Putin

Angela Merkel leads Europe’s fight for liberal values: Financial Times

Like it or not, global leadership has been thrust upon Germany.

Angela Merkel rightly insists that Berlin will move forward only with partners © FT montage

Angela Merkel rightly insists that Berlin will move forward only with partners © FT montage

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-6-47-45-pmEditorial, 2 enero 2016 / FINANCIAL TIMES

Chancellor Angela Merkel thought long and hard about whether to run for office again in Germany’s 2017 parliamentary election. She has made the right choice in standing for a fourth term, despite the dangers of staying in power too long that have plagued many long-serving leaders, not least her mentor, Helmut Kohl.

With Donald Trump moving into the White House, Ms Merkel has faced calls to assume the mantle of leader of the western liberal world from Barack Obama. She dismisses the demands as “grotesque and absurd,” but she may not have much choice in the matter. The job is thrust upon her by the lack of another plausible candidate and the admirable positions she has staked out. She has pledged to fight for democracy, free trade and open societies, and has refused to leave the field to nationalists, whether Mr Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

It is certainly a moment in history when a German chancellor assumes this role. Seven decades after the destruction of Nazi Germany, Berlin is once more in a position to contemplate global leadership, albeit cautiously. This is a tribute to the country’s transformation since 1945, to its ranking as an economic superpower, and its primacy in the European Union.

Even more, it is a reflection of the disengagement of others, notably a Brexit-bound UK, a weak France, and the US, which under Mr Obama has curtailed its involvement in global affairs.

Ms Merkel rightly insists that Berlin will move forward only with partners. Germany lacks the economic resources and military power of the US. It is fated by history and geography to work with European allies, even as the EU struggles for coherence.

Of course, Ms Merkel will not be leading anything if she does not win the election. As head of the conservative CDU/CSU bloc, the chancellor has to regain the trust she lost by keeping Germany’s border open for refugees in summer 2015, a job made harder by the Christmas market attack last month. Whilst insisting that she was right at the time, Ms Merkel has since tightened asylum rules and supported a controversial EU-Turkey migrant deal. The country remains divided, with the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany capitalising on sentiment against Ms Merkel. She is favourite to win this year’s poll but on her watch, the AfD could become the first far-right party since 1945 in the German parliament.

Should she win, the chancellor will be entrusted with holding the EU together. With populism rampant, increased co-operation is a hard sell. She should push more for common security policies to address terrorism and maintain unity on sanctions on Russia provoked by the Ukraine crisis; the aim must be to show that the EU is still capable of decisive action and keep up pressure on Moscow. In Mediterranean countries, where unemployment fuels populism, she must allow more flexibility in eurozone fiscal rules.

Meanwhile, Ms Merkel has to try to find an accommodation with Mr Trump. Despite his pledges to reduce US commitments to Nato, there may be common ground in curbing Islamist terror and promoting stability in the Middle East. Ms Merkel will have to work hard to persuade Mr Trump that his evident sympathies for Mr Putin are badly misplaced.

Finally, as she has said herself, ways must be found to win public support for globalisation. Without it, the world will be poorer and more dangerous. The benefits, though, must be spread fairly. It will be a tough line to pursue in a hostile environment but who better to try than the German chancellor?

Donald Trump reminds me of Vladimir Putin — and that is terrifying. De Garry Kasparow

KASPAROV

Garry Kasparov, campeón mundial de ajedrez entre 1995 y 2000; presidente de la “Human Rights Foundation”

Garry Kasparow, 23 julio 2016 / THE WASHINGTON POST

washington postDonald Trump’s dark and frightening speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday had pundits and historians making comparisons ranging from George Wallace in the 1960s to Benito Mussolini in the 1930s. As suitable as those comparisons may be, the chill that ran down my spine was not because of Trump’s echoes of old newsreel footage. Instead, I saw an Americanized version of the brutally effective propaganda of fear and hatred that Vladimir Putin blankets Russia with today.

This isn’t to say Trump plagiarized Putin verbatim. The language and tone were comparable the way that the Russian and American flags make different designs with the same red, white and blue. Nor was it merely the character of the text; Trump’s mannerisms and body language — toned down from his usual histrionics — were startlingly similar to the sneering and boastful delivery Russians know all too well after Putin’s 16 years in power.

