Vladimir Putin’s regime has arguably surpassed the Soviet Union in its artful employment of propaganda. One of the most widespread myths that the regime energetically pedals is that there is “no life” – or any viable political options – after Putin. This line is fed both to domestic and foreign audiences in different but overlapping forms.
The times are changing and so is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Back in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin was inebriated with the unexpected astounding success of his Crimean operation and gutless response of the West. He had never expected that his action in Ukraine, which was intended to keep this country in the Moscow’s orbit of corrupt regimes, would trigger such a great wave of nationalistic exaltation in Russia which would turn him into a semi-mythical figure, a hero who came to restore Russian national might and glory. Even the liberal opposition and imprisoned leftist leaders unanimously joined the ecstatic crowd praising the Putin’s action. Never in the long history of his reign, Putin could feel so close to claiming the title of Russian Messiah.
However, with the Ukrainian gamble, the Russian President has opened a can of worms. The nationalistic paranoia lifted the lid and any hint of stepping back in front of a foreign enemy would provoke a charge of high treason and accusations of being a fake Messiah.
Meanwhile, after such a promising beginning dubbed the “Russian Spring,” a chain of misfortunes and failures followed. The majority of ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine remained loyal to their country and rejected Putin’s siren songs of the “Russian World.” As a result, the ambitious project of “Novorossiya,” which implied the territorial grab of a half of Ukraine all the way from Kharkiv to Odessa, shrunk to a puny sliver of land in the east of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. No less misfortunate was Putin’s venture in Syria, which was supposed to distract national attention from the failure in Ukraine. After declaring three times victory and withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, Mr. Putin had to face the music of the Deir ez-Zor debacle, were more than three hundred of Russian fighters were killed in February by the U.S. artillery and aircraft (by the way, if confirmed this number exceeds all the Soviet losses in clashes with Americans during the entire Cold war.) Finally, the hated Anglo-Saxons began to threaten Kremlin with a seizure of multiple assets in the West, which belong to Putin’s close friends and relatives: only in the U.S., these assets’ combined value exceeds $1 trillion. Closeness to Putin becomes toxic for Russian elites. Their bitter disappointment with Putin echoes with the deep discontent of Russian nationalists, who volunteered in great numbers to fight in Ukraine and now feel betrayed. Their spokesman, Russian fascist philosopher Alexander Dugin ceased praising Putin and reversed his position on the President.
Russia-watchers have noticed, that whenever Putin feels he is in trouble, he tends to disappear for a long time. This happened when Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed, and the pattern was repeated after the Deir ez-Zor disaster when Putin “got cold” and was absent for two weeks (officially, he got sick for the first time in 18 years of his presidency.)
He came back with a new agenda for the rest of his presidency for life. Until recently, the Putin we knew was trying hard to reach a deal with the West, a sort of a new version of Yalta. After being kicked out from G-8, Putin’s active meddling in Syria, North Korea and elsewhere had only one message to the Western leaders: you need Russia (and me personally) to tackle these problems, bring me back to the club of world leaders as an equal partner and recognize my absolute dominance over the zone of my exclusive interests ( at least in Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space) It seems that now he has abandoned this futile hope and moved to the “Russia as a sieged fortress” scenario.
Now he wants a confrontation with the West, from this day on he is willing to crank up the level of risk and is much more dangerous than he used to be. This agenda will help him to unite the «elites» around himself and keep the power for life.
But what resources besides unique Russian spirituality can he use to confront the NATO alliance, which is many times stronger than Russia economically, militarily, and technologically?
Actually, Putin has a Wunderwaffe, and he has displayed it in a number of interviews earlier this month. Of course, we are not talking about ridiculous videos he showed in his address to the Federal Assembly. Putin’s wonder weapon is his nuclear blackmail, his willingness and readiness to strike first, his complete disregard of the value of human lives, both Western and Russian ones, which he has repeatedly shown before.
Lately, he has incessantly and with gusto repeated with graphic detail depiction of him personally launching a nuclear attack against the West.
His blatantly defiant poisoning of a fugitive Russian spy with a chemical weapon was the first step in his special operation to prolong his presidential term through the rest of his life. He has deliberately left plenty of evidence to state urbi et orbi: I, Vladimir the Terrible, did it!
By doing this Putin killed two birds with one stone: the level of confrontation with the West went sky-high, while the world starts to believe that he really is a monster ready to use the weapons of mass destruction.
