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Vladimir Putin: 2019 State Of The Union Address To Russia’s Federal Assembly

Official translation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Union Address to Russia’s Federal Assembly as published by the Kremlin’s website on February 20, 2019.

Members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, citizens of Russia,

Today’s Address is primarily devoted to matters of domestic social and economic development. I would like to focus on the objectives set forth in the May 2018 Executive Order and detailed in the national projects. Their content and the targets they set are a reflection of the demands and expectations of Russia’s citizens. People are at the core of the national projects, which are designed to bring about a new quality of life for all generations. This can only be achieved by generating momentum in Russia’s development.

These are long-term objectives that we have set for ourselves. However, work to achieve these strategic goals has to begin today. Time is always in short supply, as I have already said on numerous occasions, and you all know this all too well. There is simply no time for getting up to speed or making any adjustments. All in all, I believe that we have already completed the stage of articulating objectives and outlining tools for achieving our goals. Departing from the targets that were outlined would be unacceptable. It is true that these are challenging objectives. That being said, lowering the requirements for specific targets or watering them down is not an option. As I have already said, these are formidable challenges that require us to undertake major efforts. However, they are in step with the scale and pace of global change. It is our duty to keep pushing ahead and gaining momentum.

If someone prefers to work in the business as usual mode, without challenges, avoiding initiative or responsibility, they had better leave immediately. I already hear that some things are “impossible,” “too difficult,” “the standards are too high,” and “it will not work.” With such an attitude, you had better stay away.

Besides, you cannot fool the people. They are acutely aware of hypocrisy, lack of respect or any injustice. They have little interest in red tape and bureaucratic routine. It is important for people to see what is really being done and the impact it has on their lives and the lives of their families. And not sometime in the future, but now. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past decades and wait for communism to arrive. We have to change the situation for the better now.

Therefore, the work of the executive branch at all levels should be coordinated, meaningful and energetic. The Government of Russia must set the tone.

At the same time, I would like to emphasise and repeat: our development projects are not federal and even less so agency-based. They are national. Their results must be visible in each region of the Federation, in every municipality. It is here, on the ground, that the majority of specific tasks is implemented.

Allow me to underscore: thanks to years of common work and the results achieved, we can now direct and concentrate enormous financial resources – at least enormous for our country – on development goals. These resources have not come as a rainfall. We have not borrowed them. These funds have been earned by millions of our citizens – by the entire country. They need to be applied to increase the wealth of Russia and the wellbeing of Russian families.

Very soon, this year people should feel real changes for the better. It is on the basis of their opinion and assessments at the beginning of next year that we will evaluate the first results of our work on the national projects. And we will draw the appropriate conclusions about the work quality and performance at all levels of executive power.

Colleagues,

Let me now share some specifics on our objectives. I will begin with the key objective of preserving our nation, which means providing all-around support to families.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Photo: TASS

Family, childbirth, procreation and respect for the elderly have always served as a powerful moral framework for Russia and its multi-ethnic people. We have been doing everything in our power to strengthen family values and are committed to doing so in the future. In fact, our future is at stake. This is a task shared by the state, civil society, religious organisations, political parties and the media.

Russia has entered an extremely challenging period in terms of demographics. As you know, the birth rate is declining. As I have already said, this is caused by purely objective reasons, which have to do with the immense human losses and birth dearth experienced by our country in the 20th century, during the Great Patriotic War and the dramatic years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This does not mean, however, that we must accept this situation or come to terms with it. Definitely, not.

We succeeded in overcoming the negative demographic trends in the early 2000s, when our country faced extreme challenges. This seemed to be an impossible challenge at the time. Nevertheless, we succeeded, and I strongly believe that we can do it again by returning to natural population growth by late 2023 – early 2024.

Today, I wanted to talk about a new package of measures that has already been prepared to support families.

First, it is important that having children and bringing them up do not put families at the risk of poverty or undermine their wellbeing. As you know, we have already provided for the payment of subsidies for the first two children until they reach 18 months. Benefits for the first child are paid from the federal budget, and families can use the maternity capital subsidy for obtaining benefits for their second child. The size of the subsidy depends on the regional subsistence level for a child. It may vary from 8,000 rubles in Belgorod Region, for example, to 22,000 rubles in Chukotka Autonomous Area, with the national average of over 11,000 rubles a month per child. Currently these allocations are reserved to families whose income does not exceed the subsistence wage multiplied by 1.5 per person. It is time that we make the next step.

Starting January 1, 2020, I propose raising the bar to two subsistence wages per family member. This is what people have requested and these requests come directly into the Executive Office. This measure will increase the number of families entitled to additional benefits by almost 50 percent. Some 70 percent of families with one or two children will be able to benefit from help from the Government.

Second. At present, carers looking after children with disabilities and people disabled since childhood receive an allowance of only 5,500 rubles. I suggest increasing this to 10,000 rubles, starting July 1. Of course, I understand that it is still a small amount. However, it will be an additional measure of support for families with a child who needs special care.

Third. The income of Russian families must, of course, increase. This is a serious task that requires a comprehensive solution. I will speak about this in greater detail later. But we need direct measures. First of all, the tax burden on families needs to be relieved. The approach should be very simple: the more children there are, the lower the tax. I propose increasing federal tax relief on real estate for families with many children. I also propose lifting taxes on 5 square metres in a flat and 7 square metres in a house per each child.

What does this mean? If, for example, right now, 20 square metres in a flat are not subject to tax, the new measure will mean that for a family with three children, an extra 15 square metres will not be subject to tax. Regarding plots of land that belong to families with many children, I propose that 600 square metres should be exempt from tax, and this means most plots of land will be free from taxation. Let me remind you that this benefit is already available to pensioners and people of pre-retirement age. Of course, in many Russian regions there are local tax benefits on land and property for large families. However, the benefit being imposed at the federal level guarantees that it will be available everywhere in the country. I want to ask regional officials to propose additional tax measures to support families with children.

Fourth, the Government and the Central Bank need to consistently maintain the policy to lower mortgage rates to 9 percent, and then to 8 percent or below, as stipulated in the May 2018 Executive Order. At the same time, special measures of support should be provided for families with children, of course. As a reminder, last year, a preferential mortgage programme was launched for families that have had their second or subsequent child. The rate for them is 6 percent. Anything higher is subsidised by the state. However, only 4,500 families have used the benefit.

The question is why. It means that people are somehow dissatisfied with the proposed conditions. But it is also clear why. A family making a decision to buy housing certainly makes plans for a long or at least medium term, a lasting investment. But with this programme, they take out a loan, start paying the instalments, and the grace period ends. The interest is actually subsidised only for the first 3 or 5 years. I propose extending the benefit for the entire term of the mortgage loan.

Yes, of course, it will require additional funding, and the cost will be rather high: 7.6 billion rubles in 2019, 21.7 billion rubles in 2020, and 30.6 billion rubles in 2021. But the programme is estimated to reach as many as 600,000 families. We certainly need to find the money. We know where to get it. We have it, and we just need to use it in the areas that are of major importance to us.

And one more direct action solution. Considering the sustainability and stability of the macroeconomic situation in the country and the growth of the state’s revenues, I consider it possible to introduce another measure of support for families having a third and subsequent children. I suggest paying 450,000 rubles directly from the federal budget to cover this sum from their mortgage. Importantly, I propose backdating this payment starting January 1, 2019, recalculating it and allocating relevant sums in this year’s budget.

Let us see what we have. If we add this sum to the maternity capital, which can also be used for mortgage payments, we will get over 900,000 rubles. In many regions, this is a substantial part of the cost of a flat. I would like to draw the attention of the Government and the State Duma to this issue. If need be, the budget will have to be adjusted accordingly. An additional 26.2 billion rubles will be required for this in 2019. The relevant figures for 2020 and 2021 are 28.6 billion rubles and 30.1 billion rubles, respectively. These are huge funds but they should be allocated and used in what I have already described as a very important area.

It is necessary to give families an opportunity not only to buy ready-made housing but also to build their own housing on their land. I would like to ask the Government to draft in cooperation with the Central Bank convenient and, most importantly, affordable financial instruments for supporting private housing construction because it is not covered by mortgage loans today.

And, last but not least, the tax on land must be fair. Obviously, the cadastral or market value of a land plot can change but tax rates must not go up and down unpredictably like roller coaster rides. We have already limited to 10 percent the annual growth of the tax rates for residential property. I suggest establishing the same limit for land plots.

Moving on, today, when construction companies build social facilities and transfer them to the state or municipalities, they have to pay profit tax and VAT. We need to relieve construction companies of this burden (including our innovations in the construction sector). This will serve as an impetus for the comprehensive development of cities and townships, ensuring that families have everything they need near their homes: clinics, schools and sports facilities. By doing this, we will enable parents to work, study, live happily and enjoy parenthood.

We have come close to guaranteeing universal access to kindergartens, but by the end of 2021, we will have to resolve the problem with nurseries by enabling them to accept 270,000 more children, including in the private sector, with 90,000 places to be created as early as this year. The federal and regional budgets should allocate 147 billion rubles for this purpose, over a three-year period. Let me add that enrolling in a nursery group, kindergarten, getting subsidies, benefits or the tax deductions that I have already mentioned and, I hope, that we will come up with, together with you, all this should happen without any additional applications, excessive paperwork or having to visit various social services. By the end of 2020, all the key government services must be provided in a proactive format where a person will only need to send in a request for a service that he or she needs, and the system will take care of all the rest independently and automatically.

I would like to emphasise that the package of measures to support families proposed today is not an exhaustive list of initiatives. It sets the priorities. Considering the challenges posed by the state of Russia’s demographics, we will continue to channel more and more resources into this area. I ask all of you, colleagues, including both the Government and the Federal Assembly, to think about it and suggest solutions.

Colleagues, solving our demographic problems, increasing life expectancy and reducing mortality rates are directly related to eradicating poverty. Allow me to remind you that in 2000, there were more than 40 million people living below the poverty line. Now there are about 19 million, but this is still too many, too many. However, there was a time when their number dropped to 15 million, and now it has grown a little again. We must certainly focus our attention on this — on combating poverty.

Furthermore, there are even more people facing serious financial problems than those officially living below the poverty line. They are forced to cut spending on such essentials as clothes, medicines and even food. Those most often faced with poverty are large or single parent families, families with members with disabilities, as well as single pensioners and people who cannot find a good job, a well-paid job because there are no openings or they lack qualifications.

There are many reasons for poverty, not only in our country, but also in the world, but it always literally crushes a person, dimming their life prospects. The state must help people, help them out of difficult life situations. The experience of some of our regions shows that it is possible to work effectively for this. I will name these regions: Kaluga, Ulyanovsk, Tomsk, Vologda, and Nizhny Novgorod Regions, and a number of other regions of Russia. Their experience shows that so-called social contracts can be a working mechanism of such support.

How does it work and what is this all about? The state helps people find jobs and improve their skills. The state provides financial resources to families to run a household farm or to start a small business, and by the way, these are substantial resources of tens of thousands of rubles. Let me emphasise that support programmes will be tailored to meet the needs of every specific applicant. The allocation of these resources creates some obligations for the recipients: they have to go through training, find a job in the given field and provide a steady income for their family and children. Mechanisms of this kind are in place around the world and are very effective. Social contracts can change the lives of those who really want to do it.

It is estimated that more than 9 million people will be able to benefit from these support measures over a five-year period. I instruct the Government to assist the regions that are proactive in introducing social contracts and work with them on co-financing mechanisms.

Moving on, there are currently many people and families taking out loans for various purposes, including consumer loans. Of course, borrowers have to be aware of their obligations and refrain from assuming an excessive burden. That being said, anything can happen: people can lose their job or become ill. In this case, the last thing is to force people into a corner, and it is also pointless in economic terms. Additional legal guarantees are needed to protect people. I propose introducing mortgage payment holidays, as we have recently discussed in Kazan, to enable people who lose their income to suspend mortgage payments. They must get a chance to keep their home, if it is the only property they own, and postpone loan payments. This is not an easy task, and we have to understand how this can be done so as not to harm financial institutions while supporting the people. This can be done, however.

I also ask the Bank of Russia and law enforcement agencies to put things right without delay in the microlending segment and protect people from fraud or extortion by dishonest lenders.

Let me emphasise that as we seek to overcome poverty and develop the social security net, we need to reach every family in need and understand the problems it faces. It should not be possible to refuse assistance simply because the life circumstances a person is facing are slightly inconsistent with the criteria set by a programme.

