Edward Lucas: Stories From Myanus

Uncle Volodya says,"Nature never makes any blunders. When she makes a fool, she means it."

Uncle Volodya says,”Nature never makes any blunders. When she makes a fool, she means it.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Spanish author of “Shadow of the Wind“, wrote, “A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise”.

And sometimes, a story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself that his fantasies have come true and that things he wishes were so, are so. Lies My Mirror Told Me.

How about we look at an example – Edward Lucas’s “Renewal Amid the Decay“; his predictions for 2013, and annual love letter to the Baltic States. I ran across it linked in another European Voices piece, and – knowing my respectful worship of Edward Lucas – both Cartman and Mike Averko also linked it in comments. Alex Mercouris mentioned Lucas writes every year that Russia is about to collapse any minute now, and his readership never seems to be put off by the fact that it didn’t happen. They don’t seem to notice that it is actually growing wealthier and more influential every year, either, but that’s because they are Edward Lucas readers, and in the mystical land of Myanus – the source of Lucas’s inspiration – none of that is happening.

Anyway, as I said, we’re going to take a look at it. But first, since we have lots of time and it might be fun to put Alex’s theory to the test, let’s go back in time – weeeeeeooooooooo ….back to 2007. Here’s Lucas – who, we might as well get this on the table right up front, is an overrated, pretentious, black-hole-for-reality hack who is to the world of introspective policy analysis what parachute pants were to the world of fashion – in 2007, with his forecast of how the world is going to shake out in 2008. From the vantage point of being able to look back on 2008, how did he do?

Right out of the gate, Lucas foretold that most of the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe would join the Shengen passport-free area as of January 1st. Bzzzzttt!!! Wrong. The only country that joined the Shengen area in 2008 was Liechtenstein. Never a Communist country, I’m afraid. Poland was already a member, since 2004, so it didn’t take much vision to see that it would be in 2008; but I hope that Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia did not break out the party hats and champagne. Poland joined them for a double boning when Lucas predicted they would be included in the USA’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for visa-free travel to the United States, as George W. Bush flamed out like a dying Cherries Jubilee, flinging favours about him indiscriminately in gratitude for those who helped him conquer Iraq. Bzzzzzttt!! That didn’t happen, either – to this day, 5 years later.

Mr. Lucas then went into a little shuck-and-jive about NATO membership, speculating that there would be renewed pressure to “[set] Georgia, along with Croatia, Albania and Macedonia, further on the road to membership of NATO. That will infuriate the hawks in the Kremlin, who will use it as an excuse to edge closer to America’s rivals and bugbears such as China and Iran.” In fact, Croatia and Albania were admitted in 2009. Georgia and Macedonia, afraid not. And Lucas probably should not sound so gleeful about the Kremlin “edging closer to China”, since the latter is moving rapidly to world’s largest economy. It is also the third-ranked country for military power, with a standing military of over 2 million, another 800,000 in the reserves, huge reserves of foreign cash and gold, and another 19 million men reaching military age every year. China’s older platforms are steadily being replaced with new weaponry and indigenous fifth-generation fighters. And it is right next to Russia, both geographically and on this list; Russia is military power number 2. Still giggling, Ed?

He was quite right that the economies of the ex-communist countries which joined the EU in 2004 would continue to stagger in 2008, but how risky a bet was that, really? The entire global economy nearly went over the edge in late 2008 and 2009. It also invites speculation that those countries were better off before joining the EU – which has, in fact, become a flabby trapeze act hanging desperately by its fingernails to Germany.

All right, let’s fast-forward – bibblebibblegobbledibbleditdit – to 2010, when Mr. Lucas believes that, by 2020, the relationship between the NATO powers will resemble “…a marriage…where the husband and wife meet only at breakfast, to haggle over the household bills”. NATO, he asserts boldly, is past its sell-by date. Just let me go on record, here, that if you add Russia boosting defense spending by 59% before 2015 to Russia edging closer to China to China boosting its defense spending by 10% or more annually over the past 20 years, you do not get Time To Chuck NATO unless your math blows chunks like your foreign-policy analysis. The USA might well be the world’s preeminent military power, but there is about as much chance of a 2013 Jimi Hendrix World Tour as there is of Number 1 being able to prevail alone against an alliance of Number 2 and Number 3. Dream On, as Aerosmith used to sing before Steven Tyler turned into the lost 5th California raisin. And the USA will not settle for anything less than full-spectrum dominance, while the costs of keeping it up are bleeding it dry.

What else you got, Ed? Ooooo…the EU is going to get a lot bigger; adding “most bits of the former Yugoslavia and Albania” will acknowledge European soft power’s triumph. Well, I guess that could happen, but according to the BBC, Iceland‘s accession is on hold due to a dispute over mackerel fishing. Oh, and payment of compensation entailed by its collapsed banks. How do you think that stacks up against “moving too slowly in the fight against organized crime and corruption, and unstable energy supplies” (Albania), “ethnic quarrels, corruption and organized crime and an unstable political system” (Bosnia-Hercegovina), “reluctant movement against war criminals, insufficiently transparent appointments of judges and prosecutors, court backlogs and insufficient help for disadvantaged minorities” (Croatia), a fight over the country’s constitutional name (Macedonia) and “insufficient freedom of expression and rule of law, not doing enough against corruption and organized crime” (Montenegro)?

Next, it’s off to the High Arctic, where – we learn – Norway will become the top security partner of the USA. More so than Canada, Lucas wants you to know, which may go all squishy like those gutless sausage-eating surrender monkeys under Merkel, and “cozy up to Russia”. I’m at a loss to explain what, in 2010, convinced Lucas that Canada and Russia were getting increasingly snuggly. Stephen Harper was Prime Minister then, just as he is now, and is the most conservative leader the nation has had in living memory. He would be as likely to walk to work wearing nothing but pink socks as he would be to cozy up to Russia, and it is his cozying up to the USA which provides much more potential for alarm. While Lucas was smoking the tea-leaves in 2010, Canada was doing $1 Billion  in trade per day with the USA. Norway? Did about a week’s worth at the Canadian rate, all year, in 2010. More than 60% of American exports go to Canada. Canada is the USA’s largest foreign supplier of oil, by a wide margin – far, far ahead of Saudi Arabia, and Canada is the only producer whose exports to the USA are steadily increasing.

Conspicuous by its absence as an energy supplier to the United States….Norway.

