Tuesday 25th of February 2020

return to russia...


guilty because...

By Tony Kevin

This presentation updates a talk I gave to ISAA just over two years ago, in August 2017, on the topic, ‘Western policy on Putin and a resurgent Russia’.

The previous three years 2014-17 had been momentous in Russia – West relations. The last two have been equally action-packed.


UKRAINE

In 2014, we saw violent US-supported regime change and civil war in Ukraine. In February, after months of increasing tension from the anti-Russian protest movement’s sitdown strike in Kiev’s Maidan Square, there was a murderous clash between protesters and Ukrainian police, sparked off by hidden shooters (we now know that were expert Georgian snipers), aiming at police.

The elected government collapsed and President Yanukevich fled to Russia, pursued by murder squads.

The new Poroshenko government pledged harsh anti-Russian language laws. Rebels in two Russophone regions in Eastern Ukraine took local control, and appealed for Russian military help. In March, a referendum took place in Russian-speaking Crimea on leaving Ukraine, under Russian military protection. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, a request promptly granted by the Russian Parliament and President.

Crimea’s border with Ukraine was secured against saboteurs. Crimea is prospering under its pro-Russian government, with the economy kick-started by Russian transport infrastructure investment.

In April, Poroshenko ordered full military attack on the separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine. A brutal civil war ensued, with aerial and artillery bombardment bringing massive civilian death and destruction to the separatist region. There was major refugee outflow into Russia and other parts of Ukraine. The shootdown of MH17 took place in July 2014.

By August 2015, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates, 13,000 people had been killed and 30,000 wounded.

1.4 million Ukrainians had been internally displaced, and 925,000 had fled to neighbouring countries, mostly Russia and to a lesser extent Poland.

There is now a military stalemate, under the stalled Minsk peace process. But random fatal clashes continue, with the Ukrainian Army mostly blamed by UN observers. The UN reported last month that the ongoing war has affected 5.2 million people, leaving 3.5 million of them in need of relief, including 500,000 children. Most Russians blame the West for fomenting Ukrainian enmity towards Russia.

This war brings back for older Russians horrible memories of the Nazi invasion in 1941. The Russia-Ukraine border is only 550 kilometres from Moscow.


SYRIA

Russian forces joined the civil war in Syria in September 2015, at the request of the Syrian Government, faltering under the attacks of Islamist extremist rebel forces reinforced by foreign fighters and advanced weapons.

With Russian air and ground support, the tide of war turned. Palmyra and Aleppo were recaptured in 2016. An alleged Syrian Government chemical attack at Khan Shaykhun in April 2017 resulted in a token US missile attack on a Syrian Government airbase: an early decision by President Trump.


NATO, THE STRATEGIC BALANCE, AND SANCTIONS

Tensions have risen in the Baltic as NATO moves ground forces and battlefield missiles up to the Baltic states’ borders with Russia. Both sides’ naval and air forces play dangerous brinksmanship games in the Baltic. US short-range, non-nuclear-armed anti-ballistic missiles were stationed in Poland and Romania, allegedly against threat of Iranian attack. They are easily convertible to nuclear-armed missiles aimed at nearby Russia.

Nuclear arms control talks have stalled. The INF intermediate nuclear forces treaty expired in 2019, after both sides accused the other of cheating. In March 2018, Putin announced that Russia has developed new types of intercontinental nuclear missiles using technologies that render US defence systems useless. The West has pretended to ignore this announcement, but we can be sure Western defence ministries have noted it.

Nuclear second-strike deterrence has returned, though most people in the West have forgotten what this means. Russians know exactly what it means. 

Western economic sanctions against Russia continue to tighten after the 2014 events in Ukraine. The US is still trying to block the nearly completed Nordstream Baltic Sea underwater gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Sanctions are accelerating the division of the world into two trade and payments systems: the old NATO-led world, and the rest of the world led by China, with full Russian support and increasing interest from India, Japan, ROK and ASEAN.


WRITING MY BOOK

In 2013, my children gave me an iPad. I began to spend several hours a day reading well beyond traditional mainstream Western sources: British and American dissident sites, writers like Craig Murray in UK and in the US Stephen Cohen, and some Russian sites – rt.com, Sputnik, TASS, and the official Foreign Ministry site mid.ru. in English.

In late 2015 I decided to visit Russia independently to write ‘Return to Moscow’, a literary travel memoir. I planned to compare my impressions of the Soviet Union, where I had lived and worked as an Australian diplomat in 1969-71, with Russia today. 

I knew there had been huge changes. I wanted to experience ’Putin’s Russia’ for myself, to see how it felt to be there as an anonymous visitor in the quiet winter season. I wanted to break out of the familiar one-dimensional hostile political view of Russia that Western mainstream media offer: to take my readers with me on a cultural pilgrimage through the tragedy and grandeur and inspiration of Russian history. 

As with my earlier book on Spain Walking the Camino, this was not intended to be a political book, and yet somehow it became one. 

I was still uncommitted on contemporary Russian politics before going to Russia in January 2016. Using the metaphor of a seesaw, I was still sitting somewhere around the middle. 

My book was written in late 2015 – early 2016, expertly edited by UWA Publishing. It was launched in March 2017. By this time my political opinions had moved decisively to the Russian end of the seesaw, on the basis of what I had seen in Russia, and what I had read and thought during the year.

I have been back again twice, in winter 2018 and 2019. My 2018 visit included Crimea, and I happened to see a Navalny-led Sunday demonstration in Moscow. I thoroughly enjoyed all three independent visits: in my opinion, they give my judgements on Russia some depth and authenticity. 


RUSSOPHOBIA BECOMES ENTRENCHED IN US AND UK

Russia was a big talking point in the 2016 US presidential election. As the initially unlikely Republican candidate Donald Trump’s chances improved, anti-Putin and anti-Russian positions hardened in the outgoing Obama administration and in the Democratic Party establishment which backed candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russia and Putin became caught up in the Democratic Party’s increasingly obsessive rage and hatred against the victorious Trump. Russophobia became entrenched in Washington and London US and UK political and strategic elites, especially in intelligence circles: think of Pompeo, Brennan, Comey and Clapper. 

All sense of international protocol and diplomatic propriety towards Russia and its President was abandoned, as this appalling Economist cover from October 2016 shows.

My experience of undeclared political censorship in Australia since four months after publication of ‘Return to Moscow’ supports the thesis that: 

We are now in the thick of a ruthless but mostly covert Anglo-American alliance information war against Russia. In this war, individuals who speak up publicly in the cause of detente with Russia will be discouraged from public discourse. 

When I spoke to you two years ago, I had no idea how far-reaching and ruthless this information war is becoming. I knew that a false negative image of Russia was taking hold in the West, even as Russia was becoming a more admirable and self-confident civil society, moving forward towards greater democracy and higher living standards, while maintaining essential national security. 

I did not then know why, or how. 

I had just had time to add a few final paragraphs in my book about the possible consequences for Russia-West relations of Trump’s surprise election victory in November 2016. 

I was right to be cautious, because since Trump’s inauguration we have seen the step-by-step elimination of any serious pro-detente voices in Washington, and the reassertion of control over this haphazard president by the bipartisan imperial US deep state, as personified from April 2018 by Secretary of State Pompeo and National Security Adviser Bolton. Bolton has now been thrown from the sleigh as decoy for the wolves: under the smooth-talking Pompeo, the imperial policies remain. 


TRUTH, TRUST AND FALSE NARRATIVES

Let me now turn to some theory about political reality and perception, and how national communities are persuaded to accept false narratives. Let me acknowledge my debt to the fearless and brilliant Australian independent online journalist, Caitlin Johnstone.

Behavioural scientists have worked in the field of what used to be called propaganda since WW1. England has always excelled in this field. Modern wars are won or lost not just on the battlefield, but in people’s minds. 

Propaganda, or as we now call it information warfare, is as much about influencing people’s beliefs within your own national community as it is about trying to demoralise and subvert the enemy population.

The IT revolution of the past few years has exponentially magnified the effectiveness of information warfare. Already in the 1940s, George Orwell understood how easily governments are able to control and shape public perceptions of reality and to suppress dissent. 

His brilliant books 1984 and Animal Farm are still instruction manuals in principles of information warfare. Their plots tell of the creation by the state of false narratives, with which to control their gullible populations. 

The disillusioned Orwell wrote from his experience of real politics. As a volunteer fighter in the Spanish Civil War, he saw how both Spanish sides used false news and propaganda narratives to demonise the enemy. 

