Now officially Britain’s wealthiest man, Alisher Usmanov has perhaps the world’s most carefully manicured Wikipedia entry. This article looks interesting and worrying. Can anyone do a good translation? Automatic web translators seem to struggle with it even more than usual. Please do not post any automated translations.
For the first time yesterday the mainstream media had the guts to take on billionaire Alisher Usmanov, whose hyperactive libel lawyers succeeded for a few days in closing this blog down.
Channel 4 yesterday showed a Dispatches programme on the Russian oligarchs, which for the first time in Bruitish mainstream media put the case that Arsenal shareholder Usmanov is a convicted blackmailer and racketeer. You can see the programme here:
Sadly I cannot see it in Ghana (I get a not available in your area message) so I do not yet know how much of my own interview in the programme got past the Channel 4 layers. It is however typical of Usmanov that I can find not a single comment on the programme in the mainstream media or even in any of the Arsenal blogs. All of the major Arsenal blogs have in the past received threatening letters from Schillings, Usmanov’s solicitors.
I shall be posting at the end of this week on a US racketeer, Gene E Phillips, and his corrupt – and so far succesful – attempt to rip off billions of dollars from the poor people of Ghana. I gave an interview on this to the FT last week and I am hopeful they will be running a less detailed expose on Thursday, on which I will follow up.
Meantime, it is worth noting that libel bullies the Quilliam Foundation and their pathetic lawyers Clarke Willmott seem to have skulked away. Not one of the individuals – including Jack Straw, Tim Spicer, Allisher Usmanov and Ed Hussain – who has set the lawyers onto this blog has ever dared to go to court.
That is because this blog does not libel, it tells the truth, and not one of them dares to face the truth in court, even with England’s notoriously oppressive libel laws on their side.
I keep being asked this, so I thought I would set the record straight. Arsenal’s main shareholder Alisher Usmanov was jailed in Soviet times for blackmail. He and a colleague in the KGB attempted to blackmail another KGB officer. The KGB officer they tried to blackmail was Jewish and they seem to have felt that would make it easier to isolate him and his “roof”, or network of protective interests, would be weak. They miscalculated badly. Many believe that Usmanov was involved generally in extortion and overreached himself in this one case.
Contrary to assertions made by Usmanov’s lawyers Schillings, liars for the wealthy, Usmanov was not any kind of political prisoner. He was convicted as a straightforward criminal. He was later pardoned by Uzbek dictator President Karimov of Uzbekistan – not by Gorbachev, another Schillings lie.
I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:
Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.
Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.
Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socilist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.
Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.
Usmanov has two key alliances. he is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.
Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.
Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.
All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here:
Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.
I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.
Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.
I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.
People who flirt on Facebook – and why else join – may be less than enamoured by the fact that a $200 million stake has been bought by a company of which the biggest shareholder is a major criminal convicted of … blackmail.
Gangster and racketeer Alisher Usmanov was jailed in the Soviet Union when he finally overreached himself and attempted to blackmail a Jewish KGB officer.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Alisher Usmanov was pardoned by his croney President Karimov of Uzbekistan, perhaps the World’s most vicious dictator. Karimov runs a gangster state and political opponents have been boiled alive.
I was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and I will swear to these facts on oath before any court.
Usmanov became a billionaire oligarch in the gangster takeover of Russia’s “privatised” mineral assets. He is close to Putin, and has been used by him to buy up and neutralise much of the little remaining independent media in Russia. Usmanov does this in his own name or as Chairman of GazpromInvestHolding. Independent journalists have died in mysterious accidents following Usmanov takeovers.
For a blackmailer who is a key tool in Putin’s increasingly authoritarian regime, to have a share in Facebook is totally unacceptable. Perhaps someone might start a Facebook group against it?
Usmanov uses lawyers to close down blogs who carry these facts. His lawyers, Schillings, will assert a number of lies in response:
Schillings Lie 1 Usmanov was a political prisoner
UNTRUE He was a gangster convicted of blackmail. There was no political element. (It has been hinted to me that anti-Semitism might have formed part of the motive, but without supporting evidence for that theory I think it was just greed).
Schillings Lie 2 Usmanov received a full pardon from President Gorbachev
UNTRUE He was pardoned by President Karimov of Uzbekistan after the fall of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev greatly dislikes Usmanov
Schillings Lie 3 He was convicted because he took the rap for a friend
UNTRUE Usmanov only started using this line when I revealed he was not a political prisoner but a racketeer. Nobody else ever mentioned such a theory to me.
There is another profile of Alisher Usmanov in the Guardian today which gives him an easy ride. But the Guardian also publish on the web the full text of their email interview, which is much more revealing:
Given that these email answers will almost certainly have been provided in close consultation with Schillings and Finsbury, they are not very convincing in many areas. The Guardian’s excellent David Conn has also done some good digging.
The Guardian pretty effectively kill off Schillings’ lie that Gorbachev was responsible for Usmanov’s pardon. And there is strong proof of my statement that Karimov fixed it for him – The Guardian show that Usmanov himself was on record as telling David Owen so nine years ago. This fits ill with Usmanov’s denial now of having any relationship with Karimov.
Perhaps most damning is Usmanov’s admission of his relationship with Gafur Rakhimov. I am constantly aware that it is difficult for me to get the context of this over to those not versed in Uzbekistan affairs. But his latest statement on this is the equivalent of saying “I only knew Mr Capone because he was a neighbour of my parents.” Again, reading the interview carefully, this fits ill with Usmanov’s previous admissions to meeting with Rakhimov every time he goes to Tashkent, even if “Only” for an hour.
My sources are well-placed Uzbeks, but it is very heartening that Usmanov in his propaganda interviews has confirmed the facts that I was told. His Sunday Times interview confirmed his key relationship since student times with Jastrzebski, Putin’s long time chef de cabinet. We now have proof from the Guardian that it was indeed Karimov who fixed his pardon, and of his relationship with Rakhimov. It is also worth noting that my sources never claimed the rape allegation resulted in a conviction – the Guardian asked the wrong question here, apparently misled by other, Russian, sources.
The Guardian still miss a couple of points – for example, Usmanov had just bought Kommersant when Safronov mysteriously fell from the window.
What a pity that Usmanov now says he is too busy to sue. Otherwise the truth could be established.