In both cases, the intent of the speaker is to elicit the visceral emotions of fear and disgust before relieving them with a cleansing anger that overwhelms everything else. Only the leader can make the fear and disgust go away. The leader will channel your hatred and frustration and make everything better. How, exactly? Well, that’s not important right now.

The demagogic candidate must paint a bleak picture of the status quo, citing every catastrophe and failure before presenting the even darker future ahead if he isn’t granted the power to act, and act now. You might believe a campaigning politician would prefer to evoke positive emotions in prospective voters, but this does not fit the profile of the strongman. Instead of telling people what he will do if they elect him, he threatens them with what will happen if they don’t. The democratic leader needs the people. The tyrant, and the would-be tyrant, insists that the people need him.

Putin, long in power, must downplay Russia’s crisis. Trump, the outsider, must exaggerate the United States’. Trump has focused on terrorism and divisive domestic issues such as illegal immigration to populate his enemies list. He has also joined Putin’s crusade against NATO, a bizarre stance for an American presidential candidate if he actually considers global terrorism to be a serious threat. Strategic cooperation in the free world is more important now than ever. I am writing this from Tallinn, Estonia, which, without NATO, would indeed soon be in the “suburbs of St. Petersburg,” as Trump admirer Newt Gingrich recently put it.

Terrorism is a serious and scary problem, and the United States should be leading a serious international conversation about how to deal with it. Instead, Trump does his best to make sure people are as terrified as the murderers hope they will be. It mirrors Putin’s bombastic rhetoric as he produces his own deadly reality show in Syria, where Russian forces are carrying out massacres that will create millions more refugees and inspire another generation of jihadists.

Trump’s imaginary border wall is the quintessence of strongman rhetoric. The enemy is clear, and the benefits are apparent, while its innumerable impracticalities and drawbacks are more complicated. For Trump, as with Putin, solutions are always clear and simple — when they are given at all. That they are also impossible, or that they go unfulfilled, is irrelevant, because by the time this becomes obvious the strongman already has the power he wanted.

Contrast’s Trump’s campaign message and Putin’s propaganda with Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention in 1980. America and the world were facing many dire threats, from the failing economy to the energy crisis and the never-ending showdown between nuclear superpowers. And yet Reagan’s demeanor was cheerful, his language full of positives. He was relentlessly upbeat about the bright, new day and the grand opportunities that lay right around the corner for an America that united on shared values.

Americans believed Ronald Reagan and, because they believed him, they made his vision come true to the great benefit of the nation and the world. Many Americans believe Donald Trump today; the votes cannot be denied. But if Trump’s vision comes true, it will be a nightmare, not a dream.

It is painful to admit, but Putin was elected in a relatively fair election in 2000. He steadily dismantled Russia’s fragile democracy and succeeded in turning Russians against each other and against the world. It turns out you can go quite far in a democracy by convincing a majority that they are threatened by a minority, and that only you can protect them.

The final and most worrying similarity between Putin and Trump is that so many are unwilling to believe that someone like Trump could ever become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed to great jubilation, we never would have believed that a former KGB agent would become the president of Russia just nine years later. The moral: Be careful whom you vote for, it could be the last election you ever have.

Editorial del WASHINGTON POST:

Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy

Are the Russians actually behind the Panama Papers? De Clifford G. Gaddy

GADDY

Clifford G. Gaddy Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe

, 7 abril 2016 / BROOKINGS

The “Panama Papers”—does this strike anyone else as a very fishy story? It’s like something out of a cheap spy movie.

In early 2015, “John Doe” sends (out of the blue) an email to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), offering 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm relating to offshore shell companies. SZ accepts. Under the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), some 400 journalists from 80 countries spend a year sifting through the documents. Then, in a coordinated launch, they present their first findings: With nearly identical language in all media (down to the local TV station in Washington that I happened to watch this week), they talk about the grand new revelations of corruption, money laundering, and financial secrecy by over 140 world leaders.

Most reports, no matter where, feature Russian President Vladimir Putin as the headliner. But that might obscure a much bigger and more twisted story.

putin063_16x9The dog that didn’t bark

Despite the headlines, there is no evidence of Putin’s direct involvement—not in any company involved in the leak, much less in criminal activity, theft, tax evasion, or money laundering. There are documents showing that some of his “friends” have moved “up to two billion dollars” through these Panama-based shell companies.

[T]here is no evidence of Putin’s direct involvement.

But nothing in the Panama Papers reveals anything new about Putin. It is in fact far less of a story than has been alleged for a long time. For over 10 years, there have been suspicions that Putin has a vast personal fortune, claimed at first to be $20 billion, then $40, $70, even $100… And now all they find is “maybe” a couple of billion belonging to a friend?

This is the dog that didn’t bark.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 9.10.17 PMSome (geo)political context is important here. In recent years, the media has become a key battleground in which Russia and the West have attempted to discredit each other. Early last year, circles in the West sought to use the media to respond to what they described as Russia’s “hybrid warfare,” especially information war, in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea and related activities. They identified corruption as an issue where Putin was quite vulnerable. It’s worth looking at the Panama Papers in that context: Journalists are targeting Putin far out of proportion to the evidence they present.

As soon as one delves below the headlines, it’s a non-story. A “friend of Putin” is linked to companies that channel a couple of billion dollars through the offshore companies. Why? To evade Russian taxes? Really? To conceal ownership? From whom? You don’t need an offshore registration to do that. To evade sanctions? That’s a credible reason, but it makes sense only if the companies were registered after mid-2014. Were they?

This information will not harm Putin at all—instead, it gives Putin cover, so he can shrug and say: “Look, everybody does it.” A more serious possibility is that the leaked data will lead to scandals throughout the West, where corruption does matter—a point I’ll discuss. On net, the Russians win.

The cui bono principle connects profits with motives, asking who stands to gain from a certain action. If it’s the Russians who win, isn’t it possible that they are somehow behind at least part of this story?

Who is “John Doe”?

The ICIJ is the self-described elite of investigative journalists—but what have they discovered about the source of all these documents? The only information we have about John Doe is from SZ, which begins its story: “Over a year ago, an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and submitted encrypted internal documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca.” When the staff at SZ asked John Doe about his motive, he reportedly replied in an email: “I want to make these crimes public.”

But how can the journalists—and the public—be sure he’s trustworthy, and that the documents are real, complete, and unmanipulated? It’s not clear that John Doe is a single individual, for one, nor why he would have been confident that he could reveal the documents without revealing himself. He’d also have access to a pretty impressive documents cache, which suggests that an intelligence agency could have been involved.

Moreover, the revelation brings collateral damage upon legal business and innocent individuals—was that not a worry? In my view, no responsible person with a real concern for rule of law would advocate this sort of sweeping document release. There might be many unintended consequences; it could topple regimes, with unforeseen consequences. It’s pure and naïve anarchism, if the thinking was (as it seems from the outside) to create maximum chaos and hope it will all purge the system of its evils. In any event, the potential for using such a leak for political purposes is immense.

[T]he potential for using such a leak for political purposes is immense.

If “we” (in the United States or the West) released these documents, the motive would apparently be to embarrass Putin. This is part of the fantasy that we can defeat Putin in an information war. If that was the motive, the result is pathetic: No real damage is being done to Putin, but there is collateral damage to U.S. allies.

If the Russians did it, a good motive might be to deflect the West’s campaign against Putin’s corruption. But as I’ve explained, any actual reputational damage to Putin or Russia caused by the Panama Papers is in fact pretty trivial. For that cheap price, the Russians would have 1) exposed corrupt politicians everywhere, including in “model” Western democracies, and 2) fomented genuine destabilization in some Western countries. What I wonder, then: Is it a set-up? The Russians threw out the bait, and the United States gobbled it down. The Panama Paper stories run off Putin like water off a duck’s back. But they have a negative impact on Western stability.

The Panama Paper stories run off Putin like water off a duck’s back. But they have a negative impact on Western stability.

So let’s say that the “who” is the Russians, and the “why” is to deflect attention and show that “everybody does it.” But how? Given Russia’s vaunted hacking capabilities, a special cyber unit in the Kremlin may have been able to obtain the documents. (Monssack Fonseca is maintaining that the leak was not an inside job.) But it is most likely that such an operation would be run out of an agency called the Russian Financial Monitoring Service (RFM). RFM is Putin’s personal financial intelligence unit—he created it and it answers only to him. It is completely legitimate and is widely recognized as the most powerful such agency in the world, with a monopoly on information about money laundering, offshore centers, and related issues involving Russia or Russian nationals. An operation like the Panama Papers, which is only about financial intelligence, would have to be run out of RFM. Not the FSB, not some ad hoc gang in the Kremlin. While it might not (legally) have access to secrets kept by a firm like Mossack Fonseca, it’s privy to lots of international financial information through the international body of which it is a leading member, the Financial Action Task Force. In short, Russians are better equipped than anyone—more capable and less constrained—to hack into secret files.

As for how to leak the documents, it would actually be pretty ingenious to “incriminate” Russia in a seemingly serious (and headline-grabbing) way without actually revealing incriminating information. That’s exactly what we have. The Panama Papers revealed no Russian secrets. They added nothing to the rumors already circulating about Putin’s alleged private fortune. And the story-that-isn’t-a-story was advanced by none other than the ICIJ. So, done right, the last thing anyone would suspect is that the Panama Papers are a Russian operation.

A more serious Russian motive?

Granted, this would be a complicated operation just to defuse the West’s campaign to point to “Putin the kleptocrat.” But maybe there’s another motive.

As many have already pointed out, it’s curious that the Panama Papers mention no Americans. But it’s possible that they do and that the ICIJ hasn’t revealed that information. Perhaps, since the ICIJ is funded by Americans, they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them. But suppose the ICIJ actually doesn’t have information on Americans—that calls into question the original data, which if actually real and uncensored would most probably include something on Americans. There are undoubtedly many American individuals and companies that have done business with the Mossack Fonseco crew, and it wouldn’t make sense for a collection of 11.5 million documents involving offshore finances to omit Americans entirely. Perhaps, then, someone purged those references before the documents were handed over to the German newspaper. The “someone” would, following my hypothesis, be the Russians—and the absence of incriminating information about Americans is an important hint of what I think to be the real purpose of this leak.

The Panama Papers contain secret corporate financial information, some of which—by far not all—reveals criminal activity. In the hands of law enforcement, such information can be used to prosecute companies and individuals; in the hands of a third party, it is a weapon for blackmail. For information to be effective as a blackmail weapon, it must be kept secret. Once revealed, as in the Panama Papers case, it is useless for blackmail. Its value is destroyed.

Therefore, I suggest that the purpose of the Panama Papers operation may be this: It is a message directed at the Americans and other Western political leaders who could be mentioned but are not. The message is: “We have information on your financial misdeeds, too. You know we do. We can keep them secret if you work with us.” In other words, the individuals mentioned in the documents are not the targets. The ones who are not mentioned are the targets.

[T]he individuals mentioned in the documents are not the targets. The ones who are not mentioned are the targets.

Kontrol, the special Russian variety of control

In sum, my thinking is that this could have been a Russian intelligence operation, which orchestrated a high-profile leak and established total credibility by “implicating” (not really implicating) Russia and keeping the source hidden. Some documents would be used for anti-corruption campaigns in a few countries—topple some minor regimes, destroy a few careers and fortunes. By then blackmailing the real targets in the United States and elsewhere (individuals not in the current leak), the Russian puppet masters get “kontrol” and influence.

If the Russians are behind the Panama Papers, we know two things and both come back to Putin personally: First, it is an operation run by RFM, which means it’s run by Putin; second, it’s ultimately about blackmail. That means the real story lies in the information being concealed, not revealed. You reveal secrets in order to destroy; conceal in order to control. Putin is not a destroyer. He’s a controller

 

Clifford Gaddy, an economist specializing in Russia, is the co-author of “Bear Traps on Russia’s Road to Modernization” (Routledge, 2013). His earlier books include “Russia’s Virtual Economy” (Brookings Institution Press, 2002) and “The Siberian Curse” (Brookings Institution Press, 2003). His current book project is entitled “Russia’s Addiction: The Political Economy of Resource Dependence,” and is set to be published in 2015. Gaddy is also the co-author of the recently released second edition of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin” (Brookings Institution Press, 2015).