Media freedom in Russia – not as bad as they want you to think

This is a story by the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth about a police raid on some online journalists in Moscow.

The journalists run a website called “project” (проект in Russian). They were planning to publish a story (and have now published) about the secret wealth of a government Minister. Previous stories have included an investigation into the leader of Chechnya – Ramzan Kadyrov. The journalists have been questioned in connection with an old defamation case. It seems they were interrogated; and phones and computers searched. The “Project” website itself makes no mention of arrests. Roth says that one editor was “detained”.

Roth contextualises the story as an episode in a wider crackdown on “journalists and opposition groups”.

Roth must know that he is misleading the British public. According to his own reporting groups such as the one in this case use stolen information (“the government has been unable to get a handle on the troves of Russian data that have been leaked and sold on an expansive black market”) to produce stories which embarrass senior figures in the government. They (these groups in general) seem to be more akin to the News of the World than Panorama or Dispatches. The actual story in question seems to be that a government minister’s family have acquired property. The suggestion is that this must be the result of corruption. Nothing then all that terrible – and one can note that enriching themselves and their families (if that is what has been happening here) is hardly something exclusive to Russian government Ministers. British government Ministers seem pretty adept at this too.

Meanwhile Assange languishes in Belmarsh for publishing information about war crimes.

Continue reading “Media freedom in Russia – not as bad as they want you to think”

Book Review: A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to its Legacy

It is hard to find good histories of Russia. It may be relatively hard to find good history books in general. I’m open-minded about what kind of approach I’m looking for in a history; I’ve read good history which is simply based on a pragmatic analysis of events, good history which takes a sociological approach, good history which gives a considerable weight to economic factors; good history which takes the view that individuals and ‘chance’ play a significant role in shaping history. All I ask is it goes beyond a simple chronological narrative and undertakes some serious analysis. (It goes without saying that explicitly bourgeois histories which go on about Kings and Queens to produce a fake ‘national history’ as an excuse to justify the current position of the bourgeoise don’t count). On Russia it is doubly hard to find good history. There are any number of “history” books on Russia which spew vitriol and anti-Russia hate from every page. You can tell these books as soon as you pick them up; for example if the preface is a vulgar pastiche of stereotypes about the KGB and anti-Soviet jokes then you know it is worth putting down. Even if Russia is an irredeemably terrible place you are still unlikely to understand anything about the country from someone who hates it. Hate, in general, does not help us see clearly.

Continue reading “Book Review: A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to its Legacy”

The level of journalism in the UK on Russia – an example

The level of journalism on Russia in the UK is staggeringly low.

This is an example – an article in the Independent by someone who works for state broadcaster Channel 4. It is based on an interview she did with the Russian Ambassador to the UK. Extracts and comments follow:

A question about whether the president of Belarus was Russia’s “pocket dictator” had gone down particularly badly.

If she used this precise expression then one can see why it went down badly. Was she surprised? What is her job? To get the news or to abuse an Ambassador?

And although Berlin and Paris are reportedly pushing to “reset” relations with Moscow, it’s hard to envisage Russia entirely shedding its pariah status while it continues to target its enemies with Novichok – at home and abroad.

“Pariah status”. Hang on – it is only from within the political narrative of the State Department and European capitals that Russia has ‘pariah status’. From within Russia and from many places on the planet Russia is not a ‘pariah’. Has the ‘journalist’ not just shown us that her worldview is entrapped within that of Western orthodoxy? Maybe it is just me but I thought that journalists were supposed to be able to rise about the viewpoint of the government of their own country and try to be objective.

The journalist, we note, has swallowed as fact the claims that the Russian state poisoned Navalny – claims for which there is in fact no evidence. (Evidence if it is that that he had been tracked by the FSB as we would have expected him to be is not in fact evidence that he was poisoned by the FSB).

Just like the last ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, the current one uses the same playbook, questioning the evidence of Russian skulduggery and malevolence, even when intelligence agencies the world over say it’s there.

All Russians use the same “playbook”. A phrase with obvious associations to spying. Oh deary me. Maybe the journalist is mixing up Cold War 007 and modern politics. “Skulduggery and malevolence”; isn’t this from the “playbook” of Western intelligence agencies? And again, and very revealingly, we learn that the “journalist” simply takes at face value what Western intelligence agencies say about Russia (it is “malevolent”). Not realising no doubt that part of the job of spy agencies is to create certain narratives about their supposed opponents.

When I asked about the dozens of Russians who have died in mysterious circumstances on the streets of Britain, he laughed, presumably to convey the message that the question was so ridiculous it didn’t merit a serious response.