Briefly withdrawing his head from the comfort of his buttocks long enough to look around and perhaps realize that he is not cut out for prediction, Mr. Lucas makes a stab at comedy with his assertion that Denmark and Britain will play major roles in the High Arctic as well. Yes, I know…c’mon, be serious for a second, and let’s take a look at it, anyway – I’m kind of glad Edward brought that up. Here’s a handy map of maritime boundaries in the Arctic, as well as disputed areas. We’ll get to Denmark in a minute, but first – where’s Britain‘s claim? The entirety of the Arctic frontage that might feasibly be considered claimable by the UK is already claimed – and the result of international agreement – by Denmark, Norway, Iceland or Russia. Perhaps Mr. Lucas is asserting his claim to membership on England’s behalf based on the undeniably great achievements of British explorer Martin Frobisher. But that was in the 1570’s, and Britain relinquished all claims to the Arctic archipelago to Canada in 1880. Britain currently has zero claim to any of the Arctic.

Denmark? Yes, Denmark has some, a fairly good-sized piece of real estate considering its own size and international influence. So has Norway, and the latter claim is the more significant as claimed Norwegian waters extend farther beyond that country’s coastline, likely thanks to Svalbard and its archipelago. However, Norway and Russia worked out their differences in an historic agreement signed – but not ratified – in 2010. How big, exactly, is Denmark’s share?

Oh, wait. There’s something we haven’t talked about yet, and that’s the extension of territorial seas based on seabed shelves which extend outward from landmasses, known as continental shelves. These are generally considered to be a part of the nation from which they originate. Maritime borders can traditionally be set legally using the baselines method (maximum 350 nautical miles from the baseline, usually the coastline where the land touches the water, or the isobath method, which is a maximum of the point where the ocean depth reaches 2,500 meters (2,500 m isobath) plus 100 nautical miles (nm).

Wouldn’t it be awesome if a country had a continental shelf which extended far, far out under the ocean, above which the ocean never reached the 2,500 m isobath? What kind of real estate might be claimed under such conditions?

Conditions such as are associated with the Lomonosov Ridge, which extends from Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago – which belongs entirely to Canada – to the New Siberian Islands – which belong entirely to Russia – 1,800 km away, in an unbroken land bridge which thrusts itself between 3,300 and 3,700 m above the seabed.  Most unfortunately for international claimants, the Arctic is the shallowest ocean; only 5,450 m deep at its deepest point, the Eurasian basin. The Lomonosov Ridge is the physical feature that bisects the Arctic Ocean, dividing it into the Eurasian Basin and the North American or Hyperborean Basin – resulting in an average depth of only 1,038 m.

It would seem there is a very good chance the isobath never reaches 2,500 m depth above this undeniably present landmass, since the minimum depth above it is only 954 m. Using the isobath method, then, there exists a claimable territorial limit which extends 100 nm in each direction down the spine of the Lomonosov Ridge, throughout its 1,800 km length – for somebody. Russia discovered the ridge, from a drifting Soviet ice station of their high-latitude expeditions in 1948, but that alone does not imply ownership. Where is the ridge’s point of origin? It might be Ellesmere Island, meaning it is an extension of the Canadian landmass. It might originate in the New Siberian Islands, meaning it is part of the Russian landmass. Determining which is the case is a little like investigating which end of the Golden Gate Bridge was built first, without any plans, charts or access to historical documentation, and will have to be resolved by common agreement using accumulated survey data and solid, convincing science.

Tell you what we can rule out, though. That the Lomonosov Ridge originates in Britain, Norway, Iceland, Denmark or the United States. And even without the ridge, Canada and Russia dominate the Arctic in terms of maritime territorial seas, because of their enormous coastlines.

Another anomaly which accrues to the country that Edward Lucas suspects of getting squishy about Russia is the Northwest Passage. Long believed a myth, hints of its existence cropped up through time and subsequent discoveries, and it was finally mapped from end to end in 1906 by Arctic legend Roald Amundsen. It lies entirely within the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. That’s not good enough for the USA and some European nations, of course, who would be delighted to claim it as sovereign territory if it lay within their own boundaries – but since it does not, insist it is an international waterway, with free passage for all. However, Canada’s claim looks fairly solid, and the introduction of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act – asserting both Canadian sovereignty and responsibility to protect the sensitive environment – is supported by the clause America uses to challenge its legitimacy; UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) Article 234, which provides that Arctic environments are protected more stringently under UN law. Canada has repeatedly offered that it does not oppose international shipping through the passage, which cuts about 4,000 km off the shipping route from Europe to Asia – provided other countries acknowledge Canadian sovereignty, and ask permission. At the same time, the USA – which shows the strongest inclination to challenge Canada’s claim – has acknowledged the route lies entirely inside waters bounded by islands which are undisputed Canadian territory.

Anyway, let’s not get too deeply into the weeds on this; let’s see what else Mr. Lucas claims. Yes, indeed; in the opening paragraph, he did predict Russia’s dramatic decline relative to the BRIC countries, validating Alex’s principle that Edward Lucas consistently forecasts disaster for Russia mostly because that’s what he wishes would happen. Otherwise, while anything is possible, I don’t see any substantiation for his pessimism about Russia. It’s well ahead of the other BRICs in per-capita ratings which compensate for the others’ larger populations. Brazil does have a higher per-capita GDP, and on the face of things looks like Russia’s major competitor among the BRICs. However, Brazil turned in its second-worst economic performance since 2004, in 2011, and the worst performance among the Latin American countries, with an anemic 3% growth. The Brazilian Real is the most overvalued currency in the world, while the manufacturing sector has shrunk steadily for a decade despite manufactured and semi-manufactured goods comprising the bulk of Brazilian exports. Additionally, Brazil is heavily dependent on the world economy, and while it is energy self-sufficient, more than 70% of its oil reserves come from deep-water extraction, which is risky. I can’t foresee a situation in which the world’s biggest energy exporter will decline against its energy-importing partners. But perhaps Edward Lucas has discovered a heretofore-unexplored wormhole in the global-economics continuum.