An Uzbek expat internet forum recently had a popular discussion on whether Alisher Usmanov would be a good President of Uzbekistan – this is not academic, as Usmanov is certainly the preferred candidate of President Karimov if the oligarchs will not accept his daughter, and would have the backing of Putin. Thanks to Libertad for publishing some translations. Here are some samples:
1. Right after Alisher Usmanov becomes a president, Tashkent will host a big “party” of criminals from around the globe. The streets of Tashkent will be decorated with big billboards that say “Mafia forever” or “Congratulations from brotherhood”
2. TV will be showing only mafia movies
3. There will be great changes in law enforcement bodies’ administration systems. The chiefs will be replaced by criminals
4. There will be significant changes to the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan. Advisors of president will be given a right to pardon criminals without any investigation
5. Ruslan Chagaev will become an absolute champion in boxing in the world, as everyone will refuse meeting with him in the ring
6. Rustam Kasymjanov will become world’s absolute master in chess
7. Arsenal will have new uniform with national Uzbek symbols (like cotton) on it
8. And there will be a match between Arsenal and Pakhtakor
9. New taxes will be introduced – to help the brotherhood
10. Usmanov will begin privatizing the government institutions
11. And in six months he will become the worlds top billionaire, and Uzbeks, of course, will be proud of being ruled by the world’s richest person
12. And in six moths Alisher Usmanov [just like Karimov] will be teaching farmers how to plant cotton, and builders how to put a brick, etc.
1. Uzbek Anthem will be changed to a music from a Russian movie “Brigada” [famous Russian movie about gangsters], but there will be a huge debate, because some of the Alisher Usmanov’s team members also like the music from the movie “Godfather”. However, a patriotic Alisher Usmanov will support “Brigada” voters.
2. Our current slogan “Uzbekistan is a country with promising future” will be changed to a “Forget about it” ?” with New Jersey accent /forgetta abaaut it/.
3. National sport Kurash will be replaced by “Cards”, and introduced in education. The first graders play “Durak” [card game] and so on, the level of difficulty will raise based on the grade and in grade 10 schools kids will be prepared to a Poker championship in Las-Vegas (in a couple of years, actually, kids will be so good that world championships will be held in Tashkent)
Now you may not get all the cultural references, but what does this tell you about what Uzbek people know of Mr Usmanov’s profession?
Forum.arbuz.com, where the discussion was held, hosts more than a few Karimov regime trolls, so there are a vocal minority of defenders of Usmanov here. Given that Karimov is arguably the world’s most vicious dictator, the argument that he must be OK as he is a friend of President Karimov perhaps won’t cut ice in many circles. Most of the discussion is of course in Uzbek or Russian.
If you read the awful Mark Franchetti article (see below) and strip it of spin, some facts do emerge which confirm the truth of my account.
– Usmanov’s “pardon” did indeed come from Uzbekistan and had nothing to do with Mikhail Gorbachev, contrary to the lies of Schillings
– Usmanov was never a political prisoner opposed to communism. He was indeed convicted for corrupt dealings. He claims he was the accidental victim of a friend being set up – even if that were true, it does not make him an anti-communist political prisoner, which is how Schillings attempted to portray him.
– I published that
Key to this triumph has been the Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprominvest Holdings. This subsidiary is the channel for massive slush funds. In November 2004, for example, a payment of $88 million to Gulnara, the daughter of President Karimov of Uzbekistan, secured Uzbekistan’s gas contracts for Gazprom from under the noses of the United States, which had originally secured them through a bribe from the subsequebtly defunct Enron. In a series of transactions typical of Gazprom, at the same time Usmanov transferred half of a Russian bank, Mapobank, to Putin’s private secretary, Piotr Jastrzebski. Jastrzebski was Usmanov’s former flatmate at Moscow Diplomatic Academy and bagman for Putin. Putin instructed Karimov in return for the cash to kick out the US military base which dominated Central Asia, and Gazprom had secured the strategic kingpin to dominate the Central Asian and Caucasus gas reserves.
Usmanov now tells Franchetti:
He also became close friends with fellow students Sergei Yastrzhembsky and Sergei Prikhodko, both now aides to Putin
Now that is the first published admission I have seen of the key Usmanov/Jastrzebski relationship. Franchetti shows that I was right about this, and about the origin of that relationship as students. Might this not indicate to a less biased observer that my sources on Usmanov are sound?
That makes three absolutely key things I have published about Usmanov that are now shown to be true. Is there one thing I have published that has been disproved by the hordes of mainstream media looking to attack us?
You may have noticed that the post regarding Alisher Usmanov has disappeared. This is at the instigation of Schillings, lawyers retained by Usmanov.
Pending legal advice which – as web host – I am unable to obtain prior to tomorrow, given Schilling’s deadline and in light of Godfrey v Demon Internet, the post may or may not reappear. In the meantime, it is always now somewhere on the web. If you know where to look, you’ll probably find it.
Clive – webhost
edit 07-Sep in response to further communications from Schillings
Between just 28 May and 10 June Boris Johnson received £235,500 in “private” donations, to himself personally, as he prepares to become the UK’s unelected Prime Minister.
The blatant corruption of the UK’s political system is part of the reason for popular alienation from the ruling classes. It was Blair who elevated British politics to US levels of shamelessness in the matter of politicians’ self enrichment, and Johnson looks set to follow the Blair example. While some may pretend to do so, I do not accept that there is anybody who is naive enough genuinely to believe that such donations do not influence politicians’ policy decisions.
Straight donations aside, the slightly disguised corruption of our political system should also be taken into account. The banks put politicians in their pockets not through direct payments, but through massive, often six figure, fees they pay them for “speaking at dinners”. That is how Hillary Clinton garnered much of her Wall Street funding. In the case of Boris Johnson, it is interesting that in the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests, he frequently lists the name of the speaking agency who paid him, but not who the client was.
Another way to pay less obvious bribes – and one particularly pursued by New Labour – was the book deal, where publishers pay massive six figure advances to politicians which are, routinely, up to ten times the actual royalties earned for which they are an “advance”. This only makes sense when you realise that every single one of the major publishers is owned by a much bigger multinational – for example until recently Murdoch owned HarperCollins.
James Reuben, who gave two donations totaling £50,000 to Johnson, is the scion of the UK’s second wealthiest family, worth £18 billion. The Reubens made their money, like Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, in the pillaging of Russia’s massive metal producing assets, which were physically seized by gangsters, in the chaotic US organised Yeltsin privatisation process. The entire basis of their vast fortune was the exploitation of assets effectively stolen from the Russian state and people.
