Catherine Belton (2020) Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and took on the West.

Over 100 days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Already the West has grown weary of fuel and wheat shortages and high prices. The eighth year of war. Russia occupying Crimea and Donbass regions, and almost twenty per cent of Ukraine since then, creating a land border, including access to the Black Sea. Catherine Belton’s prescient book is early and late. The modus operandi is in the title.

Ryzard Kapuscinski’s Imperium is instructive how it works. He was writing in 1994. Pre-Putin, the Yeltsin era.

‘The fall of communism in the state occurred relatively bloodlessly, and in ethnic Russia, completely bloodlessly. The great Ukraine announced its independence without a single shot being fired. Likewise Belorussia.

…It is interesting that blood flows only when blind nationalism enters the fray, or zoological racism, or religious fundamentalism—in other words the three black clouds that can darken the sky of the twenty-first century.’

In order to understand Russia and the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Ryzard Kapuscinski uses the analogy of another Russian writer, Yuri Borev who compares it to a train journey.

‘The train is speeding into a luminous future. Lenin is at the controls. Suddenly—stop, the tracks come to an end. Lenin calls on the people, for additional, Saturday work, tracks are laid down, and the train moves on. Now, Stalin is driving it. Again the tracks end. Stalin orders half the conductors and passengers shot, and the rest he forces to lay down the tracks. The train starts again. Khrushchev replaces Stalin, and when the train comes to an end, and he orders that the ones over which the train has already passed by dismantled and laid down before the locomotive. Brezhnev takes Khrushchev’s place. When the tracks ends again, Brezhnev decides to pull down the window blinds and rock the cars in such a way that the passengers will think the train is still moving forward.’ 

Boris Yeltsin brings in advisors from The Chicago School. They tell him to sell the train and the track and give everyone an equal share. Winner takes all. A new train with McDonalds and widescreen TV and a new track.

Putin is at the controls—indefinitely. Episode after episode of him wrestling bare-chested with bears and oligarchs is played on widescreen TV. His henchmen make early-morning visits to those that refuse to pay the market price in roubles for a ticket, or want to change the channel.

Catherine Belton tells the reader how Putin, with the help of the KGB, took over Russia, and threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. She offers a synopsis of who’s who in the Russian orbit that circles their supreme leader. He’s President for life. And the President can dismiss the Prime Minister, and any other public appointed body down to street sweeper. His inner circle get first pick on any deal worth around $40 million. State governors, for example, can haggle and war with each other their share, internecine battles that can lead to imprisonment and death, but one of Putin’s favourite sayings is it’s a private matter. Putin is number one, and unless fealty is paid, it becomes a public matter because that’s a private matter. 

The first names on Putin’s inner circle, the siloviki:   

Igor Sechin—Putin’s trusted gatekeeper. Like Putin, a former KGB operative from St Petersburg. He took payment of bribes and kept accounts, of who owed what. As Deputy Head of the Kremlin he helped organize Putin’s takeover of the Russian oil sector on which Russia’s wealth is largely based. Known as ‘Russia’s Darth Vader’ for his ruthless plotting against others. The power behind the throne. You don’t get to see Putin without seeing Sechin.

Nikolai Patrushev, former head of Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB.

Viktor Ivanov, former KGB, served with Putin in Leningrad KGB.

Viktor Cherkesov, former KGB, who ran the St Petersburg FSB.

Sergei Ivanov, former Leningrad KGB, and one of the youngest generals in Russian’s foreign intelligence.

Dmitry Medvedev—a former lawyer. Deputy to Putin when he ran the administration and kickbacks as Mayor of St Petersburg. Deputy head of Putin’s Kremlin administration. Chief of Staff for Putin’s Presidency, then President, with Putin as Prime Minister.  Obama famously thought Medvedev was a man he could work with, in the same way that George W. Bush (junior) looked into Putin’s eyes and said he’d seen his soul.

Putin’s custodians, KGB-connected businessmen. 

Gennady Timachenko, former KGB, worked his way through the ranks of the Soviet trade to become the first traders of oil products.

