AUSTRIAN COURT GRANTS EXTRADITION REQUEST
TIME correspondent Simon Schuster broke the story on Twitter from the court in Vienna as it granted the an extradition request for Ukrainian oligarch and Paul Manafort acquaintance Dmytro Firtash. He followed up with more details: “Vienna judge says Austria obligated under agreements with US to extradite #Firtash regardless of his guilt or location of alleged crimes” and “#Firtash is stoic, but pale horror on faces of some of his lawyers and supporters in Vienna courtroom. It all seemed to be going their way.” Sounds like how the Kremlin likely feels these days. The Interpreter Magazine posted a compelling shot of Firtash in the court. Reports later in the day though emerged to suggest it is unclear whether he is going to Spain or the U.S. – he is wanted in both countries, supposedly on unrelated warrants.
UK EXPANDS ABILITY TO SEIZE ASSETS OF INTERNATIONAL KLEPTOCRATS
After a group of 50 MPs from eight different political parties persuaded the Home Office to add an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill making it easier for the government to seize the assets of kleptocrats and those who have committed grave human rights abuses with stored in London or the City. The move comes after campaigners targeted Oligarchs’ wealth and numerous reports in the British press concerning Russian “dirty money” (but they say its laundered).
From The Independent.
EVERYBODY LOVES H.R. McMASTER
Trump’s pick of H.R. McMaster to replace ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is soothing some rattled establishment nerves. Senator John McCain says he “could not imagine a better, more capable national security team,” and Michael O’Hanlon at Brookings says McMaster is “quite possibly the single most talented 3-star in the U.S. military today.” McMaster also seems to distinguish between Muslims and extremists, which is good and necessary in these times. Defense News reports his appointment requires Senate confirmation in order for him to keep his military rank.
H.R. McMASTER ON UKRAINE
POLITICO has a profile of McMaster that starts off in customary fashion with the gung-ho general quoting Clausewitz (how we like our generals here in America, or at least how the press tends to portray them) but quickly verges into topic one of the day: Ukraine. He’s frank and accurate in that now we pay the price for ignoring Ukraine as the military engaged elsewhere, missing signs and delaying action. “It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort.” Importantly, McMaster also notes “on display in Ukraine to an alarming degree: Moscow’s widespread political subversion of Ukrainian institutions.” The article also makes mention of Russia New Generation Warfare Study, “a high level but low profile” effort based on frontline studies in Ukraine to rethink the Army’s plans should it have to confront the Russians in Eastern Europe.
SUBVERT THE MESSENGER FIRST, THAT’S THE BANNON WAY
In a move that has all the fingerprints of White House Counselor and extreme right-wing fanatic, self-professed Leninist Stephen Bannon, Reuters reports that prior to the Pence/Mattis apology tour through Europe (apologizing for Trump’s intemperance concerning NATO and the EU), the White House delivered a decidedly different message. Then of course Bannon denied the nature of the call as nothing more than “just a quick hello.” Maybe in an orbit in which you greet your superior “heil Trump”?! Welcome to Moscow tactics at work in a post-Munich world (TRUMPISTAN WATCH will never use Moscow’s preferred nomenclature “post-West world” save for in a highly derisive fashion).
BETWEEN DETERRENCE AND MADNESS
In “Pay No Mind to Trump, He’s Just the President,” Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post helps fill in the line between deterrence and madness, “In short, deterrence is saying and doing things that should alarm, or at least warn, foes. Trump is saying and doing things that alarm allies.” She adds, “the balance of tough talk to allies vs. tough talk to foes (e.g., Russia, China) is badly out of whack”. Yes, that’s true.
From The Washington Post.
SILENCE AND STATECRAFT
MOURNING IN AMERICA
The UN Security Council had a minute of silence in memory of deceased Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. He died suddenly in New York yesterday while at work at the Russian Mission to the United Nations around 9:30am and was rushed to the hospital.
Obituary in The Guardian.
MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW?
Reuters has video of what might be the most Soviet thing ever: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov leaving flowers at a memorial for the now deceased Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin, signing a condolences book and sitting at a long table of officials in the sort of unison fashion that only ever befalls militaries and police states. This has to effect him if he is human, how could it not? Chilling.
THE RUSSIAN STATE WISHES TO INFORM YOU
That U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also took note of the passing of Vitaly Churkin. Tillerson has yet to address the media, the State Department has yet to give a daily press briefing, the outgoing State Department Director of Policy Planning wrote in POLITICO Magazine over the weekend that U.S. foreign policy went from “don’t do stupid shit” (Obama’s words) to nothing. Yet, Tillerson TOOK TIME TO NOTE THE SUDDEN DEATH OF “NATURAL CAUSES” of the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.
From Russian state-run TASS.
IT’S THE STUPID, STUPID
Edward Price, a former CIA Analyst and National Security Council Spokesman, resigned and took to The Washington Post to complain about the Trump’s pathological narcissism and Trump’s politicization of the National Security Council. By denying policy in favor of politics, Price concludes by hitting hard: “President Trump and his team are doing another disservice to these dedicated men and women and the nation they proudly, if quietly, serve.”
From The Washington Post.
“RECUSE” IS THE “RESIGN” OF THE MOMENT
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from investigations concerning ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who was forced out after he discussed sanctions Obama has imposed on Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak FIVE times on the day those sanctions were announced last December.
He takes to The Washington Post to make the case.
From The Washington Post.
TRUMP, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND YOU
Scout has a compelling article filled with necessary background in one place on Cambridge Analytica, which has financial backing from the Mercer family and was hired by the Trump campaign to devastating effect. While there are dissenting views on the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica’s methods, the weaponization of artificial intelligence to manipulate human activity such as voting is here. The article also opens up discussion of which there has been precious little of until recently on the dark web. There is also this ominous conclusion after just tap dancing through how this relates to Russia: “The fight for the future will be a proxy war of machine learning.” Or Russian v. Chinese hackers.
RADIO MOSCOW: STORIES FROM OUR PRESS AND THEIRS
FEELING THE SQUEEZE
There is talk of capital controls in Russia these days – a sure fire sign everything is on the right track and exports of potassium are up 1,000% year on year! No, it doesn’t mean that, but quite the opposite. Bloomberg reports that Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, “Russia is likely to adopt limits on cash transactions in the future.” This Kremlin communiqué was a sign there is backing for such restrictions, which is a “highly sensitive issue” because “cash is widely used for large purchases”. This is being done to scare the Russians who are accustomed to a great degree of what about-ism and constant knocking from below and also because the Russian economy is in very serious trouble.
THERE IS A SPECIAL LAW FOR UNBELIEVERS
In Russia, there is a special law for unbelievers. POLITICO takes a look at the law signed by Putin in 2013 and used to prosecute Pussy Riot and others. My favorite quote comes from the canary in the mineshaft on this who was the first to be charged, Viktor Krasnov from Stavropol,:“Yuri Gagarin said ‘I traveled into space, and I did not see God there,’ and now I’m being charged with insulting the feelings of religious believers?” So, so good.
ADVICE FROM AUTOCRATS FOR AUTOCRATS
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev named his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as his Vice-President in a newly created position after constitutional changes last year. In a political structure of father and son rulers for life that bears a striking resemblance to the Daley clan here in Chicago, recall that Aliyev’s father Heydar was the ruler of Soviet Azerbaijan and is the subject of a very thorough and extensive personality cult in Azerbaijan. In fact Azerbaijani cartoonist Gunduz Aghayev highlights how similar we Americans are to Azerbaijan in a cartoon satirizing Trump’s impotence in the face of Aliyev’s greatness. Yes, we have arrived on that precise moment where Azerbaijan is making fun of us.
DON’T DECLARE (THE INEVITABLE) TOO SOON
More advice Trump could have used before deciding to spend Saturday afternoon “with the people” (entertaining the nation and the world with antidemocratic buffoonery) on what was billed as a 2020 campaign event, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said his boss considers a statement concerning next year’s anticipated presidential “election” premature.
TIPS FROM THE HELP FOR THE HELP
Former Illinois Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk, a job for which Tusk describes himself as “totally unqualified” when he was appointed at 29, has some advice for Trump staffers. Recall Blagojevich was impeached in dramatic fashion and then spent a year entertaining the nation on television, including on “Celebrity Apprentice”. Both Blagojevich and Trump make a tremendous show of politics as entertainment in a way that is best described as Balkanized, or if you know the region, “turbo”. Tusk’s best insight? It comes down to “how you stop stupid things from happening and how you stay out of jail.” Advice the Trumpkins can surely use.
From the Chicago Sun-Times.
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