A Necessary Leftist Critique of Putin

Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States all – mostly appropriately – face ire, criticism and rebukes against their domestic and foreign policies by those associated broadly with the Euro-American Left. Yet, with Russia, and principally Vladimir Putin, the Euro-American Left has a propensity towards genuflection, dinner dates, and even kind words of approbation.

Jill Stein, US Green Party presidential candidate,

“[R]eceived enough votes to tip the scales for Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, has long been a source of frustration among Democrats—and, for some, an object of suspicion. In 2015, she attended a gala in Moscow hosted by RT, the state-sponsored Russian media outlet, alongside Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn, whose contacts with Russian officials are at the center of Mueller’s probe. Both sat at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s table during the event. Three months earlier, Stein met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, has echoed Russian talking points about the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which U.S. intelligence sources believe was shot down by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. (Stein herself has suggested that Russia was entitled to invade Ukraine, that NATO should leave Russia alone, and that the overthrow of former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych was a C.I.A. coup.) During the campaign, Stein made multiple appearances on RT.” (Vanity Fair, 12/2017)

(*Stein has even gone so far as to “assert that “Russia used to own Ukraine,” by way of defending its colonization.”)

Stein, like others on the Euro-American Left have – for nearly a decade – cultivated relationships with Russia. Why? Perhaps out of some “Soviet Hangover” after the ostensible “End of History,” namely the collapse of the USSR as an alter-hegemon to the US, plays a role in these re-constituted Russophiles. However, it seems that airtime, via the Kremlin-backed Russia Today (RT), is also a key ingredient. For many on the Left in the West, a job or performance with RT provided a platform to safely, and sometimes lucratively, criticize Western, capitalist hypocrisies. George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn, Jill Stein, Abby Martin (who made a criticism of Russia, and subsequently left), Slavoj Žižek, Medea Benjamin, and so on, have all made appearances, or had shows devoted to featuring themselves. RT stokes the egos and increases the pocketbooks of erstwhile outsiders, from Max Keiser to Alexander Dugin. A unhealthy mix of venality, nuttery and publicity-seeking figures, grouped together by the Kremlin from the Left to the ultra-conservative right, has led to an unholy alliance between foreign-based Russian-state media and discourse-creation in the West.

And all of this has the effect of clouding any criticism of Russia’s government or its leader, Putin. Let’s put an end to this madness. Firstly, Putin has implemented a series of draconian laws within Russia that would – if Russian-media didn’t offer such an enticing “alternative” platform – have rightly caused apoplectic reactions on the Western Left. After courting the Russian Orthodox Church to shore up his electoral support, Putin and his party, United Russia, passed anti-LGBTQ legislation. Reuters reports,

“Hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia have doubled in five years, researchers said on Tuesday, in the wake of a law banning “gay propaganda”.

Murders accounted for almost 200 out of 250 crimes analyzed, the Center for Independent Social Research said, attributing the surge to Russia’s 2013 ban on the spreading of “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.

“(Offenders) have become more aggressive and less fearful,” said Svetlana Zakharova, a board member with Russian LGBT Network, the country’s most prominent gay rights campaign group, which has noted the same trend.

“It seems to them that, to some extent, the government supports their actions. Many perpetrators openly talk about their crimes as noble deeds […]

The ‘gay propaganda’ law, which has been used to stop gay pride marches and to detain gay rights activists, is seen by many as a move by President Vladimir Putin to crack down on dissent and draw closer to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia was ranked Europe’s second least LGBT-friendly nation in 2016 by ILGA-Europe, a network of European LGBT groups.”

In Chechnya, a semi-autonomous part of Russia, Putin-backed President Razman Kadyrov,

“Opened the first concentration camp for homosexuals since Hitler, where campaigners say gay men are being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death.

It comes after it was claimed 100 gay men had been detained and three killed in Chechnya last week.

A report by Novoya Gazeta said authorities had set up several camps where homosexuals are killed or forced to promise to leave the republic.

One of the camps is reportedly at the former military headquarters in the town of Argun.

Svetlana Zakharova, from the Russian LGBT Network, told MailOnline: ‘Gay people have been detained and rounded up and we are working to evacuate people from the camps and some have now left the region.