He also saw how the Nazi and Stalinist systems in Germany and Russia used propaganda to support show trials and purges, the concentration camps and the Gulag, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, German master race and Stalinist class enemy ideologies; and hows dissident thought was suppressed in these controlled societies. 

Orwell tried to warn his readers: all this could happen here too, in our familiar old England. But because the good guys won the war against fascism, his warnings were ignored. 

We are now in Britain, US and Australia actually living in an information warfare world that has disturbing echoes of the world that Orwell wrote about. The essence of information control is the effective state management of two elements, trust and fear, to generate and uphold a particular view of truth. Truth, trust and fear: these are the three key elements, now as 100 years ago in WW1 Britain. 

People who work or have worked close to government – in departments, politics, the armed forces, or top universities – mostly accept whatever they understand at the time to be ‘the government view’ of truth. 

Whether for reasons of organisational loyalty, career prudence or intellectual inertia, it is usually this way around governments. It is why moral issues like the Vietnam War and the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq were so distressing for people of conscience working in or close to government and military jobs in Canberra. They were expected to engage in ‘doublethink’ as Orwell had described it:

 

Winston’s mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.

That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis one had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”
George Orwell, 1984

 

Even in Winston’s nightmare world, there were still choices – to retreat into the non-political world of the proles, or to think forbidden thoughts and read forbidden books. These choices involved large risks and punishments. It was easier and safer for most people to acquiesce in the fake news they were fed by state-controlled media.

Fairfax journalist Andrew Clark, in the Australian Financial Review, in an essay optimistically titled ‘Not fake news: Why truth and trust are still in good shape in Australia’, (AFR 22 December 2018), cited Professor William Davies thus

 

Most of the time, the edifice that we refer to as “truth” is really an investment of trust in our structures of politics and public life’ … ‘When trust sinks below a certain point, many people come to view the entire spectacle of politics and public life as a sham’.

Here is my main point: Effective information warfare requires the creation of enough public trust to make the public believe that state-supported lies are true. 

The key tools are repetition of messages, and diversification of trusted voices. Once a critical mass is created of people believing a false narrative, the lie locks in: its dissemination becomes self-sustaining.

 

Caitlin Johnstone a few days ago put it this way:


Power is being able to control what happens. Absolute power is being able to control what people think about what happens. If you can control what happens, you can have power until the public gets sick of your BS and tosses you out on your ass. If you can control what people think about what happens, you can have power forever. As long as you can control how people are interpreting circumstances and events, there’s no limit to the evils you can get away with.’

 

The Internet has made propaganda campaigns that used to take weeks or months a matter of hours or even minutes to accomplish. It is about getting in quickly, using large enough clusters of trusted and diverse sources, in order to cement lies in place, to make the lies seem true, to magnify them through social messaging: in other words, to create credible false narratives that will quickly get into the public’s bloodstream. 

Over the past two years, I have seen this work many times: on issues like framing Russia for the MH17 tragedy; with false allegations of Assad mounting poison gas attacks in Syria; with false allegations of Russian agents using lethal Novichok to try to kill the Skripals in Salisbury; and with the multiple lies of Russiagate. 

It is the mind-numbing effect of constant repetition of disinformation by many eminent people and agencies, in hitherto trusted channels like the BBC or ABC or liberal Anglophone print media that gives the system its power to persuade the credulous. 

For if so many diverse and reputable people repeatedly report such negative news and express such negative judgements about Russia or China or Iran or Syria, surely they must be right? 

We have become used to reading in our quality newspapers and hearing on the BBC and ABC and SBS gross assaults on truth, calmly presented as accepted facts. There is no real public debate on important facts in contention any more. There are no venues for dissent outside contrarian social media sites. 

Sometimes, false narratives inter-connect. Often a disinformation narrative in one area is used to influence perceptions in other areas. For example, the false Skripals poisoning story was launched by British intelligence in March 2018, just in time to frame Syrian President Assad as the guilty party in a faked chemical weapons attack in Douma the following month.

The Skripals gambit was also a failed British attempt to blight the Russia –hosted Football World Cup in June 2018. In the event, hundreds of thousands of Western sports fans returned home with the warmest memories of Russian good sportsmanship and hospitality. 

How do I know the British Skripals narrative is false? For a start, it is illogical, incoherent, and constantly changes. Allegedly, two visiting Russian FSB agents in March 2018 sprayed or smeared Novichok, a deadly toxin instantly lethal in the most microscopic quantities, on the Skripals’ house front doorknob. 

There is no video footage of the Skripals at their front door on the day. We are told they were found slumped on a park bench, and that is maybe where they had been sprayed with nerve gas? Shortly afterwards, Britain’s Head of Army Nursing who happened to be passing by found them, and supervised their hospitalisation and emergency treatment. 

Allegedly, much of Salisbury was contaminated by Novichok, and one unfortunate woman mysteriously died weeks later, yet the Skripals somehow did not die, as we are told. But where are they now? We saw a healthy Yulia in a carefully scripted video interview released in May 2018, after an alleged ‘one in a million’ recovery. We were assured her father had recovered too, but nobody has seen him at all. The Skripals have simply disappeared from sight since 16 months ago.

Are they now alive or dead? Are they in voluntary or involuntary British custody? 

A month after the poisoning, the UK Government sent biological samples from the Skripals to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons , for testing. The OPCW sent the samples to a trusted OPCW laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland.

A few days later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dramatically announced in Moscow that the Spiez lab had found in the samples a temporary-effect nerve agent BZ, used by US and UK but not by Russia, that would have disabled the Skripals for a few days without killing them. He also revealed the Spiez lab had found that the Skripal samples had been twice tampered with while still in UK custody: first soon after the poisoning, and again shortly before passing them to the OPCW. 

He said the Spiez lab had found a high concentration of Novichok, which he called A- 234, in its original form. This was extremely suspicious as A-234 has high volatility and could not have retained its purity over a two weeks period. The dosage the Spiez lab found in the samples would have surely killed the Skripals. The OPCW under British pressure rejected Lavrov’s claim, and suppressed the Spiez lab report. 

Let’s look finally at the alleged assassins.

These two FSB operatives who visited Salisbury under the false identities of ‘Boshirov’ and ‘Petrov’ did not look or behave like credible assassins. It is more likely that they were sent to negotiate with Sergey Skripal about his rumoured interest in returning to Russia. 

They needed to apply for UK visas a month in advance of travel: ample time for the British agencies to identify them as FSB operatives, and to construct a false attempted assassination narrative around their visit. This false narrative repeatedly trips over its own lies and contradictions. 

British social media are full of alternative theories and rebuttals. Russians find the whole British Government Skripal narrative laughable. They have invented comedy skits and video games based on it. Yet it had major impact on Russia-West relations. 


THE DOUMA FALSE NARRATIVE

I turn now to the claimed Assad chemical weapons attack in Douma in April 2018. This falsely alleged attack triggered a major NATO air attack on Syrian targets, ordered by Trump. We came close to WW3 in these dangerous days. Thanks to the restraint of the then Secretary of Defence James Mattis and his Russian counterparts, the risk was contained

The allegation that Syrian President Assad had used outlawed chemical weapons against his own people was based solely on the evidence of faked video images of child victims, made by the discredited White Helmets, a UK-sponsored rebel-linked ‘humanitarian’ propaganda organisation with much blood on its hands. Founded in 2013 by a British private security specialist of intelligence background, James Le Mesurier (above), the White Helmets specialised in making fake videos of alleged Assad regime war crimes against Syrian civilians. 

It is by now a thoroughly discredited organisation that was prepared to kill its prisoners and then film their bodies as alleged victims of government chemical attacks.

As the town of Douma was about to fall to advancing Syrian Government forces, the White Helmets filled a room with stacked corpses of murdered prisoners, and photographed them as alleged victims of aerial gas attack. They also made a video alleging child victims of this attack being hosed down by White Helmets. A video of a child named Hassan Diab went viral all over the Western world.

Hassan Diab later testified publicly in the Hague that he had been dragged terrified from his family by force, smeared with some sort of grease, and hosed down with water as part of a fake video. He went from hero to zero overnight, as Western governments and media rejected his testimony as Russian and Syrian propaganda. 

In a late development, there is proof that the OPCW suppressed its own engineers’ report from Douma that the alleged poison gas cylinders could not have possibly been dropped from the air through the roof of the house where one was found, resting on a bed under a convenient hole in the roof.

I could go on discussing the detail of such false narratives all day. No matter how often they are exposed by critics, our politicians and mainstream media go on referencing them as if they are true. Once people have come to believe false narratives, it is hard to refute them. 