Mmmmm…good to hear that “Europe’s energy market will be in good shape. Technological change will make unconventional forms of hydrocarbons cheaper to exploit. Russia’s east-west monopoly of gas export pipelines will be a tiresome historical relic, rather than a threat. The big worry will be not Russia’s clout but its weakness. With central Asian countries exporting directly to the west and to China, Russia will be struggling to meet its export commitments.” Good for Europe, I mean. Presumably we’re talking again about shale gas when speaking of “unconventional forms of hydrocarbons”. Well, good luck with that. I don’t intend to waste any more time pointing out what a capricious technology shale-gas extraction is, offering jubilation with its initial bonanzas, then rapidly falling off to diminishing returns. Suffice it to say the “promise” of shale gas has been around for something like a century, and it has yet to wipe oil and gas off the table. I’d be cautious about predicting a shale-gas revolution becoming a game-changer in less than 10 years. But, then again, I’m not Edward Lucas, and I can’t just make shit up. Still I have to give credit where credit is due in the fearlessness department; it takes some kind of brass to forecast the end of Russian energy dominance in a year when it had not only maintained its dominance of the European energy market, but muscled into the lead – over South Africa – in exports to Europe of hard coal; doubled in only 7 years. It’s true that Russia’s share of gas supplied to Europe declined, and the difference was picked up by Qatar. I must say, I was unaware that Qatar had laid a pipeline to Europe. What?? It hasn’t? So, all that LNG goes by ship? Well, that certainly seems a sound energy strategy, doesn’t it? No, it does not. And the Financial Times – for once – agrees with me. In England’s case – Lucas’s homeland – for example, all but 2 cargoes of LNG in 2011 came from Qatar; up 67% over 2010. Yet only 24% of those cargoes were guaranteed by long-term contracts, and the rest could be sold to a higher bidder. England’s own domestic oil production has been contracting at an average annual rate of more than 6% for the last 7 years. The west threatens war with Iran on an almost daily basis, and Iran has promised it will block the Straits of Hormuz at the first sign of attack. Qatar is on the wrong side of the straits, and its gas exports would fall to zero overnight in such an event. Has all the elements of a well thought-out energy policy. Well, except the thinking part.

More than half the EU’s energy comes from countries outside the EU, and that dependence has generally risen over the last decade. But Edward Lucas doesn’t have to worry about making sense. In Edward Lucas’s analysis, Russia will have to employ increasingly-desperate incentive schemes to get Europe to continue buying its gas, offering free draws on a Land Rover to its customers, while the plump, happy citizens of Europe wave a casual goodbye and open the taps on their new, reliable and cheap gas supply. From somewhere. This is the part in engineer’s jokes where all the lines converge in a black box, with “here a miracle occurs” written above it, followed by an “equals” sign and the answer you had already worked out but could not substantiate.

I have to impose a cut-off here, at the point Lucas is arguing that by 2020, Russia will be struggling to keep up with Vietnam and Nigeria. Although the article offers the certain promise of more deliciously entertaining lunacy, and there is an undeniable fascination in watching such destructive mental unraveling, I want to look at his current masterwork; and we’re getting a little top-heavy for words.

Without further ado, then, Renewal Amid the Decay. Right away, we learn that the NATO which is supposed to wither and die by 2020 is going to have a good year in 2013. Bringing Sweden and Finland under the umbrella of NATO and deputizing them to help out with the defense of the Baltic states is a bit of a pet project for Lucas: he regularly interjects fantasy scenarios such as a “law-and-order breakdown in north-eastern Estonia or Latvia” which would be “exploited by Russian irregulars” (whatever those are). In his megalomaniacal dream-reordering of society, he envisions a tightly-knit, ultra-responsive joint air defense network in which “[i]n five years’ time it is quite possible to imagine that the Gripen JAS-39 (or F-16) shepherding a “lost” Russian bomber out of Baltic airspace is flying from a Latvian airfield, flown by a Swedish pilot with a Finnish navigator, guided by a Lithuanian-run radar network and maintained by an Estonian aircraft engineer.” You know what it sounds like to me? A recipe for a dramatic midair collision, as the Lithuanian AIC tries to vector the Swedish pilot and his Finnish navigator onto the Russian bomber when not one of them speaks the same language as the others. Unless those 5 years were going to be spent learning English, so they could go, “Righto, tally-ho, chaps – enemy in sight!! Blimey, what an ugly brute!!”. The two most similar languages – Lettish and Lithuanian – are “not mutually intelligible”, and all these countries have their own language, written into the constitution and spoken by upwards of 85% of the population. Perhaps Mr. Lucas has a plan for a magic decoder ring, or something that will permit them all to understand each other. Or maybe they only have one plane, and have to do it that way.

If this is a preview of The Plan…..run.

Exercise Steadfast Jazz, to be run in fall of this year in the Baltics, will show the Russian bear who’s boss, though. And apparently, “everyone knows” it is a stiffish response to “Russia’s manoeuvres in 2009, which practised the invasion and occupation of the Baltic states (and concluded with a dummy nuclear drill in which the target was Warsaw).” Everybody except The Telegraph, I guess, since they reported it in November and could not even be sure in what month it occurred. Their source is a Polish newsmagazine named Wprost, which claims to have learned the details of the exercise from “documents it obtained”. These documents not only described the exercise in detail – including a simulated nuclear strike on Poland (as if such a thing is ever committed to paper in military exercise planning – the Russians use fictitious countries for everything just as NATO does), but numbered the participants at some 13,000 Russian and Belorussian soldiers. This sizable force, or part of it, carried out an aggressive “Polish” beach landing in Kaliningrad, and it all happened on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Shame that in all that gold mine of martial detail, nobody thought to include the dates the exercise was to run, and nobody saw it, since nobody is even sure, two months later, that it took place in September. I guess the excitement of ripping Saakashvili a new asshole the year before awoke the spirit of conquest in the Russian breast. Funny that, considering some of the Poles were so upset they suggested anyone who was not freaking out was unpatriotic… nobody got any pictures. Didn’t the captured documents have a contact address where you could write for more details? They appeared to leave nothing else to chance. Fortunately Poland’s Defense Minister, Bogdan Klich, was “monitoring the exercises to see what has been planned”. That’s probably a good idea, Mr. Klich, and if I could be permitted a small observation, it will have even greater prospects of yielding valuable information about potential plans if the monitoring takes place while the exercises are actually going on.

Bad news for those of us who think Vladimir Putin is doing a pretty good job running Russia, though; he’ll be leaving in 2013. Well, he might hang on a bit longer, but he’d be mostly skulking around the Kremlin by 2014 looking for a lift to the border so he could make good his escape, since his popularity is sliding almost daily and by then he will probably be the most hated man in Russia.