Yury Kovalchuk, former physicist, who joined with other KGB-connected businessmen to take over Bank Rossiya, which according to the US Treasury, became Putin’s bank.

Arskady Rotenberg, former Putin judo partner, who became a billionaire under Putin’s presidency.

Vladimir Yakunin, former KGB, worked undercover in the UN in New York, then joined Bank Rossiya.

The Family—Yeltsin

Valentin Yumashev, former journalist. He gained Yeltsin’s trust while writing his memoirs. Appointed Kremlin chief of staff in 1997. Married Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana in 2002.

Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, but also his gatekeeper.

Boris Berezovsky, former mathematician, who made his fortune running trading schemes for carmaker AvtoVAZ. Wangled his way into Yeltsin’s family. Acquired Sibneft oil.

Alexander Voloshin, former economist. He started working with Berezovsky on privatisation of Russian assets. Transferred to the Kremlin, 1997 to work as Yumashev’s deputy.

Roman Abramovich, oil trader. He became Berezovsky’s protégé, but outmanoeuvred him and took over his business. Banker to the Yeltsin family, bowed to Putin after a period of Siberian exile. Sent to London, poisoned (Polonium?) when tried to intervene at the start of Ukrainian war, possibly out of favour, and therefore in danger.

The Yeltsin-era oligarch who crossed Putin’s men.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former member of the Communist Youth League. He became one of the most successful businessmen of the perestroika era in the 1990s.

Mobsters and footsoldiers for the KGB—St Petersburgh.

Ilya Traber, former Soviet submariner, who became a black-market antique dealer in the perestroika years. A go-between for Putin’s security services and the Tambov organised- crime group controlling St Petersburg’s most strategic and lucrative assets, the sea port and oil terminal.

Vladimir Kumarin, Tambov organised-crime boss (‘night governor’).

Moscow footsoldiers and mobsters.

Semyon Mogilevich, former wrestler, known as ‘the Brainy Don’, who at the end of the eighties became banker to the leaders of Russia’s most powerful and organised crime groups, including the Solntsevskaya, funnelling cash to the West. Set up a criminal empire for drugs and arms trafficking. Recruited in the seventies by the KGB.

Sergei Mikhailov, (alleged) head of Solntsevskaya organised-crime group—Moscow’s most powerful—with close ties to the KGB. Criminal arm of the Russian state.  Cultivated links with Donald Trump in the eighties.

Vyacheslav Ivankov (‘Yaponchik’), dispatched by Mogilvvich to Brighton Rock, New York, to broaden the Solntsevskaya criminal empire.

Yergeny Dvoskin, Brighton Beach mobster. He became a Russian ‘shadow banker’ after moving back to Moscow with his uncle Ivankov. The Russian security services helped them funnel tens of billions of dollars for clearing in the West.

Felix Sater, (Dvoskin’s best friend). A key business partner of The Trump Organisation, developing a string of properties for Trump to cash in and keep the Organisation from bankruptcy, while retaining high-level clearance from Russian intelligence.  

The irony of the moron’s moron getting elected in 2016 is not that there was a cause for celebration in the White House, but jubilation and celebration in the Russian White House. Never had there been such a useful idiot in high office. Nigel Farage and little trumpet, Boris Johnson were also a useful gift. Brexit knocking five to fifteen percent off Britain’s gross domestic product and dividing the country. Scotland, for example, didn’t vote to be poorer.  

Putin, after Chechnya and Syria, invasion of Ukraine was an act of hubris. Oil and gas goes up in price and pay for his imperialistic adventure. As the West withdraws from Russia, there is a return to the old ways of KGB, and a Soviet world protected by wealth and power that Putin knows well. What emerges from Belton’s book is a cowardly man, much like Boris Johnson, promoted for the wrong reasons, but now he’s in power he intends to stay there. He’s already killed many Russians in the false-flag operations that got him elected President with an overwhelming majority after the Yeltsin perestroika experiment. There’s no reason he will suddenly stop killing citizens of his own country and others.