‘Those who have escaped said they are detained in the same room and people are kept altogether, around 30 or 40. They are tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death.”

Women’s rights are under attack throughout Russia, and – unlike with Saudi Arabia where the Euro-American Left is rightfully denouncing sexist repression – there is nary a word about these sociopolitical and physical attacks on women from the luminaries of the Left: Where are Medea Benjamin, Jill Stein and Susan Sarandon (2)? They seem comfortable letting a little thing like de-criminalizing domestic violence not get in the way of an opportunity to dip into the Kremlin-backed cable news cycle:

“Vladimir Putin has signed into law a controversial amendment that decriminalises some forms of domestic violence.

The amendment, which sailed through both houses of Russian parliament before Tuesday’s presidential signing, has elicited anger from critics who say that it sends the wrong message in a country where, according to some estimates, one woman dies every 40 minutes from domestic abuse. It makes “moderate” violence within families an administrative, rather than criminal, offence.

From now on, beatings of spouses or children that result in bruising or bleeding but not broken bones are punishable by 15 days in prison or a fine, if they do not happen more than once a year. Previously, they carried a maximum jail sentence of two years.

[Human Rights Activist] Popova said that during her one-woman protest outside parliament, various people had insulted her. Some had claimed she was paid to protest by western governments, while others told her that some women simply deserved to be beaten, she said.

Discussion of the bill in parliament coincided with the women’s marches in Washington DC and around the world in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, provoking a broader discussion about the problem of domestic violence and the role of women in contemporary Russia.”

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Courtesy: The Guardian, “Putin approves legal change that decriminalises some domestic violence,” 2/2017

Euro-American Leftists, battling sexism, the patriarchy and heterocentricism at home and abroad, often performing on Russian-backed media, have said nothing about the series of serious atavistic, anachronistic annulments of democracy, LGBTQ and women’s rights mentioned above.

Unlike their Western counterparts, Russians themselves have, often at great risk, stood up to Putin. Pytor Pavlensky, perhaps one of the world’s most daring avant-garde artists, protested by having his his naked body wrapped in barbed wire.

“The artist remained silent, lying still in a half-bent position inside the cocoon, and did not react to the actions of others until he was released by the police with the help of garden clippers.”

Pavlensky made the following comment about the art work:

“A series of laws aimed at suppressing civic activism, intimidation of the population, steadily growing number of political prisoners, the laws against NGOs, the 18+ laws, censorship laws, activity of Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, “promotion of homosexuality” laws – all these laws aren’t aimed against criminals, but against the people. And at last the Blasphemy law. That is why I organized this action. The human body is naked like a carcass, there is nothing on it except the barbed wire, which by the way was invented for the protection of livestock. These laws like the wire, keep people in individual pens: all this persecution of political activists, “prisoners of May, 6”, governmental repressions is the metaphor of the pen with the barbed wire around it. All this has been done in order to turn people into gutless and securely guarded cattle, which can only consume, work, and reproduce.”

Pyotr-Pavlensky-The-Carcass-2013
Pyotr Pavlensky The Carcass, 2013

 

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Jill Stein may be the leader of the US Green Party, but she’s no environmentalist. Her praise for Putin and his plutocratic petro-state is shocking, and Stein has been rebuked by Russian environmentalists,

“Two prominent Russian environmental activists have criticized the presidential candidate for the U.S. Green Party, saying her positions on President Vladimir Putin and his policies are “deeply shocking.”

The open letter by Yevgenia Chirikova and Nadezhda Kutepova is unlikely to fundamentally alter the electoral prospects of Jill Stein in the race for the White House.

She’s running distant to the more mainstream candidates for the White House from the Democratic and Republican parties, and some polls show her Green Party trailing the other major alternative political party, the Libertarians.

But the letter put the spotlight on some of Stein’s more controversial statements, as well as the plight of Russian environmentalists, who have been subjected to increasing repressions, along with other civil-society groups.

A news release posted on Stein’s campaign website highlighted her attendance and her calls for more cooperation between Washington and Moscow, particularly regarding the five-year civil war in Syria. The statement closely echoes comments voiced by the Kremlin and Russian officials about U.S. policies in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere.

The two Russians said they often support environmental candidates in elections around the world.

