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Should RT be banned?

Posted by democratist on November 11, 2014

11th November 2014

Democratist was present (as an audience member) at the King’s College London War Studies Society panel discussion, “On Holiday with a Tank: Russian Action and Ambition in Ukraine” yesterday evening.

The quality of debate, as one would expect of such an event, was excellent. This is not the place for a detailed précis, but suffice to say there was general agreement among the panel that Russian aggression looks set to continue in Ukraine, and that propaganda will play an important role in Russia’s strategy of “hybrid War.”

Afterwards I spoke to some of the forty or fifty Ukrainian students present at the discussion. They informed me that many of the young British people they have spoken to in recent months about this years revolution in Ukraine had replied by regurgitating Russian propaganda lines – conspiracy theories concerning the events during the revolution in February, or the crash of MH17, or unconvincing suggestions that the newly-elected government in Kiev is in fact a “fascist junta.”

This trend is testimony to an unpalatable truth; that RT’s disinformation is having a slowly corrosive impact on political discourse in the UK.

This is something that, after years of post Cold-War complacency, is finally becoming clear: The Russians are now spending $400 million per year just on RT (the overall propaganda budget is much higher). It is becoming increasingly difficult to get an accurate picture of what is going on in Russia without interference from the Russian state; even if you stick to Western media, you’ll face a barrage of (well-organized and paid) disinformation as soon as you turn to the comments section.

My worry is that we in the UK are in the process of permitting the creation of a generation of manipulated pseuds (on both left and right), who think that spouting this nonsense is cool and edgy, because it shows how super-informed and cynical/radical they are; adding a dark side to youthful rebellion in the service of authoritarianism.

RT is NOT the alternative to the “mainstream media” it likes to pretend (the one that wants you to “Question More”). It’s a propaganda channel whose main task is to produce manipulative noise, designed to confuse and misdirect. This has been clearly demonstrated and evidenced by the fact that OFCOM, the UK’s independent  broadcast standards watchdog, has judged that RT’s reporting has broken their code on bias TEN TIMES since they started broadcasting in the UK in 2005: RT regularly flouts UK rules on providing balanced coverage in broadcasting, and in its most recent report yesterday OFCOM detailed the latest such examples, which occurred in relation to events in Ukraine this spring.

With this latest OFCOM judgement, the time is fast approaching for decisive action. We must not give a hostile foreign power the right to repeatedly lie and propagandize on British television; just as we wouldn’t allow any domestic channel to continually broadcast from a single political perspective.

With the latest OFCOM ruling, we now have an opportunity to seriously consider taking the sort of firm action this situation demands: Unless it immediately takes a far more balanced approach, RT should be banned from broadcasting in the UK. To do anything else would be to effectively ignore our own rules.

Additionally, it is notable that the authorities in Canada may also be considering a broadcast ban on RT. If both the UK and Canada go for such a ban in the medium term, then that will provide a basis for action in other countries. Perhaps there is even scope for an EU-wide approach. Such a move would be well within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which allows for the curbing of freedom of expression for reasons of national security.

A broadcast ban would still leave RT available on the internet, and those who are absolutely determined will still be able to access it. But a such a ban, as part of a transparent judicial process, and based on clear evidence, would in itself be an important step forward in as far as it makes clear exactly how RT lies and manipulates, and why it is not to be trusted.

Posted in Russia Propaganda, Russia Today, Russia-Ukraine Relations, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Crimean Tatars: Opportunities and Threats.

