Bob Schwartz

Tag: Russia

“Shaman walking across Russia to ‘exorcise Putin’ arrested on ‘terrorism’ charges”

“He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”

For those living under undemocratic regimes—in Russia, the United States, or elsewhere—this may be the most important and interesting story this week that has been missed.

The Independent:

Shaman walking across Russia to ‘exorcise Putin’ arrested on ‘terrorism’ charges

Alexander Gabyshev was attempting to walk 5,000 miles from Siberia to banish ‘demon’ president.

Six months ago, Siberian shaman Alexander Gabyshev experienced a mystical revelation.

He had been chosen to exorcise dark spirits from Russia – as he told anyone willing to listen – dark spirits that were being directed by a demon called Vladimir Putin.

To this end, the shaman set off on foot from far eastern Siberia. He aimed to meet his presidential nemesis in Moscow sometime in 2021. But in the early hours of Thursday, over 1,800 miles into his journey, Mr Gabyshev was stopped, arrested, and reportedly charged with extremism offences.

Authorities were taking no chances, with an elaborate dawn raid to detain the ageing shaman.

According to witnesses, police first cut off the highway on the border between Buryatiya and Irkutsk, the impoverished regions lying on the sides of Lake Baikal. They cut off mobile networks. Then officers surrounded the shaman’s campsite, before pinning him to the ground, leading him to a waiting van, and whisking him away.

For a long time, the idea of a 50-year-old shaman tugging a small trailer towards Moscow was the butt of jokes. Only a fragmented biography about the man was available. It seemed to speak of personal tragedy: a history graduate, Mr Gabyshev turned to mystical religion after the death of his wife in the 2000s.

There seemed little prospect of the one-man protest managing to complete the 5,000-mile journey to the capital.

Yet every day that Mr Gabyshev inched along the federal highway towards his goal, 10 miles at a time, his following grew. A handful even joined him on his crusade.

For some, his unusual protest spoke to a wider general disaffection with Moscow. Locals staged demonstrations in support. And that was when things started to get embarrassing for the Kremlin.

In an interview with the local outlet Znak published before his arrest, Mr Gabyshev said he aimed to create an “army” by the time he reached Moscow.

“God told me to go and banish the demon,” he said. “He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”

Mr Gabyshev encountered plenty of resistance along the way. Earlier this month, a group of shamans more loyal to the Kremlin tried to impede his entry into Buryatiya. Nearer the regional capital, police also began to take a close interest, arresting two of Mr Gabyshev’s followers.

Ironically, the propaganda video below publicizing this mission is from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded in whole or in part by the American government. There seems to be no recognition that if Putin is viewed as a demon requiring exorcism, there may well be others who view Trump as a demon requiring exorcism. So far, no shamans. A walk from Washington to Palm Beach perhaps?

Trump’s Summit with His Real Boss: “Who’s Your Daddy?”

It would not be surprising if, when Trump meets with Putin in July, the first words out of Putin’s mouth are “Who’s your Daddy?” That’s probably the way they greet each other in their frequent phone calls. They both laugh, but that acknowledges that in reality, Putin’s the boss.

How did that happen? There is plenty of speculation. The best guess is that Trump has been laundering Russian money through his business for decades (the main reason he will never release his tax returns). Putin knows this, down to the dollar, down to each individual oligarch or Mafiya member.

Expectations from the “summit”:

Trump will repeat that Putin assured him that Russia has not and will not meddle in American elections. Who do you believe, Trump will ask, Putin or our lying intelligence agencies?

Trump will announce a new strategic relationship with Russia, something none of his incompetent, weak-willed predecessors could ever accomplish. Together, Trump will say, America and Russia will accomplish great things that nobody but Trump could deliver. MARGA!

Putin will remain more silent. But he—the world’s richest man and one of the world’s most powerful—will still be amazed at the trick he has been able to pull off. Not even Stalin was able to put an American president in his murderous pocket.

Who’s Trump’s Daddy indeed.

Explosive New Book: Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

“Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump’s properties, told me, “Trump’s genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan.””
Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

It was during the Moscow trip that Sater used his Kremlin connections to impress Trump’s daughter. Sater would later boast: “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.”
Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

Next week, the book Trump/Russia: A Definitive History will be released—and it will be explosive.