So it is with the false narrative that Russian internet interference enabled Trump win the 2016 US presidential elections: a thesis for which no evidence was found by Mueller, yet continues to be cited by many US liberal Democratic media as if it were true. So, even, with MH17. 


HOW IT WORKS

This mounting climate of Western Russophobia is not accidental: it is strategically directed, and it is nourished with regular maintenance doses of fresh lies. Each round of lies provides a credible platform for the next round somewhere else. The common thread is a claimed malign Russian origin for whatever goes wrong. 

So where is all this disinformation originating? Information technology firms in Washington and London that are closely networked into government elites, often through attending the same establishment schools or colleges like Eton and Yale, have closely studied and tested the science of influencing crowd opinions through mainstream media and online.

They know, in a way that Orwell or Goebbels could hardly have dreamt, how to put out and repeat desired media messages. They know what sizes of ‘internet attraction nodes’ need to be established online, in order to create diverse critical masses of credible Russophobic messaging, which then attracts enough credulous and loyal followers to become self-propagating. 

Firms like the SCL Group (formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories) and the now defunct Cambridge Analytica pioneered such work in the UK. There are many similar firms in Washington, all in the business of monitoring, generating and managing mass opinion. It is big business, and it works closely with the national security state. 

Starting in November 2018, an enterprising group of unknown hackers in the UK , who go by the name ‘Anonymous’ , opened a remarkable window into this secret world. Over a few weeks, they hacked and dumped online a huge volume of original documents issued by and detailing the activities of the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) and the Integrity initiative (II). Here is the first page of one of their dumps, exposing propaganda against Jeremy Corbyn.

We know from this material that the IfS and II are two secret British disinformation networks operating at arms’ length from but funded by the UK security services and broader UK government establishment. They bring together high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, often nominally retired, journalists and academics, to produce and disseminate propaganda that serves the agendas of the UK and its allies. 

Stung by these massive leaks, Chris Donnelly, a key figure in IfS and II and a former British Army intelligence officer, made a now famous seven-minute Youtube video in December 2018, artfully filmed in a London kitchen, defending their work.

He argued – quite unconvincingly in my opinion – that IfS and II are simply defending Western societies against disinformation and malign influence, primarily from Russia. He boasted how they have set up in numerous targeted European countries, claimed to be under attack from Russian disinformation, what he called ’clusters of influence’ , to ‘educate’ public opinion and decision-makers in pro-NATO and anti-Russian directions. 

Donnelly spoke frankly on how the West is already at war with Russia, a ‘new kind of warfare’, in which he said ‘everything becomes a weapon’. He said that ‘disinformation is the issue which unites all the other weapons in this conflict and gives them a third dimension’.

He said the West has to fight back, if it is to defend itself and to prevail. 

We can confirm from the Anonymous leaked files the names of many people in Europe being recruited into these clusters of influence. They tend to be significant people in journalism, publishing, universities and foreign policy think-tanks: opinion-shapers. The leaked documents suggest how ideologically suitable candidates are identified: approached for initial screening interviews; and, if invited to join a cluster of influence, sworn to secrecy. 

Remarkably, neither the “Anonymous” disclosures nor the Donnelly response have ever been reported in Australian media. Even in Britain – where evidence that Integrity Initiative was mounting a campaign against Jeremy Corbyn provoked brief media interest – the story quickly disappeared from mainstream media and the BBC. 

A British Under-Foreign Secretary admitted in Parliamentary Estimates that the UK Foreign Office subsidises the Institute of Statecraft to the tune of nearly 3 million pounds per year. It also gives various other kinds of non-monetary assistance e.g. providing personnel and office support in Britain’s overseas embassies. 

This is not about traditional spying or seeking agents of influence close to governments. It is about generating mass disinformation, in order to create mass climates of belief. 

In my opinion, such British and American disinformation efforts, using undeclared clusters of influence, through Five Eyes intelligence-sharing, and possibly with the help of British and American diplomatic missions, may have been in operation in Australia for many years. 

Such networks may have been used against me since around mid-2017, to limit the commercial outreach of my book and the impact of its dangerous ideas on the need for East-West detente; and efficiently to suppress my voice in Australian public discourse about Russia and the West. 

Do i have evidence for this? Yes. 

It is not coincidence that the Melbourne Writers Festival in August 2017 somehow lost all my sign-and-sell books from my sold-out scheduled speaking event; that a major debate with Bobo Lo at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne was cancelled by his Australian sponsor, the Lowy institute, two weeks before the advertised date; that my last invitation to any writers festival was 15 months ago, in May 2018; that ‘Return to Moscow’ was not shortlisted for any Australian book prize, though I entered it in all of them; that since my book’s early promotion ended in around August 2017, I have not been invited to join any ABC discussion panels, or to give any talks on Russia in any universities or institutes, apart from the admirable Australian Institute of International Affairs and the ISAA. 

My articles and shorter opinion commentaries on Russia and the West have not been published in mainstream media or in reputable online journals like Eureka Street, The Conversation, Inside Story or Australian Book Review. [But they can all be found here – Ed.]

Despite being an ANU Emeritus Fellow, I have not been invited to give a public talk or join any panel in ANU or any Canberra think tank. In early 2018, I was invited to give a private briefing to a group of senior students travelling on an immersion course to Russia. I was not invited back in 2019, after high-level private advice within ANU that I was regarded as too pro-Putin. 

In all these ways – none overt or acknowledged – my voice as an open-minded writer and speaker on Russia-West relations seems to have been quietly but effectively suppressed in Australia. I would like to be proved wrong on this, but the evidence is there. 

This may be about’ velvet-glove deterrence’ of my Russia-sympathetic voice and pen, in order to discourage others, especially those working in or close to government. Nobody is going to put me in jail, unless I am stupid enough to violate Australia’s now strict foreign influence laws.

This deterrence is about generating fear of consequences for people still in their careers, paying their mortgages, putting kids through school. Nobody wants to miss their next promotion. 

There are other indications that Australian national security elite opinion has been indoctrinated prudently to fear and avoid any kind of public discussion of positive engagement with Russia (or indeed, with China). 

There are only two kinds of news about Russia now permitted in our mainstream media, including the ABC and SBS: negative news and comment, or silence. Unless a story can be given an anti-Russian sting, it will not be carried at all. Important stories are simply spiked, like last week’s Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivistok, chaired by President Putin and attended by Prime Ministers Abe, Mahathir and Modi, among 8500 participants from 65 countries. 

The ABC idea of a balanced panel to discuss any Russian political topic was exemplified in an ABC Sunday Extra Roundtable panel chaired by Eleanor Hall on 22 July 2018, soon after the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki. 

The panel – a former ONA Russia analyst, a professor of Soviet and Russian History at Melbourne University, and a Russian émigré dissident journalist introduced as the ‘Washington correspondent for Echo of Moscow radio’ spent most of their time sneering at Putin and Trump. There were no other views. 

A powerful anti-Russian news narrative is now firmly in place in Australia, on every topic in contention: Ukraine, MH17, Crimea, Syria, the Skripals, Navalny and public protest in Russia. 

There is ill-informed criticism of Russia, or silence, on the crucial issues of arms control and Russia-China strategic and economic relations as they affect Australia’s national security or economy. There is no analysis of the negative impact on Australia of economic sanctions against Russia. 

There is almost no discussion of how improved relations with China and Russia might contribute to Australia’s national security and economic welfare, as American influence in the world and our region declines, and as American reliability as an ally comes more into question. Silence on inconvenient truths is an important part of the disinformation tool kit. 

I see two overall conflicting narratives – the prevailing Anglo-American false narrative; and valiant efforts by small groups of dissenters, drawing on sources outside the Anglo-American official narrative, to present another narrative much closer to truth. And this is how most Russians now see it too. 

The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki in July 2018 was damaged by the Skripal and Syria fabrications. Trump left that summit friendless, frightened and humiliated. He soon surrendered to the power of the US imperial state as then represented by Pompeo and Bolton, who had both been appointed as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser in April 2018 and who really got into their stride after the Helsinki Summit. Pompeo now smoothly dominates Trump’s foreign policy.

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

Finally, let me review the American political casualties over the past two years – self-inflicted wounds – arising from this secret information war against Russia. Let me list them without prejudging guilt or innocence.


