Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Federal Assembly Speech; Putin vows to rein in capitalism and shore up sovereignty, by Mike Whitney - The Unz Review

Western elites and their lackeys in the media despise Russian president Vladimir Putin and they make no bones about it. The reasons for this should be fairly obvious. Putin has rolled back US ambitions in Syria and Ukraine, aligned himself with Washington’s biggest strategic rival in Asia, China, and is currently strengthening his economic ties with Europe which poses a long-term threat to US dominance in Central Asia. Putin has also updated his nuclear arsenal which makes it impossible for Washington to use the same bullyboy tactics it’s used on other, more vulnerable countries. So it’s understandable that the media would want to demonize Putin and disparage him as cold-blooded “KGB thug”. That, of course, is not true, but it fits with the bogus narrative that Putin is maniacally conducting a clandestine war against the United States for purely evil purposes. In any event, the media’s deep-seated Russophobia has grown so extreme that they’re unable to cover even simple events without veering wildly into fantasy-land. Take, for example, the New York Times coverage of Putin’s recent Address to the Federal Assembly, which took place on January 15. The Times screwball analysis shows that their journalists have no interest in conveying what Putin actually said, but would rather use every means available to persuade their readers that Putin is a calculating tyrant driven by his insatiable lust for power. Check out this excerpt from the article in the Times:
“Nobody knows what’s going on inside the Kremlin right now. And perhaps that’s precisely the point. President Vladimir V. Putin announced constitutional changes last week that could create new avenues for him to rule Russia for the rest of his life….(wrong)
The fine print of the legislation showed that the prime minister’s powers would not be expanded as much as first advertised, while members of the State Council would still appear to serve at the pleasure of the president. So maybe Mr. Putin’s plan is to stay president, after all?….(wrong again)
A journalist, Yury Saprykin, offered a similar sentiment on Facebook, but in verse:
We’ll be debating over how he won’t leave,
We’ll be guessing, will he leave or won’t he.
And then — lo! — he won’t be leaving.
That is, before the elections he won’t leave,
And after that, he definitely won’t leave.” (wrong, a third time)
This is really terrible analysis. Yes, “Putin announced constitutional changes last week”, but they have absolutely nothing to do with some sinister plan to stay in power, and anyone who read the speech would know that. Unfortunately, most of the other 100-or-so “cookie cutter” articles on the topic, draw the same absurd conclusion as the Times, that is, that the changes Putin announced in his speech merely conceal his real intention which is to extend his time in office for as long as possible. Once again, there’s nothing in the speech itself to support these claims, it’s just another attempt to smear Putin.
So what did Putin actually say in his annual Address to the Federal Assembly?
Well, that’s where it gets interesting. He announced changes to the social safety net, more financial assistance for young families, improvements to the health care system, higher wages for teachers, more money for education, hospitals, schools, libraries. He promised to launch a system of “social contracts” that commit the state to reducing poverty and raising standards of living. He pledged to provide healthier meals to schoolchildren, lower interest rates for first-time home buyers, greater economic support for working families, higher payouts to pensioners, raises to the minimum wage, additional funding for a “network of extracurricular technology and engineering centers”. Putin also added this gem:
“It is very important that children who are in preschool and primary school adopt the true values ​​of a large family – that family is love, happiness, the joy of motherhood and fatherhood, that family is a strong bond of several generations, united by respect for the elderly and care for children, giving everyone a sense of confidence, security, and reliability. If the younger generations accept this situation as natural, as a moral and an integral part and reliable background support for their adult life, then we will be able to meet the historical challenge of guaranteeing Russia’s development as a large and successful country.”
Naturally, heartfelt statements like this never appear on the pages of the Times or any of the other western media for that matter. Instead, Americans are deluged with more of the same relentless Putin-psychobabble that’s become a staple of cable news. The torrent of lies, libels and fabrications about Putin are so constant and so overwhelming, that the only thing of which one can be absolutely certain, is that nothing that is written about Putin in the MSM can be trusted. Of that, there is no doubt.
That said, Putin is a politician which means he might not deliver on his promises at all. That is a very real possibility. But if that’s the case, then why did his former-Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, resign immediately after the speech? Medvedev and his entire cabinet resigned because they realized that Putin has abandoned the western model of capitalism and is moving in a different direction altogether. Putin is now focused on strengthening welfare state programs that lift people out of poverty, raise living standards, and narrow the widening inequality gap. And he wants a new team to help him implement his vision, which is why Medvedev and crew got their walking papers. Here’s how The Saker summed it up in a recent article at the Unz Review:
“The new government clearly indicates that, especially with the nominations of Prime Minister Mishustin and his First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov: these are both on record as very much proponents of what is called “state capitalism” in Russia: meaning an economic philosophy in which the states does not stifle private entrepreneurship, but one in which the state is directly and heavily involved in creating the correct economic conditions for the government and private sector to grow. Most crucially, “state capitalism” also subordinates the sole goal of the corporate world (making profits) to the interests of the state and, therefore, to the interests of the people. In other words, goodbye turbo-capitalism à la Atlantic Integrationists!” (“The New Russian Government”, The Saker)
This is precisely what is taking place in Russia right now. Putin is breaking away from Washington’s parasitic model of capitalism and replacing it with a more benign version that better addresses the needs of the people. This new version of ‘managed capitalism’ places elected officials at the head of the system to protect the public from the savagery of market forces and from perennial-grinding austerity. It’s a system aimed at helping ordinary people not Wall Street or the global bank Mafia.
But while the changes to Russia’s economic model are significant, it’s Putin’s political changes that have drawn the most attention. Here’s what he said:
(The) “requirements of international law and treaties as well as decisions of international bodies can be valid on the Russian territory only to the point that they do not restrict the rights and freedoms of our people and citizens and do not contradict our Constitution….”
What does this mean? Does it mean that Putin will not respect international law or the treaties it has signed with its neighbors? No, it doesn’t, in fact, Putin has been an enthusiastic proponent of international law and the UN Security Council. He strongly believes that these institutions play a crucial role in maintaining global security, an issue that is very close to his heart. What the Russian president appears to be saying is that the rights of the Russian people and of the sovereign Russian government take precedent over foreign corporations, treaties or free trade agreements. Russia will not allow the powerful and insidious globalist multinationals to take control of the political and economic levers of state power as they’ve done in countries around the world. Putin further clarified this point saying:
“Russia can remain Russia only as a sovereign state. Our nation’s sovereignty must be unconditional. We have done a great deal to achieve this. We restored our state’s unity and overcome the situation when certain powers in the government were essentially usurped by oligarch clans. …We created powerful reserves, which increases our country’s stability and capability to protect (us) from any attempts of foreign pressure.”
For Putin sovereignty, which is the supreme power of a state to govern itself, is the bedrock principle which legitimizes the state provided the state faithfully represents the will of the people. He elaborates on this point later in his speech saying:
“The opinion of people, our citizens as the bearers of sovereignty and the main source of power must be decisive. In the final analysis everything is decided by the people, both today and in the future.”
So while there may be significant differences between Russian and US democracy, the basic principle remains the same, the primary responsibility of the government is to carry out the “will of the people”. In this respect, Putin’s political philosophy is not much different from that of the framers of the US Constitution. What is different, however, is Putin’s approach to free trade. Unlike the US, Putin does not believe that free trade deals should diminish the authority of the state. Most Americans don’t realize that trade agreements like NAFTA often include provisions that prevent the government from acting in the best interests of their people. Globalist trade laws prevent governments from providing incentives to companies to slow the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, they undermine environmental regulations and food safety laws. Some of these agreements even shield sweatshop owners and other human rights abusers from penalty or prosecution.
Is it any wonder why Putin does not want to participate in this unethical swindle? Is it any wonder why he feels the need to clearly state that Russia will only comply with those laws and treaties that “do not restrict the rights and freedoms of our people and citizens and do not contradict our Constitution”? Here’s Putin again:
“Please, do not forget what happened to our country after 1991. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ….there were also threats, dangers of a magnitude no one could have imagined ever before. ….Therefore … We must create a solid, reliable and invulnerable system that will be absolutely stable in terms of the external contour and will securely guarantee Russia’s independence and sovereignty.”
So what happened following the dissolution of the Soviet Union?
The United States dispatched a cabal of cutthroat economists to Moscow to assist in the “shock therapy” campaign that collapsed the social safety net, savaged pensions, increased unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and alcoholism by many orders of magnitude, accelerated the slide to privatization that fueled a generation of voracious oligarchs, and sent the real economy plunging into an excruciating long-term depression.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz followed events closely in Russia at the time and summed it up like this:
“In Russia, the people were told that capitalism was going to bring new, unprecedented prosperity. In fact, it brought unprecedented poverty, indicated not only by a fall in living standards, not only by falling GDP, but by decreasing life spans and enormous other social indicators showing a deterioration in the quality of life…..
The number of people in poverty in Russia, for instance, increased from 2 percent to… somewhere between 40 and 50 percent, with more than one out of two children living in families below poverty. The market economy was a worse enemy for most of these people than the Communists had said it would be. … In some (parts) of the former Soviet Union, the GDP, the national income, fell by over 70 percent. And with that smaller pie it was more and more unequally divided, so a few people got bigger and bigger slices, and the majority of people wound up with less and less and less…. (PBS interview with Joseph Stiglitz, Commanding Heights)
At the same time Washington’s agents were busy looting Moscow, NATO was moving its troops, armored divisions and missile sites closer to Russia’s border in clear violation of promises that were made to Mikhail Gorbachev not to move its military “one inch east”. At present, there are more combat troops and weaponry on Russia’s western flank than at any time since the German buildup for operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Naturally, Russia feels threatened by this flagrantly hostile force on its border. (BTW, this week, “The US is carrying out its biggest and most provocative deployment to Europe since the Cold War-era. According to the US Military in Europe Website: “Exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 is the deployment of a division-size combat-credible force from the United States to Europe….The Pentagon and its NATO allies are recklessly simulating a full-blown war with Russia to prevent Moscow from strengthening its economic ties with Europe.) Here’s more from Putin:
“I am convinced that it is high time for a serious and direct discussion about the basic principles of a stable world order and the most acute problems that humanity is facing. It is necessary to show political will, wisdom and courage. The time demands an awareness of our shared responsibility and real actions.”
This is a theme that Putin has reiterated many times since his groundbreaking speech at Munich in 2007 where he said:
“We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?….” (“Wars not diminishing’: Putin’s iconic 2007 Munich speech, you tube)
What Putin objects to is the US acting unilaterally whenever it chooses. It’s Washington’s capricious disregard for international law that has destabilized vast regions across the Middle East and Central Asia and has put world leaders on edge never knowing where the next crisis will pop up or how many millions of people will be impacted. As Putin said in Munich, “No one feels safe.” No one feels like they can count on the protection of international law or UN Security Council resolutions.
“Just look at the situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa… Instead of bringing about reforms, aggressive intervention destroyed government institutions and the local way of life. Instead of democracy and progress, there is now violence, poverty, social disasters and total disregard for human rights, including even the right to life…
The power vacuum in some countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa obviously resulted in the emergence of areas of anarchy, which were quickly filled with extremists and terrorists. The so-called Islamic State has tens of thousands of militants fighting for it, including former Iraqi soldiers who were left on the street after the 2003 invasion. Many recruits come from Libya whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973….”
Is Putin overstating Washington’s role in decimating Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan or is this a fair assessment of America’s pernicious and destabilizing role in the region? Entire civilizations have been laid to waste, millions have been killed or scattered across the region to achieve some nebulous strategic advantage or to help Israel eliminate its perceived enemies. And all this military adventurism can be traced back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the triumphalist response from US powerbrokers who saw Russia’s collapse as a green light for their New World Order.
Washington reveled in its victory and embraced its ability to dominate global decision-making and intervene unilaterally wherever it saw fit. The indispensable nation no longer had to bother with formalities like the UN Security Council or international law. Even sovereignty was dismissed as an archaic notion that had no place in the new borderless corporate empire. What really mattered was spreading western-style capitalism to the four corners of the earth particularly those areas that contained vital resources (ME) or explosive growth potential. (Eurasia) Those regions were the real prize.
But then something unexpected happened. Washington’s wars dragged on ad infinitum while newer centers of power gradually emerged. Suddenly, the globalist utopia was no longer within reach, the American Century had ended before it had even begun. Meanwhile Russia and China were growing more powerful all the time. They demanded an end to unilateralism and a return to international law, but their demands were flatly rejected. The wars and interventions dragged on even though the prospects for victory grew more and more remote. Here’s Putin again:
“We have no doubt that sovereignty is the central notion of the entire system of international relations. Respect for it and its consolidation will help underwrite peace and stability both at the national and international levels…First of all, there must be equal and indivisible security for all states.” (Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, ” The Future in Progress: Shaping the World of Tomorrow, From the Office of the President of Russia)
Indeed, sovereignty is the foundational principle upon which global security rests, and yet, it is sovereignty that western elites are so eager to extinguish. Powerhouse multinationals want to erase existing borders to facilitate the unfettered, tariff-free flow of goods and people in one giant, interconnected free trade zone that spans the entire planet. And while their plan has been derailed by Putin in Syria and Ukraine, they have made gains in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. The virus cannot be contained, it can only be eradicated. Here’s Putin:
“Essentially, the entire globalisation project is in crisis today and in Europe, as we know well, we hear voices now saying that multiculturalism has failed. I think this situation is in many respects the result of mistaken, hasty and to some extent over-confident choices made by some countries’ elites a quarter-of-a-century ago. Back then, in the late 1980s-early 1990s, there was a chance not just to accelerate the globalization process but also to give it a different quality and make it more harmonious and sustainable in nature.
But some countries that saw themselves as victors in the Cold War, not just saw themselves this way but said it openly, took the course of simply reshaping the global political and economic order to fit their own interests.
In their euphoria, they essentially abandoned substantive and equal dialogue with other actors in international life, chose not to improve or create universal institutions, and attempted instead to bring the entire world under the spread of their own organizations, norms and rules. They chose the road of globalization and security for their own beloved selves, for the select few, and not for all.” (Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club)
As Putin says, there was an opportunity to “make globalization more harmonious and sustainable”, (perhaps, China’s Belt and Road initiative will do just that.) but Washington elites rejected that idea choosing instead to impose its own self-aggrandizing vision on the world. As a result, demonstrations and riots have cropped up across Europe, right-wing populist parties are on the rise, and a majority of the population no longer have confidence in basic democratic institutions. The west’s version of globalization has been roundly repudiated as a scam that showers wealth on scheming billionaires while hanging ordinary working people out to dry. Here’s Putin again:
“It seems as if the elites do not see the deepening stratification in society and the erosion of the middle class…(but the situation) creates a climate of uncertainty that has a direct impact on the public mood.
Sociological studies conducted around the world show that people in different countries and on different continents tend to see the future as murky and bleak. This is sad. The future does not entice them, but frightens them. At the same time, people see no real opportunities or means for changing anything, influencing events and shaping policy.” (Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club)
True, life is harder now and it looks to get harder still, but what is Putin’s remedy or does he have one? Is he going to stem the tide and reverse the effects of globalization? Is he going to sabotage Washington’s plan to control vital resources in the Middle East, become the the main player in Central Asia, and tighten its grip on global power?
No, Putin is not nearly that ambitious. As he indicates in his speech, his immediate goal is to reform the economy so that poverty is eliminated and wealth is more equally distributed. These are practical remedies that help to soften capitalism and decrease the probability of social unrest. He also wants to fend off potential threats to the state by shoring up Russian sovereignty. That’s why he is adding amendments to the Constitution. The objective is to protect Russia from pernicious foreign agents or fifth columnists operating within the state. Bottom line: Putin sees what’s going on in the world and has charted a course that best serves the interests of the Russian people. Americans would be lucky to have a leader who did the same.