In my article published the day before New Year’s Eve I posited that Russian diplomacy would devote all its efforts to convince their “US partners” to keep Putin and his personal financial guard out of the “Kremlin Report.” As the fateful January 29th deadline kept drawing mercilessly closer, the Kremlinites desperately had to find some kind of dramatic blackmail. And at the eleventh hour, a troika of Russia’s top security officials arrived in DC.
By then, the “Kremlin Report” had already been finalized by the agencies that drafted it and was ready to go to the Congress. As prescribed by August 2nd, 2017, Act, the Report included a list of individuals closest to Putin who were most intimately involved in his military and financial crimes.
On January 29th (when the Act-prescribed 180 days to draft the “Kremlin Report” expired), DC spent the day in anticipation. However, it was only learned the next morning that the report had in fact been presented at the stroke of midnight. The delay was apparently due to significant last-minute changes introduced at a very high government level. You will recall that the Section 241 of the Act (concerning individual sanctions) required that the executive branch list the individuals close to Putin and involved in his crimes, as well as detail each such individual’s financial information, including net worth, sources of income, corruption schemes, property held by their family members, and include a comprehensive list of all such assets held in the US jurisdiction. The crucial last-minute change was the following: this detailed financial information was classified, hidden from the public eye in a special secret section of the Report.
While the “Kremlin Report” was being drafted, the very credible US institution, the National Bureau of Economic Research, estimated that private Russian assets in the US total around 1 Trillion Dollars (more precisely, between 0.8 and 1.3 Trillion). This number is mind-boggling. Even the most merciless critics of Putin’s regime had no idea the robbery was so large-scale. The Act required that this Russian Trillion is broken down in detail: How much belongs to Abramovich, how much to, say, Mordashov and to the various frontmen who hold Putin’s personal assets.
This now classified document numbers hundreds of pages and is potentially devastating to the Russian Kleptocracy for two reasons. First: Yes, it’s no secret in Russia that its rulers steal but that’s just general knowledge whereas detailed information about the hundreds of billions of dollars stolen from Russia by its rulers will have a great political impact, with consequences that are hard to predict. This is not even the robbery of the century – it’s the robbery of the millennium, unprecedented in world history. Never in the history of human conflict have so many been robbed of so much by so few.
The second reason the Report is devastating to the Russian Kleptocracy concerns the consequences of the Report for the Russian Trillion’s beneficiaries. When the classified portion of the Report is disclosed, its contents will easily enable the judicial authorities (with no new sanctions or other political decisions) to charge those named in the Report with money laundering, freeze their assets, confiscate these assets, and ultimately return the stolen goods to the victims of these crimes, the Russian people. In fact, the British government is already doing this, requiring Russian mega‑conmen (starting with RF First Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov) to explain the source of their wealth. There is no way Russian leaders could have made this type of money legally during non-work hours.
And that’s exactly what the Russian elite has been fearing, which is why panic, and hysteria reigned on all Russian political TV shows on January 29th. During one broadcast, for example, a prominent public servant exclaimed: “Trump betrayed us! Now we have to reveal all the dirty laundry we have on him.” Intrigued, the host asked: “Oh, we got dirty laundry on him?”- to which the politician exclaimed: “Sure we do!”
Compared to the day prior, the atmosphere on the same TV screens on January 30th was night and day, and we heard joyful exclamations “Trumpie is ours again!”, while Putin spent the day sounding off on how Russia must keep constructively working with the US (first and foremost, naturally, in the joint fight against Islamic terrorism).
For the umpteenth time, Putin passionately recited the story with the Tsarnayevs brothers, saying Moscow warned the US about the Tsarnayevs in 2011 but was ignored, and in 2013 the Boston Marathon bombing took place. Why does Putin permanently bring up the Tsarnaev story? The answer is simple: this is a criminal returning to the scene of the crime. In retelling the story over and over, Putin deliberately leaves out a key linking element.
Yes, it’s true that Moscow warned the US – twice – that the Tsarnayevs were dangerous Islamic extremists and potential terrorists. However, Moscow furnished no evidence that would enable the US authorities to prosecute the Tsarnayevs.
