commission’s full 2013 Annual Report.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, established by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organization, is mandated by law to monitor human rights, including worker rights, and the development of the rule of law in China. The Commission by mandate also maintains a database of information on political prisoners in China-individuals who have been imprisoned by the Chinese government for exercising their civil and political rights under China’s Constitution and laws or under China’s international human rights obligations. All of the Commission’s reporting and its Political Prisoner Database are available to the public online via the Commission’s Web site.


Trial by Twitter? Erdogan, Gülenists, and the future of Turkish democracy

TurkeyMiddleClassFlagProtestTaksimRTR22YAE-198x132Last week’s attempt by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “wipe out” Twitter was  rightly decried as a sign of his creeping authoritarianism and an effort to contain the effects of incriminating recordings of telephone conversations between him, his cabinet ministers, family members, and newspaper editors, says Halil Karavelli, a Senior Fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program, affiliated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. 

The country’s democrats have yet again “failed to stand on their own feet,” he writes for Foreign Affairs. “Turkey’s pro-democratic forces, and liberals in particular, have a history of putting faith in illiberal forces to advance or protect democracy,” Karavelli observes:  

In the 1990s, as the Islamists’ popularity grew, many in the left looked to the military as a savior. When the military grew too powerful, the influential liberal intelligentsia rallied to the Islamic conservative AKP, whom they expected to stand up for democracy once the generals had been emasculated. To that end, the liberals were willing to turn a blind eye toward many of Erdogan’s abuses of power. With Erdogan now proving autocratic, it seems that the liberals have turned toward a new ally. Even though Gülen says all the right things about democracy and the rule of law, however, the way his followers have used their positions in the bureaucracy to put in place a Big Brother state indicates his true intentions.

erdoganFor Erdogan, the timing of the recent scandals could not be worse, says Svante E. Cornell, the editor-in-chief of The Turkey Analystand Karavelli’s SAIS colleague.

On March 30, Turkey is holding municipal elections, in which the stakes are anything but local, he writes for the Middle East Forum:

Instead, they are a battle of wills between the prime minister and the Gülenists, followers of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen who have been locked in a showdown with Erdogan, their onetime ally, since last December. The tapes are apparently meant to hurt Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the elections, laying the groundwork for his eventual downfall. But in addition to exposing the prime minister’s abuses of power, the tapes also reveal the Gülenists’ own dirty dealings.

“As alliances have been struck and dissolved, Turkey’s pro-democrats have tended to focus on one enemy — whether the generals in the past or Erdogan now,” Karavelli writes:

It is telling that Cengiz Çandar, one of Turkey’s leading liberal pundits recently wrote in the daily Radikal that, if the country were a real democracy, Erdogan would have had to resign after the recordings of him first started to leak. The irony that a prime minister of a democratic country had been wiretapped by his own bureaucratic apparatus apparently did not give Çandar pause. Indeed, Turkish democratic intellectuals and pundits demonstrate intellectual laziness when they reduce their country’s democratic crisis to an Erdogan problem. RTWT

Erdoğan is a talented politician and may yet find ways to survive this crisis as a weakened leader, argues Cornell:

His main asset is the sense of unity within the core AKP that provides a strong antidote to an overt split….Even the Gülenists appear to see a united AKP—but without Erdoğan—as the ideal outcome. But even if Erdoğan succeeds in staying in power, his chances of achieving one-man rule are now largely illusory. He could change party rules and seek a fourth term or, more likely, open an escape hatch and seek to be elected president under the current constitution. This would lead to his gradual loss of influence over day-to-day politics. In any case, it is more than likely that the Islamist movement that he led to unprecedented dominance over Turkish politics will soon conclude that Erdoğan has done his part. ….

What, then, would a post-Erdoğan Turkey look like? This will be the moment of truth for Turkish “moderate” Islam. At first sight, Turkey’s trajectory over the past several years suggests that even in the best possible circumstances, political Islam will be unable to shake its undemocratic, authoritarian, and intolerant characteristics. Even Turkey’s largest Islamist community, the Gülen movement, now implicitly acknowledges this, opposing the very notion of political Islam.

“Islamists have been able to say with some justification that the problem is not political Islam but Erdoğan as a person,” Cornell notes. “The track record of Erdoğan’s successors will determine whether political Islam can redeem itself.”