Posted by democratist on June 11, 2011

11th June 2011,

By way of a short summer break, and in order to broaden our understanding of Ukraine’s regional diversity, Democratist has just returned from a week in Crimea. Long the Soviet apparatchik holiday destination of choice, it remains popular with Ukrainians and Russians today, despite the lure of Turkey and Egypt.
While we recommend both the Simferopol-Yalta Trolleybus line (at 86 km, the longest in the world, and a mere 12 UAH or 95 pence for a one way ticket), and the Sebastopol harbour/Russian black sea fleet boat tour, by far the most intellectually rewarding aspect of our 5-day trip was the opportunity we had to meet with representatives of the Crimean Tatar community, at the their Mejlis (cabinet) secretariat in the regional capital, Simferopol.
The Tatars are a Sunni Muslim, Turkic people. They arrived in Crimea in the 13th century as part of the Golden Horde, and dominated the peninsula for some 500 years. They were prominent in the slave trade until the early 1700’s, and provided Russian, Ukrainian and Polish slaves to the Ottoman Empire – under which they had become a protectorate in the late 1470’s.
However, Russia annexed Crimea in 1783, and the subsequent 200 years proved a disaster for the Tatars, with a tentative recovery only beginning in the late 1980’s.
From the time of annexation, and for much of the following century, the Tatars were subject to repression and an extraordinary degree of systematic cultural destruction. This in turn provoked mass emigration, as much of the population fled to remaining parts of the Ottoman empire. By 1897, they came to compose only about 30% of the inhabitants of Crimea.
The early Soviet period was marked by an initial resistance to the revolution and declaration of the first democratic republic in the Islamic world, the Crimean People’s Republic, in Simferopol in December 1917. This was followed by military defeat at the hands of the Bolsheviks a month later, then repression, mass executions, and deliberate starvation in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It has been estimated that about half the remaining Tatar population was killed by the mid-1930’s.
Given this course of events, it is perhaps understandable that the Tatar leadership should have chosen to collaborate with the Nazis after the 1941 invasion of the USSR. However, once the Red Army reestablished control over Crimea in 1944, Stalin responded with what was effectively his own “final solution” to the problem of the Tatar presence in strategically important Crimea. Under influence from the NKVD, he ordered the mass deportation of the entire remaining population to central Asia. While it was probably not his intention to physically destroy an entire people (as was the case with the holocaust), it is clear that the deportation essentially amounted to genocide within the terms of the 1948 UN Convention. According to Tatar NGOs just under half of those deported died within the first couple of years of exile.
Although all charges against the Tatars were lifted in 1967, they were not formally permitted to return to Crimea until 1989.  Even since then, the steady trickle of returnees have faced discrimination at the hands of the heavily sovietized Russian/Ukrainian majority, many of whom moved to Crimea in the post-war period and were given confiscated Tatar property.
As of 2011, about 280,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea, so that they now constitute about 13-14% of the population. A further 100,000 or so remain in central Asia, many of whom would like to return, but lack the financial means.
In terms of political representation, while it does not have any official powers or legal status, about 90% of the returned Tatars support, and elect deputies to the 250 member Kurultai (parliament), and its 33 member executive Mejlis, both established in 1991. The Mejlis is led by respected former dissident and Human Rights campaigner Mustapha Cemilev, and has become the main point of contact for Ukrainian government dealings with the returnees.
According to Cemilev, and other representatives of the community Democratist spoke with, the main contemporary potential threats and problems facing the resettled Tatars include:
  • The possibility that Crimea (only designated part of Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954, and 65% ethnically Russian) might secede from Ukraine back to Russia, which would almost certainly lead to open conflict.
  • The intensification of inter-ethnic tension as a result of Soviet-era and contemporary propaganda which seeks to justify the deportation. Many Russian nationalists in Crimea go as far as to say that the Tatars should be re-deported.
  • The need for legal rulings on the status of Tatars in Crimea, saying that they have a right to settle there, to preserve their identity, as well as restitution for property confiscated in 1944.
  • The need for increased international facilitation to help the return of those Tatars who wish to do so.
  • The need to address a lack of amenities, high unemployment, and discrimination in terms of access to land.
  • The need to create a comprehensive Tatar-language education system and cultural/media sphere (only 10% of Tatar children are currently educated in their own language). The establishment of Tatar as an official language in Crimea.
The Tatars’ main strategy in addressing these issues is currently more focused on deepened cooperation (and possible eventual Ukrainian integration) with the EU and NATO, rather than in trying to cut deals with local political groups. They see the best hope for long-term stability, economic growth, and the legal rights, religious, cultural and educational autonomy they seek as lying with deeper Ukrainian integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. In this regard, while NATO membership is firmly off the table for the foreseeable future, the Yanukovich government’s recent renewed seriousness with regard to agreement of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU will surely come as a welcome development.
The Tatars are now faced with both future opportunities and lingering threats. To a large extent, the threat of Crimean succession back to Russia (it is currently supported by 70% of ethnic Russians in Crimea) will remain for many decades to come, and is dependent as much upon developments within Russia itself, as it is on the political and economic development of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.
Nonetheless, in order to benefit as much as possible from the opportunities presented by Ukraine’s European aspirations, the new generation of Tatar leaders is going to have to develop its ability to lobby persuasively and professionally at the international level. As such, a new cadre of professionals, fluent in English, and with qualifications from Western Universities will be required to make the case for Tatars in Brussels and Washington over the coming decades.