“We have carefully read your program and your website and we have to admit that we are deeply shocked by the position you expressed during your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin,” they said.

They pointed to Stein’s call for a “collaborative dialogue” with Moscow to prevent future wars, to fight climate change, and other issues.

“But how can this new ‘collaborative dialogue’ be possible when Mr. Putin has deliberately built a system based on corruption, injustice, falsification of elections, and violation of human rights and international law? How is it possible to have a discussion with Mr. Putin and not mention, not even once, the fate of Russian political prisoners, or the attacks against Russian journalists, artists, and environmentalists?” the [Russian activists] said.”

Unlike Stein, who is a millionaire, these two women have faced real political challenges,

“Chirikova gained notoriety in Russia for her involvement in the fight over treasured forestlands north of Moscow that were slated to be partially razed for a new superhighway to St. Petersburg. For many, the protracted fight for the Khimki Forest turned into a litmus test for the ability of civil society activists to fight government-backed industrial projects.

Chirikova was awarded one of the world’s most prestigious awards, the Goldman Environmental Prize, in 2012.

Last year, she fled to Estonia, saying she feared Russian authorities would try to pressure her by levying steep taxes on her award, or other measures.

Kutepova, meanwhile, is an activist from a Ural Mountains town that has been polluted by radioactive waste from the notorious Mayak nuclear plant.

She, too, fled to Europe after her nongovernmental organization was labeled a “foreign agent” under a widely criticized law designed to hinder foreign funding of Russian civil society groups.”

Of course, the US Green Party has ignored these women, and Stein has made no comment of support for these environmentalists. Green is the color of money, perhaps Stein’s platform is simply to increase her pocketbook, considering her investment portfolio? Yes, among her many dubious investments, “Stein has invested $995,011 to $2.2 million in funds such as the Vanguard 500 fund that maintain significant stakes in Exxon and other energy companies like Chevron, Duke Energy, Conoco Phillips, and Toho Gas, a Japanese company that engages in the sale of natural gas, tar, and coke, a fuel made from coal.”

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111224125530-putin-banner-moscow-horizontal-large-gallery
Image Courtesy: https://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/24/world/europe/russia-protests/index.html          12/ 2011

And then there is the troubling fact that Putin has personally had journalists and political opponents killed. Why would anyone work for or appear as a guest on his media apparatus? Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman is rightfully a pariah of the Euro-American Left for his assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, yet nary a word has been mentioned of Putin’s assassinations of journalists and opponents like Anna Politkovskaya, Yuri Shchekochikhin or Boris Nemtsov.

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Russia is the most economically unequal nation in the world, (second only to the US),

“A recent report by Credit Suisse showed that Russia is the most unequal of all the world’s major economies. The richest 10% of Russians own 87% of all the country’s wealth, according to the report, compared with 76% in the US and 66% in China. According to another measure, by VTB Capital, 1% of the Russian population holds 46% of all the personal bank deposits in the country.

An investigation by the opposition politician Alexei Navalny earlier this year alleged that Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, had amassed a collection of luxury properties, yachts and vineyards during his time in office. The silence in response to the allegations helped prompt the protests. Medvedev subsequently dismissed the report as “nonsense”.

Navalny has announced his intention to stand in next year’s presidential election, and much of his current campaign is based around fighting inequality: at the launch of his regional headquarters in Chelyabinsk earlier this month, many of the slogans on the posters were directly about the excesses of the wealthy ruling elite. “Hospitals and roads, not palaces for officials,” read one. The first line on campaign leaflets reads: “A dignified life for everyone, and not wealth for the 0.1%.”

Navalny’s allegations against Medvedev were just the latest in a series of truly shocking revelations about the inner circle of government, which are usually either ignored or formulaically denied. Navalny alleged that the wife of first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov used a private jet to fly her corgis around Europe for competitions, while vast palatial residences outside Moscow are the norm for the top tier of government. Shuvalov refused to comment on the allegation. Then there are the billionaire businessmen, who have had a reputation for obscene spending on yachts, global properties and lavish parties for two decades.

