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Post Protests in Russia
Created by John Eipper on 12/29/11 4:33 PM

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Protests in Russia (Alain de Benoist, France, 12/29/11 4:33 pm)

After the latest demonstrations in Moscow, I hope it is not too late to comment [it's never too late to comment!--JE] the recent exchange between Gilbert Doctorow (11 December) and Cameron Sawyer (12 December) about the present situation in Russia. I read this exchange with great pleasure because, in my opinion, it was a perfect model of what discussions between WAISers should be: contrasting views equally based on good information. It is not by repeating what has been seen on TV or read in the Wall Street Journal that we can know and understand what is going on, but by hearing really informed people.

I agree with Cameron that the 4 December Duma election in Russia was characterized by widespread fraud. The demonstrations were a clear reaction to this fraud and revealed an obvious loss of popularity for Vladimir Putin (and for Medvedev). The question is to know what was the importance of the fraud ("how massively they were falsified, we don't know", said Cameron) and how unpopular Putin really has become.

On the second point, we will see the results in the next presidential election. Putin got 71% of the votes in 2004 (Medvedev, 72% in 2008). He will probably receive less this time, but I would be very surprised if he is not re-elected. His main opponent will probably be the Communist Guennadi Zyuganov.

The main fraud was registered in Moscow and in the Caucasus. 7,664 incidents were documented, but real fraud was proven only in 437 cases, involving in the whole around 20,000 doubtful votes, which is not enormous. The comparison of the official results of the vote with the information given by the pre-election polls is also revealing. Without any fraud, "United Russia" could have received 45% or 47.5% of the votes, instead of the 49.7% in the official results, which is not a great difference.

The demonstrations themselves were a success only in Moscow. On 24 December, there were only 150 demonstrators in Vladivostok, 800 in Novosibirsk, 450 in Chelyabinsk (Ural), 800 in Yekaterinburg, 200 in Ufa, etc. Other demonstrations will be organized for next February.

What is interesting in the anti-Putin demonstrations of December 11 and 24, very well described by Cameron, is their extraordinary and very significant heterogeneity. Westerners fool themselves when they believe that the majority of the demonstrators were "liberals" or "democrats" who wanted "more [US style] democracy and freedom." Among them were people from the "Just Russia" party and from the Communist party, people from Sergei Udaltsov's Leftist Front, some anarchists and extreme far-leftists, some gays, some Stalinists, some stars of show business, and also monarchists, radical nationalists like Vladimir Tor, members of far right militias, even neo-Nazis. The coalition "The Other Russia" includes pro-West liberals, radical leftists and national-Bolsheviks. The liberal "democrats" were represented by people like Boris Nemtsov, Mekhail Kassianov and Vladimir Milov (organized in the Parnas). Among these liberals are also the wealthy oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, the chess-player Gary Kasparov and the ex-Finance minister Aleksei Kudrin. The now famous blogger Alexei Navalny, once a member of the pro-US liberal movement Yabloko (he got his diploma from Yale University, where he was part of the World Fellows Program), took part this year in the radical rightist "Russian March" organized by the ultra-nationalist Dmitri Demuchkin, and he has close contacts with the anti-Kremlin radical rightist Alexander Belov (from the ex-DPNI).

All of them are hostile to Putin, but for very different reasons: for some he is an "autocrat," for others he is "too pragmatic," he is "not nationalist enough," he is "not leftist enough," he is "unable to decide" and to "think historically," he is "not pro-West enough," he is "too liberal," etc. Clearly anti-Putinism is not a viable political program. It is just a political cacophony.

I agree with Gilbert that one has to consider the help or support brought from outside Russia to this anti-Putin wave. The demonstrators certainly did not have the feeling they were manipulated by Western forces or political lobbies, but it obvious that the same Western or American forces which supported the "colored revolutions" in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003) or Ukraine (2004), have also been very active in supporting the anti-Putin movement. It is no mystery that the US hoped that Medvedev, not Putin, would be a candidate for the next presidential election. The present events in Russia could be seen as a indirect consequence of its disappointment.