Ha, ha. Sorry, I really tried to play that straight, but I just couldn’t do it.

Look, the west has tried this over and over, and failed to convince anyone but itself. The Russian public is not going to turf Putin out on his ear, because the public is not broadly unhappy with his performance, and even when his approval ratings sink a little, they still remain well above the same ratings of western leaders by their electorates. Moreover, polls suggest that while Russians are not necessarily content with their lot in life – and nobody ever is, everyone feels they deserve better – they do not blame their leader for current reality and believe he is serious about addressing their concerns. Shrill western democratizers like the always-bitter and often-quoted Masha Lipman cannot explain it in any way that comes out pro-regime-change, so they default to the Russians-are-bydlo foolishness, which is not so much deliberate insult as it is an expression of frustration at being baulked.

Finally, the promising-the-kids-a-pony sweetener that is as characteristic of Edward Lucas forecasts as is doom for Russia – the USA and the EU will ram through the largest free-trade deal in history this year. Silk underwear and shrimp cocktails all around, bartender, and damn austerity – this economy is going to rock!!! Pick up those instruments and play, for Christ’s sake; this is a celebration!!

Except it’s not, and anyone who makes a habit of investing based on Edward Lucas predictions should be spanked and sent to bed. The EU-US Free Trade Deal is a concept that has been batted around since the 90’s, and sporadic attempts to strike a deal have already been derailed several times. I’m not saying it’ll never happen, but the pressure to get it done now owes more to the hot breath from China that America feels on the back of its neck than anything else; blending the two economies would deflect the humiliation of being passed, and maybe even delay it for a few years. Most sites which discuss it seriously speak of an agreed framework for proceeding that’s a maybe for 2014, or for a possible “detailed agreement” in several years. The USA, Bloomberg tells us, runs a deficit in goods and a surplus in services. Since it also mentions a third of the companies involved are affiliates of one another…how’s that going to work? The manufacturing sector in both the EU and US is steadily contracting, the EU’s for 16 straight months, as the outsourcing craze of the early 2000’s comes home to roost. Are the US and EU going to make a fortune selling services to one another?

Even if the financial incentives were mind-boggling – and they’re not – there’s the question of government mojo, which bears directly on its ability to ram through contentious legislation. The present U.S. government has no mojo, and the Republicans are not going to allow anything that might look like an Obama success, even if the initiative under discussion promised to make every Republican a millionaire and make slaves of everyone else.

Well I heard some people talkin’ just the other day
and they said you were gonna put me on a shelf
Let me tell ya that I got some news for you
and you’ll soon find out it’s true;
You’re gonna have to eat your lunch all by yourself…
 
‘Cause I’m already gone
and I’m feelin’ strong
I will sing this victory song
‘Cause I’m already gone
 
From the “On The Border” Album, Eagles
 

The window for constructive dialogue with Russia is closing. Nuts like Edward Lucas are trying to slam it shut. Are you sure that’s what you want? You have only to read the news to see that the current Russian government has backed up as far as it is going to, and pushback is the order of the day. Constant aggravation and harassment from the west forces Russia to conduct a daily re-evaluation of how much it actually needs the west, and how much it is in its interest to form new partnerships and alliances. Edward Lucas would have you believe that the U.S. military is so powerful that it can impose American and western will anywhere on the planet, but he is an academic (generously speaking) and not a military tactician, and there is a great deal he does not know at the same time that what he thinks he knows is informed by dazzling victories over military nonentities like Libya. Russia is a whole different ball game, and an attacker would have a logistic chain that stretched halfway around the world – I seem to recall that ending badly for Napoleon. Also, it is snuggled up against another major military power to which it is the biggest supply of energy. China would not stand by quietly and allow the west to take over or destroy its energy supply. Not without a fight, and believe me, the juice is not worth the squeeze.

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1,190 Responses to Edward Lucas: Stories From Myanus

  1. Moscow Exile says:

    Some locals at first thought that a thermonuclear device had detonated.

    • Moscow Exile says:

      The BBC says that what appears to have happened as regards the hundreds of reported injuries is that after the fireball had passed above and while many were still looking out of their windows to see the wondrous event, the pressure shock wave caused by the meteor bursting the sound barrier came and shattered widows over a wide area, thereby causing multiple injuries through lacerations.

    • kirill says:

      Strange that this object is moving so slowly. Perhaps this deep in the atmosphere it has slowed down enough but if you ever see a meteor burn up higher up it moves at least 10 times faster. It could be space debris that has managed to burn up just before hitting ground. Another detail of note is that it appears to really light up above the city and that is also odd since one would expect a meteor to be burning brightly all along its path in the atmosphere (this goes together with it being ablated and slowed down). (If atmospheric density was the explanation then that would make sense for a vertically falling object but this one has a rather shallow angle of approach.)

      • marknesop says:

        I suspect Putin is responsible.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          It’s the work of Ronnie Reagan’s Death Star!

          • Impossible! Putin is Darth Vader so the Death Star was his.

            PS: It’s pretty spectacular. I wonder what the reaction would have been if it had passed over London.

            • Jen says:

              If anti-aircraft missiles really had been mounted on the roofs of residents’ homes in London last year for the Olympic Games and the meteorite had passed over London without the missiles having been taken down in the meantime, I’m sure someone would have had an itchy trigger-finger and there would have been some pyrotechnic displays!

        • kirill says:

          After learning some more facts it is a meteorite and the videos are misleading because there is no way to tell how far it is. It actually burned up in the stratosphere and is far away so that it looks like it is moving slowly. It was going 54,000 km/h which is in the right speed range for meteorites.

  2. The Constitutional Court has significantly watered down the controversial law on rallies that the Duma passed in the middle of last year.

    http://www.itar-tass.com/en/c142/650945.html

    This is not because the Constitutional Court has suddenly become anti Putin and pro opposition. It is because as I have always said this was a bad and unnecessary law that was passed in an over reaction to the opposition riot on 6th May 2012. A good rule of thumb is that a law that purports to outlaw what is already illegal is a bad law. I am afraid this law was exactly that sort of law.

    In other words the Constitutional Court was simply doing its job, further refutation of the Medvedev thesis that Russia suffers from some sickness unknown to science called “legal nihilism”.