Still, after being alerted by Moscow, the FBI questioned Tsarnaev the elder – twice. Nevertheless, in 2012, Tsarnaev (now fully aware that the Russian authorities have declared him a dangerous Islamist extremist) traveled to Moscow. No, he didn’t find some secret trail to smuggle himself into Russia: He traveled quite openly, using his own passport, boarding a Delta flight to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He could only go to Russia if he had no doubt he’d be totally safe there (and why wouldn’t he be – after all, he was going to see his friends and mentors). Naturally, upon arrival, he was met by competent Russian authorities, under whose watchful eye he remained over the next six months or so while traveling in the Caucasus region and meeting with Islamist underground activists. Those activists were done away with, yet Tsarnayev remained safe and unharmed, returning to Moscow and, with his mentors’ blessing, boarding another Delta flight to the US, to meet his fate. The Boston bomber was loaded.
The story continues. In 2013 a group of US senators came to Moscow to investigate Tsarnaev’s Russian ties. After initially being given the run-around and told that Tsarnaev had never been to Russia, the senators then fell for a hoax when the Russians used a stool pigeon who promised to provide intel on Tsarnayev. What followed was an on-camera arrest of a US diplomat, quite theatrically orchestrated by the Russians. Thereafter Ambassador McFaul came to rescue the diplomat from the FSB, whereupon the Americans asked no more questions about Tsarnaev.
There is a great deal of direct, indirect and psychological evidence that, in 2012, Tsarnayev the elder spent six months in Russia getting ready for his 2013 mission in the US. Until and unless the Americans find the courage to face the truth about their Russian “partners,” those “partners” will keep on pulling the wool over the Americans’ eyes under the guise “fighting Islam terrorists together” – just like they did at a very high level on the eve of the “Kremlin Report” deadline.
Three war criminals (I call them that based on the aftermath of their ongoing actions in Ukraine and Syria) – Naryshkin, Bortnikov, and Korobov – unexpectedly arrived in the US, unhindered by the fact that two of them are named on the sanctions lists. While in the US, these three men met with their US colleagues, including CIA Director Pompeo. As seen from an interview with Director Pompeo and a handful of Russian and US publications, this trio used the same old tried-and-true blackmail methods Russia has been using throughout the five years following the Boston marathon bombing.
These three “nice guys” came to warn the American people of grave danger: After wrapping up the military campaigns in Iraq and Syria, hundreds, or even thousands, of Islamic terrorists of Russian and post-Soviet origin will be traveling to other countries and might end up in the US. Now wait a minute: the Kremlinites sent hundreds of terrorists to the Middle East from Russia, then proudly reported that all these terrorists have been wiped out ten times over by their glorious aerospace forces. But now it turns out that apparently thousands of these terrorists are still out there, and if not for the resplendent Naryshkin, Bortnikov, and Korobov warning the US about this and taking themselves the necessary measures, these terrorists would be flooding the US, blowing up American cities. So, of course, you have to work with these great guys who have taken the time to warn their partners of a looming threat.
Putin’s entire crew of agents of influence in DC – the various simes, rojanskys, kissingers and grahams – are once again belting out in unison the mantra they have learned by heart: “We need the Russians, we need the Russians! We have to work with the Russians or we’ll get blown up in our own cities. And in order to make sure the Russians cooperate with us, we must forget about petty little disagreements on Ukraine and other issues. And we should forever abandon the idea of sanctions against Russia’s political leadership.”
The Kremlin has already used this cheap con dozens of times worldwide, and now the Americans fell for it once again. This time, one of the Boston Marathon bombing masterminds took part in the con in an especially callous way. It’s no accident that, whenever he brings up the Tsarnayevs, Putin says: “Bortnikov and I,” “I assigned this task to Bortnikov…” And now this Bortnikov-the Bostonian has come to the US to teach the Americans, and Bortnikov’s class is not on how to make cabbage soup, but on how to make American cities safe. For a true chekist (and Comrade Bortnikov recently told us he’s proud of each of the hundred years of this criminal organization’s (the KGB/FSB)) history, it’s just as much fun to pull the wool over the CIA head’s eyes as it is to shoot enemies of the people using Felix Edmundovich [Dzerzhinsky’s] Mauser. The degree of the Americans’ failure to understand who Mr. Putin and who Mr. Bortnikov are baffles the mind.