There is a fascinating link here to New Labour corruption that shows how entirely rotten Westminster is. Many will recall Peter Mandelson’s famous meeting with Oleg Deripaska and Nat Rothschild on the yacht in Corfu, at a house party where George Osborne was also around. The full story has never appeared in mainstream media, so far as I can judge.
Deripaska had been involved with the Reubens in Russia’s “privatised” aluminum market, and in 2008 was also involved in business with Nat Rothschild. Putin was determined to try to claw back some control of precious commodity markets from the oligarchs who had plundered them, and he started to lean on Deripaska, in ways which were quite threatening, to make some hefty repayment. Nat Rothschild had obligations to Deripaska which the oligarch was trying urgently to call in, and this process required the sale of shares in (if I remember correctly) Canadian or US aluminium companies. The big obstacle to this raising the needed money to get back to Putin was the high EU tariff on aluminium.
By one of those wonderful coincidences which make life so joyous, happily Peter Mandelson was, absolutely independent of the meeting on the yacht or his own relationship with Nat Rothschild, persuaded of the need for the EU to reduce aluminium tariffs and as UK Trade Minister and then EU Trade Commissioner was able to secure very large reductions in EU aluminium tariffs indeed. So they all lived happily ever after.
Isn’t that nice? And even nicer, Mandelson is now a paid adviser to Deripaska on climate change.
So Boris Johnson’s donations and Mandelson’s dealings all link in to the pillaging of Russia’s formerly state run metals industry, which legalised theft accounts for a dozen of the world’s wealthiest billionaires and a high proportion of its political corruption.
I want Scottish Independence to try to set up a smaller, more manageable national entity in which corruption can be better reduced, (and sadly it will never be eliminated). I find the insider knowledge I have from my days as a British Ambassador and from the connections I then made, weighs horribly heavy upon me. If I knew less, I guess I would be less sad and less cynical.
It has become my firm belief that the destruction of the UK state by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and the purging of the financial cesspit that is London by Jeremy Corbyn, are both essential to human progress.
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On the face of it, the Unexplained Wealth Order against Zamira Hajiyeva shows the UK cracking down on the torrent of corrupt money that gushes in to the City of London every single second. But dig deeper.
Hajiyev’s husband had fallen out of favour with the appallingly kleptocratic Aliev regime in Azerbaijan – a dictatorship whose corruption can be measured by the infallible indicator that Tony Blair is currently working for it. Hundreds of billions have been plundered from Azerbaijan’s oil revenue by the Azeri oligarchs.
So is the British government going after the very substantial assets in the UK of the ruling Aliev family? No. Is it going after the very substantial assets in the UK of the oligarchs surrounding the Aliev family? No. It is only going after almost the only Azeri oligarch who fell foul of the regime, and is taking an action which the Baku dictator will applaud rather than decry.
While her father was still dictator of Uzbekistan, Gulnara Karimova was subject to seizure of looted wealth and investigation in Switzerland, France and Sweden, among others. In the UK, where she had a home and very substantial assets, no action whatsoever.
What are we to make of Theresa May’s huffing and puffing about the Skripal affair, when the UK’s richest resident is Alisher Usmanov, who is Vladimir Putin’s old flatmate, right hand man in the media and business world and chairman of Gazprominvestholdings? There is no chance whatsoever any action will be taken against Usmanov, who acquired his assets in the most dubious manner imaginable. Usmanov is far too entrenched in the City.
These people interact with the British “elite” in any number of surprising ways. Claudia Winkleman’s husband made big money from producing a vanity film project for the Azeri dictator’s daughter. Former Foreign Secretary Dr David Owen is Usmanov’s factotum in the UK. Just two of many thousands of links that tie the UK’s gilded elite in with the looted wealth.
The Conservative Party has directly received donations totaling over £3 million from Russian oligarchs. That buys a lot of influence. But more important still is the influence of the City of London, where wideboy bankers grow rich on the World’s most sophisticated and “respectable” money laundering operation. While the Tories are determined to bluster us into a new cold war to benefit the military, industrial and security complex, none of the sanctions taken to date and none that will be taken have had any serious deleterious effect on the holders of the hundreds of billions of money looted from the Russian people during the Western mandated and organised privatisation of Russia’s mineral and industrial assets. Even as false rage over Salisbury fills the airwaves, the oligarchs are privately being reassured their money and lifestyles are safe.
And of course, the appalling Saudi Regime can imprison and execute as many dissidents and feminists as it wishes, and western governments and media will still applaud its “modernisation programme”. Western governments will still lust after lucrative arms deals to supply the bombs that blow apart Yemeni schoolchildren. And the Saudi regime can gruesomely murder as many journalists as they wish abroad, with no fear whatsoever of any action against them by the UK.
In a United Kingdom dominated by the cesspit that is the City of London, it is not just that money talks. It is that nobody else is heard.
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UPDATE: The Kommersant Evidence
Kommersant publishes interviews with people from Chepiga’s home village. The article makes clear he has not been seen there for many years. It states that opinions differ on whether Chepiga is Boshirov. One woman says she recognised Boshirov as Chepiga when he appeared on TV, especially the dark eyes, though she had not seen him since school. Another woman states it is not Chepiga as when she last saw him ten years ago he was already pretty bald, and he has a more open face, although the eyes are similarly brown.
Naturally mainstream media journalists are tweeting and publishing the man’s evidence and leaving out the woman’s evidence.
But the Kommersant article gives them a bigger challenge. Kommersant is owned by close Putin political ally, Putin’s former student flatmate, Chariman of Gazprominvestholdings and the UK’s richest resident, Alisher Usmanov. That Russia’s most authoritative paper, with ownership very close to Putin, is printing such open and honest reporting rather belies the “Russia is a dictatorship” narrative. And unlike the Guardian and BBC websites, on Kommersant website ordinary Russians can post freely their views on the case, and are.
One thing this does stand up is that Chepiga definitely exists.
The evidence mounts that Russia is not telling the truth about “Boshirov” and “Petrov”. If those were real identities, they would have been substantiated in depth by now. As we know of Yulia Skripal’s boyfriend, cat, cousin and grandmother, real depth on the lives and milieu of “Boshirov” and “Petrov” would be got out. It is plainly in the interests of Russia’s state and its oligarchy to establish that they truly exist, and concern for the privacy of individuals would be outweighed by that. The rights of the individual are not prioritised over the state interest in Russia.