The so-called "independent" association/NGO GOLOS, run by Gregori Melkoyants, which specializes in the "observation" of electoral consultations and has been very active in the denunciation of the electoral fraud, is financially supported, not only by the European Commission, but also by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a well-known CIA front-organization. Cameron, please have a look here: http://www.lifenews.ru/news/76604 .   It is also known now that the blogger Alexei Navalny has himself been paid by the NED. The Internet name of the new organization BelayaLenta, which helped to organize the demonstrations, was established in the US in October 2001.

The classic mistake made by Westerners, especially Americans, is to interpret the demonstrations against the "autocrats" or "despots" of the world as a Manichean opposition between "dictatorship" and people wanting "more [US style] democracy and freedom." They think like that because they believe that other people in other cultures or other countries are like themselves. They have never understood what Otherness means. A big mistake.

In Russia, the fraud clearly favored Putin's "United Russia" party--a big and very corrupt party (not more corrupt however than the others). This means that the "true" results would have favored the other big parties. Which ones? The liberal pro-West movement Yabloko, whose chairman is Grigori Yavlinski, represents hardly 5% of the votes (around 4% in most of the polls). All the other parties are certainly not pro-West, either the Communist Party (KPRF, 19.15% of the December 4 vote), "Just Russia" (13.16%) or the ultra-nationalist LDPR run by Vladimir Zhirinovsky (11.7%). The vast majority of the Russian people appreciate certainly their present economic prosperity (thanks to Putin!), but they do not want to become "like the Americans." They do not want either to be submitted to the "global ethics" of a world governance. They want to retain their Russian identity.

The same mistake has been made by Western/American media about the recent so-called "Arab spring." Here also the demonstrators were supposedly asking for "more [US style] democracy and freedom." But after the Arab spring came the Islamist winter. When "free elections" were organized, the winners were not the pro-West liberal "democrats," but the Islamists. In Morocco, the Islamist PJD (Party of Justice and Development) won the election with 30% of the vote. In Tunisia, the Islamists (the Ennada party and their allies) won with around 50% of the vote. In Egypt, the Islamists won the election with around 70% of the vote (37% for the Muslim Brotherhood, 25% for the Salafists).

In the meantime, the Americans have left Iraq, where the pro-Iranian Shias have won the game over the Sunnites. The only result of the war (770 billion dollars spent by the US, 4500 US soldiers killed, 32,0000 wounded, 100,000 Iraqi civilians massacred) has been civil war and chaos. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are every day more ready to return to power. In Syria, the main forces hostile to Bachar al-Assad are not pro-West partisans of "democracy and freedom," but Islamists who consider that the Alaouite dynasty is religiously "heretic." (And the farce is complete when we learn that the head of the "observation mission" sent in Syria some days ago by the Arab League is the Sudanese general Mohammed Al-Dabi, a man who is presently under a warrant arrest for "genocide" of the International Penal court.) In Libya, the more radical Islamists have won against Gaddafi with the help of France, England and the USA (8,000 aerial raids, 30,000 bombs and missiles, 50-60,000 killed civilians). The country, which was in 2009 the most developed of all African countries (with a GDP of 12,020 dollars per inhabitant and a literacy rate of 82%, with a majority of women in the Universities), is left now in a chaotic state of civil war between conflicting tribes.

PS: Cameron wrote: "One of my best friends was one of the chief ideologists of Putin's party from the beginning [...]. He is now selling his real estate in Moscow in order to buy a house in the South of France. His children are in London and he has told them not to come back." Apparently, he was not only a "chief ideologist," but is also a very wealthy man. I don't know how he earned his money. But leaving his own country today looks a bit like desertion to me.

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  • Protests in Russia (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 12/30/11 4:39 AM)
    It is hard to find much fault with this very trenchant and objective comment by Alain de Benoist (29 December).

    One of Alain's most important comments is this:

    "The classic mistake made by Westerners, especially Americans, is to interpret the demonstrations against the 'autocrats' or 'despots' of the world as a Manichean opposition between 'dictatorship' and people wanting 'more [US style] democracy and freedom.' They think like that because they believe that other people in other cultures or other countries are like themselves. They have never understood what Otherness means. A big mistake."