On January 31, I took part, I took part in the Atlantic Council seminar where the late-night metamorphosis of the “Kremlin Report” was discussed. At the seminar, I, like other speakers, ascribed the “Kremlin Report’s” overnight transformation to the Russian Troika’s DC visit. While discussing the January 30th reaction by Moscow, (which included yet another one of Putin’s diatribes on the Tsarnayevs), I did a little experiment: I asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they knew that Putin’s canonical account (of Russia warning the US about the Tsarnaevs) is incomplete because it leaves out the fact that Tsarnaev the elder spent six months in Russia in 2012 under total control of the FSB, and returned to the US unscathed and free from the FSB’s grasp. Not a single hand went up in the audience. Seminar participants honestly knew nothing about this and asked me lots of questions after the seminar. It’s worth mentioning that these weren’t just random people off the street – these 100 or so attendees were longtime experts in the security field or US-Russian relations. I was dumbfounded by how deep and pervasive the conspiracy of silence regarding the circumstances of the Boston marathon bombing run.
This silence on the subject is due to reasons of US domestic policy. The predominantly liberal US media vehemently flail Trump on a daily basis for displaying even a hint of flavor to the Putin regime. Yet the unspoken rule of political sparring doesn’t allow the media to bring up the Boston Marathon bombing’s Putinesque roots, because if the media were to do so, these fiery Democrats would have to admit that it was the Obama administration that deliberately hushed up the truth behind the Boston Marathon Bombing, the most devastating terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11.
One would think that by raising the Boston Marathon bombing issue, Trump could easily call the Democrats hypocrites and once and for all smite their accusations against him concerning his mysterious Putinophilia. However, this brutal alpha male’s puzzling timidity toward his Russian counterpart is not fake, it’s real.
And so, the American political class finds itself in a two-party trap of its own making and is forced to tamely chew the cud force-fed to it by the Kremlin called “our common interests in fighting Islam terror.” On the night of January 29th, the Kremlin Special Troika and President Trump jointly halted (albeit hopefully not for long) the “Kremlin Report’s” devastating informational and financial blow. It’s worth noting that this blow would not be aimed at Russia, its target would be the criminal Russian Kleptocracy that’s been robbing and destroying Russia for a quarter century.
The stakes couldn’t be any higher right now: either the hundreds of classified pages of the Report are disclosed in the paramount interests of the Russian and American people, or else the US voluntarily becomes a long-term hostage of the Kremlin Kleptocracy.
In order to break free from the trap of “cooperating with Russia in the fight against Islamist terrorism,” the US Congress should undertake a real investigation into all the circumstances of the Boston Marathon Bombing and into the Kremlin’s ongoing efforts of supplying ISIS with militants from Russia and other former Soviet countries.
I would strongly recommend the Congressmen start by reading СNN National Security Analyst Michael Weiss’s brilliant article Russia’s Double Game with Islamic Terror. Published back in October 2013, the article was not heeded by the Obama administration and is yet to be read and heeded by the Trump administration. This is so perhaps due to the fact that, as far as I know, Michael Weiss is the only American asking very obvious questions, hard as they may be for those defending “cooperating with Russia.” Weiss asks:
But how did Tamerlan manage to arrive at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in January 2012, then proceed to Dagestan, after the FSB was obviously aware of his purported plans to join “bandit underground groups?”
How did Tamerlan get from Makhachkala to Moscow, then board a plane back to New York, if he was wanted for questioning by the Russian security services?
For any observer in Russia irrespective of his political sympathies, these questions are rhetorical, and the answer to both is the same.
To help the Congressmen with their investigation at least four people can shed valuable light on the subject. One is former Secretary of State John Kerry (who in 2013 accompanied a delegation of congressmen to Russia); another is former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; the third one is the US diplomat and intelligence officer Ryan Fogle, who was arrested while trying to get information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s sojourn in Russia, and, finally, there’s the younger Tsarnaev brother, who may well talk as the prospects of the electric chair are looming.
The deeper Russia plunges into its current morass of economic, social, and political problems, the more sophisticated is its art of manipulating Western minds with esoteric ploys. It conveys the message that “without us, you cannot address the challenges you face” while at the same time creating or enhancing these very same challenges itself for its own corrupt interests.
It was back in 2013 that the Kremlin’s propaganda and its agents of influence first used the mantra “you’d better be good and cooperate with us, or else terrorists will continue to attack you” when the Tsarnaev brothers fashioned crude explosive devices out of pressure cookers to bomb the Boston marathon. American prosecutors, journalists, and politicians haven’t bothered to probe for the truth about the Tsarnaevs. In fact, “The Boston bomber was armed a long time ago.” Before he committed his act of terrorism, the elder Tsarnaev in 2012 spent eight months in Russia, all the while closely monitored by the FSB. Although the Russian security agency in its correspondence with their U.S. counterparts assessed this young Chechen as an Islamist, Tsarnaev traveled to Russia via Moscow’s main airport, Sheremetyevo, without being held up. He would never have done so without being sure he could travel there safely. Most likely he was visiting his friends and handlers, who would eventually send him back to the U.S. for his meeting with destiny.