Posted in Crimea, Crimean Tatars, Ukraine, Ukrainian Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

“Yes, my dad’s the ambassador to Syria, and my grandad was a lieutenant-general in the NKVD, but I’m just a secretary…”

Posted by democratist on July 4, 2010

5th July 2010

Following the media frenzy that has erupted over the past week, especially in the UK, where the case is perfectly suited to tabloid sensationalism – it even has topless photosDemocratist’s (doubtless more sober and less easily titillated) readership must surely be wondering if there could possibly be anything more to say about the recent Russian Spy scandal?

Well…..yes. Quite a bit in fact. So here we go;

Firstly, while there has been plenty of speculation concerning the timing and rational of the FBI’s decision to move in and arrest the 10 suspects, ranging from cluelessness masquerading as hauteur in the UK’s Independent to the  kind of disinformation/conspiracy hybrid that one now automatically expects of the Kremlin’s English-language mouthpiece Russia TodayDemocratist has yet to see a more convincing explanation of what is going on than our own.

In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (surely quoting Carl Douglas?), this was all done “with expert timing”: Those that have suggested that the United States’ hand was forced because Anna Kushenko/Chapman became suspicious after having been contacted by a FBI false flag should keep in mind that it seems fairly obvious that the Americans would never have made such a risky move if they had been intending to continue this (already 20-year long) investigation for much longer.

Or, are we to believe that the FBI is so incompetent as to think that the next time Chapman met or contacted her real handler(s), she would have failed to mention that she had been asked to pass on a passport to a fellow spook, or to report on the results? Or that the recipient would not have done likewise? Instead, it seems that the FBI already knew they were approaching the end-game, and were therefore willing to take an (almost certainly terminal) risk in order to flush-out a (so far) anonymous third-party.

Instead, it is more probable to suggest that the timing of the arrest, coming as it did just a few days after the Medvedev-Obama summit, was quite deliberate, and had been in the planning for some months – not because right-wing elements within the FBI were seeking to embarrass Obama (he knew exactly what was going on), or derail the “reset,” or because the G-Men wanted to remind Washington of its usefulness after a series of security “slip-ups” over the past year – as some in the Russian media have rather lamely suggested, but in fact because the US wanted to it make clear that;

i)  They have been onto these people for years (stated numerous times in the court documents); maybe right from the start; maybe since even before the start, maybe since the 1980’s in some cases.

ii) Whatever these “great illegals” got up to (and it was probably a lot more than currently admitted, because the FBI doesn’t want to make them look too good, and it’s not like any of the “illegals” are likely to brag about what they were up to at the trial) the FBI never thought that the damage the “illegals” were inflicting on the US during a 20 year period made it worth its while to call a stop to the party – and were never worried that they did not know what was going on to the point that they felt they needed to step in.

iii) That they did not feel threatened by the “illegals” for so long suggests that the FBI developed a fairly low opinion of their opponents, and an inversely high opinion of their ability to trust their own people (again for 20-years, which suggests that more than a few people were in the know), and of how well the CIA (or an allied agency) had infiltrated the SVR.

iv) That all of the above demonstrates (and will demonstrate in US courts over the coming months) just how inept and corrupt the SVR has become since the end of the USSR: Far from being the shining example of Soviet self-sacrifice that so captivated the young Vladimir Putin (capable of cultivating an Ames or a Hanssen) under his watch the Service has declined to the point that is apparently easily and repeatedly infiltrated, while the senior ranks (such as Vasily Kushenko) have apparently been enrolling their own children as a way of giving them access to cash and connections, rather than for anything to do with serving the motherland (and Anna Chapman is very unlikely to be an isolated case).

v) All of this underlines Democratist’s oft-made point that almost the entire Russian political-economic system is rotten from (especially) top to bottom: These arrests, and any subsequent ones (perhaps also in other countries) over the next few months, are going to do a superb job of repeatedly and brutally highlighting that this is true even for the holiest of holies; the “illegals,” and that they and their superiors are just as incompetent and crooked as everyone else in the nomenklatura. This is bound to strengthen calls for meaningful reform, regardless of whether Medvedev or Putin takes on the Presidency in 2012 (but as we mentioned before, tends to benefit Medvedev at Putin’s expense).

