On the subject of oligarchy and the treasure storehouses which oligarchs build for themselves, Alexei Navalny reveals that he’s following a U.S. and NATO script: this takes no account of how President Vladimir Putin rules Russia, or the choice most Russians believe is the preferred alternative to Putin–that’s rule by a combination of officers and civilians acceptable to the military. In the past, the name for that was the Stavka.
Most Russians believe the Army abhors the oligarchs and will eliminate them, along with their corruption, unless Putin can be persuaded to do so himself. For more than twenty years now he has been reluctant; but there is still time. In this effort Navalny’s films are a useful tool–a Russian one, but not one contrived with the assistance and operated for the benefit of Navalny’s foreign supporters.
The details of the Gelendzhik palace in the film Navalny released on January 19 are not new. They have been investigated and widely published by Russian reporters since 2010. In that time they have had no impact on the understanding Russians have of Putin, or his public approval rating.
The Russian evidence is that a group of Russian businessmen conceived of the project as an attempt to curry favour with the president. There is no evidence in Navalny’s film, nor in the Russian reporting which has preceded him, that Putin accepted it. As Sergei Markov commented on Ekho Moskvy radio:
Now Navalny says this again, but does not mention that there is no evidence of Putin’s presence there. Because the impudence of lying has increased many times in ten years… But there is no smoke without fire. What is the reality? This palace [comes from] a group of rich people who are also personally well acquainted with Putin, and [who] decided around 2005 to build a house for him when he resigns from the post of president. But Putin refused to accept such a gift from them.
This leaves the indisputable fact that the culture of bribery continues to flourish in Russia, and that Putin has failed to deter, diminish, or liquidate it. This isn’t news–all Russians believe it. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has been preaching to the converted. The converted, however, will not support Navalny to replace Putin, as Navalny himself and his western supporters insist. To Russian minds, Navalny is a foreign successor for Putin’s oligarchy, not a Russian replacement, nor an end to the system introduced by Boris Yeltsin with U.S. endorsement.Russians have had several hundred years to recognize a false Dmitry when they see one. There were four in the 17th century, financed and armed by Warsaw; one in the 1990s, sponsored by Washington; Navalny is False Dmitry VI of the Black Forest.
Linguistic analysis of Navalny’s video on the Gelendzhik palace indicates the English subtitles were written first, and then translated for Navalny to speak in Russian. The English is American, not British; and certainly not the English of the German and American operatives who provided the video production technology, editing, and special effects at the Black Forest Studios in Kirchzarten, Germany. According to a German press report from Kirchzarten,
the studio bosses remember that at the beginning of December, a request by email came from a production company in Los Angeles. There was talk of a documentary… In terms of content, the Black Forest Studios have nothing to do with the film, the studio owners emphasize. They only provided the technology and the location and organized the shooting.
Navalny’s Russian represents a garble of English phrasing, with stylistic mistakes plain to native ears. “He is trying to speak with logic,” according to one Russian linguistic analyst, “but he uses a lot of phrasal constructions of non-colloquial structure common to bureaucracies and corporations.” According to another linguistic analysis by Pavel Danilin, director of the Centre for Political Analysis in Moscow,
This is an analysis of vocabulary, syntax, and style of expression. It’s also for adults, not for the young who have learned their Russian from the school textbooks which Putin’s Education Ministry has commissioned from the Rotenberg brothers’ monopoly.
let’s recognise that in Russian this combination of words is unwelcome. Unless you are a schoolboy translating the text… Navalny received his text from English-speaking comrades, the original text was in English.
How is it possible for a 44-year old native Russian-speaker with two Moscow university degrees and years of experience in Russian public speaking to make such clumsy mistakes? How is it possible for this figure to fabricate the stories of his poisonings so often that he can’t remember the last fabrication he told, or the contradictions between them he expects his audience to ignore? The answer is that he is a presenter with a script composed by others.
It seemed so when I first interviewed Navalny at his Moscow office in 2008. At the time he had bought a small number of shares in the state oil and gas companies Rosneft, Gazpromneft, Surgutneftegas, and Gazprom, and was taking his minority shareholder rights to local courts to require the companies to open their financial records. One of the objectives was to determine whether there was transfer pricing in the export sales the companies operated with Gennady Timchenko’s Gunvor trading company. Navalny’s office was light, airy, filled with desks and brand-new equipment. But there was no one there except Navalny.
It was plain Navalny was fronting for others. But his campaign for transparency and accountability in Russia’s most important line of business was running in parallel with my reporting. The veracity of the message was what counted, not the character of the messenger, or the calculation of the messenger’s paymaster. It was therefore Navalny’s message I quoted directly.
A decade later in 2018, when Navalny published his evidence of the link between the aluminium oligarch Oleg Deripaska and the Kremlin official Sergei Prikhodko, our effort at investigating the truth was still running in parallel, and I reported accordingly. Navalny’s film drew almost 5 million views; Deripaska’s Instagram reply, 2,685. Prikhodko remains in power as First Deputy Head of the Government (prime ministry); Deripaska too.A year ago in March 2020, when Navalny published his investigation of the abuse of state money in the operation of the RT media organisation, he was late by more than a decade. When I reported on Margarita Simonyan’s management of RT in March of 2009, the Hong Kong-based publication which first printed the story was sued by Simonyan. Her terms required an apology; a scripted interview with her; the removal of my story and the sack for me.
Since last August Navalny’s Novichok story is evidence that the truth of his anti-corruption research has been replaced by lies in the service of an attempt to seize presidential power. He is still fronting for his paymasters, but now his lies are aimed with an entirely different purpose. For the archive of these lies, click to read.