The Boston tragedy has opened a new chapter in the history of the Kremlin’s psychophysical impact on the Western establishment and society. Instead of sporadic ad hoc active measures, Kremlin operators have developed and activated an emotionally loaded concept of systemic zombification of the West.
Post-Boston, and following every major terrorist attack in the U.S., France, Germany, and Great Britain, Moscow has sent the message “You either cooperate with us, or terrorist bombings will continue on the streets of your cities.”
The notorious Russian propagandist Sergei Markov spelled out just what Moscow means by “cooperation”: “The conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine should be immediately halted. The gang that came to power in Kiev should be replaced with a technocratic government, the Ukrainian Constitution should be amended, and the neo-Nazis should be removed. The dictatorship in Kiev is one of the main obstacles for the joint U.S.-EU-Russia’s fight against terrorism.”
After the terrorist massacre in Paris, Russian Ambassador to the E.U. Vladimir Chizhov complained that “unfortunately, one terrorist attack in Paris might not suffice to give European leaders the correct consciousness and strategic vision”, and even Russian Prime-Minister Medvedev clearly stated that the terrorist attacks in the EU and the rest of the world are occurring because the West is trying to isolate Russia.
What the Kremlin is offering the West is protection against future terrorist attacks – but with a caveat. It is an open secret that Moscow has a network of agents among jihadis and has a certain influence on their leadership. This network is made up by people recruited by the KGB back when the Soviet Union supported “national liberation movements,” as well as by former Iraqi military officers trained in the USSR (who became the backbone of ISIS), and by a new generation of warriors from the Northern Caucasus and other regions of Russia willing to die for Allah. The FSB provided the latter group Russian passports and helped them reach the Middle East.
This caveated “cooperation” touted by the Kremlin, in essence, amounts to a new “Yalta” agreement: recognition of delineated spheres of influence and of Moscow’s exclusive rights over former Soviet republics. The West is to be intimidated, cajoled, and corrupted to the point that it ceases support for breakaway republics (such as Georgia and Ukraine) and escorts them back into the zone of the Russian kleptocracy’s privileged interests.
These are the goals of the hybrid World War Four declared by President Putin against the West and his stated terms of surrender. To come to power, Putin went to the extent of blowing up apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities in 1999. To convey to Americans the urgency of this “cooperation” with the Kremlin, Putin and his FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov dispatched the elder Tsarnaev brother back to the U.S.
The Obama’s administration was aware of the Boston terrorist attack’s circumstances but refused to face the truth since it was too frightening and implied very serious consequences.
The next Kremlin’s operation pursued the goal of bringing to the White House the candidate willing to repeat incessantly: “We need Russians to fight Islamic terrorism together.” The resounding success of this operation turned into a disastrous failure for the Kremlin. Its masterminds failed to understand the U.S. political system and its multilayered system of checks and balances. It was a Pyrrhic victory: any hint of pandering to Russia by the new administration met a fierce resistance of the American establishment.
Congress almost unanimously endorsed “An Act to Counter Aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea,” and on August 2, President Trump reluctantly signed it. Essentially, this legislation outlawed the entire Russian leadership as a criminal group and froze all its loot pillaged in Russia that had been stashed in the U.S. FinCEN was tasked with identifying all assets of the Russian ruling elite in the U.S., starting with Putin. Once these results are presented to the public, the Anti-Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crimes Acts will be applied to these assets and their owners. If and when this occurs, it will radically transform U.S. relations with the Putin kleptocracy.
It seemed like a breakthrough in the World Hybrid War: no new “Yalta” is looming on the horizon, while the noose of sanctions, which implies among other things the forfeiture of “Putin’s Trillion,” is tightening on the neck of the Kremlin kleptocracy. To change the dynamics of the game Putin, played his newest card: his Excellency, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States of America, Four Star General Anatoly IvanovichAntonov (who was included on the sanction lists of EU, Ukraine, and Canada for Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.)