  • MICHAEL FLYNN – lasted 3 weeks, in jail
  • H R MCMASTER – 13 months
  • REX TILLERSON – 14 months 
  • STEVE BANNON – 7 months 
  • PAUL MANAFORT – in jail 
  • JAMES MATTIS – 2 years 
  • JON HUNTSMAN – 2 years 
  • JOHN KELLY – 18 months
  • GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS – jailed 12 days Oct 2018, now on parole until Oct 2019 
  • MICHAEL COHEN – sacked May 2018, in jail since Dec 2018 
  • JULIAN ASSANGE – in jail (UK) 
  • CHELSEA MANNING – in jail (US) 
  • MARIA BUTINA – in jail (US)
  • SERGEY AND YULIA SKRIPAL – whereabouts unknown

 

Trump’s first National Security Adviser, the highly decorated Michael Flynn lost his job after only three weeks, and soon went to jail. His successor H R McMaster lasted 13 months until replaced by John Bolton. 

Trump’s first Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lasted just 14 months until his replacement by Trump’s appointed CIA chief (in January 2017) Mike Pompeo. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon lasted only seven months. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is now in jail. 

Defence Secretary James Mattis lasted nearly two years as Secretary of Defence, and was an invaluable source of strategic stability. He resigned in December 2018. The highly capable Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman lasted just two years: he is resigning next month. John Kelly lasted 18 months as White House Chief of Staff. Less senior figures like George Papadopoulos and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen both served jail time.

The pattern I see here is that people who may have been trying responsibly as senior US officials to advance Trump’s initial wish to explore possibilities for detente with Russia – policies that he had advocated as a candidate – were progressively purged, one after another. The anti-Russian US bipartisan imperial state is now firmly back in control. Trump is safely contained as far as Russia is concerned. 

Russians do not believe that any serious detente or arms control negotiations can get under way while cold warriors like Pompeo continue effectively to control Trump. 

There have been other casualties over the past two years of tightening American Russophobia. Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning come to mind. The naive Maria Butina is a pathetic victim of American judicial rigidity and deep state vindictiveness. 

False anti-Russian Government narratives emanating from London and Washington may be laughed at in Moscow , but they are unquestioningly accepted in Canberra. We are the most gullible of audiences. There is no critical review. Important contrary factual information and analysis from and about Russia just does not reach Australian news reporting and commentary, nor – I fear – Australian intelligence assessment. We are prisoners of the false narratives fed to us by our senior Five Eyes partners US and UK. 

To conclude: Some people may find what I am saying today difficult to accept. I understand this. I now work off open-source information about Russia with which many people here are unfamiliar, because they prefer not to read the diverse online information sources that I choose to read. The seesaw has tilted for me: I have clearly moved a long way from mainstream Western perceptions on Russia-West relations. 

Under Trump and Pompeo, as the Syria and Iran crises show, the present risk of global nuclear war by accident or incompetent Western decision-making is as high as it ever was in the Cold War. 

The West needs to learn again how to dialogue usefully and in mutually respectful ways with Russia and China. This expert knowledge is dying with our older and wiser former public servants and ex-military chiefs.

 

Read more:

https://off-guardian.org/2019/09/21/russia-and-the-west-the-last-two-act...

 

 

 

 

believing in santa claus...

santa

 


american deliberate negligence...

According to press agencies, the United States did not grant visas to ten Russian diplomats for the UN General Assembly. Diplomacy spokeswoman denounces "new act of negligence of sovereign rights."


As announced by the Russian news agency RIA on 24 September, ten members of the Russian delegation did not receive the necessary US visa to participate in the UN General Assembly.


Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russian diplomacy, reacted on her Facebook account and denounced a "new act of negligence of the rights of sovereign states and international organizations": "I have already told the agencies and I repeat right here. Some members of Russia's official delegation have not received US visas to participate in the UN National Assembly. This is a scandalous example of US non-compliance with United Nations members, as well as a breach of their obligations as host countries of the United Nations. This new act of disregard for the rights of sovereign states and international organizations and the inability to respect their own obligations under international law in a more or less appropriate manner will be the central theme of the conversation between [Sergei Lavrov and [Mike] Pompeo in New York."

 

Read more:

https://francais.rt.com/international/66101-assemblee-generale-onu-dix-m...

 

 

Read from top.

bollywoodian blooper...


ussr
An Indian MP and ex-government minister is under fire for tweeting a photo about the huge welcome shown to a previous Indian prime minister visiting the US – because the picture was actually from the Soviet Union.

Shashi Tharoor tweeted a black and white image of then-PM Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira, who later became prime minister, remarking on “the hugely enthusiastic spontaneous turnout of the American public” to welcome the pair to the US in 1954. 

Tharoor, who also served as under-secretary-general of the United Nations for communications and public information, tweeted as current Indian PM Modi visits the US. 

Nehru’s first official trip to the Soviet Union was in 1955, and this photo was snapped as he was shown the steel city Magnitogorsk. And not only did Tharoor’s caption for the photo have the wrong place and date, he also managed to spell Indira’s name incorrectly. 


After numerous objections from social media users, Tharoor posted a follow-up tweet remarking that he had simply been sent the photo and insisted that ultimately when an Indian PM is honored abroad, it’s good for India. 

 


Read more:

https://www.rt.com/news/469479-indian-politician-soviet-photo/

 

 

Read from top.

bullshit on the ABC???...

When Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned on the streets of Salisbury in England last year, it quickly became clear what had happened.

In a series of events extremely similar to the assassination of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, two Russian spies flew to England with a bottle full of deadly poison, which could really only have come from Russia.

They attacked their target (though this time they failed to kill him) and fled back to Moscow, leaving a long trail of clear evidence behind them.

There really was no logical explanation for what happened other than the Russian state had attempted to kill a traitor as a warning to others not to betray Vladimir Putin.

 

Read more:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-14/the-trump-impeachment-hearings-ha...

 

 

Read from top...

No, Matthew, it did not quickly became clear what had happened. The version of MI6/MI5 is full of major inconsistencies that are strong tell-tale signs of fiddle by the said agencies. Many more SERIOUS reporters than you have studied the case in details and pointed out ALL THE CONTRADICTIONS and holes in the official versions, including the fact that the Skripals have not been seen since — and that the effect of their "poisoning" was felt quite a few hours later when the so-called Novichok nerve-agent acts (KILLS) in minutes. Other laboratories in the UK and in the USA can manufacture Novichok. It is not presently an exclusive Russian poison.

 

Note that the Russians were accused before any investigation took place — and the subsequent "investigations" showed many incongruities that prove more than less that the UK official version of the affair is fake.

Why would Russia perform this "assassination" nearly ten years after Skripal was transferred to the UK in a spy exchange? Why would the people suspected of doing the deed, appear in broad daylight everywhere in Salisbury as if they wanted to be seen, while they could have done the deed at night time? Was this due to the railway timetable? Could they not afford to drive a car? Why were they never seen on CCTV near the Skripals place? Was Skripal still working for MI6?... Why did Skripal want to stay in Russia to serve his prison sentence rather than be sent to the UK? Are MI6 and MI5 more honest than the GRU? Please, don't make me laugh...

"There really was no logical explanation for what happened other than the Russian state had attempted to kill a traitor as a warning to others not to betray Vladimir Putin????" 

This is a very very poor NAIVE assessment of the underworld of spies and double-agents of any country. The game that is played cannot be surmised such. Go and read a few kids books to entertain yourself, Matthew. Stop being a "journalist" — you sux. 

 


Read also:

http://www.yourdemocracy.net.au/drupal/node/35620

http://yourdemocracy.net.au/drupal/node/34820

 

 

 

 

 

more more bullshit...

Investigators have released a series of phone intercepts they said reveal Moscow's influence over pro-Russian rebels accused of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine five years ago.

Key points:
  • Investigators said Russian influence on the Donetsk People's Republic went beyond military support
  • A series of phone call intercepts was released on the investigation's website along with an appeal for witnesses to come forward
  • The rebels and Moscow have repeatedly denied involvement in the downing of MH17

 

MH17 was shot down on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. 

All 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians, died.

The joint investigation team (JIT) said a missile that hit the passenger jet originated from Russia's Kursk military base, not far from the Ukrainian border.

In June, the JIT charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with 298 murders.

Investigators said on Thursday (local time) the pro-Russian rebels in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), who allegedly fired the missile, had been in closer contact with authorities in Moscow than previously assumed.

 

Read more:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-15/mh17-probe-releases-new-phone-cal...

 

Both the rebels and Moscow have repeatedly denied any involvement in the downing of MH17.


Note: even many American officials recognise that "Ukraine is the most corrupt country in the world", also awash with "Nazis" (which were used by the US to promote the "2014 revolution" in Ukraine). There is a fair chance that Ukraine was the accidental/deliberate culprit.