I would like to ask Cathy Newman to list the names of the “dozens” of Russians who have died in “mysterious circumstances” on the streets of Britain. I wonder how many she would in fact be able to name. Even being kind to her she needs to name 24. Russian secret services would have to be running all over the country to have killed 24 people in “mysterious circumstances”. No wonder the Ambassador laughed.

The minute we’d finished, he’d declared himself “disappointed” with the interview..

I’m not surprised. Maybe you could ask yourself why?

Kiev and the UK sign an agreement to be fools together!

Russia claimed that they fired warning shots at a British destroyer violating their maritime border near Crimea. The UK has tried to disempower the Russians by claiming the alleged shooting didn’t happen.

What is clear is that this was a stunt by the British regime. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ships, including surface warships, are allowed the right of “innocent passage” within the 12 mile territorial limit which defines a country’s maritime border. As Craig Murray points out this British warship cannot by any stretch of the imagination have been innocently going anywhere. Even if it was en route to Georgia there was no need to edge just inside a disputed border. Staging political provocations is not “innocent passage”. As so often the British side are lying while accusing the Russians of “misinformation”. [1]

(Update: I’ve watched a video on Russian media showing the interactions between the British warship and a Russian patrol boat. Interestingly the Russian patrol boat explains that there is no “innocent passage” for a warship at this time. Later they explain that naval exercises are being conducted in the area. Under the UN Convention the shore party can control passage through their territorial waters for short periods e.g. for exercises. The British warship comes out with the line “are you threatening me” – like some playground conflict and, predictably enough, calls the Russian side “unprofessional”. It is obvious from the audio that the British action was carefully planned. One point for the British line: the story was that their boat was not fired on by the Russians. Merely there were some artillery exercises going on in the area. OK. But, in that case, what were they doing insisting on “innocent passage” through a firing range? That is not exactly “professional” is it?)

Why did the UK stage this stunt? The answer is not hard to find. The UK has just signed a juicy little deal with Ukraine to supply it with patrol boats and to help it rebuild its naval infrastructure. [2] (The arms are to be supplied by UK arms merchants Babcock International [3] though actual construction may involve other arms producers including US ones). The deal appears to be based on a loan. [2] To loan an impoverished country a large sum of money to buy weapons from you is usually a sign of a desperate need to gain some kind of influence. The deal was signed on board HMS Defender. [3] So – it is pretty obvious. This stunt by the British was a sweetener to this deal. After the signing HMS Defender would sail through Crimean (Russian) waters to provoke the Russians, as a gift to Kiev. This action put the lives of British servicemen at risk – in pursuit of what exactly? In pursuit of Britain’s post Brexit ambitions to be an independent “global player”. The navy is being abused. It is there to defend the country not to be used to stage political and commercial stunts.

Politics in Kiev still seems to be dominated by a fundamentally unrealistic idea. They are forever egging on NATO to start a war with Russia on their behalf to take back territory in which the populations very clearly overwhelmingly want to leave Ukraine and be part of Russia. The combining of this unrealistic policy with British post Brexit imperial dreams does not bode well for the security of this region. Two policies equally detached from sense and reality.


This could get nasty. The UK has threatened to repeat the stunt. [4] And the Kremlin has promised a robust response in defence of their maritime borders refusing to rule out any response if it happens again. [5] This shows the idiocy – and extreme immaturity – of the UK action. Now one side or the other stands to look weak – the UK if they don’t repeat the stunt and Russia if they allow it to happen again and do not provide a very robust response. Even if we accept the UK’s position – of not recognizing the Crimean referendum – and the consequent view that these waters still belong to Kiev, it remains the case that this action was foolhardy. Specifically; this action has done nothing to resolve the problem. It is perfectly open to the UK to continue to press Russia on the issue of Crimea, to work through the UN, to apply, if they like, economic pressure etc. (for example mirroring EU sanctions related to Crimea) but – military stunts? If the Russian side was blocking a vital economic artery that might have some logic to it; but they are not. The only reason to invade Russian territorial waters around Crimea is to stage a provocation. It will do nothing to bring Crimea back to Ukraine. It is like a schoolboy throwing rocks at the window of the staff room instead of organising a petition. This, regrettably, is the level at which the current UK government operates. The underlying ‘strategy’ is a desire to establish Britain as a major independent player on the world stage. Well; war with Russia would certainly do that.

As for the goal of bringing Crimea back into Ukraine – one wonders how any of these democrats in London are going to explain to the 80% of Crimeans who want to continue to be part of Russia how that is actually democratic. [6]