Ambassador Antonov was sent to crank up the level of political blackmail. His task is to coerce his new country of residence to “Yalta” and to dissuade it from touching Kremlin slush funds. Apparently, he will not fall back on the old tsarnaevesque boogeymen of terrorists with IEDs. His argument will be the threat of nuclear apocalypse in the U.S.
In his remarks to the World Affairs Council in San-Francisco on November 29, and at Stanford University December 1, the Russian Ambassador touted Moscow’s influence on the North Korean leadership, asserting repeatedly that without Russia’s assistance, the U.S. won’t be able to protect itself against the North Korean nuclear threat.
“Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the world’s second-largest nuclear power. We are ready to offer our assistance in negotiations with the DPRK, as we too are concerned about the growing nuclear potential of North Korea. Likewise, we can help the United States in its fight against ISIS, and in regulating Iran’s nuclear program.”
There is no question, but that Moscow has a great deal of influence on Pyongyang. President Putin tirelessly lobbied for the North Korean nuclear missile program on the world stage: “they would rather eat grass then give up their program.” With each new leap of the North Korean missile/nuclear progress, experts have ever diminishing doubts about Russia’s crucial role in this Pyongyang’s astonishing progress.
The new Kremlin operation is an improved rerun of the Cuban Missile Crisis scenario. Unlike 55 years ago, Russia is today in a much better situation, since it bears no responsibility for its latest ‘nuclear offshore,’ but it is offering the U.S. its magnanimous assistance – for a price, of course. Back in 1962, JFK declared “… any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against… the United States [will require] a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
At that time, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did not have the chutzpah to respond in the manner of, “We are ready to offer you our assistance in negotiations with Cuba, as we too are concerned about the growing Cuban nuclear potential.”
Last week Putin lavishly praised President Trump’s achievements in his first year in office. Trump immediately called him back to express his gratitude. Putin aptly used the opportunity to repeat the offer of Russia’s potential contribution to solving the North Korean nuclear crisis, which his ambassador had already delivered in California. As a former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper succinctly stated: “Putin is a great case officer, and he knows how to handle an asset and that’s what he’s doing with the President.”
Gorgeous fall colors in Washington, DC. The perfect season for tourists. Including businesspeople. This fall, a new and growing class of tourists is roaming the DC streets: Russian billionaires.
All of these Russian billionaires can easily recite the now-famous Section 241 of “An Act to Counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea.” In unison, these tourists confide that they certainly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea from the very start. And then they ever so delicately inquire, um, to whom (and where) they can offer a very substantial reward to make sure their names stay out of the US Treasury’s report to the Congress on assets of “senior political figures, oligarchs and parastatal entities in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime.”
The Act adopted by the US Congress almost unanimously and signed by President Trump, kicking and screaming, on August 2, 2017, is a machine already operating, and it is now unstoppable. It is set to freeze around $1 Trillion ($1,000,000,000,000 per National Bureau of Economic Research valuation) of criminal “Russian assets.” The report is due on February 2, 2018. Under the Congress’ watchful eye, the US Treasury is hard at work putting it together, including compiling a comprehensive list of the owners and beneficiaries of these Trillion Russian Dollars in America, as well as “identifying indices of corruption with respect to those individuals.” Trying to halt or somehow interfere with this process in today’s US political climate would be suicide for any American politician, including Trump.
Political Washington is a city of leaks, and unofficial lists of corrupt individuals are no secret. The August 2, 2017 Act essentially criminalizes the entire Russian leadership that uses the United States to hoard the treasures it looted in Russia. The list truly reads like a “Who is Who” of Russian Kleptocracy, and includes Russia’s top officials (after all, how can you steal a whole Trillion without the assistance and involvement of top brass)?
A conscientious American police officer who confiscates a stolen wallet from a criminal certainly has to return the wallet to its rightful owner. In our case, the rightful owners are the Russian state and the Russian people. But what do you do if the criminal (the Russian leadership) is the rightful owner’s plenipotentiary representative? It is a legal conundrum to be sure, but I see a way out.
Step one: The US Congress publishes the detailed report it receives from the US Treasury regarding the Russian Trillion’s owners and beneficiaries – this way the report will become accessible to the Russian public and the world.
Step two: The US government announces that it’s ready to transmit, without delay, all the frozen assets to the Russian Federation on just one basic precautionary condition: The RF must adopt a law committing itself to full lifetime lustration of all the officials who embezzled these funds.