To have "recordings" of a "series of phone intercepts they said reveal Moscow's influence over pro-Russian rebels" in Ukraine is highly suspect as there are no indication as to when these intercepts were made, how they were gathered and why released five years after the deed, at a time when Trump is being "pampered" with Democrats' boxing gloves in the US in regard to Ukraine. With the article above this one, one can only note the orchestrated continued Russia-bashing... Read from top.

improving russia — why the west is "livid"...

 

Address from Vladimir Putin

 

Members of the Federation Council, 

State Duma deputies, 

fellow Russians,


The Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly is delivered at the very beginning of the year for the first time. We need to address large-scale social, economic and technological tasks facing the country more quickly and without delay.


Their content and guidelines are reflected in the national projects, whose implementation will require a new quality of state governance and work on the part of the Government and state bodies at all levels, as well as direct dialogue with citizens.


Our society is clearly calling for change. People want development, and they strive to move forward in their careers and knowledge, in achieving prosperity, and they are ready to assume responsibility for specific work. Quite often, they have better knowledge of what, how and when should be changed where they live and work, that is, in cities, districts, villages and all across the nation.


The pace of change must be expedited every year and produce tangible results in attaining worthy living standards that would be clearly perceived by the people. And, I repeat, they must be actively involved in this process.


Colleagues,


Russia’s future and historical perspective depend on how many of us there are (I would like to start the main part of my Address with demography), how many children are born in Russian families in one, five or ten years, on these children’s upbringing, on what kind of people they become and what they will do for the country, as well as on the values they choose as their mainstay in life.


There are nearly 147 million of us now. But we have entered a difficult, a very difficult demographic period. The measures we took starting in the mid-2000s have had a positive effect on demography. We have even reached a stage of natural increase. This is why we have more children at schools now.


However, new families are being created now by the small generation of the 1990s. And the birth rate is falling again. This is the main problem of the current demographic period in Russia.


The aggregate birth rate, which is the key index showing the number of births per woman, was only 1.5 in 2019, according to tentative estimates. Is this few or many? It is not enough for our country. It is approximately equal to the figure reported in many European countries. But it is not enough for Russia.


I can tell you by way of comparison that the figure was 1.3 in 1943, during the Great Patriotic War. It was only lower in the 1990s: 1.16 in 1999, lower even than during the Great Patriotic War. There were very few families with two children, and some couples had to put off starting a family.


I want to say once again that we are alarmed by the negative demographic forecasts. It is our historic duty to respond to this challenge. We must not only get out of this demographic trap but ensure a sustainable natural population growth by 2025. The aggregate birth rate must be 1.7 in 2024.


Demography is a sector where universal or parochial solutions cannot be effective. Each step we take and each new law or government programme we adopt must be scrutinised from the viewpoint of our top national priority – the preservation and increase of Russia’s population.


As we build a long-term policy to support families, it must be based on specific life situations. We need to look closely at difficulties faced by new families, families with many children or single-parent families.


The most sensitive and crucial issue is the opportunity to enrol one’s child in a day nursery. Earlier, we allocated funds from the federal budget to help the regions create 255,000 new places in day nurseries by the end of 2021. However, in 2018 to 2019, instead of 90,000, 78,000 new places were created, out of which only 37,500 places can actually be provided to kids. Other places are unavailable simply because an educational licence is still not obtained. This means that these nurseries are not ready to enrol children.


Governors, heads of other constituent entities, my dear colleagues, this is not how work is done. Come on! It means we have created 77,700 places that are still not fully available. Half of them cannot operate – and we must create 177,300 by 2021. I am asking you to do everything (although it will be very difficult now, however, it needs to be done) to close this gap. Once again, we must work across all areas of family support.


But there is a daunting challenge that directly threatens our demographic future and it is the low income of a significant part of our citizens and families.


According to various estimates, roughly 70 to 80 percent of low-income families are families with children. You are well aware of this. It often happens that even when not one but both parents work, the income of such a family is still very modest.


What decisions have already been made? From January 2020, families with incomes below two subsistence minimums per person will receive monthly benefits for their first and second child. Moreover, these benefits will be paid until the child reaches the age of three rather than 18 months as was the case before. The benefit amount will depend on the subsistence minimum in a specific region. The nationwide average is over 11,000 rubles per child per month. Once again, this is an average and depends on a specific region.


Additionally, with the support of the federal budget we have started paying benefits for the third child and subsequent children in 75 constituent entities, now including all regions in the Urals, Siberia and the Far East.


All of this amounts to substantial support. But the following thought has crossed my mind, and I believe that you also realise this. Parents stop receiving payments when their child turns three, and this means that their family can immediately face financial problems. To be honest, this is happening already. We must prevent this, especially since I realise that mothers often find it hard to combine working and caring for their children before they start school.


We know from the experience of our own children and grandchildren that they often fall ill. Their mothers are therefore unable to work. In this connection, I suggest we introduce monthly payments for children aged between three and seven starting already from January 1, 2020.


Who will be covered by this measure, and how is it supposed to function?


Families whose incomes do not exceed per-capita subsistence minimum will receive these payments. That is, it concerns families facing a very difficult situation.


To obtain these payments, they will only have to file an application and list their official legal incomes. I would like to note that this procedure must become as convenient and simple as possible, so that people would be able to apply without queuing and clearing hurdles. Or they should do this online on the relevant state website.


As I have already said, incomes may vary from region to region. First stage payments will amount to 5,500 rubles, or 50 percent of the subsistence minimum. But that is not all. We will have to analyse and assess the operation of this system. And we will take the next step, if we see that some families are unable to achieve the subsistence minimum while receiving 5,500 rubles. From 2021, we will pay the subsistence minimum in full, or over 11,000 rubles, that will vary from region to region. I repeat, the specific sums will vary, but on average it will amount to 11,000 rubles per child per month.


We will need substantial resources for implementing the proposed measure, and we will also have to adjust the federal budget. I ask the Government and members of the Parliament to do this as quickly as possible. The regions should also complete their share of regulatory work.


What else should we do equally quickly?


In my Address last year I said that we should expand the system of social contracts. It should become an individual programme whereby every low-income family will be able to increase their income and enhance their quality of life. Under these contracts, the state will make regular payments to such families, finance retraining and advanced training and help them to find employment or start a small business.


While providing comprehensive assistance to low-income people, society and the state have a right to expect them to take steps as well to deal with their problems, including finding employment and taking a responsible attitude to their children and other family members.


The regions are already introducing the mechanism of social contracts. But it is not sufficiently effective yet, and it is not helping much to fight poverty or to increase family incomes.


Therefore, first of all I would like to ask the Government to analyse the experience of the pilot projects and revise the principles of social contracts. Second, we must increase financial assistance to the regions so that all of them introduce this mechanism in 2021.


I would like all our colleagues, including the regional heads, to note that we will assess their performance not by the number of social contracts signed but by poverty decline figures.


Colleagues,


Back in 2006, I said the following in my Address to the Federal Assembly: “And now for the most important matter. Indeed, what I want to talk about is love.” It was then that I proposed launching the maternity capital programme aimed at helping the families that decided to have their second child.


This programme will expire on December 31, 2021. I know than many people wonder what the state will do after that. We will extend this programme to December 31, 2026 at the least. We must do this without fail. But this measure only is no longer enough.


We must support young people who are starting their families and, I am sure, dreaming about having children. In this sense, I would like to introduce new, additional decisions concerning the maternity capital, which should also come into effect on January 1, 2020.


Even when the first child is born, the family will have the right to the full amount of the maternity capital, which is 466,617 rubles after the indexation in January 2020. This is the sum that was paid when the second or the next child was born. This support will give families a chance to prepare for the birth of their second child.


But I believe that this is still not enough in today’s conditions, considering the demographic challenges Russia is facing. We can and must do even more. I suggest increasing the maternity capital by a further 150,000 rubles. Families will have the right to this additional money for the maternity capital when their second child is born.


This means that the total amount of the maternity capital for a family with two children will amount to 616,617 rubles. It will be indexed annually in the future.


At the same time I believe that if a family already has a child, we must provide the new, increased maternity capital when the second child is born, which is, as I have already said, 616,617 rubles.


Let me add that we have already made the decision that when the third child is born, the government pays 450,000 rubles towards the family’s mortgage loan. This means that overall a family with three children will be able to invest over one million rubles to solve their housing problems with the help of the government. In many regions, cities, and even regional capitals this amounts to almost half of the cost of a house or a flat.


Let me also remind you that a reduced mortgage interest rate, six percent per year, for families with two or more children has been extended for the entire time of the loan, which resulted in the number of people using this support measure growing almost 10-fold at once.


A social programme for young families has been launched in the Far East: mortgage loans at 2 percent interest rate. I ask the banks, and not just the banks with state capital, to become more actively involved in its implementation.