And, of course, it is necessary to be scrupulous and attentive to every detail. By way of example, and this is not a very good example for our work, I would like to say the following: pensions were adjusted for inflation under the pension reform this year. But if a pensioner’s income exceeded the subsistence rate, the social payments were no longer made at the same level. They were either cancelled altogether or reduced. As a result, the pensions were not increased at all, or the increases were much less than a pensioner expected. So many people feel cheated with good reason. Probably, many people in this hall understand what this is all about. We made payments from the regional or federal budget to achieve the subsistence level. We made adjustments for inflation and the cost of living either matched or exceeded it. So these payments were discontinued and that was it.

It was necessary to take into account all the nuances but this was left undone, and of course, this should not be allowed to happen. This injustice, and it is certainly an injustice, should be sorted immediately. Starting this year, adjustments of pensions and monthly payments should by all means be above the subsistence rate of pensioners that is established every year. In other words, the state should first bring pensions to the subsistence level and only after that make adjustments in pensions and monthly payments. Payments for the first months of this year must be recalculated and people should be paid the money due to them that they have not received.

I would like to emphasise that all those who work in the social sphere or join the government or municipal services in order to help people resolve their urgent problems, must meet the highest professional standards. I believe by and large this is the case. Of course, this is a very complicated job. We all understand that working with people every day, from morning until night, is indeed difficult. But if you have this job you should realise that it is no less important to understand people, to know what they feel, empathise, share their worries and concerns and never permit yourself arrogant attitudes or a lack of respect for people, either in word or deed. I would like you to always remember this.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. Photo: TASS

Colleagues,

The next important subject is healthcare. I know that, on the one hand, its current state seems to be improving, and medical treatment is becoming more accessible. Nevertheless, many people are not satisfied. It is easy to understand the reasons for this. As a rule, people judge the healthcare system by its primary component, that is, outpatient clinics and paramedic stations. People voice complaints with regard to their work. Quite often, they have to wait many days to see a specialist, and it is impossible to quickly undergo the required tests free of charge. People in remote communities are even having trouble getting appointments with medical personnel. Yes, the number of paramedic stations and mobile medical units continues to increase, but people in areas where there are no such facilities care nothing about the overall statistics.

I want to emphasise that medical treatment should become accessible for everyone by the end of 2020 in all populated areas across Russia without exception and for all citizens, regardless of their place of residence. For your information, an additional 1,590 outpatient clinics and paramedic stations are to be built or renovated in 2019–2020, and I hope that this will be accomplished.

Today, a number of regions are implementing the Thrifty Outpatient Clinic project. As a result, the waiting time to get an appointment and see a doctor is reduced three or four times over, on the average. I have visited such outpatient clinics, and they are operating very well. Much better conditions are created for people with disabilities and for parents with children. Unfortunately, there are very few such outpatient clinics so far; they are rather an exception than the rule all across the nation.

Considering the best regional practices , and, I repeat, there are such practices, I hereby instruct the Government to approve the high standards of thrifty outpatient clinics by the end of the year and their certification regulations. Next year, you have to team up with the regions to introduce mechanisms incentivising managers and medical personnel to improve the quality of their work. First of all, we have to completely convert all paediatric outpatient clinics to new standards already in 2021. Please note that the sign “Thrifty Outpatient Clinic” is not what counts. Most importantly, people should at long last perceive the state’s respectful and truly considerate attitude towards their health.

Improving IT penetration in healthcare will make it more accessible. Online links between medical institutions, pharmacies, doctors and patients must be streamlined over the next three years. Let me add that social security medical assessment boards must be finally included into this digital network in order to free elderly people, people with disabilities and families with children from waiting lists and the need to produce various certificates that are often useless.

Primary care is understaffed. To address this matter, comprehensive efforts to develop medical education should be accompanied by initiatives that produce immediate results. In this connection, I propose removing age restrictions for the Country Doctor programme so that professionals over the age of 50 can also receive a one-time payment when moving to a rural area or a small city: 1,000,000 rubles for doctors and 500,000 rubles for paramedics.

The most complex surgery is currently performed not only at federal, but also at regional clinics and centres using the most advanced equipment. At the same time, patient recovery is also critical. We have never had a system of this kind, but we have to start with something. A lot has to be done in this area. Let us begin by creating at least two world-class recovery facilities for children, just as we did with perinatal centres, and proceed from there.

In my last year’s Address, I proposed a programme for fighting cancer. At least 1 trillion roubles will be allocated to this effect over the next six years. This is about providing timely, effective and accessible treatment, using advanced technologies that are effective in most cases and enable people to overcome this dangerous disease. Today, the leukaemia recovery rate for children exceeds 80 percent, and for certain types of cancer, more than 90 percent of patients recover. Not that long ago, in the mid-1990s, this disease was almost untreatable and only 10–20 percent of children could be saved. Russia lacked both the technology and capabilities at the time. In many cases, the only option was to turn to foreign clinics. Those who could afford it did so.

We were aware of how tragic this situation was, which prompted us to focus on improving cancer treatment for children, developing oncohaematology, using the capabilities offered by our research institutions, the healthcare system, and worked proactively with our foreign partners (some doctors simply moved from Germany to Moscow, and spent a lot of time here, and probably still do), which yielded results.

We will continue working to overhaul the system of cancer care. Early detection is of crucial importance. In fact, we have revived the system of health screening and regular medical check-ups. These have to include cancer screening. It has to be made obligatory. People must have the opportunity to make appointments remotely, to choose a suitable time for visiting an outpatient clinic, including in the evening or at the weekend, so that the check-up can be carried out without any additional formalities.

Next, over the next few years we must create a number of new areas combining healthcare with social services. Thus, we must overhaul the system of assistance for people who need long-term help at medical facilities or at home, adjust this system to the needs of specific families and individuals, support people with their everyday needs by assigning district nurses or carers, or training relatives in medical or other necessary skills. The application of these recipient-oriented principles of assistance began last year in Volgograd, Kostroma, Novgorod, Pskov, Ryazan and Tula regions. We must introduce them throughout the country within a timeframe of four years.

Palliative care is a matter of not only medical but also of social, public and moral concern. According to the available information, some 800,000 people need this assistance, and volunteers have told me that the figure is around one million. As you know, in January I visited a children’s hospice in St Petersburg, where we discussed this matter. I know that yesterday the State Duma adopted in the second reading amendments to the legislation on palliative care. I would like work on this law to be completed as soon as possible. We will then monitor its application so we can promptly make amendments, taking into account the opinions of volunteers, whom I have mentioned, doctors, carers, members of the public and religious associations and benefactors, that is, everyone who have long been providing heartfelt palliative care.

Colleagues, people have increasingly high demands on environmental safety issues. Perhaps, the most painful topic is municipal waste. If you remember, it came up for the first time during one of my Direct Lines. Yes, we have probably neglected the waste disposal problems for maybe a hundred years, which means we have never paid attention to them. Many landfills are overfilled because waste has been accumulating there for decades. The landfills have turned into real mountains of garbage near residential areas.

By the way, I am also interested to know how you issued permits for the construction of residential neighbourhoods next to these dumps and landfills. Didn’t you think of that? You should have. I urge the representatives of the authorities at all levels: pretending that nothing is happening, turning away, brushing aside people’s needs is absolutely unacceptable. These issues are difficult, of course, but difficult issues must also be addressed.

This year, the regions began adopting a new system of solid municipal waste management. However, if the only change is a rise in rubbish clearance prices – well, this is not real work; it is a sham. People need to see what they are paying for and what real changes are happening. It is necessary to restore order in this area, to get rid of shady businesses that do not bear any responsibility and only get super-profits dumping trash at random sites.

We need to build a civilised and safe system of waste treatment, recycling and disposal. Surprisingly, a year ago I personally had to interfere on some matters. I had to talk to the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office several times. You know, surprisingly, I would like to say it again, almost nothing moved forward until I gave an order to station a guard there and not to let anyone in. This is the only way it works, because these shady companies, the so-called fly-by-nights, they just make quick profits and shut down their so-called business.

I ask the Russian Popular Front to ensure effective public control here, including reliance on public environmental inspectors. Their signals regarding any violations must be considered by the authorities, who must adopt specific measures. In the next two years, 30 large problem landfills within city boundaries must be closed and rehabilitated, and in six years, all the rest. At the same time, it is necessary to increase the share of waste treatment from today’s 8–9 percent to 60, so as not to accumulate new millions of tonnes of trash.

It is necessary to introduce stricter environmental requirements when it comes to utility services and energy and transport enterprises. In part, I am urging businesses to play a more active role in natural gas motor fuel projects, and invest in the formation of a network of fuelling stations and fuel systems using liquefied natural gas. We have enough of it, more than any other country. Indeed, this is a complicated and costly project but it should be carried out because it will produce results not only for businesses but for the people as well.

A positive effect from the industry’s transfer to the best affordable technologies and strict environmental standards should be felt by residents of major industrial centres of the country, primarily the 12 cities I mentioned in the 2018 Address. These places should be finally removed from the zone of real environmental disaster. Over a period of the next six years, the amount of polluting emissions in the air should be reduced there by no less than 20 percent.

To prevent anyone from the temptation of dodging the implementation of this job, it is necessary to strictly monitor industrial and other companies responsible for this, to map out the specific steps they should take to minimise environmental damage, and to register all this in a law on emission quotas. I know all too well what this is all about. I know that fairly influential lobbyists are trying to impede this draft law as much as they can. I know their arguments very well too: the need to preserve jobs and a complicated economic situation.

But this cannot go on endlessly in this manner. It must not. Let me recall that in making such decisions we should be guided by the interests of the people of Russia rather than corporate interests or interests of some individuals. Colleagues, please pass this law during the spring session.

Finding solutions for environmental problems is the job of our researchers and people in industry. Each of us is responsible for this. I am urging young people, among others, to take a more active part in this work. We must hand over to the future generations an environmentally safe country and preserve Russia’s natural potential as well as its specially protected areas. This year new national parks will open in the republics of Daghestan, Komi and Sakha (Yakutia), Altai Territory and Chelyabinsk Region. However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that many specially protected areas do not yet have precise borders and their regulations are not observed.

I have instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources to conduct a detailed audit. All sanctuaries must be registered in the cadastre. It is also necessary to adopt a law according to which only environmental tourism can take place in nature reserves, without any withdrawal of territories, wood cutting or major construction work. Naturally, it is necessary to take into account the interests of the locals but these issues should be resolved in a package.

Colleagues, the number of students from small towns and remote areas studying at the best Moscow and regional universities is increasing. According to international assessments, our elementary, middle and high school students demonstrate good results in the humanities and hard sciences. We can see it ourselves, based on the results of contests and various student competitions. All this is an indicator of qualitative changes in our school education.

However, despite all these achievements, we must not overlook the obvious problems in this crucial area. The share of schools with modern study conditions has increased from 12 percent in 2000 (only 12 percent) to 85 percent in 2018. But even today, some 200,000 children still go to schools where there is no proper heating, water supply and sewage system. Yes, it is less than 1.5 percent of all schoolchildren, but when their parents see these conditions, any words about justice and equal opportunities only irritate them. I want to draw the attention of the heads of the regions where poorly equipped schools still exist. This problem can be completely resolved within two years. We can do it. I know that the Government is thinking about it and making certain decisions. I am asking you to support the regions that lack their own resources.

When in 2006 we started providing internet connections to schools, the technology was completely different. You know, it seemed like a real breakthrough. And it was indeed a breakthrough at the time. Right now, this technology seems ancient, and we have new tasks to resolve. By the end of 2021, all Russian schools must have a high-speed internet connection rather than just a connection. Let me remind you that in 2006, when schools were being hooked up to the internet, the recommended speed was 128 kbps. Now we need 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps, which is at least 400 times higher. This will help our kids to gain access to lessons and lectures by prominent teachers, to contests and Olympiads; it will allow them to significantly expand their capabilities and get involved in online projects with their fellow students from other regions and countries. The content of educational programmes must also change. The national standards and programmes must reflect the priorities of the country’s science and technology development, while the federal lists of recommended textbooks must include the best of the best books.

Of course, human resources are the most important issue. I have already spoken today about expanding the Country Doctor programme. I propose starting a similar programme for education, the Country Teacher. Teachers who decide to move to smaller towns and villages will receive a one-time payment of one million rubles.

We must work consistently to strengthen the common environment of education and culture. The culture and education centres in Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Vladivostok and Sevastopol will open no later than in 2023. Our leading museums and theatres will be represented there, and branches of art schools will start working there already next year. The demand for a rich cultural environment is very high, primarily in the regions, where a great number of talented and committed people are working.