    It is an important and complicated question. But in order to understand it correctly, we also need to know what is "US-style democracy and freedom"? Or democracy? I'm afraid we don't really know ourselves; leaving aside the Russians. It goes to the heart of political philosophy. Alain has given me his book Anti-Liberalism, in Russian. I have not read it yet but plan to do so during these holidays--it is particularly relevant just now. Alain's own persuasions are on the table; I shall put mine there as well--one thing which "Western-style" or "US-style" democracy is not, is "government by the people." This is an illusion or, perhaps, a delusion, or perhaps even, propaganda. We are in fact governed not by ourselves, but by a political class, by professional politicians, who formulate policies according not to our desires and interests, but according to a system of policy worked out by this same class. We influence policy only in big increments and without any significant choice--if the whole country starts to get sick of Lyndon B. Johnson-style welfare politics, for example, then Jimmy Carter may be thrown out of office on a wave of nausea, and a new figure offering slightly different choices is invited to try to make some incremental changes. But in general we are at their mercy, and we live according to rules they invent themselves, without much consultation with us.

    So much for Western-style democracy, in my admittedly biased view. Where the system starts to work, however, is not when politicians are elected. When politicians are put into office, they ride a wave of impression and perception which rarely has much to do with concrete policies, which within a narrow range track those of their party. Putting politicians into office is relatively meaningless in our system. Where our democracy grows teeth, when it does become an instrument in the hands of the broader population, is when politicians are put out of office. We can never choose a congressman or president and be sure that he won't wake up one day and try to push through a bill which implements, say 90% taxes on incomes, or which criminalizes anti-government speech despite the First Amendment. But we can for damn sure throw him out of office if he does something which outrages a large part of his constituency. And so this keeps them in check to a certain extent.

    And so what is it that outraged Russians this month? As Alain correctly said, it was not the universal desire to elect, say, Grigory Yavlinsky and implement a perfect copy of the policies of Western countries. As Alain described, the opposition to Putin is incredibly heterogeneous, encompassing the widest range of political tendencies. And as both Gilbert Doctorow and Alain have mentioned, there is not really any credible alternative to Putin's party--the liberal opposition has been systematically destroyed, and the Communists are considered, by a large part of the population, to be unfit to govern. Nevertheless, a large part of Russian people insist that their leaders should be not be simply imposed on them--they want their votes to be counted. They would like to have the chance to vote against Putin's party, even if there is hardly any credible alternative. And so in this sense, at least, I don't think that one can say that Russians are any different from anyone else. They probably don't want to be given a choice between Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich, exactly, but they certainly want a chance to throw their own bums out, if they feel like it. And when they were deprived of this right, widespread outrage ensued, of which the demonstrations in Moscow were the merest tip of the iceberg, like all demonstrations.

    As to Golos--this organization is an NGO which receives grants from different sources, including USAID and the European Commission. It is an election observer. Independent election observation is, in my opinion, an extremely useful function. If Golos were really a seditious tool of the CIA--can we imagine that it would be tolerated for two seconds in Russia? Do we imagine that the FSB lacks the tools to shut it down, overnight? Why would such an organization be tolerated? Golos has been tolerated since 1990 for one simple reason--independent observers give a tremendous amount of credibility to a country's elections. Putin was not attacking Golos, when Golos confirmed in 2000 that Putin was elected in generally clean and fair elections. And again in 2004, when Golos confirmed that Russia does have a more or less functional democracy, contrary to what was widely believed in the West. The attacks on Golos today are extremely cynical--United Russia decided that unfettered democracy was not going to put it in a good light this year, and suddenly Golos, which had been so useful before, got in the way. Today, I would venture to say, hardly a single person in Russia believes that Golos has invented election irregularities in what was actually a clean election. Give me a break. I am not commenting on other alleged US attempts to influence politics here. I am on record against the US meddling in Georgia and Ukraine, which I think was misguided and actually contrary to US interests. But Golos is not a case of this.

    As to the "leaked" correspondence of Golos staffers--there is nothing scandalous in the bits and pieces which have been published. The US may or may not have been engaged in some kind of subversion in Russia, as it has in Ukraine and Georgia. But Golos was not an example of this.