Working for small salaries, then watching videos about the yachts and palaces of government officials and government-linked oligarchs makes people angry, says Navalny. “For a few years there was only poverty out in the sticks, but now it’s striking at the big cities too, and becoming a huge protest driver, because people start thinking about it. You think about it even if you live in Moscow and have a decent salary – but if you live in a regional centre and have a monthly salary of 15,000 roubles (just over £200), it’s a different thing altogether.”

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Putin has engaged in the invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation – Ukraine – an act defended by the likes of Jill Stein and others, but one that is in contravention of international law. It’s worth remembering that Obama actually began a withdrawal of US military capabilities in Eastern Europe as early as 2009,

“Under the Bush administration the Pentagon spent years planning and negotiating to place 10 silos with interceptor rockets in northern Poland and to build a large radar station south of Prague to defend against a perceived ballistic missile threat from Iran.

The central European countries were keen to acquire the US installations and other military hardware as partial security guarantees against a resurgent Russia. Moscow claimed the project was aimed against Russia and threatened to deploy short-range nuclear weapons in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which sits inside the European Union.

Obama’s climbdown is likely to be seen by Russia as a victory for its uncompromising stance.

It would significantly boost the chances of a new treaty on strategic nuclear arms reduction between Washington and Moscow, they said. Both the US and Russia have agreed to come up with a successor treaty to Start 1 by December, when the current agreement expires.

“Hardliners in Russia don’t want an agreement on Start. It will be very difficult now for Russia to avoid an agreement,” said Ruben Sergeyev, a defence analyst in Moscow. “It [the decision to drop the US shield] creates a very positive ambience, despite the fact it was really an artificial thing.”

The decision strengthens Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who is due to make his first presidential trip to the US next week for the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. The Obama administration has been keen to boost Medvedev’s standing and authority at home, seeing him as a more moderate and less hostile interlocutor than Putin.”

Neither Medvedev, nor Putin, nor Obama proved to be less hostile or brutal in terms of international policy. Obama maintained – and in the case of drone-warfare (which is now increasing under Trump) – upped the US military-industrial complex and imperial ambitions, and Medvedev and Putin have played musical chairs between the presidency and premiership. (Trump has also pulled the US out of the landmark 1987 ballistic missile treaty agreement with Russia, empowering those “hardliners” mentioned above – including Putin – at the Kremlin towards another arms race.)

Putin is really the evil gift that keeps on giving; he supports the neo-fascist Front National in France, the far-right Brexit-backers in Britain, ultra-right nationalists in Italy, Austria and the Netherlands.

And, of course, there’s Trump et al.*

. . .

*”Take white nationalist Richard Spencer, or longtime Klan leader David Duke, for example. According to Anton Shekhovtsov, author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir, “both have long-standing relations with their Russian fascist counterparts.”

Certainly, both have ties to Alexander Dugin, the former adviser to Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, an ultranationalist who hailed the election of Trump.

As Tom Porter recounted in a piece for Newsweek after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last summer, Duke and Dugin were photographed together on at least one occasion and are linked by neo-Nazi Preston Wigginton, who reportedly sublets Duke’s apartment in Moscow.

Dugin has also contributed to AltRight.com, Richard Spencer’s website, as well as Radix Journal, Spencer’s online journal — easy to do since Spencer’s ex-wife is also Dugin’s translator. He has additional ties to anti-government conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and white nationalist leader Matthew Heimbach.

The love affair between Russian and American extremists isn’t limited to individual relationships. Whole cultural exchanges are taking place between white nationalists in both countries, borne along by a current of swastikas, the Nazi “black sun,” and references to “88” (code for Heil Hitler) or “14” (code for the 14-word white supremacist mantra).

Bryan Schatz found all of these in spades when he began investigating the proliferation of neo-Nazi-affiliated mixed martial arts outfits on both sides of the Atlantic. In a piece for Mother Jones, Schatz traced the way American white nationalists “generally seem to worship” White Rex, a Russian clothing company and former fight promoter — which has in turn borrowed from American racism with events like its “Birth of a Nation” fight night.

The bonds between Trump-adoring American extremists and Russia are cultural, political and, apparently, strong.

It’s increasingly clear that the white nationalists who shouted “Russia is our friend” in Charlottesville last summer weren’t just whistling Dixie.” – Southern Poverty Law Center, July 2018

 

 

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