Written by Seth Hettena, an award-winning journalist who was a long-time investigative reporter for the Associated Press, it “chronicles the many years Trump has spent wooing Russian money and power. From the collapse of his casino empire—which left Trump desperate for cash—and his first contacts with Russian deal-makers and financiers, on up to the White House.”

The only excerpt available so far was published in Rolling Stone, A Brief History of Michael Cohen’s Criminal Ties. That brief excerpt paints one corner of a bigger picture that we will finally be able to see once the Mueller investigation is complete.


From Trump/Russia: A Definitive History:

Michael Cohen’s bare-knuckled tactics earned him the nickname of “Tom,” a reference to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Mafia Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a physician who survived the Holocaust in Poland, and like Tom Hagen spent a childhood around organized crime, specifically the Russian Mafiya. Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, was a wealthy Brooklyn doctor who owned the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club, which rented for years to the first Mafiya boss of Brighton Beach, Evsei Agron, along with his successors, Marat Balagula and Boris Nayfeld. (Cohen’s uncle said his nephew gave up his stake in the club after Trump’s election.)

I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993….

Shusterman, who owned at least four New York taxi companies, also set his son-in-law up in the yellow cab business. Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the “taxi king” Simon V. Garber, until their partnership ended acrimoniously in 2012…

Cohen was able to purchase a $1 million condo at Trump World Tower in 2001, persuading his parents, his Ukrainian in-laws and Garber to do the same in other Trump buildings. Cohen’s in-laws Fima and Ania Shusterman bought three units in Trump World Tower worth a combined $7.66 million. Cohen later purchased a nearly $5 million unit in Trump Park Avenue. In a five-year period, he and people connected to him would purchase Trump properties worth $17.3 million….

A year after Trump World Tower opened in 2002, Trump had agreed to let Miami father-and-son developers Gil and Michael Dezer use his name on what ultimately became six Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers, which drew in new moneyed Russians all too eager to pay millions. “Russians love the Trump brand,” said Gil Dezer, who added that Russians and Russian-Americans bought some 200 of the 2,000 or so units in Trump buildings he built. A seventh Trump-branded hotel tower built up Sunny Isles into what ostensibly has become a South Florida Brighton Beach.

An investigation by Reuters found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in the seven Trump-branded luxury towers. And that was a conservative estimate. At least 703 – or about one-third – of the 2044 units were owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, which could conceal the property’s true owner. Executives from Gazprom and other Russian natural resource giants also owned units in Trump’s Sunny Isles towers. In an observation that several people I spoke with echoed, Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump’s properties, told me, “Trump’s genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan.” McCallion continued, “It’s not called ‘Little Moscow’ for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal.”

Cohen joined the Trump Organization around the time that the second Sunny Isles tower was being built. A few years earlier, he had invested $1.5 million in a short-lived Miami-based casino boat venture run by his two Ukrainian business partners, Arkady Vaygensberg and Leonid Tatarchuk. Only three months after its maiden voyage, it would become the subject of a large fraud investigation. But Cohen was saved from his bad investment by none other than Trump himself, who hired Cohen as an attorney just before his casino ship sank. A source who investigated Cohen’s connections to Russia told me, “Say you want to get money into the country and maybe you’re a bit suspect. The Trump organization used lawyers to allow people to get money into the country.”…

Michael Cohen’s in-laws, the Shustermans, also bought real estate in Sunny Isles. The development was paying off. Trump’s oldest son, Don Jr., would later note, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” There is no question Trump owed his comeback in large part to wealthy Russian expatriates.

Cohen and Felix Sater have known each other for nearly 30 years. They met in Brighton Beach when Cohen started dating his future wife, Shusterman’s daughter, Laura, who Sater says he knew from the neighborhood. When Cohen joined the Trump organization, Sater had become a fixture in the office. Sater was developing Trump SoHo, a hotel-condo in lower Manhattan that later would be consumed by scandal, and had earned Trump’s trust. Trump asked him to look after his children, Ivanka and Don Jr., on a 2006 visit to Moscow. (It was during the Moscow trip that Sater used his Kremlin connections to impress Trump’s daughter. Sater would later boast: “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin.”) When Sater’s criminal past was exposed in The New York Times, Trump suddenly looked and acted like a man with something to hide. Despite laying claim to “one of the great memories of all time,” he seemed to be having trouble recollecting who Sater was. “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it,” Trump told The Associated Press in 2015. “I’m not that familiar with him.”