Will Putin’s People use nuclear weapons? Perhaps you may remember at the start of the ‘action’ his official media were talking about such things; speculation. He took on the West and went on a disinformation spending spree that elected a US President and helped through Aaron Banks fund Brexit for Boris. There is a familiar pattern of saying before doing. And blaming someone else like in the Salisbury poisoning debacle of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Perhaps, a long-range missile, said to have come from Ukraine—and a ‘tactical, nuclear strike’ in reply. I wouldn’t bet against it. Putin’s a gambler with a grudge who thinks he’s owed big time.       

Robert A. Caro (1990 [2006]) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2, Means of Ascent.

On page 402, towards the end of this second volume of the rise and rise of Lyndon Johnson, Robert A.Caro offers an insight into the former President’s personality.

For a President to preserve as a personal memento a photograph showing the notorious Box 13 in the possession of his political allies—a photograph which by implication provides that someone was indeed in a positon to stuff it—is startling in itself. For him to display the photograph to a hostile journalist is evidence of a psychological need so deep that its demands could not be resisted. It is continuing evidence of the fact that even his possession of the presidency had eased the insecurities of his youth.

In a week that the moron’s moron starts his impeachment trial by the Senate this is perhaps a good book to study.

There is little doubt that President Trump is guilty of all charges levelled against him from #Me too to crook too. He’s an abomination, but that didn’t stop him from becoming President. In fact, it was regarded as an asset. He would be telling others how it is.  What the Trump team did was very much like LBJ did they used the new technology of their age to target voters.

LBJ used helicopters and control of the media, primarily radio stations. He also used slush funds to generate more cash than had ever been spent in the history of Texas to buy political power.

The moron’s moron’s team, ironically, used the Obama tactics of weaponising social media. Fake Facebook accounts were targeted at key states as they are now being for the next election. Russian influence played its part, but LBJ was one of the first to realise it didn’t matter what you said, as long as you repeated it enough it had the patina of truth and then the other guy became the liar.

In a world of right and wrong and moral order LBJ would have been as screwed as any one of the moron moron’s servants. Both Presidents shared the capacity to demand total loyalty.

Caro juxtaposes LBJ’s fight for a senate seat with ‘Mr Texas’ Coke Stevenson. Think Atticus Finch here from To Kill a Mocking Bird and fling in a bit of John Wayne.  A man that built his own house by hand and dug his own fence posts and could pretty much do anything from building bridges to representing plaintiffs in court and winning the case. He never took a case where he thought the client was guilty. Prices for his services were written on chalk for all to see. He could not be bought. He had integrity. He had core beliefs where LBJ and the moron’s moron had a for-hire sign.

LBJ was an incredibly adapt creature of the political wrangling class, a lion among wolves. The moron’s moron is a child in a man’s body that nobody has said boo too—and there lies the danger. His stupidity could lead literally to the next world war. It has already helped diminished the chance of saving our planet without a massive loss of human life and biodiversity.  

Nobody much is interested in Box 13, or that old stuff called history. The guys in the photograph LBJ showed a hostile reporter are Texans that stole enough votes and stuffed them into Box 13 so that LBJ could become a Senator in the 1948 race. The equivalent would be the moron’s moron showing a New York Times reporter Trump standing in a Moscow hotel room with Putin, while Russia prostitutes piss on his bed. Or the moron’s moron standing with his hand on the shoulder of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and a speech bubble coming from the American President’s mouth asking him to dig up dirt on Joe Biden—or else.

LBJ knew that’s not the way power works. Senators might swear to be impartial, but we know that’s the kind of horseshit Coke Stevenson would have smartly wiped from his cowboy boots. 20 Republicans need to side the Democratic block vote to win the three-quarter majority to find the moron’s moron guilty. And like LBJ, the moron’s moron is always keen to leave a paperless trail. Admit to nothing, let the minions take the hits and then damn them for being crass liars, interested only in themselves and the next pay-packet. Accuse them of being greedy, of being bought.   Loyalty to self is the only thing worth preserving. Everyone else, everything else, expendable.