    Incidentally, turning now to the (by contrast) entirely appropriate NGO law, as I previously said a gaggle of NGOs have now complained about that law to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights will not however entertain a complaint until domestic remedies have been exhausted. That begs the question of whether the NGOs have challenged the NGO law before the Constitutional Court. If they have not then the European Court of Human Rights will almost certainly refuse to consider the complaint.

    • marknesop says:

      I’m bound to suggest that unless the Constitutional Court has also struck down the requirement to obtain a permit to hold a demonstration, I don’t see how any of the amendments are enforceable because the law applied to (1) those taking part in an illegal demonstration, meaning one for which a permit had not been obtained or which was otherwise unlawful, and/or (2) persons who commit a violent act during any demonstration. If this is the case, then all reduction of fines to the previous levels has accomplished is to enable the opposition to “rent” protesters, because the fines were so small they were no deterrent at all and were quite affordable even for good-sized crowds, especially if the demonstrations were being funded by oligarchs. The new law did not so much outlaw what was already illegal – and which is, to the best of my understanding, still illegal – but made the fines a suitable punishment for wilfully disobeying the law because it was easily within most budgets to do so. Drunk driving is illegal here, but I’m pretty sure a lot more people would regard it as a worthwhile risk if the fine were only $20.00.

      In any case, it will be hailed as a great victory for the opposition and padded with lots of fluff about how frightened Putin must be that the “groundswell of protest” will now return in even greater strength, now that this unjust “Kremlin repression” has been overruled. Totally skipped over, likely, will be any mention of rule-of-law or fairness implications in the decision.

      • Dear Mark,

        The opposition can spin it anyway they like but the Constitutional Court’s decision is no big deal. Prior to the riot on 6th May 2012 there were never any problems during any legal protests. What the events of the last year show (including the last in the series of the misnamed “Marches of Millions”) is that Russians are not prepared to go in significant numbers to illegal protests. When they attend legal, authorised protests overwhelmingly they protest in a lawful and orderly way. On the one occasion when a protest did turn violent – on 6th May 2012 – the police were fully able to deal with the trouble and the authorities have had no legal difficulty prosecuting those responsible. The number of persons involved in the rioting on 6th May 2012 was anyway by all accounts very small. There was no reason therefore to pass a new law when the old law was being complied with and was working effectively and was being enforced properly by the police on the streets. Doing so made the authorities appear nervous of the protesters, when they are not and have no reason to be. Passing the new law was a free gift to the opposition and to their sponsors and cheerleaders in the west.

        As for the provisions of the law that the Constitutional Court has struck down, whilst it has reduced the amount of the fines the main effect of its ruling appears to be to limit the criminal liability for the organisers of protests to law breaking during a protest of which they have actual direct knowledge and involvement, as opposed simply to law breaking that happens during a protest. That is mere justice. It makes no sense to prosecute people for something they have not done and in which they have no part.

      • kirill says:

        But, but, but Putin is a tyrant! How can this be that some court dares to go against his will.

        I think this case shows that the system in Russia is actually functional and it is not about personalities and dictatorships.

  3. cartman says:

    I know you don’t want to start a new stub, but there are too many posts to load here. Also, Flash crashes with all the YouTube videos linked here.

  4. Moscow Exile says:

    “Let them think of us as traitors!”

    From yesterday’s Komsomolskaya Pravda, a report on the 5th session of the Coordinating Council of the Opposition.

    “The fifth session of the Coordinating Council of the Opposition has taken place – and it might not have done so of the absence of a quorum.

    “On Saturday at Izmailovo the leaders of the non-systematic opposition attended a meeting of the organ known as the Coordinating Council of the Opposition (KCO), which, according to their plan, shall exercise the full power of some dreamt up period of transition of theirs. Watching this awkward umbrella-organization, I could not help but think that if someone really wishes to do something really bad to Russia, he should do everything so that the KCO members’dreams come true.”

    The article continues by describing how the start of the meeting was continuously postponed because of the absence of a quorum. Then Nemtsov opened the meeting by announcing that they almost had a quorum in that Udaltsov was with them in spirit and he would have been there only the “regime” had placed him under house arrest.

    The council then discussed “A report of the Working Group on Foreign Affairs on Magnitsky list” (they spelt Magnitsky wrongly). They then discussed their next “actions”. The Left proposed an action at the end of March: Nemtsov was against this.

    Yashin reminded them that a protest march was being organized by Pomomarev and pals on March 2 and discussed whether to participate. What to protest about was also a point of discussion: corruption, theft in Sochi, the “Oboronservis” affair and other scandals. Navalny stunned everyone at this point in the discussion by saying: “Corrupt officials do terrible things, well, because they are corrupt”. They reckoned that the May 6 anniversary of the Bolotnaya riot should be observed.

    And so they argued and argued when would be the best time for “actions” and couldn’t decide on dates. So they decided to commission a working group to study the issue of the feasibility of certain dates.

    The writer of the article observes that given the fact that the next meeting of the COP is scheduled for the 16th of March and that agreement with the authorities will demand yet more time, at least half of spring will have passed before a decision is reached and agreed upon. That will mean that the “actions” under discussion will take place in the middle of the May long weekend (May Day Holidays, Victory Day Holidays, not to mention Easter, which falls on May 4 this year), when a large number of Muscovites leaves the city for dacha land and shashlyk, saying farewell to the long winter and slushy spring.

    Ksenia Sobchak then turned up and took an empty seat next to Yashin, thereby making up the quorum. However, she didn’t seem to do anything specific and disappeared as quickly and as quietly as she had appeared.

    A few journalists and some spectators began to yawn openly. Empty seats began to appear and some of those present at the “back row” fell asleep.

    The agenda eventually got to the next item: a statement about the events of May 6.
    Some started demanding a smoke-break. Nemtsov forbad this, saying that there would be no breaks until after the “Magnitsky List” had been discussed.

    It turned out that they wanted added to the list the chief of the Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, and the chairman of the Moscow City Court, Olga Egorova.

    Garry Kasparov noted with regret that the U.S. administration is not going to include a list of some prominent figures from Russia, and therefore the work of the KCO in the U.S. Congress may not be as productive. And then it was suggested that Ramzan Kadyrov be added to the list.
    “I fully support adding Kadyrov”, announced Navalny.

    “And let’s draw up a ‘Razvozzhaeva List’ as well”, someone suggested.

