Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin served in the KGB for 17 years, rising to lieutenant colonel, and later became the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. Putin was president of Russia from 2000 – 2008, prime minister from 2008 to 2012, and when constitutionally mandated term limits were relaxed, he won the presidency in 2012 for a third term – of now six years. By 2018, Putin will have been prime minister or president of Russia a total of 18 years.
With the economic and social liberalization efforts ushered in after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russians for the first time enjoyed several liberal radio and television stations and newspapers that offered views sometimes critical of the government, but over time, Putin, usually through illegal actions, took control of all of those stations. In one example in 2000, Russian authorities raided the offices of a major television network, NTV, and jailed the owner, Vladimir Gusinsky. Gusinsky had been an opponent of Putin’s and he was held until he agreed to sell his media empire to a state-controlled company. Oligarchs loyal to Putin now control all major newspapers. Many previous owners, journalists, and columnists of those operations have been murdered, sent to prison, or have fled in exile. Opposition to the Putin has been silenced. The last remaining voices, web-based ezines, are no more.
Putin’s opponents die
Since Putin came to power, at least 34 opposing journalists have been murdered in Russia. Compare that to the two journalists killed in China, or the three journalists killed in the US over the same period. Putin’s many victims include former business and political associates and former intelligence agents. Here are just a few of the dead:
Alexander Litvenko, a former Russian FSB agent who defected to Great Britain, died November 2006 of polonium-210 poisoning. His desperate struggle to survive was covered by British media, and was wrenching.
Nikita Kamaev and Vyacheslav Sinevand, two officials with Russia’s anti-doping agency RUSADA, had detailed knowledge of Russia’s (Putin’s) state-sponsored sports doping scandal. Both died mysteriously in Russia in 2016, only two months apart, supposedly of “massive heart attacks”. Kamaev had planned to go public with sensitive information.
Mikhail Lesin, once a major player in Putin’s rise to power, fell out of grace and fled to the US to start a new life. Lesin died in November of 2015 in a Washington DC hotel room of blunt force trauma, severe head and body injuries, and not a heart attack as first stated by his colleagues.
Alexander Poteyev, a former Russian FSB agent and defector, betrayed a ring of Russian spies living undercover in the US, including the glamour spy, Anna Chapman. Poteyev died mysteriously in July of 2016.
Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who authored a book, “Putin’s Russia,” in which she accused Putin of turning Russia into a police state. She was shot at point blank range in her apartment building elevator. Five men were convicted of her murder, but the judge found that it was a contract killing, with $150,000 paid by an “a person unknown.”
Human-rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov represented Politkovskaya and other journalists who had been critical of Putin. He was shot by a masked gunman near the Kremlin. Journalist Anastasia Baburova, who was walking with him, was also killed when she tried to help him.
Natalia Estemirova was a journalist who worked uncovering human-rights abuses carried out by the Russian state in Chechnya. She was abducted from outside her home and found in nearby woods with gunshot wounds to her head. No one has been convicted of her murder.
Boris Nemtsov was a former deputy prime minister of Russia under Yeltsin who later became a major critic of Putin, accused him of being in the pay of oligarchs. Nemtsov was shot four times, yards from the Kremlin, as he walked home from a restaurant. The killer has not been identified.
Boris Berezovsky was a Russian oligarch who fled to Britain after a falling out with Putin. In exile, he made threats to bring Putin down. Berezovsky was found inside a locked bathroom with a ligature around his neck, an apparent suicide although the coroner couldn’t explain how he died. The British police had investigated several alleged assassination attempts against him.
NATO: The bane of Putin
At the close of WWII, Russian troops in Eastern Europe never left. Instead, they crushed national governments and installed puppet regimes loyal to Russia, cynically accomplishing what Hitler tried to do in Eastern Europe. NATO was formed in 1949 as a bulwark against Russian expansion into Western Europe and it has been the most successful mutual defense alliance in the world. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in December 1991, NATO consisted of 16 member states. Since then, NATO membership has ballooned to 28 countries as most former Soviet prison-states quickly declared their independence from Russia and clamored to join NATO’s mutual-defense pact and open up economic ties with the West.
NATO’s inclusion of so many countries that were once prisoners of the Russian empire has not been well received by Russia. When Ukraine, long a victim of Russian dominance and the single country hosting Russia’s only ice-free naval port in the Black Sea, began making overtures to the West, the Kremlin panicked. Following the popular ouster of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Putin moved troops, weapons, and tanks into Crimea and illegally annexed it as part of Russia in March of 2014.