And here is another highly important matter. I have already mentioned a new payment for children aged between three and seven. But this is not all that we can and must do. Yes, when children start attending school, their parents, especially mothers, get more opportunities to work and earn an additional income. However, families have to pay more in order to send their children to school, they face extra problems, and we have to support them at that stage. In this connection, I suggest providing free hot meals to all primary school students from grade one through four.


I will not conceal the fact that we have had heated discussions on this subject. On the whole, some colleagues do not object, but they say that it would not be very fair that people with decent incomes and low incomes should receive the same amount of support from the state. They are not saying this because they do not want to support the children. Indeed, this argument has its own logic. But there is another logic that prevails in our society: everyone must have equal opportunities, and children and their parents who are often demeaned by the current situation must not think that they are even unable to feed their children.


I believe that this is very important for our society. Yes, they tell me that these benefits were not available even during the Soviet period, when there was large-scale social support for the people. But there was no great social stratification at that time either. I believe that this measure will be justified.


In order to provide free hot and, most importantly, healthy meals, I suggest channelling funding from three sources: the federal, regional and local budgets. But money is not the only thing that matters. We need to create the required infrastructure at schools, set up cafeterias and lunchrooms and put in place a system for supplying high-quality food. I would like to note that this was not done even during Soviet times, as I have already said. This, of course, will require time. But free hot meals must be provided starting from September 1, 2020 in those regions and schools that have the required level of technical equipment. I ask our colleagues to expedite this work. Primary school students must start receiving high-quality hot meals free of charge in all regions from September 1, 2023.


So colleagues, here is the point I want to make, in short. I would like to emphasise – all the steps we are taking are aimed at creating a streamlined, large-scale and, most importantly, an effectively working family support programme, so that people’s incomes, especially for those raising children, are high enough for a decent life.


Secondly, what I said at the beginning of the Address: the steps that we took in previous years in the field of demographic development have already brought results. They have yielded results back then: a large generation is growing up in Russia. I am referring to children who are in preschool and primary school now. It is very important that they adopt the true values ​​of a large family – that family is love, happiness, the joy of motherhood and fatherhood, that family is a strong bond of several generations, united by respect for the elderly and care for children, giving everyone a sense of confidence, security, and reliability. If the younger generations accept this situation as natural, as a moral and an integral part and reliable background support for their adult life, then we will be able to meet the historical challenge of guaranteeing Russia’s development as a large and successful country.


Colleagues,


Supporting families and family values ​​is always a forward-looking strategy addressing the generations that are to live in an age of tremendous technological and social changes, and something that will determine Russia’s fate in the 21st century. So, to have these new generations participate in creating this future even now, to have them fully reveal their potential, we must create the necessary conditions for them, primarily for every child in every region of Russia to get a good education.


In the middle of the coming decade, Russia will have about 19 million schoolchildren, which is 6 million more than in 2010. Some say it is too difficult to influence objective demographic processes, so it is unadvisable to channel large resources for demographic development. However, in reality, we can see direct evidence of the opposite: family support policies are working, and sometimes their results even exceed our wildest expectations. It is great that there are so many children in our schools again. On the other hand, this situation should not affect the comfort and quality of their learning.


I ask the Government to coordinate with the regions, consider the demographic and other factors, estimate how many more children the schools need to serve, and make the necessary changes to the Education National Project. That will require flexible solutions: not only to build more schools, but also to efficiently use the entire educational and other infrastructure we have for these purposes, as well as the benefits of modern technology for education.


Almost all schools in Russia have internet access now. In 2021, they should no longer just be connected, but have high-speed internet access to fully embrace the digital transformation in national education; teachers and students should have access to advanced educational programmes; individual approach to teaching should be practiced to reveal each child’s talents.


Our network of extracurricular technology and engineering centres is developing dynamically. Our children should also benefit from a modern environment for practicing music, art, and other forms of creativity.


Russia is allocating more than 8 billion rubles for equipment and musical instruments for children’s art schools as part of the Culture National Project. But the problem is much wider. More than 1,000 art school premises are dilapidated and not fit for use as intended. I would like to ask the Government to help the regions improve them. And I ask the regional authorities not to forget that this is their responsibility.


Furthermore, a modern school implies forward-looking teaching staff enjoying high social status and prestige. By the middle of the next decade, the national professional advancement system should canvas at least half of the country’s teachers, in the future including additional professional training, along with general education workers.


Class teachers are closest to their pupils. Their ongoing daily work including mentoring children and teaching them the right ways is a huge responsibility, and definitely requires special training and special support for these mentors. In this regard, I consider it necessary to introduce, from September 1, at least 5,000 rubles in additional payment to them financed from the federal budget.


There is a lot of controversy about this decision, because this is actually the responsibility of the regions. Those present in this room are well aware of this. But what is a class teacher? A mentor and supervisor, and those are federal functions.


But, of course, I would like to point this out: all current regional payments to class teachers should continue, colleagues; I am calling your attention to this. And I will definitely look at what will be happening in practice, in real life.


I pointed out more than once that the pay parameters for teachers, doctors and other public sector employees set out in the May 2012 Executive Orders must be strictly complied with. There is a reason why I keep returning to this subject. If we slacken control of this matter, this will create the temptation to neglect these provisions, as many of those present here know. This must not be allowed. I would like to emphasise that the issue concerns professionals working in the spheres of vital significance for society and the country, and they must receive good and fair pay for their work.


The number of school graduates will be increasing in the next few years. In light of this, we must ensure equal and fair access to free intramural university education. Therefore, I suggest that the number of university scholarships be increased every year. Moreover – what I am going to say next is very important, the priority in this matter must be given to regional universities, especially the regions that are lacking doctors, teachers and engineers.


Of course, we must not simply enrol more students but boost the development of regional universities with support from businesses and employers. In particular, we must strengthen their training, research and social infrastructure, as well as improve the system of training and advanced training of teachers for regional universities so that students receive up-to-date knowledge and can have successful careers in their regions.


The employment market is changing rapidly, with new professions appearing and higher requirements made to the existing ones. Our universities must be able to respond to these changes flexibly and quickly. I believe that third-year students must be offered an opportunity to choose a new path or curriculum, including related professions. This is not easy to do, but we must indeed do this. To ensure that talented and decent people play a major or leading role in our national development, we have launched the Russia – Land of Opportunity project. Over 3.5 million people have taken part in its competitions and Olympiads. We will continue to improve this system.


Colleagues,


Last year life expectancy in Russia exceeded 73 years for the first time, which is eight years longer than in 2000. This is the result of social and economic changes in Russia, the development of mass sports and promotion of healthy lifestyles. And, of course, the entire healthcare system made a significant contribution, especially the programmes of specialised, including high-tech aid, as well as maternity and childhood welfare and protection of health of mother and child.


The rate of infant mortality has reached a historic low. This indicator is even better than in some European countries. I am well aware that the public in many developed countries is very critical of the state of their national healthcare system, and you also know this. In fact, almost everywhere – no, everywhere – people criticise their healthcare system, however well organised it looks from here.


Still our achievements in this area show that if we set certain goals, we can achieve results. However, let me repeat this, people do not judge the healthcare system by figures and indicators. A person who has to travel dozens of kilometres to a polyclinic or spend a whole day waiting in line for an appointment with a specialist is not very interested in how life expectancy has grown on the average. People think about their lives, their health, about how to get high-quality and timely medical aid without obstacles and when they need it. This is why now we must focus our efforts on primary care, which all people and all families have to deal with. This is where we have the worst and most sensitive problems.


This year we are to fully complete the creation of a network of rural paramedic centres, as stipulated in the related national project. This does not mean, however, that all the problems of these rural paramedic centres have been settled. I would like to point out that the mission of these centres is not to make out prescriptions or refer patients to regional medical centres. Local specialists must be able to really help people by using modern equipment and high-speed internet. I would like to ask the Russian Popular Front to monitor the provision of equipment, construction and repair of rural paramedic centres.


On July 1 we will also launch a programme to modernise the system of primary healthcare. We will have to repair and provide new equipment to outpatient clinics, rural hospitals and first-aid stations in all our regions. We have allocated an additional 550 billion rubles for this purpose, more than 90 percent of which will come from the federal budget.


At the same time, I ask the regional authorities to find additional funds for providing housing to doctors and paramedics, in particular in villages, settlements and small towns, and to use all the available instruments towards this end, including employer-rented housing and private housing projects.