    Then Yashin said that in the eyes of much of the population the Coordinating Council appears almost as though they were traitors, in answer to which statement one participant vehemently cried: “So be it! Let some of them consider us as traitors! We have to decide: either we drive or we take a back seat! ”

    They decided to drive.

    And so it went on.

    The meeting closed with Nemtsov suggesting that on Udaltsov’s birthday they all go and stand under his window to sing “Happy Birthday to You!”

    Interesting suggestion that: Udaltsov said publicly a few months ago that the Coordinating Council would be an assembly of wankers.

    How right he was!

    • marknesop says:

      Like the pigs arguing in the closing scene of “1984”, the Coordinating Council has passed without the notice of its members into as much a government body as that they are trying to overthrow – drawing up an ambitious list of rules to show that it is more accountable and responsible than the party in power, and then disregarding them when observing them would cause inconvenience, and appointing working groups to study (read “delay decision”) on items on which they cannot reach agreement.

      It also provides an instructive – and free, since there are no important consequences – example of how such a body would govern were it given the power to do so. The Coordinating Council does not get the opportunity to learn from its mistakes, of course, as it would hopefully do were it the law of the land, because right now it is only playing at governing and there is no backlash from unpopular decisions, as they are essentially being taken in a vacuum; there is no audience. But there is certainly no shortage of entertaining mistakes.

      • kirill says:

        On a related tangent: we are supposed to believe that Putin offs his opponents such as Litvinenko, Politkovskaya (and I really have not heard of other cases), but somehow here you have a whole “revolutionary council” under his nose that includes the likes of Nemtsov. Here we see the absolute inanity of the smears against Russia and its duly elected government. The alleged tyrant (who wins popular ballots with a several competitors on the ballot) can’t seem to kill the right “political threats”. I mean what moron would think that Litvinenko and Politkovskaya had any political presence? They were nobodies of no consequence. And it does not take a genius to figure out that Nemtsov and the other openly active white ribbon 5th columnists are valuable targets in the political assassination game.

        The only ones doing political assassinations of Russian citizens are western regimes via their proxies such as Berezovsky. This is why Nemtsov and pals are alive and kicking, they are western assets. These same western regimes openly ally themselves with such mafia elements in the name of bringing down the legitimate government of Russia. During the 1990s when their stooge Yeltsin was in power, there was not one squeak from the west about how gangsters were basically running the country and completely immune from the law as in the case of Khodorkovsky. As time goes one the laundering of Khodorkovsky in the western media into some victim and not a gangster with blood on his hands is ongoing.

    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for report/translation, Exile. Here is supplement to your comment:

      The issue of Opps being traitors was raised by Yashin, during the discussion about the Magnitsky and possible Razvozzhaev Lists. Kasparov also made some sensible points, namely that he knows very well (from his contacts in American Administration) that no public figures are going to be added to any lists by the Americans. So they can compose any lists they want, the Americans are not going to do it at this point. That was when Yashin pointed out that when they (Opps) keep turning to a foreign power, it makes them, in the eyes of the Russian people, look like traitors. “We are not a group of dissidents, nor are we Novodvorskaya’s party. Why are we appealing to foreign governments, and not to the people?’
      Yashin was refuted by Andrei Illarionov, who pointed out that the American government is the only force capable of compiling a Magnitsky List, therefore Opps needed to appeal to them, if they hope to achieve anything. Secondly, appealing to foreign governments is normal practice for a Shadow Parliament, which is what they are.

      Another piece about the Coordinating Committee meeting is this one, from DNI:

      http://www.dni.ru/polit/2013/2/16/246590.html

      According to this piece, at the Opps meeting Nikolai Bondarik Bondarik proposed the following plan of action to hurt Russia and Putin by trying to ruin the Olympics:
      –Develop a plan of “black PR” to scare away foreign tourists. Spread rumors that Sochi region is a hotbed of bloody ethnic and sectarian conflict, a region embroiled in terrorism, a place where light-skinned European ethnic types would find themselves in danger of attacks from Islamists.
      However, Bondarik’s proposal to organize this act of psychological diversion did not receive enough votes in the Committee, not even from his own faction.

      • Here we have yet another example of what is the real achievement of the white ribbon opposition and of its western sponsors. It is to ensure that Putin remains in power.

        Truly Russia is a country with bizarre politics. It has two completely different oppositions that exist in two parallel universes, which have no connection with each other. There is a legal, left wing and left of centre parliamentary opposition which functions in the real world and whose three parties (the KPRF, Just Russia and Yabloko) taken together win more than a third of the vote in parliamentary elections. It gets almost no attention. And there is the other opposition – the white ribbon opposition – which does absolutely nothing, has no support and wins no votes, but which exists in the virtual world of media politics and which gets all the attention.

        It is completely grotesque that we are obliged to spend more time discussing what Navalny, Udaltsov and Yashin are doing, though they command no one’s support, then we are discussing what Zyuganov, Mironov and Yavlinsky are doing, though they have real parties behind them and command the support of millions. The KPRF, Russia’s biggest opposition party which wins more votes in elections than all the other opposition parties put together, is about to hold its Congress amidst talk of a party split. It might as well be happening on the moon for all the attention it’s getting.

        Of course the beneficiary of this bizarre situation is Putin.

        • kirill says:

          I agree but Putin is not a bad beneficiary. In fact, it is his popularity that suppresses these alternatives. But the bottom line is that it is the electorate who decides which parties and leaders it wants to vote for. So the current legitimate (as opposed to the foreign sponsored 5th column joke) opposition is where it is at through democratic voice.

          Nothing is forcing them to have 1/3 the vote and in spite of Zyuganov’s regular loser tantrums that the vote was stolen from him, it is a fact that he is a spent leader that is the main detriment to the KPRF adapting to Russia’s reality and thereby achieving electoral success. But even if he leaves Putin will not all the sudden become unpopular.

          • Dear Kirill,

            I not onlly agree with you but we are perhaps even closer than you realise.

            First, not only do I agree with you that Putin is a worthy beneficiary but I would go further and say that he is far and away the best person to lead Russia at the present time. Moreover there is no doubt that the Russian people agree with us. Even if the left and left of centre opposition had been united behind one candidate at the time of the Presidential election last March (as it could and should have been) and even if there had been no falsification of the voting at all even in places like the northern Caucasus where falsification of the vote has become institutionalised, Putin would surely still have won and done so moreover on the first ballot.