 

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre took place on October 20 1973. Besieged by investigations into Watergate, on that night he fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which resulted in Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigning. That was 1,734 days after Nixon took office.

Today Donald Trump fired Attorney General James Comey, who was leading one of the investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is 109 days after Trump took office.

It still took nearly a year, but Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, in the face of certain Senate conviction of impeachment articles passed by the House. The articles begin:

ARTICLE 1

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice. (emphasis added)

We don’t know that the Republican-led House will have the courage to hold impeachment hearings, let alone pass articles of impeachment. Unlike the Nixon situation, where Republicans cooperated in a bipartisan upholding of core American and constitutional principles, it is hard to tell exactly what some Republicans believe or will do in these circumstances.

The only thing certain is that with this firing of the FBI Director, we are in dark territory. Will it get even darker? Will we see the light? And will no Congress rid us of this turbulent president?

See The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman

Putin and the Little Engine That Could

Vladimir Putin - Little Engine

The pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian warnings to stay away and out, are not surprising. A fifth-grader doing a Social Studies assignment (if there is still Social Studies) had this one figured out.

So obviously did the American intelligence and foreign policy experts. They can’t tell us they know because that would give something away, even if that fifth-grader has already guessed. The other reason it isn’t officially talked about is that, officially, few are sure what to do next.

Vladimir Putin is well set up, for something. He can take little bites out of the region, or if Ukraine should erupt in instigated civil war, he can enter on the pretext of assuring the stability and security of a neighboring country. There is plenty of historical precedent for this strategy, and for this strategy working.

We—and this includes those who claim to know him—are not sure exactly who Putin is: cunning statesman, cowboy, sociopath? Whether he has himself killed people, up close, is a matter of conjecture, but many have no trouble believing it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany and knows him, suggests that he is out of touch with the realities of the situation. Former U.S. President George W. Bush just displayed his painting of Putin, which picture says as much about W. as an artist as it does about the Russian President.

Putin is not out of touch with reality, any more than those people who believe that visualizing an outcome will ultimately make it so. He is under no delusion that realizing his reality will be cost free. He is just willing to pay the price, or allow others to chip in, maybe profoundly.

The U.S. may have the most distorted view of war in history. It isn’t that great sacrifice or valiant service haven’t been made. The U.S. didn’t just participate in some of the most significant defenses of human freedom; it helped freedom prevail. But for a few generations, there has been a lot of blood and treasure sacrificed in a sometimes well-meaning, sometimes self-serving fog. The source of the confusion is that for more than 150 years, the U.S. has not experienced national war on its soil. Regional conflicts and shocking, fleet- and building-destroying hostilities, but not a national war, inside or on our borders.

Whatever the list of solutions to international problems and provocations, war shouldn’t just be at the bottom of the list. It should be in some strategic sub-basement, below the last resort. At this moment, war in Europe is where it should be: unthinkable. But if something is unthinkable, then everything else has to be more thinkable, more discussed. Right now, the U.S. body politic is fascinated with other matters major and minor, because we need a break.

But trust this: Putin doesn’t give a care for what happened to a plane that has been at the bottom of the Indian Ocean for weeks. He is single-mindedly like that favorite American children’s book The Little Engine That Could, chugging along: I think I can, I think I can.

We don’t have to be concerned about Ukraine or we can be concerned. We don’t have to take action or we can take action. We don’t have to go to war or we can go to war. What isn’t optional is talking about it in the public square, in a conversation led by the President and others. This is not jumping the gun. It is a sensible prelude to an emerging situation, which could at any moment escalate from blah-blah-blah to something more active and serious.

The U.S. has not been very good at sensible preludes. The run-ups to recent wars have been filled with hyper-drama, fueled by the occasional exaggeration or lie. Ukraine, Europe, and the world need something else. Putin thinks he can. Who knows what we think?

Putin Wants to Capture Little Alaskan Island

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin may want to capture a little island sitting in Alaskan waters. This has nothing to do with geopolitics and everything to do with his love of a Greek hero.

The Diomede Islands are in the middle of the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska: Big Diomede is a Russian island, Little Diomede is a U.S. island.

It is thought by some that Putin became fascinated with ancient history and Greek mythology while studying law at Leningrad State University (LSU). As a student he had to join the Communist Party. He believed that his interest in these matters might be misunderstood and frowned upon by the Party, so he kept it secret—and it remains little-known to this day.