Navalny’s idea is that Putin is the single mastermind of Russian rule and that he dictates to the oligarchs the tribute they should pay–in treasure for him to accumulate and display for himself, his friends and girlfriends in private. This is an Anglo-American cartoon about how oligarchy works everywhere, including the UK and the U.S.–in Russia in particular.
Exactly how the Russian oligarchy operates, steals, and rules has been the focus of the investigations of Dances with Bears for thirty years now. These investigations reveal little evidence that Putin has been the mastermind. The conclusion to these stories is that what Putin might have done, or ought to have done, or publicly promised, he didn’t do. The weakness of his character, not the strength of his mind or hand, explains how he rules.
However, the war imposed on Russia since 2014–that’s the fighting fronts of the Donbass and Syria; the worldwide economic sanctions; the cyber and information war–has also overtaken the thieves whom the U.S. Treasury calls Putin’s cronies. They are being replaced with men more necessary to Russia’s governance and Putin’s survival, starting with the military. The more the spiderweb cartoon has directed U.S. and NATO targeting of the civilian oligarchs, the more potently Putin has been obliged to embrace, and to follow, the General Staff and Defence Ministry.
The value of the hundreds of case studies reported on this website and in the accompanying books is that they allow a systematic record of how Putin rules, case by case. What is revealed is that the closer you look for Putin in each story, the less you can see of him. This is a provable truth more telling than the warfighters and regime-changers in Washington, London, and Brussels will acknowledge. Disagree with this, you may, but for your interpretation you have no alternative but to start at the case studies.
This is the big mistake of Navalny’s palace video. Putin isn’t to be seen there–and without him the film reveals no more than most Russians already know about the stealing of state money by the oligarchs. But Navalny’s ambition to replace Putin himself as president requires this fabrication. It’s a mistake which exposes Navalny more thoroughly than he imagines he is exposing Putin.
It’s also a discovery about how governments operate–democratic ones and every other kind, including the Russian kind–that has been well-known to everybody since time immemorial; and to university professors since 1911. That was the year when Robert Michels, a German-born sociologist working in Italy and France, published the first edition of what he called the “iron law of oligarchy”.“Democracy leads to oligarchy,” Michels wrote,
and necessarily contains an oligarchical nucleus… It is indisputable that the oligarchical and bureaucratic tendency of party organization is a matter of technical and practical necessity. It is the inevitable product of the very principle of organization… The formation of oligarchies within the various forms of democracy is the outcome of organic necessity, and consequently affects every organization.
For his evidence, Michels focused on the politics of the democratic and socialist parties in Europe, including the British; and on the administrative bureaucracies of those states. He ignored commercial corporations except for those in the U.S.; there he observed “the existence of an aristocracy of millionaires, railway kings, oil kings, cattle kings, etc., is now indisputable.” For Michels, aristocracy was synonymous with oligarchy.
He mentioned Russia, still tsarist in 1911, in passing references to the 19th century Russian revolutionary writers, stopping at Mikhail Bakunin (dead in 1876). Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and other Bolsheviks were ignored; the only communists Michels recognised were German of Karl Marx vintage. To all of them today, the contemporary opposition and the ruling Russian ideologies, including Putin’s, are implacably hostile. However different they are from each other, they share the idea of oligarchy as a target.
Sociologically certain as this idea is, it is better understood by Russians today than by Americans or British, French or Germans. This is a paradox Michels explained as his iron law–oligarchy is everywhere, and must be opposed by democrats everywhere.
In war, the transformation into oligarchy is even more rapid than usual. Speaking of the world war which was under way in 1915, when Michels added to the book’s English edition, he observed: “Speaking generally, it may be said that the war has further accentuated the oligarchical character of party leadership.” Today in Russia the war is also changing the character and membership of the oligarchy of which Putin is a part, and which dictates to Putin his public script. The American and NATO war is militarising the Russian oligarchy.
The war is also closing the records of Russia’s corporations, the commercial shareholding ones as well as the state enterprises, to a degree not seen in Moscow for the past fifty years. Never again can there be a foreign court case like the decade-long long lawsuit in London’s High Court over corruption inside the state shipping company Sovcomflot; nor an open debate by Russian historians of evidence subject to standards of proof like those of Justice Elizabeth Gloster’s in the trial between Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, also in London.
U.S. sanctions have struck at the businesses of Putin’s cronies ineffectually. But by compelling them and every other Russian business to conceal and camouflage their operations and assets, the sanctions campaign is destroying the openness of Russia’s capital markets and the freedom of the Russian press to investigate them and report. The free press of Russia which existed in 2014 is now regimented by information warfare; this hobbles investigative journalism like mine as an aid to the enemy. To be clear, this Russian press is not half so regimented and unfree as the press of the Anglo-American world.
More than a century ago, Michels understood exactly. He warned against the press
utilised by the leaders in order to make attacks (more or less masked) upon their adversaries; or to launch grave accusations against persons of note in the world of politics or finance. These attacks may or may not be established upon a sufficient foundation of proof, but at any rate they serve to raise a dust storm.
The London, New York, Berlin and Paris media and their journalists do nothing but raise dust. Bull dust.
In the history told every week by Dances with Bears, where is Putin and what does he decide? The answer is that for the most part he avoids deciding by delegating to others; changes his mind; takes one decision only to revise it; vacillates; equivocates; temporises. The reason for this is the iron law of the Putin period–he is the creature and the mouthpiece of the Russian oligarchy. Such a form of rule, and ruler, must continue to succeed itself until Russians decide otherwise.
They will. Navalny won’t.
Note: in the original of the lead illustration, published in February of 2019, Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin advisor at the time, was rolling out for public display the regime structure for the future in which Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, and Sergei Shoigu, Defence Minister, join Igor Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, in giving Putin his marching orders. For elaboration, read this. A year later, on February 18, 2020, Surkov was removed by a Kremlin decree.