But equally the identification of “Boshirov” with “Colonel Chepiga” is a nonsense.
The problem is with Bellingcat’s methodology. They did not start with any prior intelligence that “Chepiga” is “Boshirov”. They rather allegedly searched databases of GRU operatives of about the right age, then trawled photos in yearbooks of them until they found one that looked a bit like “Boshirov”. And guess what? It looks a bit like “Boshirov”. If you ignore the substantially different skull shape and nose.
Only the picture on the left is Chepiga. The two on the right are from “Boshirov’s” Russian passport application file, and the photo of “Boshirov” issued by Scotland Yard.
Like almost the entire internet, I assumed both black and white photos were from Chepiga’s files, and was willing to admit the identification of Chepiga with “Boshirov” as valid. But once you understand is that – as Bellingcat confirm if you read it closely – only the photo on the left is Chepiga, you start to ask questions.
The two guys on the right and the centre are undoubtedly the same person. But is the guy on the left the same, but younger?
Betaface.com, which runs industry standard software, gives the faces an 83% similarity, putting the probability of them being the same person at 2.8%.
By comparison it gives me a 72% identity with Chepiga and a 2.1% chance of being him.
There is a superficial resemblance. But if you take the standard ratios used for facial recognition, you get a very different story. If you draw a line between the centre of the pupils of the two guys centre and right, and then take a perpendicular from that line to the tip of the nose, you get a key ratio. The two on the right both have a ratio of 100:75, which is unsurprising since they are the same person. The one on the left has a ratio of 100:68, which is very different.
To put that more simply, his nose is much shorter, and less certainly his eyes are further apart.
It is possible this could happen in photos but it still be the same person. The head would have to be tilted backward or forward at quite a sharp angle to alter these ratios, which does not seem to be the case. The camera could be positioned substantially above or below the subject, again not apparently the case. And the photo could be resized with height and width ratios changed. That would hard to detect.
But the three white dots across the bottom of the nose are particularly compelling (the middle one largely obscured by a red dot in the Chepiga photo). They illustrate that Chepiga has a snub nose and Boshirov something of a hook. Again, the software is reinforcing what they eye can plainly see.
However, there are also other ratios that are different. Chepiga has a narrower mouth compared to the distance between the pupils than the two photos of “Boshirov”, and that is measured on the same plane. The difference is 100-80 compared to 100-88. It is a ratio that can be changed by facial expression, but this does not seem to be the case here.
Professor Dame Sue Black of the University of Dundee is the world’s leading expert in facial forensic reconstruction. I once spent a fascinating lunch sitting next to her, while I was Rector. I shall contact her for her view on whether the guy on the left is the same person, and if she is kind enough to give me an opinion, I shall pass it on to you unadulterated.
This website is less definitive, but gives a nice clear result, and you can repeat it yourself without having to subscribe (unlike Betaface.com).
Again for comparison, I tried two photos of myself 12 years apart and got “from nearly the same person”.
It is worth repeating that the only evidence that Chepiga is Boshirov offered by Bellingcat is this photo. The rest of their article simply attempts to establish Chepiga’s career.
This is gross hypocrisy by Bellingcat, who have argued that scores of photos of White Helmets being Jihadi fighters are not valid evidence because you cannot safely recognise faces from photographs.
Yet Higgins now claims his facial identification of Chepiga as Boshirov as “definitive” and “conclusive”, despite the absence of moles, scars and blemishes. Higgins stands exposed as a quite disgusting hypocrite. Let me go further. I do not believe that Higgins did not take the elementary step of running facial recognition technology over the photos, and I believe he is hiding the results from you. Is it not also astonishing that the mainstream media have not done this simple test?
The bulk of the Bellingcat article is just trying to prove the reality of the existence of Chepiga. This is hard to evaluate, but as the evidence to link him to “Boshirov” is non-existent, is a different argument. Having set out to find a GRU officer of the same age who looks a bit like “Boshirov”, they trumpet repeatedly the fact that Chepiga is about the same age as evidence, in a crass display of circular argument.
This unofficial website does indeed name Chepiga as a Hero of the Russian Federation and recipient of 20 awards, as Bellingcat claims. But it is impossible to know if it is authentic, and by contrast there is no Chepiga on the official list of Heroes of the Russian Federation, for the stated 2014 or for any other year, which Bellingcat fail to mention. Their other documents and anonymous sources are unverifiable.
The photo of the military school honours arch, with Chepiga added right at the end and not quite in line, looks to me very suspect. My surmise so far would be that most likely Bellingcat’s source of supply is Ukrainian, and trying to tie the Skripal affair into the Ukrainian civil war via Chepiga.
My view of the most likely explanation on presently available evidence is this:
Boshirov is not Boshirov, and the Russian Government are lying.
Boshirov is not Chepiga, and Bellingcat are lying.
The whole Skripal novichok story still does not hang together, and the British government are lying.
I will continue to form my opinions as further evidence becomes available.
UPDATE Incredibly, at 13.15 on 27 September the BBC TV News ran the story showing only the two photos of “Boshirov”, which of course are the same person, and not showing the photo of Chepiga at all!
I leave Edinburgh this afternoon for London, to stand trial at the High Court for libel. To answer a question frequently asked, the reason I have accepted English jurisdiction is that the event was a Sky News broadcast, an English broadcaster. If it had been over my blog I would not have accepted jurisdiction as I do not accept the English claim to universal jurisdiction over internet content.
I do hope that this trial will help bring into further disrepute the immoral and draconian English libel laws. If I lose, the total costs and damages I would have to pay will potentially amount to some £350,000 – a ridiculously disproportionate result for the alleged civil offence. It would ruin me and blight the lives of my young family. Whether this can possibly be an appropriate reaction to something I said in response in a live debate, you might judge for yourselves by reading the court documents .
Thanks to the astonishing generosity of the readers of this blog, at least I am in a position to defend myself robustly. Over 5,000 readers of this blog have, with incredible generosity, contributed a total of £100,323 towards my defence to date. The libel laws are so oppressive because the sums of money involved are so astonishing. The entire massive English libel industry – courts, judges, barristers, solicitors – is taken together a major financial interest in itself, well represented in parliament. It is in all their collective financial interest that this system of oppression rolls on, which of course requires a good chance of people being found guilty to encourage more plaintiffs into the industry. I often feel this analysis from unconscious institutional self-interest is often neglected in favour of the equally valid and important argument that the libel laws are an essential tool of the wealthy and powerful to discourage free speech by the poor. Robert Maxwell, Alisher Usmanov and Jimmy Savile are three examples of people who kept their true nature hidden by constantly and aggressively threatening people with the disastrous consequences of an English libel suit.
