The Russian Direct Line is a unique exercise in direct democracy: Russian citizens call up their president and he answers their queries and solves their problems, like a Nordic konung a thousand years ago. Russia came into being as a chain of Nordic princedoms that practiced this sort of direct access to their ruler; early Russian princes and Tsars posed themselves as an instance of last appeal and immediate access. Twenty years ago, Vladimir Putin resurrected this ancient practice, and once a year every Russian can appeal to him on any subject matter at all. A man of power and authority, he can override any regulation, cut through the bureaucratic red tape, and solve any conundrum by his almost-royal grace. In the heavily bureaucratised country, such an omnipotent yet benevolent ruler provides excellent solutions to problems that should never have arisen in the first place.
The majority of questions and answers deal with everyday Russian life; with the supply of gas, with water drainage, with prices for vegetables, or communal charges. But Putin also answered questions that dealt with real world politics, and provided a few scoops for us. (Here is the full transcript)
The HMS Defender raid into Crimean waters is still fresh in memory, so Putin was asked whether this confrontation could have led to the Third World War. “No”, said Putin. “Even if we had sunk that ship, it wouldn’t put the world on the brink of a third world war because they know they could not win the war. We would also suffer, but we were in the right, and on our own ground.” This means that Russians are perfectly able to sink or capture the next NATO ship if she were to enter Russian waters.
The question of sovereign recognition does not come into the equation at all. Possession and recognition are different. The US refused to recognise (from 1940 to 1991) that the Baltic States were part of the USSR, but prudently the US Navy never tried to visit Riga port, even equipped as it was with a permit from the Latvian government-in-exile. Argentina would not recognise the British claim of sovereignty over Malvinas (Falklands) and boldly sailed within 200 miles of it. Their cruiser General Belgrano was sunk with all hands by the British RN submarine Conqueror. The law of the sea advises seafarers to pay heed to reality, not to claims however legally impressive.
Many experts are guessing that Boris Johnson sent the Defender against the will of his big uncle in the White House across the Pond. Putin disabused them of this notion. During the Direct Line, he noted that while the Defender sailed towards Crimea, a US spy plane departed from Crete to observe the Russian reaction. It was a joint US-UK operation. Putin said:
This was a joint provocation not only by the British but also by the Americans. The British ship entered our territorial waters in the afternoon, whereas earlier, at 7:30 am, a US strategic reconnaissance plane tail number 63/9792 took off from a NATO military airfield in Crete. Thus the destroyer entered [our territorial waters] in pursuit of military objectives, trying to uncover the actions of our armed forces facing a threat. With the help of the reconnaissance aircraft they were trying to figure out how we operate, and where things were located and how they function.
The raid of the Defender was followed the next day by the Dutch frigate Evertsen. She tried to approach Russian waters, but “Russian fighter jets repeatedly flew low over the ship and carried out mock attacks,” said the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The Evertsen promptly turned away from the Crimean coast. Today there are dozens of NATO (and non-NATO) ships participating in the Sea Breeze manoeuvres involving 32 countries, 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations, and all that in the Black Sea. (Israel participated in the manoeuvres and an Israeli company had temerity to advertise its missiles ability to sink a Russian corvette – on the photo)
Putin connected this action with the Geneva Summit. I wrote about it at length here, concluding that Putin had said Nyet to nearly all of Biden’s requests. However, before the summit, Putin had already acceded to one of Biden’s requests. He withdrew Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. The Russian president provided more details during the Direct Line:
The West raised a clamour over the fact that we were conducting exercises on our own territory near the Ukrainian border. I instructed the Defence Ministry to quietly end the drills and withdraw the troops, if this is such a great concern for them. We did so. But instead of responding positively and being grateful, they trespassed on our borders.
It’s just the latest chapter in Putin’s book of Western ingratitude. In his view, based on facts, every good deed he does for the West’s benefit is unavoidably met with a nasty reward. He allowed the US transit to Afghanistan in October 2001, and in return, the US supported jihadi attacks on Russia. That’s why Putin said Nyet to Biden’s request to place US bases in ex-Soviet Central Asia.