    If there is one minor thing in Alain's post which I would respectfully criticize, it is his faith in statistics about the significance of the fraud in the Russian elections. He says that United Russia might have gotten 45-odd, rather than 49-odd percent of the vote. My question is how does he know? Based on what? Based on precincts officially challenged in the Russian courts? These numbers are misleading, because they quantify something which is certainly unquantifiable. The extent of the fraud was great. There were incidents in many places. No one--except perhaps the UR staffers who coordinated it--knows the extent of it. We do know one thing: support for Putin's party, which was getting the votes--sincere and enthusiastic--of 70-odd percent of Russian voters, has plummeted. A very large number of Russian believe that Putin was great in his time, but it is now time for him to move on. The numbers are even more remarkable in view of the two facts: (a) there is no credible alternative to UR; and (b) Russian is again experiencing quite good economic times--people are, by and large, not discontented because of their personal economic situations. The Russian budget will show a surplus for 2011 equal to about 3.5% of GDP; an amazing statistic in the present financial environment. Russia, by the way, is giving $20 billion through the IMF to help support the eurozone.

    Alain wrote:

    "Cameron wrote: ‘One of my best friends was one of the chief ideologists of Putin's party from the beginning [...]. He is now selling his real estate in Moscow in order to buy a house in the South of France. His children are in London and he has told them not to come back.' Apparently, he was not only a ‘chief ideologist,' but is also a very wealthy man. I don't know how he earned his money. But leaving his own country today looks a bit like desertion to me."

    Well. First of all, most of the higher functionaries of United Russia are extremely wealthy people. UR is run as a business, and they have turned Russia into something of a kleptocracy. It is not--contrary to some reports--on the scale of Latin America or Africa, or certainly not of Ukraine or Georgia (contrary to the rankings in Transparency International, whose rankings are not based on reality), but it is a somewhat kleptocratic country where political power is used as a means to amass wealth, often on a gigantic scale. But no, my friend is not among the kleptocrats. He is a multi-millionaire based merely on the rising tide which raised all boats in the Moscow real estate market, the most expensive in Europe but for Central London. The average apartment in our neighborhood is worth around $3 million; his is better than average, plus he has a lovely dacha. He will not pay a kopek of tax on the sale. So like very many Muscovites, he can retire very well simply by selling out here and buying a cheaper house in Cannes or Mougins or Cap d' Antibes, and living on the difference in value, while looking out wistfully over the Gulf of Angels from his terrace--not the first or even the tenth generation of Russians who have done so. There is a lovely, ancient Russian church in Antibes. There's another one in Cannes, and there's even a Russian cathedral in Nice. So you don't have to worry about getting the proper rituals when you got out of this life. Aeroflot runs daily nonstop service to Moscow, from Nice, in case you need to come back for someone's birthday or anniversary, or to give the odd lecture. Unlike Alain, I don't blame him at all. His work did not lead to a result which he can be proud of. He does not want to be tortured, living surrounded by the results of his work every day. A good time to retire.

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    • Protests in Russia and US Involvement (Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium 12/31/11 4:45 AM)
      Would the FSB tolerate for one minute any seditious CIA-financed entity ensconced in downtown Moscow? Yes, in response to Cameron Sawyer (30 December), it would and it does. You can be sure that Golos's every move is monitored, and from the inside. If the Russian security forces know exactly where the 5th column is headquartered, knowledge like that is a good and useful thing in their business.

      In the mid-1990s I spent close to a year as the (part-time) office director of a rather important US-financed educational NGO in downtown Moscow. On my second day at the job, a pudgy and belligerent chap from Washington came into my office, closed the door and asked how I was getting on with the "Company," what were my skills in "schmoozing" with the Russians, etc. And there you have it, I unwittingly found myself in a nest of spies. From both sides, to be sure. The KGB had planted its guy as my driver.

      I mention this only to point out that for the American government, the Cold War never ended. It was the Russians who wanted to turn the page and just get rich. But we just can't leave them alone.

      As for Golos giving earlier Russian elections a clean bill of health, well that already tells you something was and is rotten. The 1990s elections were worthy of Mayor Daley. They were falsified as they come. And 2000, 2004: hey, we were still buddies with whomever the Yeltsin gang put up to be President, then we were pals with the nice chap with sympathetic eyes who was the first to phone us after 9/11 and opened up Central Asia to support our little operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But after his February 2007 "fart in the church" speech at the Munich Security Conference, denouncing American unilateralism, US thinking about old Vlad turned on a dime. He was now Tsar Putin, the guy who rolled back Russian democracy. And when we found out that Vlad was not about to retire to the Russian Olympics committee per the recommendation of Uncle Joe Biden, well we might just give instructions to Golos to make sure that any elections now were declared fraudulent, that the rogue regime in the Kremlin lacked legitimacy, n'est-ce pas?