That April, only days later, tens of thousands of Russian troops and Ukrainian separatists, supplied with Russian weapons and tanks, moved into eastern Ukraine. Russia has illegally taken control of the region and since the invasion, over 9,500 people have been killed and another 22,100 injured, including soldiers and civilians, according to UN figures. As of August of 2016, the Pentagon states that Russia has amassed 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s “border” and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has warned that a full-scale invasion by Russia may be imminent.
As a non-member state, NATO has not acted visibly to protect Ukraine. The Republic of Georgia on Russia’s southern border is also not a NATO member and Putin invaded and seized portions of Georgia in 2008. But, Russia has never made any direct military moves against a NATO member state, including the tiny Baltic States. Not yet.
A love affair between megalomaniacs
Given minimally, the history of Putin-ordered murders of journalists and opponents, his invasion of Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine, and his campaign of criminal airstrikes on civilians in Aleppo, I find it inconceivable how Donald Trump could view Putin as a “great leader”. Incredibly, the president-elect of the United States has nothing but praise for perhaps America’s most dangerous adversary. Following are only a few of the many comments of exhuberant praise Trump has awarded Putin:
Soon after Russia unleashed a cyberwar on tiny Estonia, Trump told Larry King, “Look at Putin—what he’s doing with Russia—I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean, this guy has done—whether you like him or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.”
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump stated, “I was in Moscow a couple of months ago, I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.”
Just after Russia annexed Crimea, Trump tweeted, “I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!” And: “Putin has become a big hero in Russia with an all-time high popularity. Obama, on the other hand, has fallen to his lowest ever numbers. SAD.”
A glaring question I have is why would any American praise Putin’s efforts to rebuild Russia’s past empire? The Soviet Union was a 70-year disaster known for corruption, brutality, murder, genocide, and pervasive state-sanctioned human rights abuses.
In 2015 in Scotland, Trump told reporters that he’d “get along very well” with the Russian president. “I just think so. People say, ‘What do you mean?’ I think I would get along well with him.” He added: “He hates Obama, Obama hates him. We have unbelievably bad relationships.”
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Trump insists that there isn’t adequate proof to blame pro-Russian separatists for shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014. According to Trump, “they say it wasn’t them. It may have been their weapon, but they didn’t use it, they didn’t fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you’ll probably never know for sure.”
Putin returned the praise to Trump, saying that he is “a very lively man, talented without doubt,” and that Trump is the “absolute leader in the presidential race.” By that same afternoon, Trump gushed his approval. “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
On December of 2015 on Morning Joe, Trump defended Putin from allegations that he’s murdered journalists and political opponents. “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country. I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe.” Trump seems to be saying that President Obama has murdered American journalists, or he hasn’t and maybe he should?
In a presidential debate, Trump asked Moscow to hack Hillary Clinton’s email. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
In July of 2016, speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump stated that “He (Putin) is not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.” Of course Russia had already annexed Crimea and already had (and still has) several thousand troops stationed in eastern Ukraine.
Against numerous Putin atrocities, Trump has continued to heap praise: “He (Putin) is really very much of a leader. The man has very strong control over his country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”
But it’s really all about money
Trump has absolutely no history in public service and his motivations in becoming President of the US are strictly self-oriented and financial. To say there will be conflicts of interest is a profound understatement; Trump’s business ties are worldwide. The Trump family has visited Moscow several times in search of opportunities and Russian investors have put millions of dollars into Trump properties around the world. When Trump brought his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013, he left with $14 million for the effort and permission from Putin to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. As early as 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said this in an inteview: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump refuses to release his tax returns because his pervasive conflicts of interest would become known. His imminent presidency and his numerous foreign business operations will immediately violate the US Constitution Emoluments Clause, which, addressing the presidency, states: “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” An emolument is compensation for services, or from employment, or an office. The word derives from Latin and means for “profit” or “gain.” Violating this clause, Trump will be impeachable on day one.
Astonishingly, Trump refuses to attend the President’s Daily Brief, a security briefing prepared by US intelligence agencies, because according to Trump, “I don’t need daily briefings.” Could this be because he might then be challenged about his relationship with a dictator? For Trump, ignorance is bliss. For the nation, Trump’s ignorance of American government, international relations, foreign policy, and his sheer indifference toward educating himself, are extreme hazards. For Trump, it’s only about the money.