            Secondly, your point about the Russian people choosing the parties they support is exactly right. It shows a fundamental contempt for democracy and for the democratic will of the Russian people to disregard so completely their choice of who they vote for when reporting on Russian politics. The trouble is the western media and parts of the Russian media do not want to report on Russia as it actually is. They prefer instead to report on a Russia of their own imagination. In this imaginary or fantasy Russia (as opposed to the real Russia) Navalny is Putin’s main opponent, Udaltsov is an important man, Kasparov’s and Nemtsov’s opinions matter and the Coordinating Council has take the place of the Real Russia (remember them?) as the true voice of the Russian people.

  5. Dear Mark,

    I notice that there has been some somewhat acrimonious exchanges on Mark Adomanis’s blog on the subject of Putiin’s popularity.

    I am not signed up to Mark Adomanis’s blog not because I have anything against him personally but because I find that I have to limit the time I devote to blogging and his is a a blog too far. The result is that I cannot read all the exchanges that happen on his treads. However on the assumption that you are one of those challenging Mark Adomanis’s conclusions let me say I agree with you. There has been NO significant decline in Putin’s level of support or popularity. Even if one accepts Levada’s methodology (about which I am starting to have doubts) Putin’s support at over 60% is exactly where it was at the time of the Presidential election a year ago. Of course if you accept Golos’s view that Putin actually got less than 50% in that election (which I don’t) then his support according to Levada has actually increased. Going back further Putin’s ratings are obviously no longer at the stratospheric 80-90% that they were in the mid 2000s in the aftermath of the Khodorkovsky affair and during the period of relief and euphoria following the recovery from the crisis of the Yeltsin era but such improbably high poll ratings are hardly sustainable outside a totalitarian society and given that Putin is not Stalin and that Russia is not North Korea their decline was not only inevitable but healthy and show that Russia is not the dictatorship or semi dictatorship that some people (including Mark Adomanis) say it is. Going back further still Putin is still polling above the 55% he got in the Presidential election in 2000, which given how long he has been in power is astonishing and which shows how dominant politically he is.

    • AK says:

      Approval ratings in polls =/= election results though.

      By comparison with Putin’s polls in previous years, his support *has* declined. The difference between this view and that of the Putin haters, however, is that I don’t see anything particularly alarming or portentous for the “regime” in this. Russia is becoming a more politically sophisticated country and as such we can expect to see a greater plurality of political preferences as the years go by.

      • marknesop says:

        I completely agree. There’s nothing wrong with a strong opposition – every government needs one; but there isn’t one in Russia and that is hardly Putin’s fault. He allows plenty of openings for a talented up-and-comer to steal the limelight and make it his/her own, it’s just that the opposition is such a bunch of wet ends that they would not recognize an opportunity if it drove over them in a Mercedes.

        I just came from Sean’s blog, and I can think of no finer example of what a complete tool Boris Nemtsov is than his Facebook post on the Famous Chelyabinsk Meteor. Read it and weep, with mingled laughter and pity.

  6. On a completely different front, I notice that the website of Sana, the Syran News Agency, is back on line. As people may remember it came under severe cyber attack at the time of Operation Damascus Volcano last summer and was off line for several months. I don’t know when it went back on line. The fact that Sana is back on line is surely significant and may suggest a shift in US policy (on the assumption that it was a US cyber attack that forced it off line in the first place). Could this be connected to the departure of the Syria hawks (Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus) and the arrival of a more realistic team (Kerry and Hagel etc)?

    By the way I notice that RT’s website has been off line all day. I wonder why?

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, I noticed RT has been offline, too, because several of my references would have come from there had they been available. On that note, the new post will probably be delayed, as I just lost 4 hours of work that quarked off into the dumpster when I accidentally went to a different page because my daughter was fluttering around me and demanding attention so she could show me her magic egg wand. WordPress is a pig for that – in most applications it warns you you are about to leave the edit page without having saved your work, but there are a few (such as Akismet Stats, the page I ended up on although I did not want it) which just blithely dump everything as it does what it thinks you want. Irrecoverable, I’m afraid, and I’m too pissed off to try and reconstruct it from memory. I’ve been warned I don’t know how many times to work in Word and then copy and paste, but it’s awkward for hyperlinks and as I said, WordPress usually warns you. Usually.

    • yalensis says:

      Dear Alexander: I too suspect a slight shift in American policy towards Syria. In the direction of more realism. I think the Hillary/Petraeus departures are significant, likewise the non-promotion of Susan Rice. The Libya/Syria adventures were Clinton projects. Kerry/Hagel are the anti-Clintons in a lot of ways. Hence, I think behind the scenes there is some blowback for the Benghazi debacle, which was a more significant event than American media like to admit. (Democrat Hillary-lovers pretend that Benghazi was a meaningless, random event that proves nothing; whereas Republican Hillary-haters sense that it was important, but draw all the wrong conclusions!)
      Anyhow, new American Secretary of State Kerry is likely to have a more realistic foreign policy and not go rushing off to war with Syria and Iran. I saw this piece today, in which Kerry had to try several times to get the attention of Sergei Lavrov. After they finally hooked up on the telephone, they talked about Syria and possibilities for a peace plan, among other issues:

      http://www.dni.ru/polit/2013/2/18/248372.html

  7. JLo says:

    Sounds like they’re going after Hermitage for the Gazprom structures. Finally, this was the low hanging fruit. It should be interesting to see how Browder tries to weasel his way out of this one. I wonder what the statute of limitations is.

    http://top.rbc.ru/incidents/18/02/2013/845522.shtml

    • Dear JLo,

      I think Gazprom is at the heart of the whole Magnitsky affair. I don’t have to tell you that the Russian authorities are incredibly sensitive to anything that touches on Gazprom. If Browder was trying to acquire Gazprom shares that was almost guaranteed to provoke a reaction. From the other side the US and the Europeans have never hidden their frustration about Gazprom’s very existence under exclusive Russian control. They have been constantly campaigning to have Gazprom broken and sold up so that they can gain direct access to Russia’s gas resources. A great deal of the hostility to Putin in my opinion is connected to his defence of entities like Gazprom and Rosneft and his insistence on Russian control over Russian energy assets. “Energy nationalism” it is sometimes called.