Despite their nationalist bluster, Russia has always been obsessed by the West, especially the US, as a kind of mirror-image and rival to which they can compare themselves (as half an hour watching Russia Today will quickly confirm). Over the next few months, maybe even years, the Russian political class and intelligentsia is going to be continually reminded just how bad things have become, at a time when the government is in no position to rattle enough sabres to mask the howls of anger.

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Posted by democratist on June 7, 2010

7th June 2010

Following discussions with colleagues, I thought it might be useful to follow-up my article on the limitations of Russia’s apparent renewed desire for foreign-policy rapprochement with the West Springtime for Dima?  with a couple of additional points on the roots of Russia’s current problems.

To say that Russia has become an enormously corrupt or kleptocratic country is still not really to do justice to the current situation there. In the same way that, in 1999, former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine coined the term Hyperpuissance (“Hyperpower”) to describe how the US was able to dominate simultaneously in all key areas of international competition at the end of the 20th Century, the almost unique degree (for an industrialized country) and all-pervasiveness of corruption in the contemporary Russian economy surely merits its own categorization; Hypercorruption.

Russia really is a world leader in this regard; in 2009 it ranked at 146th (out of 180) in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – on the same footing as Zimbabwe or Sierra Leone, and far behind the other three “BRIC” countries (Brazil, India and China) with whom Russia’s leaders had so enjoyed comparing themselves (in other respects) prior to 2008. It also scored well below a considerable number of more progressive sub-Saharan African countries – including Burkina Faso, Liberia and Rwanda. Transparency International also estimates that corruption costs the Russian economy an astounding $300 billion per year.

Indeed, Russia’s hypercorruption has reached such proportions that it has emerged as the central obstacle to attracting foreign inward investment. In an interview with Reuters earlier this year a representative of the US-based non-profit anti-bribery association TRACE International, noted that things were getting so bad that many Western firms in Russia were starting to reconsider whether they should stay at all.

According to TRACE, whereas more limited corruption patterns in China follow an “inverted pyramid” shape (mostly at the top) and in India mostly at lower levels, Russia is a “solid block” – with corruption effecting every aspect of the economy: “There appears to be sense of near-complete impunity, a sense of entitlement … there is no sympathetic low-level management, no sympathetic mid-level management, or sympathy at the top (for anti-bribery efforts).”

But this attitude should hardly come as a surprise. For just as, since the early 2000’s the Russian authorities have been complicit in the creation of a culture of impunity for those who murder individuals willing to speak out against them (see Paul LeVine’s 2008 book Putin’s Labyrinth for more details), they have been equally complicit in the development of a culture of near-total impunity in relation to corruption – at least for those operating within the system. The reason for this is simple; corruption is a fundamental part of how the nomenklatura rules Russia – and it is intrinsically linked to the operation of the “power-vertical.”

The all-encompassing extent of hypercorruption therefore goes quite a way to explaining why, in the absence of high prices for hydrocarbons and other raw-materials over the past 18 months, Russia is currently expecting its budget deficit to rise to 5% of GDP by the end of the year, and has already started to borrow on sovereign-debt markets. It also explains why Russia is falling so far behind in terms of its industrial, technological and scientific capabilities, and why it is seeking these capabilities through a renewed relationship with the West; hypercorruption has made the Russian economy so sclerotic that, in the absence of raw-materials revenues, the economy is starting to seize up; the corporatist system is starting to show signs that it might collapse in on itself.

But, as I mentioned in my last article, there can be no meaningful economic or political reform under the current regime. The entire governing class is implicated. They will just have to borrow the money from the West, and refrain from the overtly aggressive anti-american rhetoric that has characterised Russian foreign policy since 2004 – at least until the oil price recovers.

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