I propose greatly expanding assistance to local cultural initiatives, that is, projects dealing with local history, crafts and the preservation of the historical heritage of our peoples. For example, additional allocations can be made towards this from the Presidential Grants Fund. In addition, we will allocate over 17 billion rubles within the Culture national project for the construction and renovation of rural culture clubs and over 6 billion rubles for supporting culture centres in Russia’s small towns.

I would like to remind you that medical and educational institutions are exempt from profit tax, but only until January 1, 2020. I propose making this incentive of unlimited duration and also extending it to the regional and municipal museums, theatres and libraries. By the way, this will allow them to save some 4 billion rubles, which they will invest in development or will use to raise salaries. And lastly, this measure will encourage private investment in local cultural establishments.

Colleagues, I would like the heads of regions to ensure that salaries in education, healthcare, culture and other public sectors are kept on a par with the average wage in the given region’s economy. Colleagues, this is very important. I keep talking about this at all my meetings. We must not lower this standard. At the same time, the average wage in the economy must grow. Over 40 million people who work in the public and defence sectors and are non-working pensioners receive fixed payments. These payments must grow together with the inflation at the least. I ask the Government to take this into account.

More than 70 million people work in manufacturing, agriculture or the services or are small business owners. The state of Russia’s economy has a direct bearing on their income, wellbeing and confidence in the future. The primary tool for achieving steady wage increases is to promote quality employment and free enterprise, qualified, well-paid jobs in all regions, including both traditional and new sectors. High economic growth rates are essential. This is the only way to overcome poverty and ensure steady and perceptible increases in income. This is the key to success. As soon as in 2021, Russia’s economic growth rate must exceed 3 percent and stay above the global average afterwards. This objective should not be discarded.

The Government and the Central Bank are once again tasked with complying with the target inflation rate. I have already said this, and we knew that this would happen when we put aside financial resources for the national projects. This was an expected outcome, and now we need to make sure that the situation gets back to normal. We can do this. As I said, the Government and the Central Bank must ensure that the inflation targets are met and create a favourable macroeconomic environment for facilitating growth in general. We have a strong financial safety cushion.

I have something positive to share with you. For the first time ever, our reserves fully cover not only the sovereign debt, which is quite small, but also private borrowings. These funds are at work, and investment of the National Welfare Fund generates budget revenue. Therefore, I would like to address those of our colleagues who constantly criticise the Government, its financial and economic ministries and ask where the money went and where we invested it. We set a target to reach a certain level, after which we can use these funds, although cautiously so as not to cause any macroeconomic disturbances. We are about to reach this level, and are beginning to do it. The proceeds from these investments go to the federal budget. In 2018, proceeds from investing the National Welfare Fund in the amount of 70.5 billion rubles were added to the budget.

To achieve high growth rates, it is also necessary to resolve systemic problems in the economy. I will highlight four priorities here.

The first one is faster growth in labour productivity, primarily based on new technologies and digitalisation; the development of competitive industries and, as a result, an increase in non-primary exports by more than 50 percent in six years.

The second one is to improve the business climate and the quality of national jurisdiction, so that no one moves their operations to other jurisdictions, to ensure that everything is reliable and runs like clockwork. Growth in investment should increase by 6–7 percent in 2020. Achieving this level will be one of the key criteria for evaluating the Government’s work.

The third priority is removing infrastructural constraints for economic development and for unlocking the potential of our regions.

And the fourth thing is training modern personnel, of course, and creating powerful scientific and technological foundations.

Now I would like to expand on our specific tasks in these fields.

A colossal guaranteed demand for industrial and high-tech products is being formed in Russia, I can say this without any exaggeration. So the words I would like to use – we are faced with historical opportunities for a qualitative growth of Russian business, mechanical engineering and machine-tool making, microelectronics, IT-industry, and other industries. The national projects alone include – just think of it – 6 trillion rubles worth of procurement plans for medical and construction equipment, instruments, telecommunications systems, and systems for housing and public utilities. And these resources should work here in Russia.

So I am urging the Government, the regions, the representatives of state-owned companies I see here in this room – you certainly want to buy all the most modern equipment and as inexpensively as possible. Naturally, everyone wants to be and should be competitive, but wherever possible, you need to rely on our producers, on domestic ones. We must find them, and even work together with them. Of course, there must be a competitive environment, but we already have the tools to support Russian manufacturers. We must not forget about these tools, and use them.

I would like to emphasise that access to state contracts must be equal (at least for our own, for national companies), and the orders should go to those who prove their sustainability with hard work and results, with willingness to change, to introduce advanced technology and increase labour productivity, and offer the best competitive products.

As concerns the defence industry, we must use our current capacities for diversification, to expand civil production. Colleagues understand what I am talking about here. There are certain targets for each year. And they must be achieved, no matter what.

And of course, now is the time for more daring initiatives, for creating businesses and production companies, for promoting new products and services. This wave of technological development allows companies to grow and win markets very quickly. There are already examples of successful companies, innovative companies. We need many more of them, including in such fields as artificial intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things and robotics.

I am instructing the Government to create the most comfortable conditions for private investment in technological startups and to involve development institutions in their support. I am asking members of parliament to promptly pass the laws that are most crucial for creating the legal framework of the new digital economy, laws that will allow to close civil deals and raise funds using digital technology, to develop e-commerce and services. The entire Russian legislation must be geared up to reflect the new technological reality. These laws must not restrict the development of innovative and promising industries but push this development forward.

The most crucial indicator of a business’s efficiency and competitiveness lies in expanding export and entering external markets. The success of our agricultural industry is, of course, a good example of such development. Our agricultural export increased by 19.4 percent in 2018 reaching $25.8 billion. In 2024, we must reach $45 billion. Incidentally, we are not only one of the largest wheat exporters (last year we exported 44 million tonnes). We have at least one more significant achievement. Thanks to the developments of Russian researchers we are no longer dependent on other countries for wheat seeds. Experts will confirm how critically important this is. Russia must have the entire range of its own advanced agricultural technology, which must be available not only to large but also to small farms. This is literally a matter of national security and successful competition in the growing food markets.

Improving the quality of life for those who work in rural areas is a key long-term factor of the agricultural industry’s steady growth. I would like to point out to the Government that as soon as this year, they must approve a new development programme for rural territories that must be enforced as of January 1, 2020.

One more thing. I think everybody will agree that our massive natural resources constitute our natural advantage. They need to be used for increasing the production of organic produce. I am instructing the Government to create a protected brand for clean products, a brand that will guarantee safety of the technology used and win the reputation of high quality both on the domestic and foreign markets. Trust me, it will be extremely popular abroad. There is hardly anything clean left there.

Colleagues, to achieve the ambitious goals facing the country, we must rid the system of everything that restricts freedom of enterprise and business initiative. Honest businesses should not face the risk of criminal or administrative prosecution. I have already noted this matter in one of my Addresses, and I have cited the relevant figures. Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much.

Today, almost half of all cases (45 percent) opened against entrepreneurs do not get to trial. What does this mean? This means that they were opened in a slipshod manner or under some unclear pretext. And what does this mean in practice? As a result, 130 jobs are lost on average every time a business closes down as result of an investigation. Let us think about this figure; this is becoming a major economic problem.

The business community points to a number of legislative and law enforcement problems. I agree that we need to closely analyse the criteria under which all employees of a company can be considered to be part of a group that is guilty of collusion just through the fact of working for that company. To be honest, this is complete nonsense, but, unfortunately, it happens time and again. And this leads to a stricter detention during the investigation and a more substantial penalty later on. Additionally, we need to strictly limit the grounds for extending the term of detention during the investigation of so-called economic criminal cases. Today, this sometimes happens without any grounds, simply because the investigators had no time to conduct the required expert checks or as a result of delays in the investigation.

We have discussed this matter with the Prosecutor General and the President of the Supreme Court. This is what happens: a person is kept behind bars, and he has not been summoned for questioning for several months. The prosecutor wants to know why he had not been questioned, and they tell him that the investigator was on holiday. Of course, investigators, especially those at the Interior Ministry, handle a tidal wave of criminal cases, and we need to do something about that, we need to take a closer look at this matter. Perhaps we should set aside additional resources and increase the number of investigators. Nevertheless, how can this be explained? A person is kept behind bars while the investigator has left on holiday and has not questioned him for several months. This should not happen, we need to sort this out. I ask the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General’s Office to analyse all these problems once again and to submit their proposals.

I suggest that our business associations and the Agency for Strategic Initiatives create a special digital platform – in fact, they themselves have advanced this initiative – which entrepreneurs will use to make public any instances of pressure on business and to demand a formal court hearing.

I urge the heads of law enforcement agencies not to be wary of this. This initiative will serve as an additional support, so that senior officials at these agencies will promptly receive the objective information they need to make decisions, at least at the departmental level. I ask the Government and the business community to discuss the technological solutions and the legal framework for implementing this initiative, and the law enforcement agencies – the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee – to coordinate regulations for working with the entrepreneurs’ complaints, including deadlines. This platform must start working, at least in pilot mode, by the end of the year.

Next, the Government has proposed overhauling the regulatory framework. This is good, and we must give all-round support to this. However, I believe that this is not enough. We must take even more radical steps. Indeed, let us draw the line and suspend all the existing regulatory laws and departmental regional orders, letters and instructions as of January 1, 2021. In the two years until then, we must update the regulatory laws together with the business community, retaining only those documents that satisfy current requirements and shelving the rest.

When we discussed this issue, many of our colleagues said honestly that they were terrified. Yes, this is scary, but the problem does exist. It will not be an easy job. The files are really thick in some areas and departments. They have been piling up for decades since the Soviet era, or even “as far back as Ochakov and the Crimean war.” [The quote is from Alexander Griboyedov’s Woe from Wit written in 1824.] I am not referring to the year 2014, of course. (Laughter) Some of these documents go back to the time of Alexander Griboyedov or even before him. So much has been written and regulated. But frankly, I doubt that even the personnel of these agencies know everything that is written in these documents. Hence, we must complete their analysis within two years. There is nothing to fear. We must roll up our sleeves and do it, keeping or updating only the documents we really need to properly organise our activities.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.

Colleagues, infrastructure upgrades need to be accelerated using state-of-the-art technology. This is essential for enhancing a country’s connectivity, and especially for Russia, the world’s largest country with its vast territory. This is essential for strengthening statehood, unleashing the country’s potential and driving national economic growth.

This year, the railway section of the Crimean Bridge will be launched, and will become a powerful impetus. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the construction and railway workers. We saw that a bypass railway was built near Krasnodar alongside an approach railway to this junction from the Caucasus coast. As I have said, trains will begin using the Crimean Bridge in 2019, creating a powerful development driver for Crimea and Sevastopol.

In addition to this, the expressway linking Moscow and St Petersburg is expected to be completed, creating new business opportunities and jobs for people living in Novgorod, Tver, Leningrad and Moscow regions.

More than 60 airports will benefit from upgrades over the next six years, including international airports in Khabarovsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

In 2025, the throughput capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway will grow 1.5 times, reaching 210 million tonnes, which is very important for the development of Siberia and Russia’s Far East.

Let me reiterate that key indicators related to social and economic development and quality of life in all Russia’s Far Eastern regions are expected to exceed the national average. This is a national cause, and a major priority of our efforts to promote Eastern Siberia and the Far East as strategic territories. All agencies have to constantly keep this in mind.

In September, we will have a meeting in Vladivostok to discuss what each of the federal agencies has done and intends to undertake for the Far East. All the plans for building and upgrading roads, railways, sea ports, air service and communications must prioritise regional development, including promoting these regions as travel destinations.

There is enormous interest in Russia, our culture, nature and historical monuments. Taking into consideration the success of the World Cup, I propose making greater use of e-visas and thinking more broadly about how to streamline visa processing for tourists coming to Russia.

Next. This year we must adopt a master plan for developing the infrastructure of a digital economy, including telecommunications networks, as well as data storage and processing capacities. Here we need to look ahead as well. The task for the next few years is to provide universal access to high-speed internet and start using 5G communications networks.

To achieve a revolution in communications, navigation and systems for remote sensing of the Earth, we must dramatically increase the capabilities of our satellite group. Russia has unique technology for this, but such tasks require a fundamental upgrade of the entire space industry. I am instructing Roscosmos and the Moscow Government to establish a National Space Centre. My colleagues came to me and told me about it. This is a good project is designed to unite relevant organisations, design bureaus and prototype production facilities, and to support scientific research and the training of personnel.

We are seeing that global competition is increasingly shifting to science, technology and education. Just recently, it seemed inconceivable that Russia could make not just a breakthrough but also a high-tech breakthrough in defence. This was difficult, complex work. Much had to be restored or started from scratch It was necessary to break new ground and find bold, unique solutions. Nevertheless, this was done. It was done by our engineers, workers and scientists, including very young people that grew up with these projects. Let me repeat that I know all the details of this large-scale effort and I am completely justified in saying, for instance, that the development of the Avangard strategic hypersonic glide vehicle is tantamount to the launching of the world’s first artificial satellite. And not just in terms of enhancing the country’s defence capability and security, although this is the primary goal, but in influencing the consolidation of our scientific potential and the development of unique technological assets.

At one time, the nuclear defence project gave the country nuclear power. The construction of a missile shield that started with the launch of the world’s first artificial satellite allowed the country to begin peaceful space exploration. Today, we need to use the personnel, knowledge, competences and materials we have acquired from developing the next generation of weapons to produce the same kind of results for civilian applications.

We have yet to implement new ambitious scientific and technological programmes. An Executive Order on genetic research has already been signed, and I propose launching a similar large-scale programme at the national level on artificial intelligence. In the middle of the next decade, we should be among the leaders in these science and technology areas, which, of course, will determine the future of the world and the future of Russia.

To implement such projects, we need to accelerate the development of an advanced scientific infrastructure. Incidentally, the reactor PIK, a mega-science class research unit was recently launched in Leningrad Region. Over the next 20 years, it will be one of the world’s most powerful sources for neutron research, enabling scientists to conduct unique research in physics, biology, and chemistry, and to develop new drugs, diagnostic tools, and new materials.

For the first time in decades, Russian shipyards will break ground for several modern research vessels capable of working in all strategic areas, including the Arctic seas and the Antarctic, exploring the shelf and the natural resources of the World Ocean.

To promote powerful technological development, we need to build a modern research and development model. This is why we are setting up research and education centres in the regions that will integrate all levels of education with the potential of research facilities and business. Within three years, centres like this should be established in 15 regions in the Russian Federation, the first five this year. Three of them – in Tyumen and Belgorod Regions and Perm Territory – are close to completion and are to open this year.

We need specialists capable of working at advanced production facilities, developing and applying breakthrough technology solutions. Therefore, we need to ensure a broad introduction of updated curricula at all levels of professional education, to organise personnel training for the industries that are still being formed.

At the end of August, Russia will host the WorldSkills world championships – so let us wish our team success. Their success is significant for increasing the prestige of the skilled labor occupation. Relying on the WorldSkills movement experience, we will accelerate the modernisation of secondary vocational education, which includes installing modern equipment at more than 2,000 shops in colleges and technical schools by 2022.

Passion for a future career and creativity is formed at a young age. In the next three years, thanks to the development of children’s technology parks, quantoriums and education centres for computer skills, natural sciences and the humanities, around one million new spots in extracurricular education programmes will be created. All children must have access.

The Sirius educational centre in Sochi is becoming a true constellation. The plan was for centres supporting gifted children, based on its model, to open in all regions by 2024. But our colleagues said they can finish this work early, within two years. Such proactive efforts deserve praise.

I think every national project has reserves for increasing the pace. I expect that our companies and the business community will get involved in such projects as Ticket to the Future that provides school pupils in their sixth year and above with the opportunity to discover their career interests and intern at actual companies, research centres and other places.

I want to speak directly to our young people. Your talents, energy and creative abilities are among Russia’s strongest competitive advantages. We understand and greatly value this. We have created an entire system of projects and personal growth competitions in which every young person, from school to university age, can show what they are made of. These include ProeKTOriYA, My First BusinessI Am A ProfessionalRussian Leaders and many others. I want to stress that all this is being created for young people to take advantage of these opportunities. I urge you to take a chance and use them, be bold, realise your dreams and plans, do something of value for yourself, your family and your country.

Colleagues, Russia has been and always will be a sovereign and independent state. This is a given. It will either be that, or will simply cease to exist. We must clearly understand this. Without sovereignty, Russia cannot be a state. Some countries can do this, but not Russia.

Building relations with Russia means working together to find solutions to the most complex matters instead of trying to impose solutions. We make no secret of our foreign policy priorities. These include strengthening trust, countering global threats, promoting cooperation in the economy and trade, education, culture, science and technology, as well as facilitating people-to-people contact. These tenets underpin our work within the UN, the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as within the Group of 20, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

We believe in the importance of promoting closer cooperation within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, including close foreign policy and economic coordination. Together with our integration partners within the Eurasian Economic Union, we will continue creating common markets and outreach efforts. This includes implementing the decisions to coordinate the activities of the EAEU with China’s Belt and Road initiative on the way to a greater Eurasian partnership.

Russia’s equal and mutually beneficial relations with China currently serve as an important factor of stability in international affairs and in terms of Eurasian security, offering a model of productive economic cooperation. Russia attaches importance to realising the potential of the special privileged strategic partnership with India. We will continue to promote political dialogue and economic cooperation with Japan. Russia stands ready to work with Japan on finding mutually acceptable terms for signing a peace treaty. We intend to promote deeper ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

We also hope that the European Union and the major European countries will finally take actual steps to put political and economic relations with Russia back on track. People in these countries are looking forward to cooperation with Russia, which includes corporations, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, and European businesses in general. It goes without saying that this would serve our common interests.

The unilateral withdrawal of the USA from the INF Treaty is the most urgent and most discussed issue in Russian-American relations. This is why I am compelled to talk about it in more detail. Indeed, serious changes have taken place in the world since the Treaty was signed in 1987. Many countries have developed and continue to develop these weapons, but not Russia or the USA – we have limited ourselves in this respect, of our own free will. Understandably, this state of affairs raises questions. Our American partners should have just said so honestly rather than make far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the Treaty.

It would have been better if they had done what they did in 2002 when they walked away from the ABM Treaty and did so openly and honestly. Whether that was good or bad is another matter. I think it was bad, but they did it and that is that. They should have done the same thing this time, too. What are they doing in reality? First, they violate everything, then they look for excuses and appoint a guilty party. But they are also mobilising their satellites that are cautious but still make noises in support of the USA. At first, the Americans began developing and using medium-range missiles, calling them discretionary “target missiles” for missile defence. Then they began deploying Mk-41 universal launch systems that can make offensive combat use of Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles possible.

I am talking about this and using my time and yours because we have to respond to the accusations that are leveled at us. But having done everything I have just described, the Americans openly and blatantly ignored the provisions envisaged by articles 4 and 6 of the INF Treaty. According to Item 1, Article VI (I am quoting): “Each Party shall eliminate all intermediate-range missiles and the launchers of such missiles… so that… no such missiles, launchers… shall be possessed by either party.” Paragraph 1 of Article VI provides that (and I quote) “upon entry into force of the Treaty and thereafter, neither Party may produce or flight-test any intermediate-range missile, or produce any stages or launchers of such missiles.” End of quote.

Using medium-range target missiles and deploying launchers in Romania and Poland that are fit for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, the US has openly violated these clauses of the Treaty. They did this some time ago. These launchers are already stationed in Romania and nothing happens. It seems that nothing is happening. This is even strange. This is not at all strange for us, but people should be able to see and understand it.

How are we evaluating the situation in this context? I have already said this and I want to repeat: Russia does not intend – this is very important, I am repeating this on purpose – Russia does not intend to deploy such missiles in Europe first. If they really are built and delivered to the European continent, and the United States has plans for this, at least we have not heard otherwise, it will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, and create a serious threat to Russia, because some of these missiles can reach Moscow in just 10–12 minutes. This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced, I would like to emphasise this, we will be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions. What does this mean?

I am saying this directly and openly now, so that no one can blame us later, so that it will be clear to everyone in advance what is being said here. Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from, but also in areas that contain decision-making centres for the missile systems threatening us.

What is important in this regard? There is some new information. These weapons will fully correspond to the threats directed against Russia in their technical specifications, including flight times to these decision-making centres.

We know how to do this and will implement these plans immediately, as soon as the threats to us become real. I do not think we need any further, irresponsible exacerbation of the current international situation. We do not want this.

What would I like to add? Our American colleagues have already tried to gain absolute military superiority with their global missile defence project. They need to stop deluding themselves. Our response will always be efficient and effective.

The work on promising prototypes and weapon systems that I spoke about in my Address last year continues as scheduled and without disruptions. We have launched serial production of the Avangard system, which I have already mentioned today. As planned, this year, the first regiment of the Strategic Missile Troops will be equipped with Avangard. The Sarmat super-heavy intercontinental missile of unprecedented power is undergoing a series of tests. The Peresvet laser weapon and the aviation systems equipped with Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missiles proved their unique characteristics during test and combat alert missions while the personnel learned how to operate them. Next December, all the Peresvet missiles supplied to the Armed Forces will be put on standby alert. We will continue expanding the infrastructure for the MiG-31 interceptors carrying Kinzhal missiles. The Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile of unlimited range and the Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle of unlimited range are successfully undergoing tests.

In this context, I would like to make an important statement. We did not announce it before, but today we can say that as soon as this spring the first nuclear-powered submarine carrying this unmanned vehicle will be launched. The work is going as planned.

Today I also think I can officially inform you about another promising innovation. As you may remember, last time I said we had more to show but it was a little early for that. So I will reveal little by little what else we have up our sleeves. Another promising innovation, which is successfully being developed according to plan, is Tsirkon, a hypersonic missile that can reach speeds of approximately Mach 9 and strike a target more than 1,000 km away both under water and on the ground. It can be launched from water, from surface vessels and from submarines, including those that were developed and built for carrying Kalibr high-precision missiles, which means it comes at no additional cost for us.

On a related note, I want to highlight that for the defence of Russia’s national interests, two or three years ahead of the schedule set by the state arms programme, the Russian Navy will receive seven new multipurpose submarines, and construction will begin on five surface vessels designed for the open ocean. Sixteen more vessels of this class will enter service in the Russian Navy by 2027.

To conclude, on the unilateral withdrawal by the USA from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, here is what I would like to say. The US policy toward Russia in recent years can hardly be called friendly. Russia’s legitimate interests are being ignored, there is constant anti-Russia campaigning, and more and more sanctions, which are illegal in terms of international law, are imposed without any reason whatsoever. Let me emphasise that we did nothing to provoke these sanctions. The international security architecture that took shape over the past decades is being completely and unilaterally dismantled, all while referring to Russia as almost the main threat to the USA.

Let me say outright that this is not true. Russia wants to have sound, equal and friendly relations with the USA. Russia is not threatening anyone, and all we do in terms of security is simply a response, which means that our actions are defensive. We are not interested in confrontation and we do not want it, especially with a global power like the United States of America. However, it seems that our partners fail to notice the depth and pace of change around the world and where it is headed. They continue with their destructive and clearly misguided policy. This hardly meets the interests of the USA itself. But this is not for us to decide.

We can see that we are dealing with proactive and talented people, but within the elite, there are also many people who have excessive faith in their exceptionalism and supremacy over the rest of the world. Of course, it is their right to think what they want. But can they count? Probably they can. So let them calculate the range and speed of our future arms systems. This is all we are asking: just do the maths first and take decisions that create additional serious threats to our country afterwards. It goes without saying that these decisions will prompt Russia to respond in order to ensure its security in a reliable and unconditional manner.

I have already said this, and I will repeat that we are ready to engage in disarmament talks, but we will not knock on a locked door anymore. We will wait until our partners are ready and become aware of the need for dialogue on this matter.

We continue developing our Armed Forces and improving the intensity and quality of combat training, in part, using the experience we gained in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria. Much experience was gained by practically all the commanders of the Ground Forces, by covert operations forces and military police, warship crews, army, tactical, and strategic and military transport aviation.

I would like to emphasise again that we need peace for sustainable long-term development. Our efforts to enhance our defence capability are for only one purpose: to ensure the security of this country and our citizens so that nobody would even consider pressuring us, or launching an aggression against us.

Colleagues, we are facing ambitious goals. We are approaching solutions in a systematic and consistent way, building a model of socio-economic development that will allow us to ensure the best conditions for the self-fulfillment of our people and, hence, provide befitting answers to the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and preserve Russia as a civilisation with its own identity, rooted in centuries-long traditions and the culture of our people, our values and customs. Naturally, we will only be able to achieve our goals by pooling our efforts, together in a united society, if all of us, all citizens of Russia, are willing to succeed in specific endeavours.

Such solidarity in striving for change is always the deliberate choice of the people themselves. They make this choice when they understand that national development depends on them, on the results of their labour, when a desire to be needed and useful enjoys support, when everyone finds a job by vocation one is happy with, and most importantly, when there is justice and a vast space for freedom and equal opportunity for work, study, initiative and innovation.

These parameters for development breakthroughs cannot be translated into figures or indicators, but it is these things – a unified society, people being involved in the affairs of their country, and a common confidence in our power – that play the main role in reaching success. And we will achieve this success by any means necessary.

Thank you for your attention.

February 21, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | | 1 Comment

Russia remains Ukraine’s key trade partner despite Kiev’s claims of cutting economic ties

RT | February 20, 2019

Despite years of mutual trade restrictions, Russia remained Ukraine’s biggest trade partner in 2018, according to data published by the State Statistics Service of Ukraine.

Sales of Russian produce to Ukraine saw 12.3-percent year-on-year growth to US$8.1 billion. That makes Russia the biggest Ukrainian supplier, leaving China, Germany, Belarus, and Poland far behind. At the same time, the Russian market remained a major destination for Ukrainian exports. Ukraine sold $3.7 billion worth of goods to Russia, marking a 7.1 percent increase compared to the previous year.

Moscow suspended the free trade zone deal with Kiev shortly after the Ukrainian government signed an association agreement with the EU. Ukraine was automatically included on Russia’s counter-sanctions list against the EU, introduced by Moscow in 2014 in retaliation to European penalties over re-unification with Crimea and Russia’s alleged military involvement in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

In 2015, Ukraine imposed sanctions on a wide range of food imports from Russia, including meat and fish, coffee, dairy products, chocolate and confectionery, grains, cigarettes, beer, and many others. Last year, Kiev added fertilizers to its endless list of restrictions. In December, the Ukrainian authorities extended the measures for another year. The country also introduced sanctions against several individuals and entities.

In response, Russia banned the import of more than 50 Ukrainian goods, worth $510 million. The Kremlin announced that the restrictions can be lifted if Kiev gives up its own restrictions targeting specific Russian goods.

Despite bilateral restrictions, trade turnover between Russia and Ukraine has been increasing in recent years, with Russia enjoying a significant trade surplus.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Hispaniola Rising: How the US Coup in Venezuela Is Taking Root in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

For more than a decade Venezuela has aided the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic through a preferential system known as Petrocaribe, and the people of those nations are not taking their governments’ support for the US coup in Venezuela lightly.

By Ariel Fornari | MintPress News | February 15, 2019

As Judas betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss for 20 pieces of silver, the institutionally corrupt governments in Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo have written another sad chapter in their nation’s history.

Ironically, it was Venezuela that helped to develop the island’s energy infrastructure in recent years. A key part of this is the REFIDOMSA oil refinery in the Dominican Republic which the Venezuelan government helped to develop and partially owns, and which has also been used to help alleviate increased fuel demands and shortages in Haiti.

For more than a decade Venezuela has aided the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic through a preferential system known as Petrocaribe, which provided subsidized crude oil prices to meet the countries critical energy demands.  The Petrocaribe oil agreement, allowed for governments to pay only 60 percent of the oil shipments they purchase from Venezuela. The remaining 40 percent could be financed over 25 years at 1 percent interest, as long as oil prices stayed above $40 per barrel. This allowed for tremendous savings, and money that (according to the agreement) was supposed to be used for socially beneficial purposes.

Countries such as Nicaragua, Jamaica, Cuba, and many islands in the eastern Caribbean have successfully utilized Petrocaribe funds and other Venezuelan support mechanisms, investing in vital infrastructure, education, healthcare, and have used the funding to avoid austerity deals with the IMF and other international financial institutions. Corrupt politicians in Hispaniola, though, whose regimes are closely aligned with Washington, have by contrast become well-known for robbing many of the funds meant for the social needs of their population.

For this reason, the date of January 10, 2019, will go down in the historical memory of the Dominican and Haitian peoples, as an ignominious reminder of the historically aberrant role of the Organization of American States (OAS), when that body was used as a front by neo-conservative policymakers in Washington. It was on that date that the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic voted to no longer recognize Venezuela’s legitimately elected president.

The people of Hispaniola, on both sides of the island, are waking up. They are coming to understand how the political orders in their countries are being managed by Washington and how local corrupt elites are stealing the solidarity funds sent by Venezuela while failing to meet the needs of the local population. Haitians and Dominicans are organizing protests, meeting at homes and schools to discuss what is happening, learning on social media and through news spread over Whats App and Facebook. Hispaniola’s betrayal of Venezuela will not be taken lightly.

The people of Hispaniola know better. They know that it was the U.S., not Venezuela, that twice invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic; they know of the multiple coups and occupations that the U.S. has carried out in Haiti.  The Dominican collective memory still bears the deep scars of the over 2,000 Dominicans that perished during the invasion of Santo Domingo by the U. S. marines in April, 1965. (Dominican historians calculate that the actual figure of deaths including civilians & military during the 1965 invasion & occupation, could have been as high as 5,000). Haitians still march annually protesting the 1991 and 2004 Coup d’états, which cost the lives of so many thousands, as many human rights studies verified, such as a paper in the Lancet Medical Journal that found that upward of 8,000 people were killed as a result of the 2004 coup and pro-US paramilitary violence. A decade prior it was estimated that more than 10,000 were killed in the wake of the 1991 coup.

We need also to remember how the U.S. supported the ruthless Trujillo and Duvalierist dictatorships. We must not forget the first U. S. invasion & occupation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, that took place in the early 20thcentury during the Era of Gunboat Diplomacy in the Central-American and Caribbean Basin.

It is against this compelling & stark historical background, that we are confronted again with tumultuous events in the region, when the U. S. is once more employing the infamous & wholly discredited OAS, in its theatrical charade to lend an air of “legitimacy” to the recent lopsided vote against Venezuela. While 14 of the CARICOM states, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Uruguay, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, China, Iran, India, South Africa, and nearly all of the states in mother Africa continue to recognize the elected government, the U.S. has found support from its rightwing and neoliberal allied governments across Latin America, Europe, and in Israel. Shockingly, the Dominican Republic and Haiti joined with the U.S. in denouncing Bolivarian Venezuela.

This eerily reminds some of us old enough to remember, of those similarly turbulent days in the hemisphere during 1962, when an OAS meeting took place in a beach resort known as Punta del Este, Uruguay as Cuba was removed from the body. It was at that OAS meeting, that the legendary Foreign Minister of Cuba Dr. Raul Roa, forever baptized that odious organization as “The Ministry of Yankee Colonies”.

Dominicans won’t accept their government stabbing Caracas in the back

Precisely because of these historical realities that transpired in Hispaniola & the region, vis-à-vis the “Colossus of the North”, the popular movements & social organizations of the Dominican Republic have again assumed their vanguard roles as national leaders, mobilizing throughout the country, reminding the people of the historic legacy serving as background to current events, once again building up the people’s collective consciousness, illustrating that these latest events have not happened in a vacuum.  Within this context, a broad coalition of popular movements & organizations, scheduled a vigil on February 5, 2019, In Santiago, the heart of the northern Cibao region of the country, comprising 13 key provinces which have played a determining role in this country’s history, going back all the way to its independence in the mid 19thCentury.

The deep solidarity bonds of Venezuela towards the Dominican nation can be traced further back in time, when in 1930 the first outflow of Dominican exiles began arriving in the “Patria de Bolivar”, fleeing the U.S. backed Trujillo’s dictatorship. Professor Juan Bosch, a legendary figure of Dominican history & who in 1962 became the first democratically elected President after the fall of Trujillo, arrived in this first contingent of Dominican exiles in Venezuela. Bolivar’s homeland in turn became the safe harbor of patriotic activism against Trujillo, by the Dominican diaspora. This anti-Trujillo militancy from Venezuela became so intense, that the “Satrap of the Caribbean” as Trujillo was sometimes known, ordered an assassination attempt against President Betancourt of Venezuela in 1960. The Dictator Trujillo was finally assassinated in 1961

After the fall of Trujillo & the ascent to power in Dominican Republic of another lackey of U. S. imperialism-President Joaquin Balaguer, whose elections in 1966 were known to have been financed by the U. S. Department of State according to declassified files, over 2,000 Dominican combatants that participated in the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1965, arrived in Venezuela. Afterwards during the re-election of Balaguer in 1971-72, hundreds of Dominicans also migrated to Venezuela.  The situation in D. R. then became so untenable for many Dominicans due to Balaguer’s fierce persecution of opponents, it is estimated upwards of 60,000 of them migrated to Venezuela. Eventually, the Dominican diaspora in Venezuela became the largest migration inflow from the insular Caribbean, up to the ascent to power of Chavez, at which time Cubans began to increasingly arrive in Venezuela, composing in part the core of Chavez’s “Mision Barrio Adentro” massive health clinics projects, in the poor neighborhoods of the country.

In summary, the brotherly hospitality & solidarity afforded to Dominicans in Venezuela, throughout 20thCentury migratory periods, along with the aforementioned fact of Venezuela’s consistent solidarity with Dominican Republic through the generous Petrocaribe oil agreement, this honorable background stands in stark contrast to D. R.’s “Kiss of Judas” vote at the OAS against Venezuela, on January 10, 2019. This “Kiss of Judas” comes at a time when Bolivarian Venezuela faces a mounting economic war undertaken by the U.S. and its allies, compounded by a huge decline in the international price of oil.

With Dominicans aware of their history and learning the truth about the empire’s actions in the region, in the coming months, it appears very likely that the elite consensus in Dominican politics will begin to be shaken, as Danilo Medina faces a crisis of legitimacy.

Jovenel Moïse’s treason and the oncoming tidal wave of resistance

It was Haitians who stood out within our concert of colonized Caribbean nations, as the people which decisively proved in the field of battle, that the very best of Europe could be defeated in war when it finally gained independence from France in 1804. Venezuela’s & Haiti’s history is also intertwined, when in 1816 Petion gave arms, money & men to Bolivar, for the cause of independence of Venezuela, which in turn eventually liberated Colombia, Ecuador, Peru & Bolivia from imperial Spain.

More recently, during the second Presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Venezuela was one of the only countries which kept providing financial support to the Haitian government as it was embargoed and undermined by the George Bush administration. Furthermore, it was Chavez who was the only Latin American leader who forcefully denounced the 2004 coup against Aristide. Afterwards, during the Preval and then the rightwing Martelly & Moise regimes, Venezuela continued its unconditional solidarity with the people of Haiti, through its Petrocaribe agreement, as well as providing financial assistance for infrastructure projects. Venezuela has never required the conditionalities, nor the political alignment, for its aid, as have the supranational agencies and countries of the north. A true friend.

Regarding Venezuela & Haiti we must remember, that during Chavez’s tenure & following Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake, the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution soon thereafter announced Venezuela would “write off” Haiti’s undisclosed oil debts.  At an ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) foreign ministers’ meeting after the earthquake, Chavez remarked that “it wasn’t Haiti that had a debt with Venezuela, but just the opposite Venezuela had a debt with that nation.”  He also mentioned that an initial donation of $10 million would be disbursed to Haiti for emergency energy needs, along with an additional $100 million “for starters” towards infrastructure projects. Additionally, Chavez mentioned, one part of ALBA assistance to Haiti would consist of fuel distribution via “mobile service stations” to be up and running within a few weeks. The ALBA plan of aid for Haiti also included support for such sectors as agriculture production, food imports and distribution, and immigration amnesty for Haitians living illegally in the bloc’s member-states. At that time also, Cuba and Venezuela sent assistance and aid workers to Haiti within days of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that left an estimated 150,000-200,000 dead and more than a million people homeless.

To illustrate that unique internationalist relationship between Venezuela & Haiti, we must witness the Venezolana de Television report of Chavez’s trip to Haiti in 2007,  exemplifying the close emotional bond between these two Caribbean nations, which Chavez in great measure revived as he recuperated its historic memory jogging openly with the peoples of Cite Soleil and Bel Air through the streets of Port-au-Prince. In this report, you will witness the incredible feat of Chavez leaving his vehicle, as he actually joins the joyful masses in Port Au Prince, which are jogging in unison along his motorcade. On the other side of the historical spectrum, when Nixon as Vice President visited Venezuela in 1958 the total opposite occurred at that time. Instead of joyful crowds awaiting Nixon, enraged Venezuelans violently assaulted his limousine, manifesting the people’s rebuke of the U. S.’s close collaboration with the ruthless dictatorship of Perez Jimenez, which had recently ended.