      • marknesop says:

        The material from which I sourced on the subject has suggested all along that Browder was allowed to have pretty much a free hand – until he started messing about with GAZPROM. I imagine “The Hermitage Effect” was noted more or less the second time he did it, but he was not called to account for it and the Russian government continued to act predictably. But the illegal acquisition of GAZPROM shares probably provoked a comparatively quick response. If Browder had been expecting it, he wouldn’t have shown up at the airport, because he’s been very careful not to go anywhere near Russia since.

        • Dear Mark,

          In my opinion many of the stories about Putin’s “hidden billions” also link up with Gazprom. Both Belkovsky’s original claims viz Guvnor and the subsequent Bank Rossia claims ultimately come back to Gazprom. The insinuation is that if Putin resists foreign buy outs of Gazprom it is because he secretly owns it.

          • JLo says:

            I think we all know what to make of this story, i.e. it’s total BS. Gazprom is a strategic entity deemed essential to Russian national security. It’s the same story with Rosneft. All major oil producing nations have similar entities. However, unlike, say Saudi Aramco for example, foreigners are welcome to acquire minority stakes, up to a point. They are, after all, publicly traded companies.

        • JLo says:

          I think to understand the Hermitage affair it is necessary to break it down into several distinct, but interconnected, episodes.

          1) The acquisition of local Gazprom shares whose end beneficiary was a foreign entity – this was illegal at the time of said acquisition due to the ring fence, but, as I said before, was a widespread practice. This also involved tax efficiency schemes that acted in gray areas of legality. Hermitage at various points held shares through this structure worth billions of dollars. In and of itself, I don’t believe this ever raised the ire of the government. However, it left them open to having it used as “Kompromat” at a later date.

          2) Hermitage’s shareholder activism, or greenmail. When Hermitage’s troubles started they were particularly active in three companies in which they held significant stakes, namely Gazprom, Transneft and Surgutneftegaz. It was the result of these activities that Browder was eventually barred from the country. Many people assumed it was Gazprom that finally got sick of his yapping, but my understanding is it was actually Surgut that got him into trouble. His campaign to get the company to pay dividends out of its huge cash pile also coincided with the accumulation of a large stake in the company by Gennady Timchenko, et al.

          3) The tax refund affair. This is what led to the eventual death of Magnitsky, as I understand it. I know the least about this episode, so this is mostly speculation on my part, but I think either one of two things happened. It’s possible that Hermitage felt the heat coming down and decided to pull out all their money and try to work one over on the tax authorities at the same time by applying for the tax refund on the local entities created for holding Gazprom shares. The other possibility is that the Serdyukov/Stepanova tax police pack of wolves, acting in concert with crooked law enforcement officials, saw an opportunity arise out of Hermitage’s problems and decided to proceed with a corporate “raid” on their local structures. They then applied for a tax refund and divvied the proceeds. This version also implicates Renaissance Capital, with whom Hermitage had a very tumultuous relationship dating back to the 90s and was very familiar with the Gazprom structures. They had one themselves called “Rengaz”. I don’t want to speculate too much on what happened only to say that I personally believe either version of events is possible. Perhaps there’s even a third version about which I know absolutely nothing. It’s Russia so I never rule out anything completely.

    • marknesop says:

      “It should be interesting to see how Browder tries to weasel his way out of this one.”

      So far, it looks like he’s defending by attacking, and he appears still to have enough grease to get accounts of Russian officials on the Magnitsky List frozen in Lithuania.

  8. Moscow Exile says:

    Here are the two opening paragraphs of a BBC article on the Magnitsky trial:

    “The late Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is to go on trial in Moscow in a highly unusual criminal case brought against a dead defendant.

    “Mr Magnitsky, an auditor at a law firm, was arrested in 2008 after accusing officials of a huge tax fraud, but was later himself accused of those crimes”.

    So what was he: lawyer or auditor?

    Or does the BBC think that an employee of a law firm is by definition a lawyer?

    Or is it simply a case of Orwellian doublespeak?

    • Dear Moscow Exile,

      Well at least the BBC calls Magnitsky an auditor instead of a lawyer. The Financial Times in its article yesterday continued to refer to Magnitsky as a a lawyer even though it must by now be aware that his status as a lawyer is being questioned.

      Anyway the BBC report is also wrong. Magnitsky’s trial was not “postponed”. The hearing today was a pre trial hearing intended to fix the date of the start of the trial. The lawyers the Court appointed to defend Magnitsky would have informed the Court when they were read to start. On that basis the Court has fixed the date for the trial as 4th March 2013.

      • kirill says:

        This whole label game is a transparent attempt to launder Magnitsky. He was not some independent 3rd party, he was a corrupt accountant working for Browder. Funny how the west and its 5th column in Russia squawks about corruption but they bend over backward to defend corrupt criminals such as Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky.

        Since movies and TV play a key role in shaping the perceptions of the masses there is a need to mislabel him in the western propaganda. Lot’s of movies and TV shows had the stereotypical corrupt accountant. So it is hard to paint Magnitsky as an automatic martyr if his job was properly identified. Instead there is the insinuation that he was some “human rights lawyer” or some such nonsense to make him seem like a truth seeker and not a fraudster.

        BTW, Magnitsky did not deserve to die before trial through neglect or incompetence. But there is zero evidence he was murdered by the supposedly “crooked’ Moscow law enforcement.

  9. RAPSI is reporting rumours that Serdyukov is going to be charged this week under two articles of the Russian Criminal Code and that he could face up to 10 years in prison. We will see.

    http://rapsinews.com/news/20130218/266439809.html

  10. kirill says:

    http://en.rian.ru/world/20130218/179553038/Russian-FM-Says-Moscow-Not-Smuggling-Tank-Parts-to-Syria.html

    Why does Russia have to explain itself about arms parts or arms shipments to Syria? Because NATO and its middle eastern minions don’t like it? How about Qatar, Saudi Arabia and all the other Sunni zealot states justify why they are arming the Syrian jihadis and actually sending their own jihadis into Syria. Spare me the democracy crap.

    Russia should make Finland pay for this stunt. Perhaps a few billion dollars worth of trade deals cancelled would send the message. The Finns have been on an anti-Russia trip as of late. For example, the kidnapping case of a Russian child by his Finnish father. Such crimes are treated seriously in the USA and you even have the photographs of the abducted children on milk cartons. Yet the Finns gave preferential treatment to the father at the expense of the mother. They could not invoke some sort of mistreatment at the hands of the mother or even that she lived in poverty as an excuse. They just acted like a pack of chauvinists and threw in their “justice system” support behind the Finnish father.

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