      I wish to thank Alain de Benoist for bringing up some very relevant facts about Navalny. Yale, eh? NED backed, eh? Nice details. The only thing missing in his CV is an American wife--that would put him up there with Saakashvili in Georgia and Yushchenko in Ukraine as a fully qualified American stooge.

      Friends, it is time to pull the plug on American meddling, in Russia and everywhere else. Nothing good will come of it, and it is out of control.

      JE comments:  Is anyone else out there wondering about the "fart in the church" reference?  I must not have been paying attention back in 2007.

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      • Cuba and US Involvement (Timothy Ashby, Spain 12/31/11 9:07 AM)

        In writing about Protests in Russia and US Involvement, Gilbert Doctorow (31 December) said:

        "... for the American government, the Cold War never ended. It was the Russians who wanted to turn the page and just get rich. But we just can't leave them alone."

        The same Cold War mentality applies to Cuba. The Obama administration dogmatically pursues a "regime change" policy towards the Cuban government, albeit muted compared to the George W. Bush years. The archaic policy is partially due to entrenched bureaucrats within the State Department and CIA as well as the Democratic Party's appeasement of a vocal minority of Cuban-American radicals in Florida and New Jersey. The latter states are key to winning any US presidential election, so Obama continues previous Administrations' thinly disguised bribery of "Cuban Democracy" organizations despite numerous GAO and other investigations exposing their blatant corruption:


        Alan Gross, the USAID contractor imprisoned in Cuba for the past two years, was the pawn of such programs. Knowingly or otherwise, he undoubtedly broke Cuban laws by smuggling in and distributing prohibited communications gear--some of which entered Cuba via the US Interests Section's diplomatic pouch in clear violation of international law.

        Despite having no "official" diplomatic relations with Cuba, the US Interests Section occupies the US Embassy building built in 1953 which is one of the most prominent structures on Havana's famed Malecon. At least 75 US personnel are based at the Interests Section, approximately half of whom are CIA operatives. The "Chief" of the Interests Section (the de facto US ambassador) lives in the pre-Revolutionary ambassadorial mansion in Havana's exclusive Cubanacan district. Ironically, his neighbors include senior members of the Cuban government (even Fidel lives nearby).

        Hypocrisy continues as the foundation of US foreign policy.

        JE comments:  Yes, it would appear that little has changed in US-Cuba policy since the transition to Barack and Raúl.  But Tim Ashby has hit the nail on the head:  there's nothing to be gained politically, and much to be lost, by alienating the "vocal minority of Cuban-American radicals," especially in Florida.  I wonder what kind of under-the-radar discussions are going on.

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      • Protests in Russia and US Involvement (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 01/01/12 1:37 PM)
        Gilbert Doctorow (31 December) clearly has more experience than I do in such matters, but nevertheless, I would ask him--what sedition was his NGO involved in? Were they falsifying election results? Or falsely reporting election law violations? Were they stealing secret information?

        It is one thing to tolerate spies, watch them, periodically arrest them, then exchange them for one's own spies. As far as I know, this is business as usual for countries who are concerned about each other strategically and are not close enough to share information voluntarily. By all accounts, the Russian maintain considerable human intelligence resources in the US, as well.

        But it is entirely another thing for a country to tolerate another country directly meddling in its politics. Some countries are too weak to prevent it (Georgia, Ukraine). But Russia is not. Never for a second, I submit, would the FSB tolerate actual seditious or illegal activities by an organization like Golos--the spies would be rounded up and the guilty Russians would be behind bars in the twinkle of an eye. Any such experience as what Gilbert described does not prove the contrary.

        Golos has been allowed to exist and work, I submit, because independent elections observation gives great credibility to the elections in a new democracy. Russia badly needed credibility in a world which generally underestimated the strength of her democratic institutions, and so Golos has been enormously valuable to Russia. If Golos had ever done anything more than observe and report, perhaps challenge the odd precinct results in the polls, if they had every done anything in violation of Russian laws, they would have been shut down and prosecuted, just as such an organization would be shut down in the US. How could such an organization--under such intense scrutiny, and this year, in contrast to previous years, not doing anything useful for the regime--avoid prosecution if it were violating Russian laws? They only possible answer is that Golos was not violating any Russian laws. It was observing and reporting what it saw, which it has the legal right to do--and making some legal challenges--which everyone has the right to do under Russian law. I would not put it past the current regime to trump up some charges against Golos, if there were some remotely plausible basis--but there is not. So we cannot talk about any sedition--it could not have happened.

        It would be great if some WAISer with professional knowledge of these matters--like Miles Seeley--could comment.

        All of that being said, I do agree with Gilbert that the US meddles far too much in the internal affairs of other countries. The real story of US involvement in the "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia has yet to come out in all of its details, and I fear that the details do not reflect well on us. For one thing, we did no one any good with whatever meddling we did. The color revolution in Ukraine failed and was exposed to be riddled with massive corruption--if our tax dollars were being spent in any large quantities, we can be sure that few of them ended up somewhere other than in someone's pocket. We do have our "little buddy" in Georgia, and what good does it do us? Or the world? Or the region? He attacked Russia and caused a shooting war which could have had vastly worse consequences. I don't believe for a second that we encouraged him to do such an insane thing, but the act is indicative of what we have helped to create in Georgia. What possible benefit could we have from destabilizing the region? On the contrary, the former Russian Empire (later, Soviet Union), is a region which desperately needs cohesion and cooperation based on the historical economic and political ties. The region has the longest land border in the world (China and Kazakhstan), and has all of the main borders between world civilizations today--between Europe and China, between Europe and the Islamic world. If we undermine Russia's historic role in that region, who will take Russia's place? Historically--for thousands of years--it was Persia. Is that what we want?

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        • Protests in Russia and US Involvement (Miles Seeley, USA 01/02/12 11:29 AM)
          I will comment on Cameron Sawyer's excellent posting (1 January) on how the FSB and the Russian government in general regulate NGOs like GOLOS. My comments are based on the assumption that the FSB closely resembles the old KGB.

          Allowing a foreign entity like GOLOS to operate in Russia would be a decision requiring approval at the highest level of the FSB as well as important governmental bodies. There would be a section or unit in the FSB charged with observing and penetrating the NGO in question. Any seditious or criminal acts would be evaluated to determine if they should be prosecuted or, possibly, turned into something advantageous to Russia. In absolutely no case would the organization be allowed to operate unchecked.

          Of course this sounds Big Brother-ish, but every developed country I know of has some security unit keeping tabs on foreign organizations. In the US it is the FBI, in Britain MI-5. Communist countries and other dictatorships simply were more restrictive. The old Second Chief Directorate of the KGB had vast powers that were sometimes clumsily applied but were quite effective.

          So it's safe to assume that GOLOS serves some useful purpose and/or is doing nothing contrary to law. My guess is that GOLOS is tolerated because it makes Russia seem more open by having a neutral organization reporting on elections, and that GOLOS is obeying the law. If it did anything that seemed subversive it would be immediately shut down and there would be some PR and judicial response from the authorities. FSB agents would also have penetrated GOLOS and would not only observe but would try to control all actions of GOLOS from within.

          JE comments: Best 2012 wishes to Miles Seeley. Great to hear from you!

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        • Geopolitical Importance of Eurasia (Alain de Benoist, France 01/03/12 5:23 AM)
          Cameron Sawyer wrote on 1 January:

          "The former Russian Empire (later, Soviet Union), is a region which desperately needs cohesion and cooperation based on the historical economic and political ties. What possible benefit could we [the United States] have from destabilizing the region?"

          The answer could have been given by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard (1997): "Who controls Eurasia, controls the world."

          Henry Kissinger expressed the same opinion in 2001.

          See Bernhard Rode, Das Eurasische Schachbrett. Amerikas neuer Kalter Krieg gegen Rußland, Tübingen: Hohenrain 2012 (1,245 pages, foreword by Alain de Benoist).

          JE comments: Eurasia is by far the world's largest land mass, but who is the last person or nation to actually "control" it?  Kublai Khan?

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