While reading ancient texts, Putin discovered the legendary warrior and king Diomedes. Among his achievements, as a relatively young man Diomedes won a reputation as one of the great military leaders in the Trojan War. A figure in both Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid, Diomedes is celebrated for his boldness, courage, and intelligence.

Diomedes

Diomedes was also known for his take-no-prisoners attitude. It is reported that once when he was slaughtering Trojans, an old man pleaded for mercy. Diomedes replied, “Old man, I look to attain to honored age; but while my strength yet exists, not a single foe will escape me with life. The brave man makes an end of every foe.” Diomedes killed the old man.

All this may have had a profound effect on Putin. He vowed that one day he would take back Little Diomede Island, the namesake of his hero. Now that Putin’s expansionist program is in motion, could this be the time for him to strike?

There is an apocryphal story about Putin’s response to Sarah Palin’s remark during the 2008 campaign about Russia: “They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” She was of course referring to Little Diomede. “She will see more than Russia,” he may have said, “she will see Diomedes himself. She will see me.”

April 1, 2014

Afghanistan Loves Russia

Hamid Karzai - Congress

Karzai and Putin sitting in a tree
K-I-S-S-I-N-G

In 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. supported the insurgents who eventually chased Russia out of Afghanistan. In 1989, Russia left Afghanistan.

In 2001, al-Queda attacked the U.S on September 11. That same year, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power and to eliminate their safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

In 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected President of Afghanistan. That image above shows him addressing a joint session of Congress on June 15, 2004, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert applauding.

In 2011, the U.S. found and killed Osama bin Laden. Plans were made to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but not before thousands of U.S. and other allied troops died, in the longest war in U.S. history.

In 2013, negotiations began with President Karzai for an agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan in a support role after withdrawal. President Karzai, not wanting to appear to be in friendly partnership with the U.S., has so far failed to reach such an agreement.

Today, President Karzai announced that he supports the Russian position in Crimea, putting him in the same league as Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. We still have troops in Afghanistan. The troops who died on behalf of President Karzai are still dead. The Afghans who died at the hands of the Russians are still dead. There are no reports yet about whether Dick Cheney or Dennis Hastert are still applauding.

There are no words to make sense of this. So instead, here is the Afghan flag, along with an explanation of the flag from the ever-authoritative CIA Factbook. Note especially the part about the Afghan flag having more changes in it than any other national flag in the 20th century. As always, a funny old world.

Afghanistan Flag

Three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), red, and green, with the national emblem in white centered on the red band and slightly overlapping the other two bands; the center of the emblem features a mosque with pulpit and flags on either side, below the mosque are numerals for the solar year 1298 (1919 in the Gregorian calendar, the year of Afghan independence from the UK); this central image is circled by a border consisting of sheaves of wheat on the left and right, in the upper-center is an Arabic inscription of the Shahada (Muslim creed) below which are rays of the rising sun over the Takbir (Arabic expression meaning “God is great”), and at bottom center is a scroll bearing the name Afghanistan; black signifies the past, red is for the blood shed for independence, and green can represent either hope for the future, agricultural prosperity, or Islam Afghanistan had more changes to its national flag in the 20th century than any other country; the colors black, red, and green appeared on most of them.

Putin’s Moldovan Invasion v. Dynasty’s Moldavian Massacre

Dynasty Royal Wedding
A cliffhanger is a cliffhanger. Russia may be about to invade its neighbor Moldova, based on troop buildup along the border. Almost thirty years ago, on May 15, 1985, the ABC series Dynasty ended Season 5 by leaving the world hanging, as terrorists invaded and shot up the royal wedding of Prince Michael of Moldavia and Amanda Carrington.

(Note: To clarify the Moldavia/Moldova confusion. Moldavia is a traditional region that now straddles the nations of Romania and Moldova. The language of Moldova is Romanian, and the Romanian name for Moldavia is Moldova. The producers of Dynasty may or may not have been aware of this, or that Moldova was at the time a part of the Soviet empire, or much else geographic. Dynasty was not a documentary or reality series. “Prince Michael of Moldavia” just sounded so cool and romantic, as was the fake country.)

Who would survive this now infamous Moldavian Massacre (you can watch it here)? Viewers of Dynasty, then #1 in the ratings, would have to wait all summer to find out. Meanwhile, that season-ending episode reportedly attracted 60 million viewers.