Many readers will certainly recall that, initially, the EU and US sanctions were introduced in order to stop Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. These readers will thus insist that returning the Prodigal Trillion to Russia should be postponed until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored. But for now, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to send some of these funds to the victim of this aggression as pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.
These arguments make sense, but such an approach seems wrong to me, both politically and psychologically.
Embezzling from Russia and Aggression against Ukraine are two distinctly different crimes, although they were committed by essentially the same individuals (through no coincidence, but through a distinct pattern of behavior).
Here is what yours truly said about this on the fatal day of March 1st, 2014:
The criminal venture of the Kremlin Kleptocrats who see the February 2014 crime-fighting revolution in Ukraine as a threat to their lifetime power, can be stopped if EU countries, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the US adopt a very simple measure: Heeding their own laws, these nations’ governments can identify and freeze Russian Federation’s highest officials and their business partners’ assets held at Western financial institutions.
Those guilty of unleashing the war on Ukraine will be publicly exposed as criminals who launder the colossal funds obtained through robbing the Russian people and other ethnicities residing in the RF.
To many, including those living in Russia, this measure will reveal the true motives of the Kremlin’s adamant refusal to accept the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew the power of the Kremlin Kleptocracy’s clone – the Yanukovich crew.
“We can’t foresee how our word will echo through the ages…” My word finally did echo three and a half years later in the clear language of Section 241. I will, therefore, allow myself to make a couple more modest recommendations.
The stolen goods must be returned to the owner with no preliminary political conditions. Just one technical condition has to be set in stone: making sure the money doesn’t go back to the gangsters who stole it.
New Russian leadership, now free from the white-collar criminals who turned out to be war criminals as well, will be able to (on its own, without outside financial or political pressure) resolve the existential issue of Russia’s relationship with Ukraine, including serious brotherly financial support for Ukraine in overcoming the consequences of Putin’s aggression. Especially now that funds will be available for this noble mission. And a great many people (including most of those living in Crimea) will recall with absolute sincerity that they were definitely against the annexation of Crimea from the get-go.
US-Russian relations will radically change as well. Russian citizens will certainly appreciate the US justice’s decisive role in returning to Russia the immense assets stolen from Russia – the assets that were the product of several generations’ labor, deprivations, suffering, and heroism.
The “presidential election” in Russia on March 18, 2018, is not going to resolve the issue of who is going to rule Russia. This is because this question is already being addressed. It is not being done by one hundred million voters, but by the approximately one hundred members of the Russian kleptocracy’s expanded Politburo.
To be sure, Putin’s last name is on the short list compiled by influential government officials-come-businessmen. However, for the first time during the seventeen years of his rule, he is facing some complications.
The “elite” has developed a doubt in his ability to effectively perform over the next six years the function that is the most important one for this gang – interaction with the eternally hated and adored West. The failure of Putin’s neo-imperial exploits has become the greatest foreign policy defeat of the regime and lowered the Kremlin’s relations with its Western partners, who control the foreign assets of Russia’s rulers, to the worst possible condition.
An existential threat to the most valuable facet of life for the Russian rulers has emerged – not just to their holdings in the West, but to their whole life style in the West – their children’s education, medical services, vacations, well-being of wives and concubines, long happy life, organ transplants, and their political and biological immortality can finally be assured with the billions robbed in Russia. All of this has been thrown into doubt by a single man, who through his adventurous braggadocio has ruined the business-based mutually advantageous relations of the Russian “elite” with the West.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron tormented Putin by putting him in his place and showed him how the leaders of the West will talk to the Kremlin from now on. Putin appeared weak, and as a result of the surprise, lost. It was clear that psychologically and physically he was diminished, which has only intensified the growing concerns of his entourage.
On July 7th in Hamburg, Putin went through what was possibly the most important casting session of his life. Not in front of the G20, of course, but in front of his own palace dwellers’ audience. Putin desperately needed some kind of “victory”. It was important for him to show that he is involved in resolving critical world issues. Our dear Trump did not fail his friend Vladimir. He gave Putin his first “victory” back in Washington, where members of the cabinet discussed the format of the pending meeting – full format bilateral negotiations or an unexpected talk in the hallway next to a john. The majority of the Secretaries gravitated towards the hallway option. Trump insisted on a 45-minute long negotiation with the participation of the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister.