In an interview with the New York Times, Trump conditioned US military support for NATO members attacked militarily by Russia on whether the country under attack had met its financial obligations to NATO. A contribution of 2% of each member nation’s GDP is the target contribution, but this is not mandated by the treaty and many nations fall short of that. However, Trump’s comments have shattered the security policy of every American president since NATO’s founding in 1949. His comments caused instant concern by NATO countries facing Russia’s long border, especially the tiny Baltic States. Following are excerpts from a New York Times interview with Trump:
NYT: “If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?”
TRUMP: “I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.”
NYT: “My point here is, can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations —“
Trump: “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
NYT: “And if not?”
Trump: “Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.”
In this interview, Trump is telling NATO members and Putin, that the US now reserves the right, for the first time in NATO’s history, to abandon its obligations if a member nation hasn’t contributed enough money, to be determined by Trump.
The puppet and his master
Putin, once director of Russia’s FSB intelligence and espionage agency, has been grooming Trump for years, exchanging gifts, signing deals, investing in Trump properties, and flattering him publicly – which is Trump’s key weak spot. Trump craves public praise by anyone, including dictators. And Trump clearly admires dictators; he has expressed admiration for Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, even Kim Jong-un, and of course, Putin. For the record, American presidents have never, ever openly and repeatedly expressed admiration for the “leadership” skills of murderous thugs and tyrants. We don’t congratulate criminals. Trump thinks they’re amazing. And he’s about to become our president.
Trump constantly parrots Putin’s comments. On Syria, on Russia’s war on Aleppo, on Crimea, on Ukraine, on NATO, on the murder of so many of Putin’s opponents inside and outside of Russia, on the shoot-down of flight MH17 and the murder of its 298 passengers, Trump behaves as Putin’s cheerleader, supporting him on every position. And those positions are abhorrent, smashing decades of refned American policy. When Trump became a contender for the Republican nomination for president, Putin must have been ecstatic, and when Trump “won”, well, Putin won the jackpot. With Trump as president, Putin will have his “inside man” at the pinnacle of American government, an individual obsessed with wealth and fame, and utterly indifferent to the healthy functioning of American democracy, America’s role in the world, and global security issues. The threat to the nation and the world is severe.
Yes, in fact, the election was rigged
Now, major news agencies report that US intelligence agencies are convinced Russia pervasively hacked our election with the intention of putting Trump in office. After detailed analysis, the CIA has concluded that Russia hacked into DNC servers and the private email accounts of over 100 Democratic Party officials, including Hillary Clinton, and several party organizations. The Russians then posted these emails, many of them edited for greater impact, on WikiLeaks. The CIA also has evidence that people connected with the Russian government paid for “troll farms” to spread fake, malicious news about Clinton, which they did incredibly well.
The CIA secretly shared this knowledge of the Big Russian Hack and its purpose with the President and congressional leaders well before election. Concerned that a unilateral White House statement would appear to be an effort to tilt the election in favor of the Democrats, President Obama met with senior officials of both parties to review the material and prepare a public, bipartisan statement warning the nation about the Russian hack and Russia’s serious efforts to hijack the election.
According to the Washington Post, Democratic leaders agreed unanimously to take the threat seriously, but Republicans were divided, with senior GOP lawmakers unwilling to agree to Obama’s request. Several officials present in the meeting have reported that Mitch McConnell and other Republicans questioned the validity of the CIA’s information. McConnell then made it clear to the president that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly as an act of partisan politics. So for the Republicans, the Democrats have replaced Russia as the more serious threat.
At the time of the Obama’s meeting with congressional leaders, the Republicans knew that they had also been hacked by the Russians, but Putin was not releasing private Republican communications to WikiLeaks, only Democratic emails. By then, Putin’s agenda was clear; he was backing Trump. So, rather than joining with the President and other members of congress to defend America’s vital election process, rather than acting as a unified government to protect the foundation of democracy that half a million American soldiers have died for, Republican leaders sided with Putin. They chose to subvert democracy and keep the secret from American voters that our election was under attack. Republicans chose to hide the truth from voters so that Trump would likely win. They embraced a fraudulent election and supported the agenda of an enemy of the United States.
These actions by Mitch McConnell and others who supported him in this debacle are absolutely unprecedented in American history. And they are treasonous, as defined by U.S. Law:
“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
The only remedy
Copyright 2016 Daniel R. Cobb