Training and recruitment are key elements of medical education. By 2024, all levels of healthcare, but first of all the primary healthcare level, must have the necessary number of specialists. In this connection, I suggest that the admission procedure to medical universities be changed significantly. For example, 70 percent of scholarships in the field of general medicine and 75 percent in paediatrics will be awarded to prospective students who will return to their native regions upon graduation. The quotas will be distributed based on requests filed by the regions, which must subsequently provide employment to the graduates who must be able to work where people need their services.


As for residency training, I suggest that almost 100 percent of scholarships be given to medical graduates in critically important spheres. Priority during enrolment will be given to those with practical experience in the field of primary healthcare, especially in rural areas. This system should be also stipulated for federal medical centres.


And lastly, just as we agreed, a new system of remuneration will be gradually introduced in healthcare starting this year. It is based on clear, fair and understandable rules, with a fixed share of salary in the overall income and a uniform list of compensation payments and commercial incentives for all regions.


I am aware that the implementation of all these goals requires extensive resources. If you go back to where I started, every goal needs a great deal of money. In this regard, I ask the Government to once again consider identifying priorities for our development while retaining the budget’s stability. This is an advantage we have achieved in the past few years, and we must maintain it.


I know that last year a number of regions saw a disruption in medication supplies as the regions’ purchases were not made, with certain officials treating it as if it were some sort of office supplies purchases claiming it was not a big deal and new tenders would be announced. But people were left without essential and vitally important medications. I should point out that such cases must never happen again.


This year, efforts will be made to launch an integrated comprehensive register of recipients of medications that are provided to citizens free of charge or with a considerable discount through a federal or regional subsidy to avoid any confusion in this regard in the future.


Also, certain legislative decisions have already been adopted that will allow for official and centralised imports of certain medications to Russia that are yet to receive regulatory approval. I ask the Government to promptly organise this work so that people, particularly the parents of sick children, do not find themselves in a desperate situation when they cannot legally find the necessary medications.


Control over pharmaceutical drugs will also significantly change. It will be tightened both at pharmaceutical companies and during all stages of medication circulation, including at pharmacy networks.


Colleagues,


In recent years, we have focused on strengthening macroeconomic sustainability, and it is something I just mentioned. The federal budget has had a surplus again. Our government reserves confidently cover our gross external debt. And here I am not talking about some abstract or theoretical indicators – I would like to emphasise that these figures are directly influencing the life of each and every person in our country, and have to do with the fulfilment of our social commitments. We can see the problems, even shocks that citizens of other states face, where government had no such cash cushion and their financial position turned out to be unstable.


The consistent work of the Government and the Bank of Russia has led to a stabilisation of prices. Last year, inflation stood at 3 percent, which is below the target level of 4 percent. True, the prices of certain goods and services have risen slightly, but overall, I repeat, inflation is at a predictably low level. The situation fundamentally differs from what it was five or ten years ago, when double-digit inflation was a tax on all citizens of the country, being an especially hard burden for those on a fixed salary or pension – retired people and workers in the public sector.


Now, relying on a stable macroeconomic foundation, we need to create conditions for a substantial increase in people’s real incomes. Again, this is the most important responsibility of the Government and the Central Bank. To meet it, the national economy needs structural changes and higher efficiency. In 2021, Russia’s GDP growth rates should be higher than the global ones.


To have this kind of dynamics, it is necessary to launch a new investment cycle, to seriously increase investment in the creation and upgrading of jobs, in infrastructure, in the development of industry, agriculture and the services sector. Starting this year, annual investment growth should be at least 5 percent, and investment share in the country’s GDP, 25 percent by 2024 from the current 21 percent.


What needs to be done to encourage investment?


First of all, we agreed not to change the tax treatment for businesses over a period of the next six years and thus provide a wider horizon for investment planning. The deputies and the Government should speed up the adoption of a package of draft laws on protecting and promoting investment. As you are well aware, tax treatment for major important projects should remain unchanged for up to 20 years, and the requirements and standards for building production sites should remain the same for three years. These investor guarantees should become standard law.


Of course, in addition to major projects, small- and medium-sized businesses’ initiatives should be supported as well. Today, the regions are entitled to provide an investment-based tax deduction and a three-year revenue tax break, but they rarely use them. It is clear why: they do so because regional budgets thus lose revenue. In this regard, we would like federal funds to compensate the regions for two-thirds of the lost revenue stemming from the use of an investment-related tax deduction.


Second, the reform of the oversight and supervisory activities must be completed in 2020, and businesses should thus see improvements in their operating environment.


Third, I have already submitted to the State Duma the amendments to remove vague criminal law provisions in part related to so-called frauds. Thus, entrepreneurs have repeatedly mentioned Article 210 of the Criminal Code, under which any company whose senior executives violated the law could qualify as an organised criminal group, meaning that almost all of its employees were liable. Tougher restrictive measures and punishment were put in place. Law enforcement agencies will henceforth be required to prove that an organisation or a company was initially deliberately created with an illegal purpose in mind.


Fourth. It is estimated that as soon as this summer the foreign currency reserves of the National Welfare Fund will pass the mark of 7 percent of GDP. We have accumulated these reserves to guarantee our stability and security, which means we can invest our additional revenue in development and the national economy.


Cost-effective projects that remove infrastructure restrictions for our territories must become our priority. This includes bypass roads for big cities, arterial roads between regional capitals and exit roads to federal motorways. These projects will inevitably bring about the growth of small businesses, tourism and social activity in the regions and locally.


Fifth. For investment to grow steadily, our economy needs long-term money. We all know this very well. This is a direct responsibility of the Central Bank. I appreciate its consistent course for making loans for the real sector of economy more accessible.


Of course, businesses, companies (especially large ones) must remember about their social and environmental responsibility. I would like to thank our parliament members for demonstrating integrity during their work on the emission quota law.


Obviously, it is necessary to act upon our plans faster. Our next steps include testing and implementing the air quality monitoring system and subsequently expanding this control system to cover the entire country. It is necessary to monitor not only the condition of air but also water and soil – that is, to develop a comprehensive environmental monitoring system.


Next. By the end of this year, at least 80 out of the 300 largest industrial facilities must complete the transition to best available technology and obtain complex environmental permits, which means a consistent reduction of hazardous emissions. Sixteen permits have been issued as of now but overall this work is on schedule. No matter what, we must not allow any disruptions here. It is necessary to drastically cut the amount of waste ending up in landfills, implement waste sorting and generally move towards the circular economy. By 2021, we must already launch the mechanism of extended producer responsibility when producers and importers of goods and packaging are responsible for recycling costs. To put it simply, contaminators must pay.


Colleagues,


I would like to stress that Russia is ready to support Russian and foreign scientists’ joint research on ecology, climate change, environmental and ocean pollution. These are global development challenges shared by everyone.


Today the speed of technological change in the world is increasing manifold, and we must create our own technologies and standards in areas that define our future, such as, first of all, artificial intelligence, genetics, new materials, energy sources and digital technology. I am confident that we can reach a breakthrough here, as we did in defence. I will speak about this later.


In order to solve difficult technological tasks, we will continue to develop research infrastructure, including megascience-class facilities. I am sure that an opportunity to work with unique equipment and tackle the most ambitious tasks will encourage talented young people to work in science. This is already happening. According to estimates, by the middle of the decade every second scientist in Russia will be under 40.


We should give researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs the freedom they need to do their work and to conduct innovative scientific research. I ask the Government and State Duma deputies to fast-track the discussion of the technological legislative package. This year we must launch a flexible mechanism of experimental legal modes to design and introduce new technologies in Russia and establish up-to-date regulation of the big data turnover.


Next, we should establish a mechanism of social support for direct and venture finance tools based on the best global practices. The technological entrepreneur should have the right to take a risk, so that failing to implement an idea will not automatically mean inappropriate use of funds and a possible criminal prosecution. I mean that we should establish such legal and financial conditions that as many start-ups and pioneer teams as possible could become strong and successful innovative companies.


We need to support the export of high-tech products and, of course, to boost domestic demand for innovative products. In this context, I believe it would be right to fast-track the digital transformation of the real economy. A requirement should be set that national projects are largely carried out using domestic software.


We have already put in place, say, major digital television infrastructure, which, in terms of its technical characteristics, is one of the most advanced in the world. Currently, the digital television coverage in Russia is more expanded than, for example, in France, Austria or Switzerland.


The internet has become a must-have for people today. Russia is one of few countries in the world which has its own social networks, messengers, e-mail and search engines and other national resources.


Given all the things I’ve just mentioned, I suggest that the Affordable Internet project be developed and carried out and that free access to socially important domestic internet services be available across Russia. I repeat that in this case people will not have to pay for the internet service, for internet traffic.