Now we are witnessing the collapse of the house of cards the US built in Afghanistan since 2001. All the European troops have gone home: Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Macedonia, Georgia, Estonia, all those countries that were forced by the US to participate in this 20-year-long occupation, have withdrawn their troops. US troops are leaving, too, as the Taliban (defeated by the US in 2001) retakes its country. Kabul regime troops are surrendering to their new Taliban leaders, just as the South Vietnamese troops surrendered to the Viet Cong in April 1975. We all recall America’s inglorious exit, with the last helicopters fleeing from the US Embassy roof. Probably soon we shall see similar episodes during the fall of Kabul.
The US has spent trillions defending Afghan women from Afghan men, not to mention promoting LGBTQ+. They would spend more and stay forever, but the Taliban are making it too expensive a hobby. Russians do not regret seeing them off. Pro-Western Russian experts once tried to claim that the US presence in Afghanistan would protect Russia. It was all bluff: once in power the US exported drugs to Russia and Europe, and imported jihadis from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. They hoped their tame ISIS fighters would clash with the Taliban, but it never worked out that way. The Russians are not worried about the coming Taliban takeover: Moscow was the site of negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul regime. Russian orientalists expect that the Taliban will inherit Afghanistan in such bad shape that it will be too busy at home to try and intervene in the Central Asian republics.
In Geneva, Biden didn’t respond to Putin’s ‘lecture’ (a term my informers used) on the Ukraine. During the Direct Line, Putin continued to expand his views on this touchy subject. He was insulted by the West when they sent their gunboats to Crimea even though he had kindly paid heed to their wishes and withdrawn his troops from the Ukrainian border. He refused to meet with the President of Ukraine because Putin feels Zelensky is a puppet of the West. In brutally direct words, Putin said: “Why should I meet with [President] Zelensky since he has passed management of his country into foreign hands? The main issues concerning Ukraine are not decided in Kiev but in Washington and, partly, in Berlin and Paris. What is there to talk about?”
Putin thinks the Ukraine has lost its independence. This is very different from considering it a hostile sovereign state. Ukrainians are also Russians, Putin said, like European Jews and Ethiopian Jews are still Jews. The Russian people were historically divided into Small Russians, Great Russians and White Russians; yet still all three branches belong to the same tree. Putin said the Western attempts to establish a military presence in the Ukraine is a direct threat to Russia. While the Ukrainians are brothers, the present Ukrainian authorities are a colonial administration. With these statements, a Russian recovery of the Ukraine is suddenly back on the table. I could not believe my own ears, for in 2014 Putin might have taken the Ukraine back effortlessly, but he didn’t. And now, when it would be hard, he seemingly implied it will happen, if the West attempts to establish a military base in the Ukraine, or just pushes Russia a little too hard.
Naval trespassing could provide the trigger. The British and American navies intend to raise their flags at Crimea before going to the South China Sea to wave their flags at the Chinese. There is a difference. Each nation has its own national customs. The Chinese issued hundreds of warnings to the US before they became friends. The Chinese are famous for their warnings. But the Russians are known for their fighting spirit and readiness to shoot.
It would be nice if the recent incident of the Defender would be the last. But this is hard to believe. Russia will certainly find the answer and the answer may be asymmetrical. It may be much more than sinking a destroyer at Cape Fiolent. It could be the retrieval of the Ukraine.
As I reported here, while Putin was in Geneva, Moscow Mayor Mr Sobyanin declared a state of mass vaccination in his city, and a wave of Internet bots opened an intensive campaign of intimidation against “vaccine hesitant” citizens. Moscow reinstituted QR codes for vaccinated citizens to enter restaurants; people were fired for refusing to vaccinate. This subject was the first one brought up in Putin’s Direct Line. The President reaffirmed the vaccination is not mandatory in Russia. However, some people in certain positions would have to vaccinate – or leave. It should be decided locally, in every region. This is good, though perhaps not good enough: many people hoped that Putin would tell Sobyanin explicitly to cool off. He did not, but his declaration that nobody should be forced to vaccinate hopefully will calm spirits a bit.