The greatest irony of all is that impeachment works in the moron moron’s favour. It provides proof to his followers that he’s stirred up the hornet’s nest. With no Hillary Clinton to bait, it’s the next best thing. Power follows the money. I hate to say it about the next election, but the moron’s moron—

America’s Mussolini: Donald J Trump.

benito with hair.jpg

Hyperbole: hyperbole

hʌɪˈpəːbəli/Submit

noun

exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

synonyms: exaggeration, overstatement, magnification, amplification, embroidery, embellishment, overplaying, excess, overkill.

Pre-Trump becoming the 45th American President and post-Trump, taking up tenure of office and becoming United States President, is not will Donald J Trump, last the four-year term, but will the world? That may seem like an exaggeration, overkill, embellishment, exaggeration and other synonyms associated with the American Benito Mussolini. This is one of Gay Talese’s characters, an apologist, writing in his diary in Paris around 1937 and giving his description of Mussolini as a dictator, before the pact with Hitler, but could equally apply to Donald J Trump:

Mussolini…a man with more bark than bite, an egotist, with perhaps a neurotic need to gain other people’s attention; yet he thought the Duce could be reasoned with, must be reasoned with…only a dictator could have restored order.

Trump’s soundbites suggest that one of his strengths is his ‘unpredictability’.

Benito Mussolini, aged 39, was the youngest premier in Italy’s short history (as an independent nation) but like Trump, he had come out of nowhere to lead the party and lead the country. The tone of business leaders in Italy’s demands (listed below) has a very modern ring. They could have come from and most have been enacted by state governor and Tea Party supporter, Vice President, in waiting, Mike Pence, who some commentator’s see as a moderating influence on America’s Mussolini. Think about that, moderating influence.

  1. Smaller state bureaucracies
  2. Fewer strikes
  • More tax concessions
  1. Less zeal towards the breakup of large estates
  2. Termination of rent control
  3. Reduction in unemployment benefits
  • Fewer annoying enquires concerning surplus war profits
  • Fewer annoying enquires concerning tax evasion.

 

Reading this you’d think we’ve went backwards in time to the 1930s and world is no longer as safe as it was pre-Trumpeter, with shocks and aftershocks still to come. Ask yourself one question: What legacy do you think President Trump will leave the world?

Trump has ripped up political consensus and confounded the same pollsters that, state for state, confidently predicted Obama’s first and second term of office. How did Trump do it? One word, populism. ‘I put lipstick on a pig,’ said Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghost-writer for the Art of the Deal.   http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all Here we are again talking about excess. Let’s throw in some other synonyms: overstatement, embroidery and the moth-eaten cliché, tapestry of lies, attention span of a gnat, the narcissism of well, Donald Trump. He bought the rights to Miss World and now he’s won the biggest beauty contest of them. When he says that something is true, he believes it too, Schwartz tells us.  Try on the term crooked Hilary—repeat ad nauseum, until it produces bumpers stickers and posters and then repeat again, until a lie becomes the truth and an association with Hitler— even although 95% of mainstream media backed Clinton to win this campaign it was not enough. Trump instead relied on digital leverage and the power of Facebook and Twitter. Donald Trump has double the number of Twitter followers compared to Hilary Clinton. And he had an army of Twitter followers he employed to tweet that he had won Presidential debates before, during and after the antagonists had finished debating. Newsfeeds about Trump being a misogynist groper and potential rapist were played down as simple dirty tricks from a propaganda machine aligned with an elite group led by crooked Hilary. Trumps other outbursts in Twitter land were understandable and supposedly taken out of context.  Trump, of course, questioned President Obama’s right to be President and famously followed the line of the Birther movement and asked him to produce his birth certificate. Black lives matter, but only to black people. The Irish famine brought millions of Irish to the new world. There were calls to ship them back in their coffin ships. Wops and Eyeties, particularly from the darker skinned natives of Southern Italy led to immigration restrictions in the 1930s. Build a wall with Mexico to keep out the rapists and thieves is a familiar tune. Do not ask how many millions the billionaire and President of the United States has stolen by avoiding tax payments. Only stupid and the poor pay tax. Feed into the disillusionment of globalization, job losses and wages rolled back to levels predating 1970; the tens of millions of Americans that start the day in debt and finish their day in more debt was, and remains, a powerful force for change. Fly the flag. Play the Trump card of nationalism. There’s nothing new here. Read any extract from Robert Tressell (Noonan’s) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist  and remember the author’s contempt was not just for those who blamed society’s failings on anyone but themselves, but went to church and prayed away the degradations of the other. Ban abortion. Ban gays. Ban. Ban. Ban. Gun control. Forget that. This from a nation that jails a higher percentage of the population that any other nation including China, Russia and all other nations added together. Putin sent his congratulations to President Trump. Marine Le Penn called it right with her statement ‘their world is collapsing ours is being built’. The echo chambers of Twitter fed Facebook pages in which a digital nation relies on to frame its news. Most folk don’t leave the silos of their Facebook pages and makes the lie a truth others need. In simpler days, when everybody grew their own food in the back garden and read the bible for fun, bullshit wasn’t spun into gold, well not always.

 

coming soon trump house.jpgNow Trump has gone nuclear and has the codes, the panic room has been taken out of the White House and moved to the rest of the world. Hyperbolic, of course, but it would make good television and boost Trump’s ratings and make him seem like a strong leader. ‘I’d nuke Isis’, Trump told us.

Forget NATO, Trump has called it ‘obsolete’. Forget those outside of America, places like Ukraine and Georgia; they can take care of themselves. America has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and can and will negotiate from a position of strength. Plan B. Nuke them.

Obama Care. It’s poor people so nobody really cares. The market will provide.

Forget the international trade deals, particularly those made with the new superpower in the block, China. America and Trump, the terms are interchangeable, will negotiate from a position of strength, which, of course, means, not negotiating and showing how unpredictable he can be.

Trade wars and the race to the bottom.  China now stands in the position that America did before the beginning of the first world war. Putin is Russia’s strong man. The EEC the world’s largest market. Winners and losers? Spin the globe. Place your bets.

The Paris Agreement and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control worked on the assumption they had an agreement global warming was taking place and globally we need to restrict our use of fossil fuels. Donald Trump doesn’t. Neither does his Vice President Mike Pence. Bought-and-paid-for fossil-fuel scientists have modeled a better world. A safer world.  It’s the equivalent of tobacco companies telling smokers another fag won’t kill him. Let’s not expect politicians, or people that have not read a book since forced to in the classroom, like Donald J Trump boasts, to  understand inconvenient facts. If he listened to inconvenient truths crooked Hilary Clinton would be sitting in the White House. The four horsemen of the apocalypse just saddled up. More hyperbole, I guess, I hope.

 

 

T.M.Devine (1999, with afterword 2006) The Scottish Nation 1700-2007

the scottish nation

It’s difficult to summarise a book that spans over 300 years, rich with knowledge and learning, which runs to over 600 pages. But it’s really quite simple. He who own the land owns the people. The Highland Clearances are an example of this. But Devine notes the Scots were always a nation on the move. Only Ireland and Norway have exported more of its people. But neither of these nations have done as well as the expatriate Scot abroad. Start haphazardly with Andrew Carnegie, once thought to be the richest man in the world, and work your way round the globe. Leaders of nations. Leaders of men have been Scots. But when sheep are more profitable than humans and there’s profit in one but not the other then as the theatre company 7:84 once lamented in aphorism of song and dance in their production:  ‘The cheviot, The stag and The black, black oil’. First came the sheep. Then the large hunting estates for the well off. Oil for the future. Black gold (or is it now fool’s gold?)  History made simple. In that agitation-propaganda era, when we were going to change the world, seven percent owned eighty-four percent of the land. Land means people. The new number’s game is ninety-nine percent own practically nothing and one percent own almost everything.

Devine precisely charts this movement from land to city and the evident pride in the British Empire that ruled the world. Scotland, viewed itself as equal partner, was the workshop of the world, and Clyde-built shipping and locomotives were a guarantee of quality. Glasgow at the hub of the industrial revolution grew at a faster rate than London. Our strength was our weakness. Local coal deposits which powered the revolution were no longer easily accessible and were cheaper abroad. Steel replaced iron, the price of which was dependent on coal deposits, but the massive investment needed for refurbishment was also dependent on other industries, most notably ship-building and its continuing ability to produce ships which could be sold abroad. Other nations, notably, America, Japan and Germany produced their own ship. Cheaper ships. Better ships. So that by the 1970s shipyards on the Clyde could no longer compete in terms of cost or the related time-frame in which ships would be started or finished.  Industry also needed an infrastructure that could move with the times.

There were and are bubbles of innovation and adaptation mainly centring on universities and involving technology and biotechnology.  Beardmore, a five-minute walk from my house, is now a NHS Hospital and hotel. But Beardmore once built ships. It branched out into building airplanes and cars. Difficult to believe that now. But we’re going back 100 years and Two World Wars. The resurgence in ship building which these conflicts brought life back to Glasgow, back to the Clyde, but it also left it dependent on industries that could no longer deliver profit and therefore jobs.

Worlds apart, even Barack Obama in his State of the Union Speech asks how much longer will we ‘accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well’?  I can assure you I’m not doing spectacularly well. And it’s a mockery of sorts, in these times of austerity, when rents go up and up and private landlords do pretty much what they like that money is being collected for a statue of Mary Barbour a First World War social activist. I’m sure what she would call for was a more just society. And it seems pointless to honour one woman and not the thousands of others that took part in demonstration that briefly changed our world for the better. It also ignore the thousands of men that downed tools and left there place of work to support these women’s actions. Tokenism is a statue. Government intervention and rent controls were a most lasting tribute. Devine covers this and the benefits of government intervention in the Scottish economy very well. The opening of the Highland to electricity, even though it was clearly uneconomic at the time, proved a crucial investment as tourism brought more money to the nation than shipbuilding, which like coal and steel becomes increasingly likely to be a memento of the past.

Devine does not shy away from the more brutal aspects of sectarianism, hatred of Catholics and calls from them to be deported back to Ireland from inside the Kirk and from leaders of the Church of Scotland. It was no coincidence, he says, that an Orange hall was built to face the gates of John Brown’s shipyards, which was about a mile from my home. Catholics were viewed as an inferior race which should not be allowed to work heavy machinery. Devine notes that the growth in educational opportunities and growth of an educated Catholic cohort has largely eroded this ingrained and built-in prejudice. But it was only yesterday, my mate Sharpy told me when he was interviewed for agency work and he was asked which school he went to. The wrong answer meant no job.

Devine, writing in 2006, ends on a hopeful note. He notes that the gains made by the working man during the fifties and sixties, were never equally shared and have largely gone but the reliance on manufacturing industries no longer holds true. Relative to other nations ‘productivity levels may be weak’ but gives examples of good and sound Scottish businesses such as the Royal Bank of Scotland (nationalised at a cost of billions of pound, one of the most toxic banks on earth) and HBoS in banking (ditto); the Wood Group (with oil under $50 a barrel the chairman estimates the North sea has only about ten years oil and this may not be economically worth taking of the sea) Cairn Energy (ditto); Scottish Power in energy (a subsidiary of Ibrerdrola with profits flowing out of the country to Spain); Stagecoach (it still exists and expanded into trains and the company owns franchises in North America and is still Scottish, whatever that means).  The future’s bleak. The future’s Poundland.

He who owns the land owns the people. It doesn’t matter if it’s Iberdrola in Spain or the Ineos plant in Grangemouth with profits going to North America. Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos chairman, faced off union involvement in his business plans and was rewarded with the promise of block grants from the Scottish government. Money flows at in increasing rate from the poor to the rich and the working man and woman clings on and hopes for better days. The Scottish Nation 1700-2007 shows he’ll have a long wait. The blip that was the 1950s to the mid-1970s is a folk memory of when British governments, for all their faults, offered welfare to the poorest members of society. Now government offers welfare and bespoke tax packages to the richest members of society. We’d need to go back about 100 years or more to see a more socially unjust society. Devine did not predict that or the face-off between SNP and the London paymasters in a 55-45 split nation. But it’s always easier in retrospect.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole