Category: Russia

Poland and Syria do not immediately appear to have much in common, but the people in both have been abandoned to untold violence with the full knowledge of the world. And while Poland and Ukraine do not share a common history, they have undoubtedly suffered the common problem of being considered a Russian possession: in 1939 Poland was partitioned between Germany and the USSR, then taken by the Soviets at the end of the war as if no more than a Russian province. As recent developments reflect, Russia still sees Ukraine in the same light, though it has been independent since 1991.

One of the many attributes of Alexandra Richie’s fascinating Warsaw 1944 is that it often brings into focus current events and international circumstances no less than the dire story it has to tell. It is an important book that should be widely read. [Read the full article]


It looked like a scene from a Cold War spy thriller. 24 hours after his release, Oligrach Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who ended a 10-year sentence, appeared in Berlin wearing a heavy duty Russian air-force jacket and smiling broadly. It was, however, the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement about Khodorkovsky’s early release which caught a lot of people by surprise. A global media spectacle followed. Journalists and commentators scrutinised whether Putin’s decision symbolised a political strength or weakness, whether Khodorkovsky admitted his guilt, and whether he is going to become a political opposition figure or remain in exile. Media outlets appeared to be outpacing one another in applying dramatic labels to the momentous event.

A reflection on the media coverage along with the analysis of Khodorkovsky’s interviews of the past few days, however, paints a more ambivalent picture and suggests that the dichotomies and sensational labels applied are often not fitting. The “surprise” label attributed to Putin’s decision, the “disappointment” characterising public reaction at Khodorkovky’s apparent disinterest in re-entering Russian politics, and the “Dissident versus Despot” dichotomy applied to the Putin-Khodorkovky’s relationship, bear closer scrutiny. A closer look at his latest interviews highlights Khodorkovsky’s complex personality and well-formed, but somewhat, contradictory political views. [Read the full article]


Tina Bidzinashvili and her husband have harvested apples, quinces and peaches from the orchard behind their house since the perestroika years, when they were given it by the local collective farm in reward for hard work. But one morning recently, she woke up to find armed Russian border guards erecting a barbed wire barricade around one side of the orchard.

Her house might be in the Georgian village of Gugutiankari, the Russians explained to her, but her orchard is in the territory of South Ossetia, a small province that the international community believes is part of Georgia, but which since the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 is recognised as an independent country by Russia.

The wire is part of a process of “borderisation” by Russian border guards, during which EU monitors claim about 40km of fencing or barbed wire have been erected, augmented with hi-tech surveillance cameras mounted on poles. The fence follows a Soviet administrative boundary that was never previously applied in practice, and which runs through villages, and in some cases, through individual houses. For residents, it is the equivalent of a fence being erected to demarcate Kent and Sussex. [Read the full article]


A 'nest' of surveillance cameras at the Gillet...

Cabinet was told nothing about GCHQ spying programmes, says Chris Huhne | The Guardian

Cabinet ministers and members of the national security council were told nothing about the existence and scale of the vast data-gathering programmes run by British and American intelligence agencies, a former member of the government has revealed.

Chris Huhne, who was in the cabinet for two years until 2012, said ministers were in “utter ignorance” of the two biggest covert operations, Prism and Tempora. The former Liberal Democrat MP admitted he was shocked and mystified by the surveillance capabilities disclosed by the Guardian from files leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. [Read the full article]

Russia to monitor ‘all communications’ at Winter Olympics in Sochi | The Guardian

Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and surveillance in the history of the Games, documents shared with the Guardian show.

Russia’s powerful FSB security service plans to ensure that no communication by competitors or spectators goes unmonitored during the event, according to a dossier compiled by a team of Russian investigative journalists looking into preparations for the 2014 Games. [Read the full article]

NSA Director Alexander Admits He Lied about Phone Surveillance Stopping 54 Terror Plots | AllGov

The head of the National Security Agency (NSA) admitted before a congressional committee this week that he lied back in June when he claimed the agency’s phone surveillance program had thwarted 54 terrorist “plots or events.”

NSA Director Keith Alexander gave out the erroneous number while the Obama administration was defending its domestic spying operations exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. He said surveillance data collected that led to 53 of those 54 plots had provided the initial tips to “unravel the threat stream.” [Read the full article]

Disconnect Search, Built By Ex-Google And Ex-NSA Engineers, Lets You Use Google, Bing And Yahoo Without Tracking | TechCrunch

Started as a side project by then-Googler Brian Kennish back in 2010 to cut out ad tracking during a person’s Facebook browsing session, Disconnect has gone on to raise funding (twice), to work on multiple browsers and sites, and create apps for specific users (e.g., kids), and take on more engineers, including two more from Google and one from the NSA. With its apps now used by 1 million people every week, Disconnect is now tackling the most popular way that people discover content online today: search engines. Today, the company is launching Disconnect Search, an extension for Chrome and Firefox browsers that lets users searching on Google, Bing and Yahoo, as well as Blekko and DuckDuckGo, remain private while doing so. [Read the full article]

White House pursues online privacy bill amid NSA efforts | Politico

Even as it defends the National Security Agency’s controversial Internet surveillance programs, the Obama administration has been working on legislation to boost online privacy safeguards for consumers.

The fact that the administration is trying to advance such a measure — amid reports that the government can access people’s online communications — speaks to growing tensions with Europe over privacy. Top European Union officials have called for tighter data rules for U.S. Internet companies, and a base-line privacy bill would strengthen the administration’s hand in negotiating with Europe. [Read the full article]

Sorry NSA, but the Tor network is secure – and it’s here to stay | The Conversation

You may have seen reports over the weekend about yet another instalment of the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance system – this time a set of slides focused on cracking the Tor network, a popular method of staying anonymous online.

Developed at different stages with financing from the US military’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Tor is a network of mutual anonymity. [Read the full article]

Want to Evade NSA Spying? Don’t Connect to the Internet | Wired

Since I started working with Snowden’s documents, I have been using a number of tools to try to stay secure from the NSA. The advice I shared included using Tor, preferring certain cryptography over others, and using public-domain encryption wherever possible.

I also recommended using an air gap, which physically isolates a computer or local network of computers from the internet. (The name comes from the literal gap of air between the computer and the internet; the word predates wireless networks.) [Read the full article]

Could the revelations regarding the NSA PRISM program hinder U.S. relations around the world? | Council on Foreign Relations

Revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) electronic surveillance program were met with tough words from many of the United States’ allies. German leaders criticized the United States and France threatened to delay the start of U.S.-EU trade talks. More recently, Brazilian president DilmaRousseff delivered a searing address to the United Nations General Assembly after canceling a state visit to the White House.

However, these same leaders are aware, as President Obama has pointed out, that their security intelligence services engage in similar activities and, so far, despite the criticism, diplomatic and trade relations have remained largely on track. Russian-U.S. negotiations over Syrian chemical weapons were undeterred, for example, and U.S.-EU trade talks proceeded as scheduled. [Read the full article]

When the U.S. Transforms Journalists Into Spies | Moscow Times

The recent guilty plea by Donald Sachtleben, a former FBI bomb technician charged with leaking classified information, after government investigators identified him by secretly obtaining the phone logs of some Associated Press reporters, represents the latest chapter in the ongoing drama over U.S. security officials’ behavior.

A few days earlier, another chapter played out in a New York City television studio: Spies and recipients of leaked information confronted each other onstage. It was a remarkable event for an audience of 400 journalists. I was present. [Read the full article]

Spying on ‘friends’ | The News

Prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh had talks in a New York hotel last week and no doubt every word was recorded by the US National Security Agency (NSA). There is no doubt about it, because it has been revealed that the US spies on India’s embassy in Washington and its offices in New York, and, anyway, the crafty antics of listening spooks have been obvious for years.

The US and its patsies invaded Iraq in April 2003. Before that shambolic disaster I wrote a piece in the web journal Counterpunch of January 28 casting doubt on Washington’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I noted the lack of evidence and pointed out that “US agencies (and their colleagues in Israel, the UK and Australia) can listen to every telephone and radio conversation in the world. They can examine every fax and email, assess Airbus production facilities and similar anti-American activities (the French found out about this economic spying but can’t do anything about it), analyse the defences of friend and foe alike, and are in general an Olympic-class nosy parker.” [Read the full article]

Related articles

English: Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise alongs...

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia charged Greenpeace activists with piracy on Wednesday over a demonstration last month against Arctic oil drilling, a charge that could bring long prison terms for a protest in a region the Kremlin sees as a key to future prosperity.

The federal Investigative Committee said authorities had begun charging the 30 people from 18 countries arrested after two Greenpeace activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya oil platform, which plays a crucial role in Russia’s effort to mine Arctic resources. [Read the full article]

English: A volcano called Syria


After 13 years at the apex of power in Russia, Vladimir Putin can still deliver surprises. Since announcing his plan to bring the Assad regime’s chemical weapons under international control last week, the Russian president has stolen the initiative on Syria from the United States and its European allies. Although it is too early to say whether the Russian plan will succeed in removing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, it has already achieved one concrete result: Assad’s first acknowledgment that a weapons stockpile exists.

Given Putin’s earlier dismissal as “utter nonsense” reports that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons on Aug. 21, his plan to persuade Assad to give up his arsenal took Washington by surprise. Despite being gazumped by Putin, the Obama administration has put its plans for military strikes on hold and backed Russian attempts to find a negotiated settlement. Even if the U.S. ultimately rejects the Russian-led plan in favor of military action, Putin’s volte-face on Syria’s chemical weapons represents a remarkable shift, not only in Russia’s policy on the Syrian conflict, but also in Russian relations with the U.S. [Read the full article]


Rice speaks with Russian President Vladimir Pu...


MOSCOW – U.S. reactions to President Vladimir Putin’s Op-Ed article in the New York Times last week, from outrage to ridicule, show just how badly much of the Western policy elite are misinterpreting Russia.

This is largely the product of dashed and unrealistic expectations that many in the West held after the collapse of communism. They thought Russia would reform itself and become a junior partner to the United States in global affairs. Instead, the country was re-established as an authoritarian and fiercely independent state. Putin has been demonized as the symbol of this disappointment, leaving Western elites dangerously ill-equipped to read him. [Read the full article]


A Chess piece.

Here is a reaction to the Putin op-ed on Syria, and resulting flap, from a reader who was born in the Ukraine, came to the U.S. as a child, and is now an American citizen living in California. I think it is worth reading.

The highlighting in his message is by him in the original. If I were boiling what he says down to a sentence it would be: Americans who are on a high horse about Putin’s hypocrisy or effrontery should try to imagine how this episode looks in the rest of the world’s eyes. And (a second sentence) understanding that reaction matters, since U.S. pressures on Syria are based on the assumption that we are defending international norms and borderless human yearnings for decency. Please check out his assessment in full. [Read the full article]

Flag of Syria Esperanto: Flago de Sirio França...


The sudden success of the “Putin Plan” to end the chemical weapons crisis in Syria has occasioned a crisis of faith for me. But even more so has the “Francis Plan” addressing the same crisis and executed last Saturday in St. Peter’s Square. The plan involved Christians and others of good will fasting and praying to end the impending Syrian catastrophe. I wonder whose plan did most to resolve the crisis. Together their apparent effectiveness has made me re-examine my skepticism about miracles and the power of prayer.

Of course, everyone knows about Putin’s plan to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to U.N. monitors for purposes of the weapons’ destruction. Ironically, its acceptance by Syria and even by war hawks in the United States has caused Putin’s image as a diplomat and peacemaker to skyrocket. That coupled with his defiance of President Obama in the Edward Snowden case, has raised beyond measure his international standing as a defender of human rights.   (Meanwhile the Christian “leader of the free world” has shrunk to the size of a shallow militarist who must be restrained by atheists and former communists now occupying the higher ground.) [Read the full article]


Vladimir Putin


MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again. [Read the full article]


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