In reality, the meeting actually lasted for more than two hours. Trump started it with a meek admission. He said that to get acquainted with the global scale “fixer” Putin is a great honor for him, a modest provincial realtor. Apparently, an even greater honor for Trump was the creation of a joint counter- cyber terrorism commission together with the organizer of the hacking attacks on the USA. He called the results of the Big Two Summit with his daring ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism “tremendous”.
On that day, insane foreign policy talk shows on the Russian government’s TV channels broadcasted round-the-clock and flatteringly relished all the physiological details of the triumph of our dominant male. Propagandist talking head Vladimir Soloviev displayed a photo-shopped picture “Supplicants and Putin”.
Our faithful servant felt that he had managed to seize his fortune and had created the required impression for his colleagues, who were beginning to doubt him. Straight from Hamburg, he dashed to the Valaam Monastery to kiss an artifact that servile priests had supplied to him, which in the language of his PR people meant – our great chief has arrived at a fateful decision to ”run for office” again.However, this triumph of Putin’s would last only a few days. Once back in Washington, Trump ran into very harsh criticism of his behavior in the Putin meeting and faced new accusations of collusion with the Kremlin during the election campaign. “Why, oh why does Trump love Russia so much?” – is how Farid Zakaria titled his unprecedentedly hard-hitting column in the “Washington Post.” Its ending reflects the mood which is dominant in the American capital and which does not bode well for Trump:
“It is possible that there are benign explanations for all of this. Perhaps Trump just admires Putin as a leader. Perhaps he has bought into the worldview of his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, in which Russia is not an ideological foe but a cultural friend, a white Christian country battling swarthy Muslims. But perhaps there is some other explanation for this fawning over Russia and its leader. This is the puzzle now at the heart of the Trump presidency that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will undoubtedly try to solve.”
While Mueller is trying to unscramble this puzzle, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced on July 12th that a bill containing harsh sanctions against the Kremlin, which was adopted by the Senate on a vote of 97 to 2, will be presented to the House without any changes. Trump’s administration insisted on amendments in vain. On July 25th, it was adopted by the House with a crushing majority of 417 to 3 (with additional language on North Korea). On the next day, leaders of both chambers agreed to send to the President’s desk the final text in a matter of days. The Senate did it on July 27th by a vote of 98 to 2. If Trump refuses to sign it would be for Trump a political suicide.
The domestic political victory for Putin that Trump granted him for undetermined reasons in Hamburg has turned-out to be a pyrrhic one. The simple fact that the President of the United States is not the Capo di tutt’i capi of criminal society, as is the case traditionally in Russia, and that even if his loyalty to Moscow could be achieved one way or another, it would still not be possible for Moscow to direct the American political system. This is something that does not fit into the minds in the Kremlin.
On the contrary, any step that Trump takes in Putin’s direction causes exactly the opposite reaction in Washington and immediately translates into absolutely concrete legislative actions.
Trump turned out not to be one of Putin’s assets, but a millstone around Putin’s neck. Putin is also now a millstone around Trump’s neck. This has been the actual result of the large scale special operation “Trump is ours.” The conclusion, which was arrived at on July 7th by the Kleptocracy expanded Politburo – that the Boss is still handling it – once again turned out to be premature.
As an article in the Washington Post reveals, the measures against Putin’s Russia that were discussed within the Obama administration once the scale of the Kremlin’s involvement in the US election campaign became clear. None of the sanctions, aside from the confiscation of the two vacation complexes, were implemented. However, the list is very interesting. It impacts the most sensitive pressure points of the Russia “elite.” The list includes, specifically, publication of information on and freezing of all the accounts of the Russian domestic kleptocracy, starting with that of Putin, and visa bans. Obama didn’t dare to introduce these harsh measures. Today they are key articles of unanimously adopted bipartisan legislation.
In retrospect, it is clear what a tremendous error the Kremlin made in betting on Trump. In fact, the possibility of Mrs. Clinton’s becoming president did not carry any kind of threat to the denizens of Kremlin. Today’s fierce anti-Putin position of the Democrats is the result of the domestic political situation. In reality, it is more anti-Trump than anti-Putin. Democrats feel that Putin is the president’s most vulnerable spot and that’s where they hit him without mercy. If Mrs. Clinton had come to power, most likely some new little “resetting [perezagruzka]” would have taken place. Now, all the bridges between Putin’s people and the American establishment have been burned.
In January President Trump exchanged some harsh words with Australian Prime Minister Turnbull. He was very frustrated, having inherited from Obama the agreement to resettle 1,500 refugees from the Nauru and Papua islands in the US.