In the autumn, Russia goes for parliamentary elections, and this subject is likely to become important. While the pro-Western opposition of Navalny and company are in favour of mandatory vaccination (they just want Russia to buy Western vaccines), the Communist opposition (it is the biggest opposition party in the land) stands for voluntary vaccination, no lockdowns, and no distant learning. They may benefit from this position.
A popular leftist politician Mr Kurginyan created a video talk that was immediately removed by YouTube but is still available on Vimeo. He speaks against enforced vaccination, for in his view it is likely to cause trouble for the government and undermine Russia’s stability before the elections. He called upon Putin to refrain from forcing people to vaccinate, provided the nature of the virus is still obscure. It is an American-made bioweapon, he said, and perhaps this bioweapon gets stronger with American vaccines. Delta and other sorts of Covid are perhaps the result of its interaction with vaccines. It is a plausible idea: in Israel, the vaccinated suffer, get ill and die.
During his Direct Line, President Putin refused to speak of the virus origin. Many Russian politicians accept Ron Unz’s thesis that the virus is a US-made bioweapon. Putin didn’t argue for or against; he said that the question of virus origin should be treated separately from the question of dealing with it. For the first time ever, Putin said that he vaccinated with Sputnik-V, because, he added, this is the vaccine Russian soldiers are vaccinated with, and he is their Commander-in-Chief. However, he noted that there are four Russian vaccines, and all of them are good.
Putin also presented the strongest argument against ‘Virus is a Hoax’ idea. He said:
I heard: that there is nothing at all, in reality there is no epidemic. When you tell them that this is happening all over the world, they reply: “Right, country leaders have come into collusion.” Do they have any idea of what is happening in the world, of the contradictions that are plaguing today’s world, where all leaders allegedly upped and conspired with each other? It is absolute rubbish.
It is indeed a strong argument: is it possible to imagine a collusion of Kim Jong-un and Khamenei with Netanyahu and Biden? President Putin is perfectly able to enter some agreement, but there are states and leaders who would never do. What would say our Mike Whitney? Would they all agree to vaccine that can kill their citizens?
Indeed, Russians have begun to vaccinate, though not as much as in the West. More people contemplate why there is such a push for vaccination. Apparently, a common explanation is that the Russian vaccine was produced in massive quantities and the vaccines have to be used. Europe is not open to Russian (or Indian, or Chinese) vaccines. There is a big African market; it is said that Russians would be able to sell their vaccines to Africa; but who will pay for that?
It seems that the IMF has some ideas. They plan to issue a $650 billion SDR loan to poor countries to pay for vaccines. This loan can also be used for paying off old loans; lands and assets will be taken for collateral. The plan is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the same organisation that planned for Covid in 2010. If it works out, the richest folk will profit immensely from the pandemic; the loans will be in the hands of the IMF, and the US will unload its debts onto the other member states. The biggest rip-off of the pandemic is still ahead of us; it will be a virtuoso of complexity; anyone not an expert in SDR and IMF will not even understand they are being screwed. I hear that many people are now discussing how to deal with this issue; there are some plans, but nothing public yet.
The Russian supply of the vaccines to Africa could be paid off by an IMF loan. This will be in line with Putin’s usual modus operandi: conform to the existing paradigm, roll with the punches and pull in as much for Russia as you can. Currently there seems to be only one game in town, one that is played by the Covid masters, big pharma, the digital giants, the IMF and orchestrated by the Rockefeller foundation. Putin does not want to fight against this extraordinary force; he thinks Russia can manage within the rules they set. He will play along until they unveil a power grab, or any rough game, but even then Russia appears to be ready. The West should deal with its own problems, starting with the digital giants; it won’t be easy, as we learn from the recent case where Judge Hinkle ruled that Facebook and Microsoft should enjoy their God-given right to block politicians they do not like. It won’t be easy, and spending our resources threatening Putin and Xi won’t help us get the job done.
In collaboration with Paul Bennett. Israel Shamir can be reached at [email protected]