Colleagues,


The high availability of the internet should become Russia’s and our citizens’ competitive advantage and create, across the board, an environment conducive to education, creative work, communications and the implementation of social and cultural projects. Of course, this means new opportunities for people to get involved in the life of the country. We appreciate every creative initiative of our citizens, public associations, non-profit organisations, as well as their willingness to contribute to national development.


It is very important that the volunteer movement is becoming more popular, and it unites schoolchildren, university students, and people of different generations and ages. The Victory Volunteers project embodies the tradition of mutual assistance and respect for older generations and our history.


This year, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. For Russia, May 9 is the greatest and sacred holiday. We are proud of the generation of victors and honour their feat, and our memory is not only a tribute to our heroic past, but it also serves our future, inspires us and strengthens our unity.


It is our duty to defend the truth about the Victory; otherwise what shall we say to our children if a lie, like a disease, spreads all over the world? We must set facts against outrageous lies and attempts to distort history. Russia will create the largest and most complete set of archival documents, film and photo materials on the Second World War, accessible both for our citizens and for the whole world. This work is our duty as a winning country and our responsibility to the future generations.


Colleagues,


We can see how unpredictably, uncontrollably events are developing in the world, what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa literally in recent weeks and recent days, how regional conflicts can rapidly grow into threats to the entire international community.


I am convinced that it is high time for a serious and direct discussion about the basic principles of a stable world order and the most acute problems that humanity is facing. It is necessary to show political will, wisdom and courage. The time demands an awareness of our shared responsibility and real actions.


The founding countries of the United Nations should set an example. It is the five nuclear powers that bear a special responsibility for the conservation and sustainable development of humankind. These five nations should first of all start with measures to remove the prerequisites for a global war and develop updated approaches to ensuring stability on the planet that would fully take into account the political, economic and military aspects of modern international relations.


Russia is ready to enhance cooperation with all interested parties. We are not threatening anyone or seeking to impose our will on anyone. At the same time, I can assure everyone that our efforts to strengthen national security were made in a timely manner and in sufficient volume. For the first time ever – I want to emphasise this – for the first time in the history of nuclear missile weapons, including the Soviet period and modern times, we are not catching up with anyone, but, on the contrary, other leading states have yet to create the weapons that Russia already possesses.


The country’s defence capability is ensured for decades to come, but we cannot rest on our laurels and do nothing. We must keep moving forward, carefully observing and analysing the developments in this area across the world, and create next-generation combat systems and complexes. This is what we are doing today.


Reliable security creates the basis for Russia’s progressive and peaceful development and allows us to do much more to overcome the most pressing internal challenges, to focus on the economic and social growth of all our regions in the interest of the people, because Russia’s greatness is inseparable from dignified life of its every citizen. I see this harmony of a strong power and well-being of the people as a foundation of our future.


Colleagues,


We can move towards this goal only with the active participation of society, our citizens and, of course, intense and productive work of all branches and levels of government, the potential of which should be expanded.


In this regard, I would like to spend a moment discussing state structure and domestic policy, which are defined by the Fundamental Law of our country – the Constitution of the Russian Federation. I keep getting these questions all the time, including at the most recent annual news conference.


Clearly, we cannot but agree with those who say that the Constitution was adopted over 25 years ago amidst a severe internal political crisis and the state of affairs has completely overturned since then. Thank goodness, there is no more armed confrontation in the capital or a hotbed of international terrorism in the North Caucasus.


Despite a number of acute unsolved problems that we talked about today, the socioeconomic situation has stabilised, after all. Today some political public associations are raising the issue of adopting a new Constitution.


I want to answer straight off: I believe there is no need for this. Potential of the 1993 Constitution is far from being exhausted and I hope that pillars of our constitutional system, rights and freedoms will remain the foundation of strong values for the Russian society for decades to come.


In the meantime, statements regarding changes to the Constitution have already been made. And I find it possible to express my view and propose a number of constitutional amendments for discussion, amendments that, in my opinion, are reasonable and important for the further development of Russia as a rule-of-law welfare state where citizens’ freedoms and rights, human dignity and wellbeing constitute the highest value.


Firstly, Russia can be and can remain Russia only as a sovereign state. Our nation’s sovereignty must be unconditional. We have done a great deal to achieve this. We restored our state’s unity. We have overcome the situation when certain powers in the government were essentially usurped by oligarch clans. Russia has returned to international politics as a country whose opinion cannot be ignored.


We created powerful reserves, which multiplies our country’s stability and capability to protect its citizens’ social rights and the national economy from any attempts of foreign pressure.


I truly believe that it is time to introduce certain changes to our country’s main law, changes that will directly guarantee the priority of the Russian Constitution in our legal framework.


What does it mean? It means literally the following: requirements of international law and treaties as well as decisions of international bodies can be valid on the Russian territory only to the point that they do not restrict the rights and freedoms of our people and citizens and do not contradict our Constitution.


Second, I suggest formalising at the constitutional level the obligatory requirements for those who hold positions of critical significance for national security and sovereignty. More precisely, the heads of the constituent entities, members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, the prime minister and his/her deputies, federal ministers, heads of federal agencies and judges should have no foreign citizenship or residence permit or any other document that allows them to live permanently in a foreign state.


The goal and mission of state service is to serve the people, and those who enter this path must know that by doing this they inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances.


Requirements must be even stricter for presidential candidates. I suggest formalising a requirement under which presidential candidates must have had permanent residence in Russia for at least 25 years and no foreign citizenship or residence permit and not only during the election campaign but at any time before it too.


I know that people are discussing the constitutional provision under which one person cannot hold the post of the President of the Russian Federation for two successive terms. I do not regard this as a matter of principle, but I nevertheless support and share this view.


I have already said before that our goal is to ensure high living standards and equal opportunities for all throughout the country. It is towards this goal that our national projects and development plans are aimed.


At the same time, you know about the problems to do with education, healthcare and other fields created by a divide between the federal and municipal authorities – I have pointed this out more than once. This divide and, at the same time, the complex system of powers are having a negative effect above all on the people.


The rights, opportunities and guarantees, that are legally equal for all citizens, are not provided equally in different regions and municipalities. This is unfair to people and is directly threatening our society and national integrity.


I believe that the Constitution must seal the principles of a unified system of public authority and effective interaction between the federal and municipal authorities. At the same time, the powers and practical opportunities of the local governments, a body of authority that is closest to the people, can and should be expanded and strengthened.


And lastly, the state must honour its social responsibility under any conditions throughout the country. Therefore, I believe that the Constitution should include a provision that the minimum wage in Russia must not be below the subsistence minimum of the economically active people. We have a law on this, but we should formalise this requirement in the Constitution along with the principles of decent pensions, which implies a regular adjustment of pensions according to inflation.


Fourth, Russia is a huge country, and every region has its specifics, problems and experience. Of course, this must be taken into account. I believe it is necessary to cardinally increase the role of governors in decision-making at the federal level. As you know, back in 2000 the State Council was restored at my initiative, where the heads of all regions participate. Over the past period the State Council has proven its high effectiveness; its working groups provide for the professional, comprehensive and qualified examination of issues that are most important for people and Russia. I believe it would be appropriate to fix the status and role of the State Council in the Russian Constitution.


Fifth, Russian society is becoming more mature, responsible and demanding. Despite the differences in the ways to address their tasks, the main political forces speak from the position of patriotism and reflect the interests of their followers and voters.


At the same time, almost all the parties represented in the State Duma – and you know that I have regular meetings with their leaders – believe that the Federal Assembly is ready to take more responsibility for forming the Government. (Applause.) I expected this round of applause, but I think you will have another opportunity for applause now; please listen until the end.


More responsibility for forming the Government means more responsibility for the Government’s policy. I completely agree with this position.


What is the situation like now? In accordance with articles 111 and 112 of the Russian Constitution, the President only receives the consent of the State Duma to appoint the Prime Minister, and then appoints the head of the Cabinet, his deputies and all the ministers. I suggest changing the procedure and allowing the State Duma to appoint the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and then all deputy prime ministers and federal ministers at the Prime Minister’s recommendation. At the same time the President will have to appoint them, so he will have no right to turn down the candidates approved by the Parliament.


All of this means drastic changes to the political system. However, let me repeat, considering the maturity of our main political organisations and parties as well as the reputation of civil society, I believe these proposals are justified. This will increase the role and importance of the State Duma and parliamentary parties as well as the independence and responsibility of the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members and make cooperation between the representative and executive branches of government more effective and substantive.

 

To be continued.

 

Vladimir Putin

 

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