As Moïse’s unpopular government has been caught up in corruption scandals and as complaints grow over the worsening economic situation and a lack of government support for the poor, in recent months the USPGN (Moïse’s own personal security forces) took part in a violent massacre targeting an anti-government slum. With Moïse facing mass protests his government increasingly takes its cues from Washington.

With regards to Jovenel Moïse’s governemnt’s treasonous vote against Venezuela at the OAS, another of its aberrant dimensions was its diametrical position vis-à-vis the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Haiti is a member. CARICOM’s position has been unequivocal in contravention to the virtually neocolonial position of OAS Secretary Almagro, who by all reasonable standards has become a virtual mouthpiece of Uncle Sam at the “Ministry of Yankee Colonies.” CARICOM on the one hand recognizes the legitimacy of President Maduro of Venezuela, while the OAS secretary general Luis Almagro has recognized the so-called “self-proclaimed” interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaido.

Haiti has long been in the crosshairs of the Empire and its local proxies. In recent years top elites have sought to restructure the county’s economy and political scene. This has come after the U.S. and its allies have essentially neutralized the country’s sovereignty & independence, heavily influencing, installing regimes, or supporting political processes that relied on heavy vote suppression and years of political disenfranchisement (such as in 2016 with one the lowest percentages of voter participation in the world). This is the same unpopular & corrupt regime, which has been the subject of massive nationwide protests against its misuse of Venezuela’s Petrocaribe funds, starting on August, 2018, and which continually burst out throughout the following months & into February, 2019.

These protests were practically made invisible by Western mainstream media, even as their brutal repression has been well documented by citizen journalists and local grassroots groups.

Hispaniola Rising!

In spite of the backstabbing vote of the corrupt Dominican and Haitian administration’s against Venezuela at the OAS, the people of Hispaniola’s solidarity with Venezuela has been manifest in many ways.

Huge marches backed by many grassroots groups and Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party have called for an end to the foreign occupation and new sovereign elections, while a smaller opposition party Pitit Dessalin has planned demonstrations in support of the legitimacy of President Maduro. Already Haitian paramilitary and police forces are being used to brutally attack these demonstrations.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Hispaniola, on February 17, 2019, a massive demonstration in support of Venezuela is scheduled to take place, at the Parque Independencia of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  Student groups and activist circles across the country are being mobilized and are coming to understand the threat that Trump and his neo-con allies present.

In view of all the aforementioned, this writer while not an expert on geopolitics or history, by virtue of the fact of having been born in the Caribbean, & having closely observed its regional history since childhood & comprising many decades, I have reasonably concluded that this recent crisis between Venezuela & the Empire (or the “Colossus of the North”), could perhaps be opening a new threshold in the correlation of forces in the hemisphere, to the point where we could almost start leaning towards the conclusion, that perhaps the United States of America is no longer the absolute master of this hemisphere, say as it was the case prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

What we are witnessing now are key nations such as Venezuela deciding to chart a course in favor of thier own people, implementing the re-foundation of the nation-state, while further steering away from the imperial diktat. At the same time, it is obvious that the Empire while commencing its decline, still exerts plenty of hemispheric muscle, as the treacherous OAS vote of Haiti & Dominican Republic has shown, in spite of Venezuela’s committed and honorable solidarity record with these two sister nations. Informing the younger generations about the history of the U.S. empire in the region, about the role of soft power in the media, and what is happening around the region today is vital. Also vital are creating new bonds and working to unify popular sectors to oppose the plans of Washington and their clients, to once again build south-south bonds and regional development from below.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism, Economics, Corruption, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ukrainian Election: When No News Is Bad News

By Dmitry BABICH | Strategic Culture Foundation | 15.02.2019

As the Ukrainian presidential election, scheduled to take place on March 31, draws ever closer, Western politicians are going out of their way to protect it from “Russian meddling.” This protection, which became a sort of peculiar Anglo-Saxon sport in the United States and the UK, will figure highly on the agenda of the meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers on February 18, slated for a discussion of the coming Ukrainian election. A naïve reader of the Western press might wonder why the president of the “newly Westernized” Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has an approval rating of just 14%, trailing the comedian Vladimir Zelensky with his 21.9% and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with her 19%. Obviously, some “meddling” must have taken place…

A COUNTRY THAT’S A THREAT TO ITSELF

Upon a closer look, however, the Ukrainian election appears to be more in need of protection from its own forms of Ukrainian extremism and what to the untrained eye might appear to be idiocies, rather than from any meddling from the Russian side. Suffice it to present a brief list of the recent suggestions and real policy moves (some of them coming from the very top echelon of government) which were made in the heat of electoral hysteria. Not surprisingly, most of these suggestions and moves are tied to Russia.

Presidential candidate Vitaly Kupryi simply suggested that Ukraine should officially declare war on Russia, obliging president Petro Poroshenko to announce an immediate mobilization and to use a special law to start moving troops against the “aggressor.” Since Kupryi is a deputy in the Supreme Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), his draft bill, which enjoys the support of a group of equally belligerent deputies, has been officially registered and waits to be reviewed by parliamentarians. Until now, the Supreme Rada has demurred from traveling along this somewhat suicidal path, preferring other, longer, more oblique routes toward a catastrophe. Last week, the Rada made Ukraine’s road towards NATO and the EU legally binding through another special law, altering Ukraine’s constitution, where the neutral, non-bloc status of the country had been enshrined since the 1990s. The parliamentarians also continued working on a draft bill, which makes “denial of Russian aggression against Ukraine” (that is, stating the truth that the war in the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine is a civil conflict) a criminal offence, punishable by several years in jail. The leading candidate, acting President Petro Poroshenko, has not allowed his parliament to outpace him in belligerent idiocies. He declared the visits by Russian citizens of the Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula to be “heinous crimes — breaches of the Ukrainian border,” which should all be punished by several years in Ukrainian jail. (6.8 million Russian tourists visited Crimea in 2018 alone, so theoretically Poroshenko could land Ukraine into the Guinness Book of World Records as the country with the highest potential prison population).

FAKE CHOICE: “EITHER PUTIN OR POROSHENKO”

As for “Russian meddling” in the elections, some of the candidates, including Poroshenko, are manufacturing this “meddling” themselves, by continuously campaigning not for Ukraine, but rather against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. For example, Poroshenko’s campaign ad, which was unveiled on the day his candidacy officially launched on January 29, showed a Photoshopped image of the acting Ukrainian president confronting his Russian colleague, with the caption: “Either Poroshenko or Putin.”

The reason why Poroshenko continuously tries to redirect the attention of voters away from the country’s real problems and toward Russia’s ostensible “invasion” is obvious. “Ukraine’s catastrophic economic situation does not leave Poroshenko any room for self-promotion. Economically, this candy billionaire, who became rich working in all the governments, from Kuchma’s to Yanukovich’s, turned up to be rather helpless,” says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, the head of the Kiev-based Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies.

In the last quarter of the year 2018, the average income of a Ukrainian household was 9,400 hryvnas (about $350). This prompted the IMF to declare Ukraine the poorest country in Europe: Ukraine has even bested Moldova for this dubious honor, a nation that was previously at the top of the poverty rankings with an average salary of $375. Oleg Lyashko, a flamboyant nationalist candidate from Ukraine’s Radical party, accused Poroshenko of “taking us to Europe via Africa.”

A SAD END FOR THE FOREIGN “SAVIORS”

No wonder Poroshenko stopped talking about fighting corruption and introducing Western standards of state management, the two pillars of his plans for Ukraine at the beginning of his presidency in 2014. The “parachuting” of foreign specialists into the government (the Georgians Mikheil Saakashvili and Alexander Kvitashvili, the Lithuanian national Aivaras Abromavicius, as well as an American citizen, Natalie Jaresko) ended in dishonorable resignations, coupled with scandals and mutual accusations. When he quit, former Minister of Economy and Trade Abromavicius and former Governor of Odessa Saakashvili accused Poroshenko’s entourage of far-reaching corruption, much worse than the practices under the former president, Viktor Yanukovich. It is interesting to note that both Saakashvili and Poroshenko’s first prosecutor general, Vitaly Yarema, initially justified violent protests against the “corrupt” Yanukovich in 2013 and 2014, when 38 policemen were killed by the US-supported “peaceful protesters” from Maidan. But they both now acknowledge that “corruption schemes have become even more intricate and harmful” for society today compared to the Yanukovich era. Not surprisingly, Yarema was fired days after making such statements.

“The rule of oligarchs over the economy and the extortion of bribes from citizens by state officials have not diminished since Yanukovich’s rule,” writes a popular Kiev-based blogger and political expert Viktor Datsyuk. “What is even worse, the greediness of the ruling elite destroyed the ‘oligarchic consensus’ that had existed in Ukraine for years.” In Datsyuk’s opinion, this may lead to a new Hobbesian “war of all against all” in Ukraine.

SUBMISSION TO THE WEST AS THE NEW CONSENSUS

Upon a closer look, again, a certain “oligarchic consensus” still exists in Ukraine, and that consensus is based on the total submission of the local oligarchs to the “overseers” of Ukraine, who operate from Washington and Brussels.

At the peak of the presidential campaign, Ukraine simply exploded with anger when Poroshenko refused to obey a ruling from Kiev’s administrative court. The court removed Ulyana Suprun from her office — an American of Ukrainian descent, the last of the “foreign specialists” still operating in the Ukrainian government with an American passport. Legally, the ruling of the court was correct: Suprun has been “performing the duties” of the country’s health minister without being officially appointed in due course and in violation of a law that prohibits non-citizens of Ukraine from occupying government positions.

“I gave her citizenship through my own decree,” Poroshenko said, brushing off questions about Suprun NOT relinquishing her American citizenship, as required by the Ukrainian law.

The last time the Western elite was so up in arms to protect a “foreign specialist” inside the Ukrainian elite was in 2017, when Poroshenko suddenly canceled his own decree granting Ukrainian citizenship to Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president. At the time, Saakashvili was in Western Europe, but somehow he made his way back to Ukraine through a border checkpoint inside a crowd of supporters in September 2017, and was met “by chance” on the Ukrainian side of the border by the heads of influential Rada factions Yulia Tymoshenko (the “Fatherland” party) and Andrei Sadovoy (from the Samooborona, or “Self-Defense” movement). Somehow, the border checkpoint was also visited at that moment by Valentin Nalivaichenko, the former head of the fearsome Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).

They all embraced Saakashvili with grim faces, not quite in keeping with a miraculous and “spontaneous” breakthrough across the heavily guarded border.

A few months later, when Saakashvili somehow fell out of grace with his Western supervisors and was evicted from Ukraine by Poroshenko’s special forces via a chartered flight to Europe, his “friends” Tymoshenko and Nalivaichenko did not lift a finger in his defense.

THE INEVITABLE INCUMBENT

Obviously, after the US and the EU allowed Poroshenko to eject Saakashvili from Ukraine without punishment, it became clear that they had no other serious alternative to Poroshenko. Most likely, they will “allow” Poroshenko to win, using the hugely negative public image of Tymoshenko (70% of Ukrainians do not want to see her as their president under any circumstances).

As for the people who are suggesting realistic alternatives to the current disastrous course, they are being stigmatized as “Russian agents” or, worse, “Putin’s friends.”

This is not a situation in which no news is good news, though. Poroshenko’s continued hold on power in Ukraine means the continued threat of another war in the Donbass, the persecution of political opponents, and dispossession and the loss of legal status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. So, Poroshenko should not complain, when, as he himself told journalists, Vladimir Putin refused to take his phone call. “I did not want to help Poroshenko in his electoral campaign,” Putin explained. He had a good reason to say so.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , | Leave a comment

Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

By Tsvetana Paraskova | Oilprice.com | February 15, 2019

Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | , , , | Leave a comment

Tulsi Gabbard presents bill to stop Trump from pulling out of INF treaty

RT | February 15, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has introduced a bill to Congress which would prevent President Donald Trump from withdrawing the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

Speaking at a press conference on Friday morning, Gabbard said that Trump’s decision to pull out of the 1988 treaty was “reckless,” was “exacerbating a new Cold War” with Russia, and could spark another arms race.

“Walking away from this agreement doesn’t solve our problems, it makes them worse. It doesn’t bring us closer to peace, it moves us closer to war,” she said.

Gabbard said she was introducing the bill, called the “INF Treaty Compliance Act,” not only to prevent the escalation of a new Cold War, but to “stop more American taxpayer dollars from being wasted on military adventurism that makes our people and our country less safe.”

She said that rather than scrapping the treaty, the US should be working to expand it and bring in other countries, including China.

The bill would prohibit “a single taxpayer dollar from being used for weapons that would breach the treaty,” she said.