Finally the trial starts on Tuesday 7 November at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, High Court Queen’s Bench. It will last probably two and up to three days. It is open to the public. I would very much welcome anyone with the capacity to report any of what happens on social media. I am not aware of any restrictions on this, but will try to publish them here if I learn of any.
This is probably my last blogpost until after the trial, as I must concentrate now. By the time I come back online the Tories will have appointed their next Disgraced Former Defence Secretary in Waiting.
The apparent end to the power of my old adversary Islam Karimov gives a brief moment of hope for change in Uzbekistan.
It is worth recalling that Karimov was a member of the last Soviet politburo, and was a part of the failed hard line “communist” coup against Gorbachev. His support for Uzbek independence was both a matter of self-preservation and a successful endeavour to sustain the massively corrupt system that enabled a few families to pillage Uzbekistan’s great natural wealth. Tashkent was already famously corrupt in Soviet times; Karimov increased this and concentrated the wealth in an ever smaller circle, while personal freedoms were higher in the Soviet period than now.
There is no telling if Karimov is already dead or not, but a massive stroke has with certainty ended his rule. There is much speculation on what happens next. The one thing we can be quite certain will not happen is a free and fair election of a successor.
The formal process, presided over by the speaker of parliament, is an irrelevance to the power grab that is going on and depends on control of the army, the separate Ministry of the Interior armed forces, the police and the security services. By common consent Rustam Inoyatov is a key kingmaker, and for the last two years Prime Minister Mirzaeyev has been carefully cementing this alliance. Mirzaeyev is probably the most ruthless of all the candidates – he is as cold-blooded a killer as Karimov, and I suspect this quality will bring him through.
Mirzaeyev comes from the same Samarkand power base as Karimov, but he faces a difficult balancing act in ensuring nobody else has any power to challenge him, while at the same time placating powerful Tashkent and Ferghana interests. If Mirzaeyev can gain the support of the Gafur Rakhimov/Alisher Usmanov mafia nexus he will probably be home and dry. But to emphasise how complex and vicious this will be, when the Alisher Usmanov/Mirzaeyev family relationship was due to be cemented in 2013 by a marriage alliance featuring Usmanov’s nephew and heir Babur Usmanov, the groom was killed in a “car crash” at the behest of Inoyatov. This murder was probably just a friendly reminder that Inoyatov cannot be cut out, and one Mirzaeyev seems to have heeded, but underlines the potential for it all to go violently wrong.
So how can this be hopeful? Well, quite simply things can only get better. Whoever takes over is unlikely to want immediately to rush into the arms of one of Uzbekistan’s three suitors, the USA, China and Russia. There is a reasonable chance that they will wish to portray themselves as having a reform agenda, in order to keep the USA and to some extent Russia interested. Putin never viewed Karimov as more than an embarrassment. Indeed, almost every potential President except Mirzaeyev does have an inkling that the deliberate stifling of all economic initiative and the enslavement of the country to a cotton monoculture is not a good policy.
Finally a message to Karimov, my old sparring partner. You won, you kept power and I lost, and got sacked for my pains. But then I am not dead, and when I am I shall not go to Hell. Good luck with that. Craig
The FBI had somebody wearing a wire at the London Olympics to capture the FIFA corruption taking place in the margins. What were the British authorities doing? Nothing.
Britain prides itself as having in London the world’s leading financial centre. Substantial assets, both financial and real estate, from FIFA corruption are located in London. But Britain has taken over the crown from Switzerland as the major financial destination which will always protect ill-gotten wealth.
Alisher Usmanov played a major role as bagman for the corrupt Russian World Cup bid, particularly with delegates from FIFA’s Asian Confederation. His place as Britain’s third richest resident is very obviously based on extreme Russian corruption and he rose to power and wealth solely with the use of gangster muscle and contacts he gained and expanded while serving a prison sentence for blackmail. But he is a billionaire and beloved by the City of London so there is no danger of him ever being investigated in the UK.
That a key figure in FIFA corruption over Russia’s World Cup bid, is undisturbed in his large shareholding in Arsenal FC, says everything about the complicity of the British establishment.
Usmanov’s friend Gulnara Karimova is a startling example. She is now under formal investigation in Switzerland, France, Sweden and the Netherlands over the glaringly corrupt origins of her billions. Only a fake house arrest by her father has prevented her real arrest. Yet in the UK, where she has three homes including one in the No.1 Hyde Park criminals’ hangout, where she shops regularly and her son is at university, there is no move against her whatsoever.
I am delighted to see the moves against FIFA. But to me they illustrate very plainly what a corrupt stinking hole London has become.
This blog is severely hampered by flu. I hate flu. In a globe-trotting life I have had a number of illnesses that became life threatening – peritonitis, typhoid, cholera, cerebral malaria, pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension (thankfully misdiagnosed) severe arrhythmia. I was once declared dead and awoken by a cockroach eating my nostril as I lay naked on a corpse trolley in Kaduna. I refuse to die because of the thought of the people – Jack Straw, Islam Karimov, Alisher Usmanov, Tony Blair, John Reid etc – whose day I know would be momentarily brightened by news of my demise. But for sustained misery and feeling really, really awful and uncomfortable, a week with the flu, while not nearly as dangerous, is pretty well as unpleasant, at least to me.
As I lie in a sweaty bed, my thought are perhaps unsurprisingly not happy and light. I am paying keen attention to all the proposals for how to move forward the Independence movement after that check, and am struck by all the calls to reach out to No voters and bring them in.
I have no idea how to reach out to No voters because I find the majority of them stupid beyond my understanding. This is not because they desired an end result different to that I desired. That is a perfectly legitimate choice. It is because, by voting No, they are going to get an end result which is not what they wanted at all, and that was very obvious. Asking me to reach out to these unbelievably thick people is like asking me to go for a drive with someone who, against my advice, drove the wrong way down a motorway, causing a lot of people to get hurt as a result.
Through their No vote they are going to get five more years of Tory rule – which most of them absolutely did not want. And it is going to be Tory rule that lurches further and further to the right. It seems no proposition was too right wing to be applauded to the rafters by the Tory Conference.
Tax cuts for the rich. Benefit cuts for the poor. Openly declared government in the interests of multinational corporations. Censorship of the internet and severe restrictions on freedom of speech. The government intercepting all communications. Even more detention without trial. Permanent war in the Middle East. Leaving the European Convention on Human Rights and in consequence the Council of Europe – the first country to leave the body set up in 1946 to prevent the rise again in Europe of just the sort of proto-fascist measures the Tories wish to impose. To be followed by leaving the European Union.
All of these are direct consequences for Scotland of the No vote. This is much more profound than the entirely predictable and immediate dishonouring of the pledges on Devo-Max by Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Brown. Brown’s call for a petition to request him to work for what he assured the electorate was already “a done deal” is beyond contempt. It should do for his reputation what the tuition fee betrayal did for Nick Clegg.
Frankly I have no interest in any devolution measures that do not give Scotland control of its oil and whisky revenues, and those are not on offer. But there were people who voted No – 23% of No voters them according to Ashcroft – because they wanted the promised pretend “powers”. Well, you are not going to get those either.
Mostly, of course, those stupid No voters acted under the crass assumption, against all modern precedent, that the opposition could win a general election from a position of just 2 per cent ahead, eight months out. And the even more incredible belief that the Labour Party was still in some significant way different from the Conservative Party.
The consequences of what is coming will fall disproportionately on the poor, with even greater escalation of the UK’s astonishing wealth gap. There will be still more damage to the social fabric that Scots hold dear.
Now there are hard-hearted right wingers in Scotland, in the Tory Party and the leadership of the Labour Party, who wanted everything that is coming in terms of neo-con policy prescription. Those No voters who are wealthy and successful and want to get ahead further on the backs of the poor, made the correct intellectual choice to achieve their ends. They are deeply unpleasant sociopaths, but they are not stupid.
But those No voters who voted No because they believed a fair and caring society was achievable within the present structures of the UK, are so stupid I am astonished that their cerebral cortex can transmit a signal that sparks respiration. They are probably not capable of ever noticing their error.
I am not going to reach out to you, No voter. You are either evil, or quite extraordinarily thick. You will forever be a long way beneath my notice. This will be the last thought I ever give you. To quote a great line from Casablanca:
Peter Lorre: You despise me, don’t you Rick?
Humphrey Bogart: If I gave you any thought, I probably would.
The immediate cause of the MH17 disaster was a missile shot by pro-Russian forces who mistook it for one of the military aircraft they had been regularly shooting down. It is a terrible tragedy – and tragically not unique. There have been several such events in my lifetime, including the USS Vincennes incident and the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner.
The problem is that Vladimir Putin has revived the Soviet cult of perfectionism – the idea that the state simply cannot make a mistake. That Putin-backed forces could commit an error is therefore unthinkable, as that would imply that Putin made an error in backing and supplying them. Putin cannot make errors. We have therefore seen a stream of desperate propaganda stories emanating from the Russian media, such as the allegation that it was the government in Kiev attempting to shoot down Putin himself. These narratives are aimed at the domestic Russian nationalist audience, but are accepted by the small band of ardent Putin supporters in the West.
Many people in the West, myself included, have been shocked and alienated by the rampant and vicious immorality of Western foreign policy in what I might call the neo-con era, with the ascendancy of Bush and Blair marking a step change in the open use of military force to grab natural resources – a return to the Imperial heyday. The veneer of concern for democracy and human rights layered over Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, the curtailment of long-cherished civil rights at home and the mass compound crimes of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, led to a visceral revulsion.
Putin’s successful opposition to western designs on Syria and Iran gave the impression, quite probably correctly, that a revived Russia was the only effective obstacle to western hegemony, China being passive. But unfortunately this led some who opposed Western neo-imperialism to join in the hero worship of Putin.
The mechanisms of this vary. In my view, the largest number are people who are not psychologically equipped to fight over-mighty power everywhere, which is a lonely path, and prefer the much easier option of joining the entourage of a big power, and convincing themselves that power is good. It is comforting to feel part of a powerful team. Some of course are paid by the Russians, and you see them turning up on Russia Today both as presenters and interviewees, but these are a small section. Some were supporters of the Soviet Union.
What is perhaps most extraordinary is that, the very things which these people criticise most about Western society, Russia and Putin do much worse. At the most fundamental level, the disparity of wealth between rich and poor in Russia is far, far worse than the still appalling level it has reached in the West.
The total Russian economy is 20% smaller than the total British economy. Yet Russia has almost three times as many billionaires as the UK, and the Russian billionaires’ combined wealth is over six times the combined wealth of British billionaires.
Go figure. Yet the delusional continue to contrive to believe that Russia is an alternative to global capitalism.
Russia is not only a much more unequal society than the West. It also much worse in the field of civil liberties and media freedom. Scores of real journalists have been killed, mostly unheard of internationally. The free media has vanished. In the West, the field of opinion reflected in the mainstream media has narrowed right down. In the UK, Andrew Gilligan was sacked for telling the truth about Iraqi WMD, while his source was murdered. But the West is moving in the direction of autocracy; Russia is already there. It in no sense represents an alternative, freer society than the West.
Nor is Russia any less imperialist. Putin is in fact an extremely aggressive nationalist imperialist, as his annexations of Abkhazia and Crimea have shown. Highly significant is the legislation just passed to award Russian nationality to ethnic Russians in former Soviet states. That is racially based legislation. It means for example that 40% of the population of Kazakhstan potentially become Russian citizens, with similar figures in the Baltic states. It is highly aggressive and designed to have destabilising potential.
One fact which has become undeniably clear in the Ukraine is that the pro-Russian insurgency in the East is commanded by members of the Russian military and security forces like Strelkov who are Russian, not Ukrainian citizens, and they are under tactical and strategic supervision from Russia. Again, the self-hating fantasist tendency in the West manage to convince themselves that what is happening in East Ukraine is massive destruction of civilian populations by NATO forces.
People who are that removed from reality cannot be helped.
Much more dangerous are those who do have a grip on reality, who understand exactly what is really happening, and who don’t care. That sums up the position of almost all western governments. The truth is that the financial interests of all those Russian billionaires are completely linked in with those of the super-rich of the West. To take only the UK as an example, these are the people Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Boris Johnson lunch and have holidays with. These are the people who employ Gerhard Schroeder and David Owen as lapdogs.
Nobody is more annoyed than Angela Merkel at the downing of MH17, not because she cares about those dead people, but because of the massive effort she has put into ensuring that, whatever Russia does in Ukraine, German economic interests will not be affected. Germany gets most of its electricity from Russian gas, and both Siemens and Mercedes, on a daily basis, have been lobbying Merkel to make sure that nothing is done that hurts German economic interests. Cameron has been receiving the same lobbying from his banker mates. In both these cases, the politicians are being talked to by the people who finance them.
The result is that there has been a strong diplomatic push, particularly by Germany, to divert the question of sanctions on to matters of process. The problem is not Russia trying to annex bits of Ukraine and funding, arming and staffing the destabilisation of a European state. The Germans are seeking to define the problem down to whether or not Russia cooperates in various stages of the air crash investigation.
Putin will continue his dangerous expansionist nationalism because it is a self-trapping path for a politician to take; but also he is encouraged that whatever he does, nobody makes any serious moves to stop him. The people on MH17 were killed because of the pusillanimity of Western politicians, financed and guided by the financial elite.
The pathetic “sanctions” adopted by the US and EU so far have been specifically designed to be completely toothless. They target middle and lower ranking individuals without major western links anyway. None of the top ten largest Russian billionaires has been touched.
Russia’s richest man – Alisher Usmanov – is extremely close to Putin and as chairman of Gazprominvestholdings has been directly involved for a decade in pressurising Ukraine, and was also Putin’s chosen instrument for closing down the free media. But you won’t see Usmanov on any sanctions list – he has 10% of Facebook, 29% of Arsenal FC, the most expensive mansion in Surrey and numerous other western connections, not to mention he is Gerhard Schroeder and David Owen’s direct boss.
Much has been said of the 1.2 billion dollars contract for two amphibious assault vessels Russia has ordered from France. Amphibious assault! Where?
But, actually much more interesting, 1.2 billion dollars incredibly happens to be the combined value of four of the World’s largest luxury yachts, which met together off Cap Ferrat and Antibes from 10 to 16 June this year. They are Dilbar, Madame Gu, Grand Bleu and Hermitage.
In Putin’s Russia, government, organised crime and secret services are absolutely integrated. All were well represented at the series of meetings that took place on those yachts, where deals were done on everything from metal prices to heroin – and Ukraine. If US drones had wanted to do some good in the world, there was their target, but they were too busy killing some 16 year old kid, and numerous bystanders, in Waziristan or Yemen for a dangerous interpretation of the Koran. None of the people at those meetings will appear on any sanctions list, though they are the men who rule Russia with Putin. They will all still be very welcome in boardrooms in London, Berlin and New York.
If Europe had followed from the start the excellent leadership offered by Radek Sikorski, the passengers on MH17 would not have died. I should like to think that the European Council will start to listen to Sikorski now. But I doubt it.
I listened live to Putin’s speech yesterday with great interest. Here is my own analysis, for what it is worth.
Putin was strongest in his accusations of western hypocrisy. His ironic welcoming of the West having suddenly discovered the concept of international law was very well done. His analysis of the might is right approach the West had previously adopted, and their contempt of the UN over Iraq and Afghanistan, was spot on. Putin also was absolutely right in describing the Kosovo situation as “highly analogous” to the situation in Crimea. That is indeed true, and attempts by the West – including the Guardian – to argue the cases are different are pathetic exercises in special pleading.
The problem is that Putin blithely ignored the enormous logical inconsistency in his argument. He stated that the Crimean and Kosovo cases were highly analogous, but then used that to justify Russia’s action in Crimea, despite the fact that Russia has always maintained the NATO Kosovo intervention was illegal(and still refuses to recognize Kosovo). In fact of course Russia was right over Kosovo, and thus is wrong over Crimea.
I was very interested that Putin made distinct reference to the appalling crimes against the Tartars in the 1930’s, but also to the terrible suffering of Ukrainians in that period. His references were not detailed but their meaning was clear. I was surprised because under Putin’s rule there has been a great deal of rehabilitation of Stalin. Archives that were opened under glasnost have frozen over again, and history in Russian schools now portrays Stalin’s foreign policy achievement much more than his crimes (and it is now again possible to complete your Russian school education with no knowledge the Stalin-Hitler pact ever happened). So this was both surprising and positive. Designed to be positive was his assurance that Crimea will be trilingual. We will see what happens; Putin’s Russia is in fact not tolerant of its ethnic populations in majority Russian areas, and in fact contains a great many more far right thugs than Ukraine – probably about the same percentage of the population.
The 97% referendum figure is simply unbelievable to any reasonable person and is straight out of the Soviet playbook – it was strange to see Putin going in and out of modern media friendly mode and his audience, with their Soviet en brosse haircuts and synchronized clapping – obviously liked the Soviet bits best.
The attempt to downplay Russia’s diplomatic isolation was also a bit strange. He thanked China, though China had very pointedly failed to support Russian in the Security Council. When you are forced to thank people for abstaining, you are not in a strong position diplomatically. He also thanked India, which is peculiar, because the Indian PM yesterday put out a press release saying Putin had called him, but the had urged Putin to engage diplomatically with the interim government in Kiev, which certainly would not be welcome to Putin. I concluded that Putin was merely trying to tell his domestic audience Russia has support, even when it does not.
But what I find really strange is that the parts of the speech I found most interesting have not drawn any media comment I can see. Putin plainly said that in his discussions with Kuchma on the boundaries of Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they hadn’t wanted to open any dispute with what they expected to be a friendly neighbor, and that therefore the boundaries of Ukraine had never been finally demarcated. He said twice the boundaries had not been demarcated. That seemed to indicate a very general threat to Eastern Ukraine. He also spoke of the common heritage of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in a way that indicated that he did not accept that Ukraine might choose a political future away from Russia.
Secondly, he said that on the day the Soviet Union broke up, Russians in many places had “woken up to find themselves in a foreign country.” Again from the context in which he said it, this referred not just to Crimea, and not just even to the rest of Ukraine, but to Russian nationals all over the Former Soviet Union. I would be worrying a lot about this part of the speech if I was Kazakh, to give just one example. Putin seemed to be outlining a clear agenda to bring Russian speaking areas of CIS countries back in to Mother Russia – indeed, I see no other possible interpretation of his actions in Georgia and Ukraine.
I think that we should start listening much more carefully to what he says. I also think that the weakness of the EU’s response to events gives Putin a very dangerous encouragement to pursue further aggrandizement. I posted a few days ago:
The EU I expect to do nothing. Sanctions will target a few individuals who are not too close to Putin and don’t keep too many of their interests in the West. I don’t think Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovic need lose too much sleep, that Harrods need worry or that we will see any flats seized at One Hyde Park. (It is among my dearest wishes one day to see One Hyde Park given out for council housing.) Neither do I expect to see the United States do anything effective; its levers are limited.
The truth is of course that the global political elite are in the pockets of the global financial elite, and while ordinary Russians are still desperately poor, the money the oligarchs rip out of Russia’s backward commodity exporting economy is parceled around the world financial system in ways that make it impossible for the western political classes to do anything. Whose funds would the hedge fund managers look after? Whose yacht could Mandelson and Osborne holiday on?
Personally I should like to see a complete financial freeze on the entire Russian oligarchy. The knock on effects would only hurt a few bankers, and city types and those who depend on them (cocaine dealers, lap dancers, Porsche dealers, illegal domestic servants). Sadly we shan’t see anything happen. They won’t let Eton go bust.
I am not opposed to self determination for the people of Crimea; I am opposed to this referendum. Nobody can seriously argue there has been a chance for a campaign in which different viewpoints can be freely argued, with some equality of media access and freedom from fear and intimidation.
Hitler invaded Austria on 12 March 1938. The Anschluss was confirmed in a plebiscite on 10 April, just 28 days later, by a majority of 99.7%. Putin has done it in less than half of the time, and I have no doubt will produce a similar result in the vote. The point is not whether or not the vote reflects the will of the people – the point is whether the will of the people has been affected by military demonstration, fear, hysterically induced national psychosis and above all an absence of space for debate or alternative viewpoints.
There is no reasonable claim that Putin’s swift plebiscite is necessary because of an imminent threat of violence against Russians in Crimea. There is absolutely no reason that a referendum could not have been held at the end of this year, in a calm and peaceful atmosphere, after everybody had a chance to campaign and express their position. Putin has proved that force majeure is powerful in international politics, and there is every reason to believe that he could have finessed international acceptance of such a referendum in due course. Germany, in particular, is much more interested in its own energy supplies than in the rights of Ukraine. In twenty years in diplomacy, I never saw a single instance of Germany having any interest in rights other than its own national self-interest. It is very likely such a genuine referendum would have gone in Russia’s favour. But the disadvantages of open debate about the merits and demerits of Putin’s Russia, and his own self-image as the man of military prowess, led Putin to take the more violent course.
The vote yesterday in the Security Council should give every Putinista pause. Not even China voted with Russia. The Africans and South Americans voted solidly against. That is not because they are prisoners or puppets of the United States – they are not. Neither did they take the easy road of abstention. The truth is that what Putin is doing in Crimea is outrageous.
What happens now is going to be interesting. I greatly fear that Putin is looking to stir up as much disorder in Ukraine’s Eastern provinces as possible, perhaps with the aim of promoting civil war in which Russia can covertly intervene, rather than open invasion, but I do not put the latter past him. Against that, I am quite sure Russia did not expect the extreme diplomatic isolation, in fact humiliation, it suffered at the UN yesterday. I am hopeful Russia may step back from the brink.
The EU I expect to do nothing. Sanctions will target a few individuals who are not too close to Putin and don’t keep too many of their interests in the West. I don’t think Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovic need lose too much sleep, that Harrods need worry or that we will see any flats seized at One Hyde Park. (It is among my dearest wishes one day to see One Hyde Park given out for council housing.) Neither do I expect to see the United States do anything effective; its levers are limited. I doubt we have seen the last of Mr Putin’s adventurism.
Human society is not perfectible, which does not mean we should not try. I believe western democracy, particularly in its social democratic European manifestation from approximately 1945 to 2000, achieved a high level of happiness for its ordinary people and an encouraging level of equality. For approximately 20 years unfortunately we have witnessed a capitalism more raw and unabated than ever before, and massively growing levels of wealth inequality, a reduction in state provision for the needy, a distortion of state activity further to line the pockets of the rich, ever increasing corruption among the elite and growing levels of social immobility and exclusion, a narrowing of the options presented by major political parties until there is not a cigarette paper between them and their neo-conservative agendas, and a related narrowing by the mainstream media of the accepted bounds of public debate, with orchestrated ridicule of opinions outside those bounds. Democracy, as a system offering real choice to informed electors, has ceased to function in the West leading to enormous political alienation. On the international scene the West has retreated from the concept of international law and, heady with the temporary unipolar US military dominance, adopted aggressive might is right polices and a return of the practices of both formal and informal imperialism.
But every single one of those things is true of Putin’s Russia, and in fact it is much worse. Wealth inequality is even more extreme. Toleration of dissent and of different lifestyles even less evident, the space for debate even more constricted, the contempt for international law still more pronounced. Putin’s own desire for imperialist sphere of influence politics leads him into conflict with aggressive designs of the west, as for example in Syria and Iran. The consequence can be an accidental good, in that Putin has thwarted western military plans. But that is not in any sense from a desire for public good, and if Putin can himself get away with military force he does. His conflicts of interest with the west have deluded a surprising number of people here into believing that Putin in some ways represents an ideological alternative. He does not. He represents a capitalism still more raw, an oligarchy still more corrupt, a wealth gap still greater and growing still quicker, a debate still more circumscribed. It speaks to the extreme political failure of the western political system, and the degree of the alienation of which I spoke, that so many strive to see something beautiful in the ugly features of Putinism.
In a world in which our Queen and Prime Minister toady Arab despots, and Uzbek gangster and convicted blackmailer Alisher Usmanov is the UK’s richest man, where is the modern Thackeray or Trollope to chronicle the moral vacuum of high society?
It is no consolation to the three British men tortured in Dubai, that their treatment at least temporarily lifted the conspiracy of media silence on the evils of the Gulf regimes. Not to the extent of provoking in-depth reporting of the running atrocity that is Bahrain, or even a single mention in the mainstream of the torture imprisonment and secret trials of 94 entirely respectable pro-democracy activists in Qatar.
Where money talks, the politicians and the mainstream media do not.