Much has transpired since Joseph Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States. From his first full day in office he began signing a flurry of executive orders, many of which, he openly stated, were aimed at undoing the actions of his predecessor. They primarily covered domestic issues, however, so I will refrain from commenting on those controversial orders.
My blog is about things that impact relations with Russia either directly or indirectly. Maria Zakharova, Director of Information for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia, stated there would be a 30 day period of analysis and interaction before a full assessment of how things are going with the Biden foreign policy team and their Russian counterparts. Thus, for now, I will only make a few general observations and then move to the controversial actions of Alexei Navalny and the significance of those actions for relations between Russia and America.
One of the very first actions of the Biden foreign policy team, which was good news (in my opinion), was the decision to sign the five year extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction and Limitation Treaty (START). It was originally signed back in 2010, as I recall. It was quite close to expiring, since President Trump had refused to extend it. At various times Trump had put three conditions on signing it. He wanted it to be extended for only one year; China would have to be included as part of the treaty; and third he wanted a freeze on any research and development Russia was doing in the area of non-strategic arms. Russia refused. The Biden administration decided to go ahead with the signing. China has nowhere close to the number of strategic arms of Russia and the U.S., and obviously non-strategic arms are not relevant to the treaty.
The second bit of good news was from an article in the New York Times. As readers of my blog know, I rarely—if ever—have found anything good about Russia coming from the NY Times. In the electronic version on February 3, an article stated that several top aides to President Biden had indicated that sanctions against Russia have become “close to exhausted.” While Biden himself continues to mention using sanctions in his public statements, one unnamed aide said, “We’re sanctioned out.” Ivo H. Daalder, former Ambassador to NATO, said that sanctions can become a trap. You feel like you’re making a statement, and you are—but they don’t alter the behavior of the sanctioned country. Neither Russia, China or Iran have altered any policies because of sanctions.
The third bit of potential good news is not directly related to Russia and America, but there are reports that the U.S. will cease supplying Saudi Arabia with arms. The Saudi record of human rights abuses and especially their horrible treatment of the Yemeni people have long been condemned by many. Nevertheless, I put this one in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category. Saudi Arabia buys a lot of weaponry from the U.S. The Trump administration consistently looked away from their horrible war crimes. Nevertheless, I will wait to see what pressure the military industrial complex puts on Biden’s team and how they respond before I get too happy about this announcement.
There were, however, some very negative (and untrue) statements about Russia made by Biden and members of his team. I will discuss those statements and the subsequent decisions in my next blog. By then I should have fuller reactions from Russia’s foreign ministry team.
Alexei Navalny. One major unavoidable issue, however, was the status of Alexei Navalny. I wrote a blog about Navalny in September of 2020. His claim was that Putin’s hit men had tried to kill him by slipping him the nerve agent “Novichok.” By way of review, Navalny passed out on a flight to Moscow from Siberia on August 20. The plane made an emergency landing, and Navalny was taken to a Russian hospital and treated. His family insisted that he be transported to Germany, so Russian authorities allowed him to be taken. He returned to Russia from Germany on January 18 and was promptly arrested. There have been a plethora of articles written about him since his return. I will try to be as brief as possible.
I will set forth the basic reasons I don’t believe Navalny, but I don’t hide the fact that I don’t like him. He is a racist. I don’t use that term lightly, as folks commonly do in America now. I posted a video of him in my earlier blog referring to Muslims living in Russia whose ancestors were from the Caucasus Mountains as “cockroaches,” who need to be eliminated with a pistol. Before Trump and the whole Russia hoax on the elections, the New York Times used to report facts about Russia. Here is an excerpt from the Times, back before they were blinded by Trump Derangement Syndrome:
“He (Navalny) has appeared as a speaker alongside neo-Nazis and skinheads, and once starred in a video that compares dark-skinned Caucasus militants to cockroaches. While cockroaches can be killed with a slipper, he says that in the case of humans, ‘I recommend a pistol.'” Ellen Barry, NY Times 2011.
The U.S. media “narrative” has certainly changed over time. Now they tout Navalny as an honored leader of “the opposition.” Again, I will state as succinctly as possible why I think Navalny is lying when he says Kremlin messengers tried to kill him back in August, 2020.
The main reason is he changed his story too many times. When I wrote on him in September I mentioned that the first explanation his team gave was that Putin’s men put Novichok in his tea, which he drank at an airport restaurant. No one at that restaurant even remembered him being there. When his handlers were questioned how someone knew what establishment inside the airport he would stop at to drink tea, there was no answer. Was there a waiter there waiting with the Novichok in case he came in?
They not-so-deftly moved to a second explanation: Novichok was put in the water bottle from which he drank in his hotel room before departure. But then reporters discovered that there were at least 5 people in the room with him when the water was delivered. How did they know which bottle Navalny would drink from? Was it hotel staff who delivered it? Again, no real answers from the Navalny team.
So Navalny, now healthy, moved to a third explanation. He made a video that supposedly recorded a phone conversation he had with someone from the FSB (Federal Services of Security). In the call Navalny pretended to be an important person in the FSB, and wanted to know how they had tried to kill him and why it did not work.
The alleged security person Navalny was talking to claimed that they had put the Novichok in his clothes. They concentrated on packing it into the inner seam of the crotch of his underwear. All the Novichok absorbed into his system. He said Navalny survived because of the quick work of the medical team at the hospital when he landed.
So first we were told they knew where he would drink tea at the airport. Then we were told they knew which water bottle he would drink from. When the majority of people refused to believe either of those, Navalny tried to convince us that they knew which underwear he would put on. Then despite everyone at the hospital claiming he showed no signs of Novichok poisoning, they treated him for it so well they saved his life. Because they wanted him dead. Obviously Navalny is not familiar with the phrase non sequitur.
Russia has repeatedly requested a conference with doctors from both countries who treated Navalny to compare tests results. Russia suggested bringing in experts from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons to study all the reports. Germany has consistently refused. The German military doctors insist it was Novichok, but refuse to allow anyone to view their test results. I realize it is an argument from silence, but if they are telling the truth why do the Germans prevent certified professionals in chemical warfare from reviewing their results?
Let’s be clear. Novichok is an extremely lethal nerve agent. Rarely have there been cases of anyone surviving direct exposure like Navalny claims, and when they did they were left with significant physical and psychiatric damage. Navalny, like the Scripals in England, recovered rather quickly with no lasting impairment. He could not resist posting pictures quite early. I saw a few of them. He looked quite happy and healthy.
Russian authorities told him to return to Russia. Navalny was due to appear in court on December 30. In 2014 he was convicted of embezzling 30 million rubles from two companies, one of which was the French company Yves Rocher. He received a suspended sentence, but as is the law in Russia, he was required to make regular appearances before the court until the time of sentence was complete. Such persons normally are not allowed to leave the country, although the request of Navalny’s family that he be allowed to go to Germany for medical treatment had been granted.
Navalny refused to return to Russia to appear before the court despite the fact he was clearly healthy. Further, it was not just the one appearance he had missed. I saw the list of scheduled appearances at which he never showed up. It was almost every month in 2020. Thus, when he did arrive back in Russia on January 18, 2021, he was promptly arrested. A chorus of protests arose from the American government, as if America normally gives suspended sentences to criminals convicted of embezzling money from foreign companies. He flagrantly and repeatedly violated Russian law.
The Protests. Protests immediately were arranged. The leaders, however, never received permission for staging the main protest. That is the law in Russia. Dmitry Babich, in an interview with RT, stated that Navalny’s leaders were told if they applied for official authorization they would be granted permission to protest in a couple of venues in Moscow. Both areas were very spacious. Navalny’s team did not want permission, however, nor did they want space. They wanted to be in tight quarters to make everything look crowded. And they clearly did not want to abide by Russian law.
The Americans openly supported the protests, and the U.S. Embassy even posted the schedule of planned protests. (They later claimed it was to warn U.S. citizens not to be in those areas, although I did not see any real warning posted with the schedules.) The American support and assistance given to the Navalny protests were happening even as Nancy Pelosi, Nikki Haley and others were trying in vain to find evidence that Russia was behind the Capitol riot. No one in the MSM seemed to see the glaring hypocrisy.
The Propaganda. A number of American sites immediately posted reports that the “peaceful protesters” were treated with police brutality. I trust independent reporters like Eva Karene Bartlett, who I have mentioned before. She was there before the main protest began in Moscow and stayed until after it was over. She has seen many protests in her career as an independent journalist. She is now living in Russia, and I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to be informed of events like this in Russia follow her reports. Here is a link to her thorough observations of what went on. In summary, the American reports were complete anti-Russian propaganda. It is absolutely clear that the protesters were trying to provoke the police by kicking them and diving into their lines. https://ingaza.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/the-navalny-protests-charade-western-interference-disinfo-on-russia-once-again/?fbclid=IwAR1VsOwPeFcPB7GzYd-KDdpS0VtIhs2l_R0TlIjfLLN2nP-CUD5GYv2H1b8
The Navalny story began to die down here in Russia. His second in command, Leonid Volkov, announced there would be no more protests this winter. Nevertheless, after Volkov met with NATO officials, he said the protests were back on. When many Russians saw him change his plans immediately after his meeting with NATO officials, they concluded the Kremlin was right: Navalny’s team is being directed by NATO. That last protest turned out to be an extremely pathetic protest of shining lights into the air above Moscow.
Navalny was subsequently brought before another court for slander against a 94 year old veteran who fought against the Nazis. That war was horrible for Russia, and the few remaining living veterans are highly respected and honored in Russia. During his first court appearance Navalny continued to make fun of the old veteran, “that puppet with his little medals,” and his family as well. I thought the judge was overly patient with him given the fact Navalny even called the judge himself a “Obersturmbannfuhrer,” which I understand means a senior assault leader in a paramilitary Nazi unit. The judge adjourned the court until a later date when the argument could be more reasonably executed. Navalny remained hostile in his next appearance as well and again called the veteran and his family derogatory names. There are cameras in Russian courtrooms, and the nightly news played the videos of Navalny verbally attacking an old veteran who risked his life fighting the Nazis. I suspect his current approval rating of 3% may drop down even more.
What These Events Show. In my early blogs I mentioned my struggle with whether reports about Russia in the American news are based on willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. I have concluded both are involved. Clearly, there is rampant ignorance on the part of many of the members of the U.S. media about Russia. Years ago there were “foreign correspondents.” They lived and moved about in the country they reported on, hopefully getting a “feel” for life there. Many would try to learn as much of the history, culture and language as possible. As I wrote in 2016 many outlets―even large ones―announced they would no longer be doing that. Hence, many reporting on Russia have no sense of what life really is like here.
It goes deeper than that, however. They could learn a lot about Russia with some research into its history, its laws, its culture. But they don’t. The same is true with many politicians. As I pointed out in my blog on Navalny in September, Lindsey Graham, U.S. Senator from my home state of South Carolina, completely bought into the story of Navalny being given Novichok in his tea. He didn’t investigate; he didn’t withhold judgment until all the facts were in. It was a chance to condemn Vladimir Putin. Then in early February Marco Rubio announced he and other Senators were introducing a bill to sanction Russia because of the “poisoning and imprisonment” of Navalny. https://tass.com/world/1252501?fbclid=IwAR0TeGK6HMt0F9Zst-XG-wLmVflOhKQtsBAg3d7tt5jvUe5xEI6SV3nhdys) I would contend that neither Rubio nor any of his colleagues have spent any time investigating the merits of these charges. So it is a combination of laziness, intellectual dishonesty, and political grandstanding.
Russia’s response to America meddling in its internal affairs has basically been, “You need to take care of your own issues.” America is the world’s most famous country. The news from America travels around the world. The downside is the people of the world, including Russians, have seen the bitter fights over the 2020 election results; TASS carried all the news on the recent impeachment of Trump. Russians know all about people shivering and some dying recently in Texas because they had no heat or water. Earlier they saw the news on Jeffrey Epstein and his “suicide.” They saw the names of the politicians and rich tycoons who flew down with him to “Pedophile Island.” So when America assumes it has the high moral ground with the right to tell evil Russia to stop imprisoning this convicted criminal, Alexei Navalny—after his tortuously convoluted explanation of how Putin poisoned him—it rings hollow at best with any thinking person.
Personal Reflections & Conclusion. We’ve been back in Russia almost 5 years. As one adapts to a foreign culture I think it is inevitable that one’s perspective on many things will change. For the most part my changes have been gentle and positive. I’ve always loved snow, but now I am also used to the extreme cold—extreme when compared to South Carolina anyway. I like the simplicity and overall honesty of life in small town Russia. I have mentioned all along the positive improvements in this town. No one has ever treated me rudely because I am an American. Thus, my perspective on Russia is even more positive than it was when we moved here.
Politics in any country can be confusing and disappointing. I’ve been open in saying I’m glad Putin got re-elected and hope he runs again. At the same time, I understand my Russian friends who disagree. It’s not like I wear Putin shirts or caps or talk about how I think he is wonderful. In the same way, I wrote about how I disagreed with Trump on many issues—particularly his foreign policies and the people he had chosen to direct them. Yet, I didn’t feel the anger and hatred toward him like so many in America.
I think my views on politicians could be related to my Orthodox Christianity. I already have a Messiah. I am not expecting a perfect president to appear. I do look for some semblance of integrity and a good work ethic. I believe it is possible to have a generally honest, wise, albeit flawed, leader. But I’m old enough to have been disappointed many times by those I thought were shining lights of deliverance. I’m not looking for any leader to come along and solve all my problems or the nation’s problems. For example when we came here the Russian bureaucracy was extremely confusing and frustrating. My wife spent hours wading through the details. We had to deal with other inconveniences like going to St. Petersburg to stand in long lines, but I don’t blame V.V. Putin for my frustrations with life in Russia. I try to keep the bigger picture in mind.
The hardest adjustment to living here is the constant and glaring lies from America about this country. It comes from both political parties and from the main stream media. Few, if any, of these politicians and journalists seem concerned that a war could start over empty and ignorant lies about “Russian aggression.” I can tell from the responses I get from people who have never been here instructing people like me that we just don’t know the real truth about Russia. People really do believe that Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and others like them know what they are talking about. That’s dangerous.
I don’t like writing blogs about Alexei Navalny or politics in general. I do it because it is my way of putting another perspective out there in the “marketplace of ideas.” I have no delusions that my little blog is going to change international relations. I do believe, however, it has changed the minds of some I hear from and has encouraged others. So I hope to return to blogs on daily life soon. But for now, I’ll say what I think needs to be said.