The bill is co-sponsored by three of Gabbard’s House colleagues including freshman congresswoman Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Both Washington and Moscow have repeatedly accused each other of violating the terms of the nuclear pact — and earlier this month, Russia said it would quit the treaty in a “mirror response” to Trump’s decision.

February 15, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , | 2 Comments

Propaganda Blitz Against Venezuela’s Elected President

By Joe Emersberger – FAIR – February 12, 2019

The Miami Herald (2/8/19) reported, “Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro continues to reject international aid—going so far as to blockade a road that might have been used for its delivery.“

The “Venezuelan leader” reporter Jim Wyss referred to is Venezuela’s elected president. In contrast, Wyss referred to Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s “interim president.”

Guaidó, anointed by Trump and a new Iraq-style Coalition of the Willing, did not even run in Venezuela’s May 2018 presidential election. In fact, shortly before the election, Guaidó was not even mentioned by the opposition-aligned pollster Datanálisis when it published approval ratings of various prominent opposition leaders. Henri Falcón, who actually did run in the election (defying US threats against him) was claimed by the pollster to basically be in a statistical tie for most popular among them. It is remarkable to see the Western media dismiss this election as “fraudulent,” without even attempting to show that it was “stolen“ from Falcón. Perhaps that’s because it so clearly wasn’t stolen.

Data from the opposition-aligned pollsters in Venezuela (via Torino Capital) indicates that Henri Falcón was the most popular of the major opposition figures at the time of the May 2018 presidential election. Nicolás Maduro won the election due to widespread opposition boycotting and votes drawn by another opposition candidate, Javier Bertucci.

The constitutional argument that Trump and his accomplices have used to “recognize” Guaidó rests on the preposterous claim that Maduro has “abandoned” the presidency by soundly beating Falcón in the election. Caracas-based journalist Lucas Koerner took apart that argument in more detail.

What about the McClatchy-owned Herald‘s claim that Maduro “continues to reject international aid”? In November 2018, following a public appeal by Maduro, the UN did authorize emergency aid for Venezuela. It was even reported by Reuters (11/26/18), whose headlines have often broadcast the news agency’s contempt for Maduro’s government.

It’s not unusual for Western media to ignore facts they have themselves reported when a major “propaganda blitz” by Washington is underway against a government. For example, it was generally reported accurately in 1998 that UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq ahead of air strikes ordered by Bill Clinton, not expelled by Iraq’s government. But by 2002, it became a staple of pro-war propaganda that Iraq had expelled weapons inspectors (Extra! Update10/02).

And, incidentally, when a Venezuelan NGO requested aid from the UN-linked Global Fund in 2017, it was turned down. Setting aside how effective foreign aid is at all (the example of Haiti hardly makes a great case for it), it is supposed to be distributed based on relative need, not based on how badly the US government wants somebody overthrown.

But the potential for “aid” to alleviate Venezuela’s crisis is negligible compared to the destructive impact of US economic sanctions. Near the end of Wyss’ article, he cited an estimate from the thoroughly demonized Venezuelan government that US sanctions have cost it $30 billion, with no time period specified for that estimate. Again, this calls to mind the run-up to the Iraq invasion, when completely factual statements that Iraq had no WMDs were attributed to the discredited Iraqi government. Quoting Iraqi denials supposedly balanced the lies spread in the media by US officials like John Bolton, who now leads the charge to overthrow Maduro. Wyss could have cited economists independent of the Maduro government on the impact of US sanctions—like US economist Mark Weisbrot, or the emphatically anti-Maduro Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez.

Illegal US sanctions were first imposed in 2015 under a fraudulent “state of emergency” declared by Obama, and subsequently extended by Trump. The revenue lost to Venezuela’s government due to US economic sanctions since August 2017, when the impact became very easy to quantify, is by now well over $6 billion. That’s enormous in an economy that was only able to import about $11 billion of goods in 2018, and needs about $2 billion per year in medicines. Trump’s “recognition” of Guaidó as “interim president” was the pretext for making the already devastating sanctions much worse. Last month, Francisco Rodríguez revised his projection for the change in Venezuela’s real GDP in 2019, from an 11 percent contraction to 26 percent, after the intensified sanctions were announced.

The $20 million in US “aid” that Wyss is outraged Maduro won’t let in is a rounding error compared to the billions already lost from Trump’s sanctions.

Former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield, who pressed for more sanctions on Venezuela, dispensed with the standard “humanitarian” cover that US officials have offered for them (Intercept2/10/19):

And if we can do something that will bring that end quicker, we probably should do it, but we should do it understanding that it’s going to have an impact on millions and millions of people who are already having great difficulty finding enough to eat, getting themselves cured when they get sick, or finding clothes to put on their children before they go off to school. We don’t get to do this and pretend as though it has no impact there. We have to make the hard decision—the desired outcome justifies this fairly severe punishment.

How does this gruesome candor get missed by reporters like Wyss, and go unreported in his article?

Speaking of “severe punishment,” if the names John Bolton and Elliott Abrams don’t immediately call to mind the punishment they should be receiving for crimes against humanity, it illustrates how well the Western propaganda system functions. Bolton, a prime facilitator of the Iraq War, recently suggested that Maduro could be sent to a US-run torture camp in Cuba. Abrams played a key role in keeping US support flowing to mass murderers and torturers in Central America during the 1980s. Also significant that Abrams, brought in by Trump to help oust Maduro, used “humanitarian aid” as cover to supply weapons to the US-backed Contra terrorists in Nicaragua.

In the Herald article, the use of US “aid” for military purposes is presented as another allegation made by the vilified Venezuelan president: “Maduro has repeatedly said the aid is cover for a military invasion and has ordered his armed forces not to let it in, even as food and medicine shortages sweep the country.”

Calling for international aid and being democratically elected will do as little to protect Maduro’s government from US aggression as being disarmed of WMD did to prevent Iraq from being invaded—unless there is much more pushback from the US public against a lethal propaganda system.

February 15, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 1 Comment

US senators re-introduce Russian sanctions ‘bill from hell’

 

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). ©REUTERS / Yuri Gripas
RT February 13, 2019

A group of senators have introduced a bill suggesting a wide range of sanctions against Russia.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Democrat Bob Menendez (New Jersey) will target Russia’s banking and energy sectors, as well as its foreign debt. The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019 may affect individuals who the US would deem to “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin.”

Graham introduced a similar bill last year, dubbed the “sanctions bill from hell.” The bill that failed to pass would have also called on Congress to declare Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” would have make it harder for the US to leave NATO, and would have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria, among a laundry list of other provisions. Similar ideas were relocated to the new proposal.

“President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress,” Menendez said in a statement on Wednesday.  Graham, an ally of Trump, echoed the sentiment of the fellow lawmaker, minus his criticism of the president.

“The sanctions and other measures contained in this bill are the most hard-hitting ever imposed – and a direct result of Putin’s continued desire to undermine American democracy,” he wrote.

Russian interference in American elections has never been proven. A handful of Russian nationals have been charged with interference, but those indictments are largely symbolic.

Graham and Menendez’ bill comes one day after the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it had found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Another House investigation came to the same conclusion last year.

Regardless of the committee’s conclusion, Graham and Menendez’ bill promises a raft of hard-hitting sanctions on Russia. These sanctions target banks that “support Russian efforts to undermine democratic institutions in other countries,” sanctions on Russia’s cyber sector, and sovereign debt.

They also include sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, mainly its crude oil projects inside the country and liquefied natural gas projects abroad. Russia currently provides almost 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas imports, a share that the US is keen to muscle in on. Despite both Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promising to step up the US-EU gas trade, business has floundered, mostly due to the logistical headache of transporting the gas across the Atlantic Ocean.

The proposed sanctions also include penalties on Russia’s shipbuilding sector, a response to the confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait last November. Russian authorities accused the Ukrainian navy of performing dangerous maneuvers and denounced their actions as “provocation.”

Many of the bill’s other measures are carried over from Graham and Menendez’ failed legislation last year. It includes a statement of support for NATO and a two-thirds Senate vote to leave the alliance, as well as weapons shipments to any NATO countries that rely on Russian military equipment.

Provisions that would punish the Russian government for alleged chemical weapons production remain in the bill, as does the call for Russia to be declared a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The reintroduced bill is “the continuation of the insane campaign conducted by the US,” said deputy chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Aleksey Chepa, adding that he was certain that the bill won’t float. Russian MP Leonid Slutsky earlier dismissed the planned sanctions, saying whatever damage they would do if imposed would not be critical. “Russia will certainly not perish,” he said.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing stopping Russian-German trade turnover’s rapid growth

RT | February 13, 2019

Trade turnover between Russia and its second largest trade partner, Germany, increased 8.4 percent and reached nearly €62 billion ($70 billion) in 2018 compared to previous year, according to the German trade lobby.

Year-on-year imports from Russia to Germany expanded 14.7 percent, amounting to €36 billion ($40 billion). Export to Russia rose by 0.6 percent to €25.9 billion ($29 billion), the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce, which represents over 800 German firms, reported on Monday citing the Federal Statistical Office.

This is despite sanctions against Moscow and threats from the US to penalize German companies involved in the Russia-led Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

“German business has successfully increased exports to Russia despite the market difficulties, sanctions and counter-sanctions. This has also improved our expectations for 2019,” the chairman of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce, Matthias Schepp, said in a statement.

At the end of last year, Schepp said German firms boosted their investment in the Russian economy in spite of economic sanctions, adding such an investment volume has rarely been seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Speaking to RT at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in May, the head of the German trade lobby said that it’s not only car manufacturers investing heavily in Russia but medium-sized businesses as well.

Germany is Russia’s second largest trade partner, behind China. The trade turnover between Beijing and Moscow also surged last year by 24.5 percent to $108.3 billion, with $56.1 billion of it amounting to Russian exports to China. This is the first time since 2006 that Russia has had a trade surplus with its Eastern partner.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , | 1 Comment

Anti-Russia Sanctions Imposed Due to Strong US Pressure – Lavrov

Sputnik – 13.02.2019

On Tuesday, the Financial Times reported that the United States and the European Union had been negotiating and were close to reaching an agreement on imposing new economic sanctions against Russia after the incident in the Sea of Azov in late November.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Tuesday that the possible sanctions over the Kerch Strait incident are imposed under strong pressure from the United States.

“But we also know that these sanctions are taken under the strongest US pressure, which once again shows the EU’s lack of independence. Sad,” Lavrov said.

He also said that Russia doesn’t discuss sanctions with anyone and it is focused on developing its economy so it does not depend on other states’ whims.

“We have already said a long time ago that we are not discussing sanctions with anyone. We want to build our economy, trade with normal foreign partners so as not to depend on someone’s whims. In this case, the whims of those who did not keep their word, allowed a coup in Kiev, did not make the opposition fulfill agreements with [then] president [Viktor] Yanukovych, ” Lavrov said at a press conference following talks with his Lesotho counterpart Lesego Makgothi.

He added he considered the planned sanctions as a sign that the Europeans were again admitting their inability to make Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko implement the Minsk agreements.

The foreign minister’s comments follow the Financial Times’ earlier reports that the US and the EU were close to reaching an agreement on imposing new economic anti-Russia sanctions for its alleged aggression toward Ukraine in the Sea of Azov in late November.

On November 25, Ukraine’s Berdyansk and Nikopol gunboats, and the Yany Kapu tugboat illegally crossed the Russian maritime border as they sailed toward the Kerch Strait, the entrance to the Sea of Azov. Russia seized the Ukrainian vessels and detained 24 people on board after they failed to respond to a demand to stop. After the incident, a criminal case on illegal border crossing was opened in Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly slammed Kiev’s attempts to portray the detained sailors as prisoners of war, stressing that they faced criminal charges. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the incident was a provocation prepared in advance as a pretext to declare martial law, which was announced after the incident and lasted for a month. Putin said the provocation could be linked to Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko’s low approval ratings ahead of the presidential election, set to be held in March.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Russophobia | , , | Leave a comment

Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and American Energy Blackmail

By Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation | 13.02.2019

It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia.

Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris.

Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia.

The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year. Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses.

Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

Why France’s Macron, at the last minute, attempted to undermine the project by placing stiffer regulations is a curious question. Those extra regulations if they had been imposed would have potentially made the Russian gas supply more expensive. As it turns out, the project will now go-ahead without onerous restrictions.

In short, Macron and the spoiling tactics of Washington, along with EU states hostile to Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries, have been put in their place by Germany and its assertion of national interests of securing economical and abundant gas supply from Russia. Other EU member states that backed Berlin over Nord Stream 2 were Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands.