Will Putin invade Moldova, claiming that just as with Crimea, Moldovans are pleading to join up with their Russian friend and neighbor (and former ruler)? How will the world respond? How will Putin respond to that? That’s a real cliffhanger. And even though Putin seems to be playing a part in a costume epic, in which he is the royal hero, a sort of Putin’s Dynasty, this is no television series. Perhaps Czar Vladimir of Russia will wake up and see that.

Anschluss 1938

Anschluss
History doesn’t have to be analogical, though that is often tempting. Instead, it can just be generally informative, not predictive about how particular parties may act and should react, but just as lessons in the variety of global experience.

In March 1938—the anniversary just passed last week—Hitler annexed Austria, an event now known as the Anschluss. Here, for general information, and not necessarily for comparison, are excerpts from the BBC Bitesize site:


Hitler wanted all German-speaking nations in Europe to be a part of Germany. To this end, he had designs on re-uniting Germany with his native homeland, Austria. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, however, Germany and Austria were forbidden to be unified.

Hitler also wanted control of the largely German-speaking area within Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Importantly, Austria shared a border with this area.

In an attempt to realise his goals, Hitler was determined to destabilise Austria and undermine its independence. His ultimate goal was anschluss (union) with Austria…

The new Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg tried to preserve the country from German invasion by trying not to give Hitler an excuse for aggression. He tried to co-operate with Hitler as much as possible…

Hitler ordered Austrian Nazis to create as much trouble and destruction as possible in order to put pressure on Schuschnigg. If Hitler could claim that Austrian law and order had broken down he could justify marching German troops into Vienna to restore peace – despite the fact that he was responsible for the chaos in the first place.

Four days in March

Wednesday 9th March 1938

On the 9 March 1938, in a desperate act, Schuschnigg announced a referendum whereby the Austrian people would decide for themselves if they wanted to be a part of Hitler’s Germany. Hitler was furious. If the Austrians voted against joining Germany his excuse for invasion would be ruined.

Thursday 10th March 1938

Hitler told his generals to prepare for the invasion of Austria. He ordered Schuschnigg to call off the referendum. Knowing he would receive no help from Italy, and that France and Britain would not interfere in Hitler’s plans, Schuschnigg conceded. He called off the referendum and resigned.

The Nazi Austrian Interior Minister, Seyss-Inquart, was ordered by Hitler to ask for German help in restoring order in Austria.

Friday 11th March 1938

Hitler reassured Czechoslovakia that they had nothing to fear.

Saturday 12th March 1938

German troops marched into Austria unopposed. Hitler now had control of Austria. A month later, Hitler held a rigged referendum. The results showed that the Austrian people approved of German control of their country.


Note: Czechoslovakia indeed had something to fear. That same year, Germany invaded the German-speaking Czech region, the Sudetenland, and ultimately conquered the entire nation. It was that invasion that prompted the intervention of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to “make peace” with Hitler at the infamous Munich conference.

In 1968, exactly thirty years later, the Prague Spring of political and cultural liberalization led to an invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the spirit of that spring was never fully crushed, and inspired a flowering of sometimes secret creativity and rebellion.

Ukraine Sanctions: Who Is Poking Which Bear

Bear
The most interesting message about this morning’s U.S. sanctions to protest Russian actions came from one of those sanctioned. The travel bans and freezing of U.S. assets are aimed at a handful of Putin advisers and others complicit in the Crimean takeover, but not at the highest level (including Putin) or at any businesspeople.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is being sanctioned, tweeted this:

“Comrade Obama, and what will you do with those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or didn’t you think of that?”

On this day when a prominent Russian television journalist, with an atomic mushroom cloud as background, pointed out—correctly—that Russia is the only country that can reduce the U.S. to “radioactive ash,” the tweet from Comrade Rogozin is most telling.

The U.S., even more than our allies, is being poked. Taunted. “Is that the best you’ve got? You can do better than that!” The U.S. and Europe can of course do better (meaning: more severe) than that, from big business sanctions to military intervention, all of which threaten global instability.

This is the point in every fight when power has to be harnessed in the service of strategy. Russia wants nothing more than any excuse to throw away the rulebook they don’t believe in anyway. They aren’t so much bringing guns to a knife fight as brandishing guns to bring out the other guns and look like the victim. The aggressor victim.

Let’s hope or pray for our leaders to be strong, wise, unselfish, non-partisan, and honest (with us and with themselves), who can interpret the language of pokes, and can act appropriately.