Washington’s claims that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia leverage of Europe’s security have been echoed by Poland and the Baltic states. Poland, and non-EU Ukraine, stand to lose out billions of dollars-worth of transit fees. Such a move, however, is the prerogative of Germany and Russia to find a more economical mode of supply. Besides, what right has Ukraine to make demands on a bilateral matter that is none of its business? Kiev’s previous bad faith over not paying gas bills to Russia disbars it from reasonable opinion.

Another factor is the inherent Russophobia of Polish and Baltic politicians who view everything concerning Russia through a prism of paranoia.

For the Americans, it is obviously a blatant case of seeking to sell their own much more expensive natural gas to Europe’s giant energy market – in place of Russia’s product. Based on objective market figures, Russia is the most competitive supplier to Europe. The Americans are therefore trying to snatch a strategic business through foul means of propaganda and political pressure. Ironically, the US German ambassador Richard Grenell and the other American envoys wrote in their recent oped: “Europe must retain control of its energy security.”

Last month, Grenell threatened German and European firms involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 that they could face punitive American sanctions in the future. Evidently, it is the US side that is using “blackmail” to coerce others into submission, not Russia.

Back to Macron. What was he up to in his belated spoiling tactics over Nord Stream 2 and in particular the attempted problems being leveled for Germany if the extra regulations had been imposed?

It seems implausible that Macron was suddenly finding a concern for Poland and the Baltic states in their paranoia over alleged Russian invasion.

Was Macron trying to garner favors from the Trump administration? His initial obsequious rapport with Trump has since faded from the early days of Macron’s presidency in 2017. By doing Washington’s bidding to undermine the Nord Stream 2 project was Macron trying to ingratiate himself again?

The contradictions regarding Macron are replete. He is supposed to be a champion of “ecological causes”. A major factor in Germany’s desire for the Nord Stream 2 project is that the increased gas supply will reduce the European powerhouse’s dependence on dirty fuels of coal, oil and nuclear power. By throwing up regulatory barriers, Macron is making it harder for Germany and Europe to move to cleaner sources of energy that the Russian natural gas represents.

Also, if Macron had succeeded in imposing tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 project it would have inevitably increased the costs to consumers for gas bills. This is at a time when his government is being assailed by nationwide Yellow Vest protests over soaring living costs, in particular fuel-price hikes.

A possible factor in Macron’s sabotage bid in Germany’s Nord Stream 2 plans was his chagrin over Berlin’s rejection of his much-vaunted reform agenda for the Eurozone bloc within the EU. Despite Macron’s very public amity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin has continually knocked back the French leader’s ambitions for reform.

It’s hard to discern what are the real objectives of Macron’s reforms. But they seem to constitute a “banker’s charter”. Many eminent German economists have lambasted his plans, which they say will give more taxpayer-funded bailouts to insolvent banks. They say Macron is trying to move the EU further away from the social-market economy than the bloc already has moved.

What Macron, an ex-Rothschild banker, appears to be striving for is a replication of his pro-rich, anti-worker policies that he is imposing on France, and for these policies to be extended across the Eurozone. Berlin is not buying it, realizing such policies will further erode the social fabric. This could be the main reason why Macron tried to use the Nord Stream 2 project as leverage over Berlin.

In the end, Macron and Washington – albeit working for different objectives – were defeated in their attempts to sabotage the emerging energy trade between Germany, Europe and Russia. Nord Stream 2, as with Russia’s Turk Stream to the south of Europe, seems inevitable by sheer force of natural partnership.

On this note, the Hungarian government’s comments this week were apt. Budapest accused some European leaders and the US of “huge hypocrisy” in decrying association with Russia over energy trade. Macron has previously attended an economics forum in St Petersburg, and yet lately has sought to “blackmail” and disrupt Germany over its trade plans with Russia.

As for the Americans, their arrant hypocrisy is beyond words. As well as trying to dictate to Europe about “market principles” and “energy security”, it was reported this week that Washington is similarly demanding Iraq to end its import of natural gas from neighboring Iran.

Iraq is crippled by electricity and power shortages because of the criminal war that the US waged on that country from 2003-2011 which destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. Iraq critically needs Iranian gas supplies to keep the lights and fans running. Yet, here we have the US now dictating to Iraq to end its lifeline import of Iranian fuel in order to comply with the Trump administration’s sanctions against Tehran. Iraq is furious at the latest bullying interference by Washington in its sovereign affairs.

The hypocrisy of Washington and elitist politicians like Emmanuel Macron has become too much to stomach. Maybe Germany and others are finally realizing who the charlatans are.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Nuclear Power, Russophobia | , , , , | 2 Comments

Mass Protests in Haiti, Like France’s Yellow Vests, Threaten Modern Oligarchic Structure

By Whitney Webb | MintPress News | February 12, 2019

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI – Throughout recent Latin American history, it is hard to find a country that has been as thoroughly manipulated and plundered by the United States as Haiti has. After over a century of U.S. intervention — from the 19-year-long U.S. military occupation that began in 1915 to the 2010 election rigged by the Hillary Clinton-run State Department — Haiti has become the ultimate neoliberal experiment that has forced its people to live in conditions so horrible that rivers of sewage often run through the city streets.

Even Haiti’s own president, Jovenel Moise — who has presided over the most recent phase of U.S.-backed plunder — recently called the entire country a “latrine.”

Yet — much as in 1791, when Haiti was the site of the first successful slave revolt in the Americas — today the people of Haiti seem to have finally had enough of being slaves in all but name and are taking to the streets en masse in an effort to end the rule of the Haitian Bald-Headed Party (PHTK), the U.S.-backed political party with close ties to the Clintons.

For six days, thousands of Haitians have marched through the country’s capital of Port-au-Prince and other major cities, calling for Moise’s ouster for corruption and gross economic mismanagement in recent years, much of which can be traced directly back to the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent U.S.-UN “relief” effort that let to rigged elections, caused a deadly cholera outbreak and sought to turn the entire country into one massive sweatshop for American clothing companies.

More specifically, Moise has ignited popular ire after being implicated in the embezzlement of a $4 billion loan given to the Haitian government to develop the country via Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program and for his failure to combat the double-digit inflation that has further impoverished the Caribbean nation.

President Moise has thus far responded to the protests much like the president of Haiti’s former colonial ruler, France, where President Emmanuel Macron has sought to disperse the Yellow Vest popular protest movement with police violence. Similarly, Moise has ordered police to shoot tear gas and live ammunition into crowds of unarmed protesters, killing at least four people, including a 14-year-old boy who was not even a part of the protests, and injuring scores more.

Despite the violent response from the Moise-led government, protesters have continued to come out in force, even stoning Moise’s personal home on Saturday. That same day, Moise declared that he would “clean the streets” of every protester by Monday.

Yet the mass protests continued through Monday, when police were seen standing down in Carrefour (a suburb of Port-au-Prince), no longer willing to fire on protesters. In a video of the incident shared on social media, one female protester yells that “the police are afraid.” Late Monday afternoon, local reports asserted that PHTK ruling elite were evacuated via helicopter from the wealthy enclave of Petionville to the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, apparently planning to flee the country — at least temporarily. Other reports stated that at least one police officer had been shot during Monday demonstrations that turned violent and saw several businesses looted.

Local media on Tuesday reported high turnout for protests in several cities.

The international response to the protests in Haiti has been limited, with the UN warning Haitian protesters on Sunday that “in a democracy change must come through the ballot box, and not through violence.” This unintentionally ironic statement ignores the documented meddling of the United States in massaging vote totals and other manipulative tactics in the last two presidential elections. This, combined with the fact that the U.S. has kidnapped and overthrown Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a left-leaning populist politician, each time he won an election — first in 1991 and then in 2004 — has greatly reduced Haitians’ faith in their “democracy.”

The U.S. knows something about election meddling

Since he came to power in February 2017, Moise’s policies have resulted in several mass protests — including last July, when protesters forced Moise’s government to abandon a planned hike in fuel prices; and last November, when protesters demanded Moise’s ouster for the embezzlement of PetroCaribe funds. With so many protests in such a short span of time, the anger among the Haitian population at this unpopular president is pungent and will likely prove difficult to placate this time.

A large part of Moise’s unpopularity is likely related to the fact that he was never popularly elected to begin with. The 2016 election that Moise allegedly won was disorganized and had turn-out so dismal that Moise, the “winner,” received only around 600,000 votes out of a national population of over 11 million. Prominent Haitian politicians called the election an “electoral coup.”

In addition, that election was overseen by Ken Merten, former Obama administration ambassador to Haiti and then Obama’s Haiti Special Coordinator, and was wracked by accusations of vote-buying and -stealing and other fraudulent activities. Merten’s involvement is particularly nefarious given that he oversaw the previous Haiti election (2010) where the U.S. State Department had altered the vote count.

If that were not enough, in addition to the election fraud, Moise was widely believed to have been ineligible for office soon after having been “elected,” after it was revealed that he had laundered money through his personal bank account and was tied to a drug-trafficking operation.

Ultimately, Moise’s unpopular rule is the continuation of that of his predecessor, Michel Martelly, who chose Moise — then a political neophyte — as his successor. Martelly’s rise to power was similar to Moise’s but even more fraudulent. In the 2010 election that saw Martelly “win,” the Hillary Clinton-run State Department changed the vote totals in order to place Martelly in a runoff election for which he hadn’t in fact qualified. When the previous Haitian government resisted, Clinton herself traveled to Haiti and threatened to withdraw all U.S. aid from Haiti if Martelly did not replace the second runoff candidate, Jude Celestin.

After coming to power, it took little time for observers to realize why the U.S., particularly the Clinton-led State Department, had chosen Martelly. Not only was Martelly an avid supporter of neoliberal policies that impoverished his people, he also supported the outright theft of Haitian land by wealthy foreign corporations to create so-called “Free Trade Zones,” and brokered a deal with the Clintons to release Americans who had been arrested for child trafficking.

Furthermore, Martelly also helped squander much of the foreign aid that did make it into Haiti, cementing his reputation as notoriously corrupt, although most of that aid never even made it to Haiti and instead remained in the hands of corrupt foreign contractors.

In addition, Martelly was also a supporter of the Duvalier family — which ruled Haiti with an iron fist during the dictatorships of “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Indeed, when “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned from exile in France to attend a Haitian government ceremony, Martelly — along with Bill Clinton, who was also in attendance – rose to greet him.

Martelly’s government included several officials who were connected to the Duvalier dictatorship, including his prime minister, Garry Conille, whose father held a cabinet position in the Duvalier dictatorship. In addition, Conille served with Bill Clinton on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and had previously worked as a development manager for the United Nations before receiving his prominent position in the government installed by both the U.S. and the UN.

Thus, Haiti under Martelly and Moise has been little different in practice from the Duvalier era. Indeed, as Amy Wilentz noted in a 2014 article in The Nation, “[The Duvalier] political toolbox — authoritarianism, trumped up elections, distrust of free speech, corruption of the forces of order, and no justice — are the methods by which Haiti’s ruler [Martelly] still controls the country.” With Moise serving as the new face of PHTK and Martelly’s chosen successor, this neo-Duvalier era in Haiti that has largely been orchestrated by the U.S. is now in danger of falling apart.

Haiti puts the neo-colonial oligarchy on edge

If the movement to oust the U.S.-backed and illegally installed rulers of Haiti is successful, it could easily send shockwaves through the power structures of the United States and its client states, much as the Haitian revolution did to the colonial powers two centuries ago. Indeed, the Haitian revolution instilled fear in European colonial masters throughout the Americas and the world and inspired countless slave revolts in the United States alone. Today, it still serves as a reminder that the most repressed class of a society can rise up to declare their equality and independence — and win. Perhaps that is why the current oligarchical system has invested so much in robbing Haitians of their economic and political power.

Though today is unlike the late 18th century in the sense that those at the bottom of the rung are no longer called “slaves” and those at the top are no longer called “masters” and “kings,” the record inequality that now exists throughout the world, the U.S. included, has recreated in today’s power structures an ethos eerily similar to that of the feudal-colonial systems of centuries past.

As both Haiti and France have become the new epicenters of popular unrest against predatory elites, much as they were two centuries ago, it is time to see both of these current movements as part of the same struggle for basic human dignity in an era of neocolonialism, imperialism and global oligarchy.

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and has contributed to several other independent, alternative outlets. Her work has appeared on sites such as Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire among others. She also makes guest appearances to discuss politics on radio and television. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.

February 12, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment