Reform in Reverse in Saudi Arabia

26-05-2018 | 14:41

Since rising to power as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman has cultivated a reputation as a savvy young reformer, dragging his hidebound country into the modern age with a new vision.

Cartoon MBS

Much of his focus has been on economic change, but the prince, a 32-year-old son of the Saudi king, has also promised more enlightened social policies, including for women, and drawn praise for this in the West.

In just a few weeks, on June 24, Saudi Arabia is set to lift the longstanding ban on women drivers, putting into effect the most visible social reform that Prince Mohammed has championed.

All to the good, right? Not so fast. Over the past two weeks, the prince reversed course, unleashing and then expanding a crackdown on the very activists who had promoted the right of women to drive.

The government rounded up an initial group of activists and then after an international uproar, redoubled its efforts. At least 11 people, mostly women but also a few men, have now been arrested and interrogated without access to lawyers. One woman was said to have been held incommunicado.

Saudi prosecutors have not disclosed the names of those arrested or the charges filed against them. But news reports said the list includes one of Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile feminists, Loujain al-Hathloul, who was previously detained for more than 70 days in 2014 for trying to post an online video of herself driving into the kingdom from the United Arab Emirates.

Late Thursday, Amnesty International reported that Saudi authorities had released four of those arrested, but Ms. Al-Hathloul apparently was not among them.

Saudi analysts say the reversal is a reflection of Saudi politics and the prince’s desire to portray the lifting of the driving ban as a gift of the monarchy to Saudi women rather than a concession to international or domestic pressure.

But the crackdown also raises doubts about the prince’s commitment to women’s equality and freedom of movement. Pro-government media outlets publicized photos of the detained activists and accused them of being traitors, a shocking attack on a group whose only apparent offense was peaceful protest. They should be released immediately.

The episode also calls into question Prince Mohammed’s ability to deliver on his promises to bring fundamental change to a patriarchal society where men exert legal control over women.

The clerical hierarchy that administers Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative version of Islam, known as Wahhabism, oppose allowing women to drive and other proposals to soften Saudi culture and religion that are part of Prince Mohammed’s plans.

If Prince Mohammed cannot take the heat for lifting the driving ban, one can only imagine how much harder it will be for him to deliver on tougher promises. Chief among them is getting rid of the guardianship law, which says that every woman must have a male guardian – husband, father, brother, even a son – who can make critical decisions on her behalf including applying for a passport, traveling outside the country, studying abroad on a government scholarship and getting married.

This is not the first time Prince Mohammed has undermined the reformist credentials on which he is trying to build a new image of his country. Last year, he oversaw the arrest of dozens of writers, intellectuals and moderate clerics who were seen as critics of his foreign policies.

Prince Mohammed also engineered the detention of about 200 wealthy princes and businessmen, forcing them to surrender significant amounts of their wealth, in exchange for their freedom in a questionable anti-corruption campaign.

By raising doubts about the kingdom’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, such behavior is unlikely to be attractive to the foreign companies the prince is wooing to invest in his country.

Then there’s this: Studies show that economies that exclude half the population, which is to say women, can’t reach their full potential. It will be impossible for Prince Mohammed to legitimately claim the reformist mantle and achieve his economic goals as long as women are prevented from taking their full and rightful place in Saudi Arabia’s future.

Source: NYT, Edited by website team

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Sayyed Nasrallah Urges Massive Voting: Resistance Needs Political Fortification, Strong Representation within the State

08-04-2018 | 21:29

Hezbollah Secretary General His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah stressed the importance of “working to make the entire electoral lists of Hope and Loyalty succeed,” announcing that the day of May 6, as all other days of resistance, is a day of the resistance leaders, every martyr, wounded, detainee and resistance fighter.
 
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Sayyed Nasrallah made his remarks in a televised speech he delivered from the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh where Hezbollah held the first electoral festival entitled “Loyalty to Victory.”

The Secretary General touched in his speech upon several important local issues, but first he commenced his words hailing and greeting the resistance and endurance of both the Palestinian and Yemeni people in their struggle against the occupation and aggression against them.

In this respect, His Eminence said:
“I greet the resistant, enduring people of Gaza who have crawled to the strip’s borders and expressed their brave and commando presence in the face of the occupation.”

Meanwhile, Sayyed Nasrallah greeted the Yemeni people’s endurance in the face of the aggression despite the crimes and starvation.

The “Hope and Loyalty” Electoral List

As he thanked the crowds for taking part in the event, the resistance leader made clear that this festival is a show of support for the electoral List of Hope and Loyalty, adding that hope is a part of our belief, culture and education, “we want to boost it in every occasion, event and battle,” the Sayyed said.

Explaining further the significances of the name of the list, Sayyed Nasrallah emphasized in his speech that
“loyalty is to all those who sacrificed with their leader Imam Sayyed Musa Sadr and his companions, loyalty is to Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Sayyed Abbas al-Moussawi and Haj Imad Mughnieh.”

Additionally, Sayyed Nasrallah made clear that loyalty is to our sacrificing, enduring and faithful people and all martyrs who were raised defending this country.

Hence, the Sayyed noted:
“When we vote, and through the elections’ results, we show our support of this hope and this loyalty.”

In the same context, Sayyed Nasrallah explained the importance of the Parliament as a place where laws are being cooked, mentioning that Hezbollah’s MPs will always work for making the laws that save the country and will fight every plan to increase the public debt for personal purposes and to solve individual financial issues.
“The importance of the Praliament in Lebanon is that it is the mother of all institutions in the government and that it has big and very important powers. The Parliament is the only institution that is authorized to amend the Constitution without a popular referendum,” the Sayyed said.

Consequently, Sayyed Nasrallah urged all the resistance people to take part in the voting process:
“We have to vote because not voting means abandoning responsibility and leaving the people’s rights, future and dignity.”

“Israeli”, Others’ Conspiracies Non-Stopping

On the Zionist issue, Hezbollah leader stressed that the enemy is still eying our resources and taking advantage of the plots being made against the resistance, on both the local and international levels.

“Since 2000, the Americans and the “Israelis” recognized that there is a power named “Resistance” that entered the hearts of the Lebanese people, made a victory and kicked the “Israeli” out of Lebanon,” Sayyed Nasrallah said.

For this reason, conspiracies against the resistance started on the
 eve of the May 25, 2000 liberation:
“Zionists left Lahd’s spies because they miscalculated that when the resistance enters the area with the enemy’s defeat it will commit massacres,” however, the Sayyed noted that “Southerners and all those who were resisting in all regions proved their awareness and recognition of the enemy’s conspiracies.”
Image result for Georges Nader
Relatively, Sayyed Nasrallah uncovered that “After the September 11 attacks, American journalist Georges Nader was delegated by Dick Cheney and informed me that the US is ready for anything in exchange of stopping resistance against “Israel” and working with them.”

“After the 2005 events in Lebanon, all what a party may wish was offered to us.”

Desired Clashes between the Army and Resistance

As the Hezbollah leader stressed that one of the main reasons to target Syria is to hinder all resistance movements in the region, the Sayyed unveiled that:
“The most dangerous of all what was being plotted against the resistance is internal clashes through a fight between the army and the resistance.”

It was also dangerous that during the July 2006 war, some sides worked to orient the army towards a fight with the resistance, and the PM at the time ordered the Lebanese army to stop any truck carrying weapons for the resistance, Sayyed Nasrallah explained.

Such issues, however, were solved between the army and the resistance.

In the same respect, a US study was conducted in 2005 to explore the psychological and sectarian readiness of the Lebanese army officers and soldiers to fight the resistance, and they found out that the Lebanese army rejects that, Sayyed Nasrallah said.

“After that, the US started targeting the resistance land communication network, and the Lebanese government obeyed in which the decision to stop the resistance telecommunication network was implemented.”

Guarantors are the people, being inside the government

While Sayyed Nasrallah pointed to the fact that the guarantee in the July war was President Emile Lahoud and Minister Yaacoub al-Sarraf, he made clear that the biggest and strongest guarantee was Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

But meanwhile, what guarantees the lack of conspiracies against the resistance is being inside the governmental body, Sayyed Nasrallah said.
“Also the Lebanese army, its officers and soldiers and their patriotic belief is one of the guarantees.”

Zionist Issues are not Over

With all the internal problems engulfing the country, the resistance leader always points to the issue of the Shebaa Frams and Kfarshouba Hills as saying that “it isn’t over yet, and the “Israeli” won’t return them through negotiations.”

“There is also the issue of oil which all of the Lebanese are still waiting and the “Israelis” won’t leave it safely.”

As he stressed that there are always plots being made by the Zionists against Lebanon and the Lebanese people, Sayyed Nasrallah noted the importance of “the golden equation of the army, the people and the resistance, and we must strengthen the army beside the people and the resistance to stabilize this national equation.”

Unity Helps Us Fight Financial Issues

“The strongest guarantee is our unity, the Lebanese people’s unity,” Sayyed Nasrallah said.

On the financial issue, if we continued with the same pace then we are heading to a catastrophe because the public debt is near $80 billion. The debt will increase with the new loans and in a few years it will reach $100 billion.

“We are in front of an exceptional financial state that requires having MPs and a government that doesn’t accept debts by somebody who wants to solve personal problems.”

Don’t Deceive the Lebanese people by saying that those debts will change the situation in Lebanon, Sayyed Nasrallah warned.

For this, we have to elect MPs that have serious stances to prevent the passage of any bill for any person or any financially-ill side that needs money, the Sayyed advised the people.

“We need MPs who are serious in their commitments to the Lebanese people to prevent any new taxes on the poor. We are facing new taxes against the poor and limited-income people, we might be obliged to take to the street because the social situation doesn’t tolerate any more taxes.”

Making clear that staying in the government will serve the people, mainly the poor people’s interests, the resistance leader noted that the coming elections depend on the people’s awareness, will and strong presence and that the blessed people of resistance don’t accept bribes, and they don’t sell their votes because resistance is their choices, culture and belief.

Warning that the enemies would make anything to prevent people from casting their votes on May 6, Sayyed Nasrallah stressed that our people’s response must be to vote to the Hope and Loyalty, and that “We have to work for the success of the entire lists of Hope and Loyalty.”

“On May 6 we will see your crowds and loyalty as you have always been meeting the level of challenges,” Sayyed Nasrallah ended his speech to the people of resistance.

Source: Al-Ahed

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RUSSIA’S LONG ROAD TOWARD RESURGENCE

17.03.2018 

Russia in the 90’s

The modern day Russian Federation emerged after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Not only did this change the fate and the standard of life for millions of Soviet people but it also changed the trajectory of development for all mankind. In the first few years of the newly created Russia, the “team of democrats”, with active support from Western countries began its shock economic reforms.

The declared goal of these reforms was to liberalize the Russian [centrally-planned] economy by transitioning it to a market economy. Meanwhile, many believes that the real goal was the seizure of former Soviet property by the “new power holders” and the dismantling of the Soviet industrial economy.

When USSR collapsed, a relatively small group of individuals acquired ownership of tens of trillions of dollars [through a rapid onset of privatization]. Losses suffered by the Soviet production complex as a result of its planned destruction were much higher.

Modern factories were dismantled and exported to scrap metal, machines and equipment were sold for a symbolic 3-5% of their real value, inventory was stolen and all of this was carried out under direct orders or control of the new ruling elite. The territories of the former USSR faced economic and social chaos. The World Bank estimates that only 1.5% of Russia’s population lived in poverty in 1988, but by the mid-1993 that number rose to 39% to 49%. In many regions, people came close to starvation. Wages were paid through goods not money. The resulting hyperinflation reached its peak in the fall of 1992, when retail prices for food and cigarettes increased daily, sometimes multiple times a day.

The main anti-inflationary measure was a further reduction of the monetary supply. This came at the cost of unpaid wages and pensions, unfulfilled government and private contracts. A significant number of enterprises started bartering services.

It is important to note that the goals and methods of economic policies employed by the authorities in the 1990s were formed strictly on the basis of instructions of international financial organizations, primarily the IMF.

Crime flourished. Banditry and racketeering were firmly embedded into everyday life of Russia in the 90’s. Criminal behavior became fashionable.  Law enforcement agencies were not able to deal with these new phenomena in any effective way. Various sects and criminal activity spread rapidly.

Another phenomenon that received direct support from external sources was aggressive separatism and nationalist extremism. By 1992, a bandit formation was formed on the territory of one of Russian regions, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The actions of the federal center, before the First Chechen campaign in December 1994, demonstrate that this formation likely appeared with the consent and support from the new “liberal team” that established itself in Moscow.

The presence this black hole and territorial anarchy allowed for massive collusions and schemes throughout Russia. It gave rise to abductions and human trafficking, large-scale theft of petroleum products, drug trafficking, arms trade and much more.

Thus, in 1993-1994, more than 700 trains were attacked on the Grozny branch of the North Caucasian Railway with the total or partial looting of about 6,000 wagons and containers worth more than 22.5 billion rubles. Production of false remittance advices was an emerging new craft, which earned more than 4 trillion rubles. During this period of 1992-1994, about 1800 people were kidnapped and illegally detained in order to obtain ransom in Chechnya. Until 1994, Russian oil continued to flow to Chechnya, while it was not paid for and resold abroad. At the same time, the federal center continued to transfer money to Chechnya from its budget. In 1993, 11.5 billion rubles were allocated to Chechnya.

The change in the trajectory of Russia’s development

In mid and second half of the 1990s, negative events in Russia continued to develop in virtually all sectors of everyday life.

Significant percentage if not most of senior officials were incompetent or corrupt. IMF and the so called “macroeconomic policy and reform advisors” continued a very precise external destructive influence. Moscow was flooded with various “financiers and businessmen” from the United States, Israel and countries of Western Europe with questionable enterprises. The state debt kept growing, production was falling, imbalance in trade increased, monetization of the economy sharply reduced, and a financial pyramid of state treasury obligations emerged.

Background: At the beginning of the reforms in 1991, the monetary supply was 66.4% of GDP, which was consistent with global practice. As of June 1, 1998, the money supply was only 13.7% of GDP for 1997.

All of this lead to the most difficult time for Russia, the “Crisis of 1998”. The situation was further aggravated by the fall of raw material prices in the world and the economic crisis that occurred a year earlier in South-East Asia.

Oil prices (BRENT) fell almost 2-fold, from about 24 dollars per barrel in early 1997 to about 10.5 dollars per barrel by November-December 1998. By the way, it was the IMF who was accused at that time by the national governments in provoking the Asian crisis and the consequences for the global economy.

As a result, in August 1998, the situation in Russian economy became critical. The IMF and the World Bank refused to fulfill their earlier obligations and refused to extend any more loans. On August 17, 1998 the government declared a technical default. At the same time, it was announced that the ruble will not be stabilized against the dollar, the ruble immediately depreciated by a factor of 3.

In September 1998 there was a change of government. Primakov becomes the new Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Primakov was a former diplomat and intelligence officer who negatively treated those whom he called “pseudo-liberals” and “persons dependent on certain banking structures.” Maslyukov, a former experienced Soviet executive manager, becomes the first deputy chairman. This new government takes extraordinary measures: economic policy changes, reduction of tariffs, value-added tax on food is reduced, and the default is overcome.

Background: By the time Primakov assumed government, the debt of enterprises and organizations to the budget was 50 billion rubles, and the budget debt to enterprises amounted to 150 billion rubles. Debts also accumulated between the enterprises themselves. Federal authorities demanded cash-only payments. Direct clearing settlements were banned in accordance with the recommendations of the IMF i.e. For one side to repay its debt to another, it had to use cash, as did the other side. However, recall that by this time the Russian economy was deliberately demonetized. The volume of monetary supply was reduced by 4-5 times below the average level of other governments of the world. This meant that there was no money and repayment of debt was practically impossible. This promoted a furtherance of debt with respect to wages, pensions, and taxes, lack of capital and other negative phenomena. All of this was done under direct control and through recommendations of the IMF and international advisers. Primakov’s government, contrary to recommendations of the IMF and prior practice, initiated mutual settlements between government and enterprises. At the outset, it allowed to liberate 50 billion rubles.

Almost everything was done in direct contrast to the recommendations of the IMF. It is here, in this moment, that the history of Russia took a turn. The country persevered. Major structural changes in economics took place, there was a rise in economic efficiency of export, and industry began to show signs of recovery. The crisis turned out to be difficult, but short-lived. It is interesting that under Yevgeny Primakov, the thesis about the need to defend the national interests of Russia, became a constant theme in the speeches of both the minster and his subordinates.

It was in the spring and summer of 1998 that the young politician Vladimir Putin’s influence in Kremlin sharply increased. On May 25, 1998 he was appointed first deputy head of the presidential administration of the Russian Federation, responsible for working with the regions. After 2 months, on July 25, 1998, he became director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.

The 1998 crisis was the signal and the first wakeup call for the new Russian elites, whose interests were directly tied with the territory and potential of the Russian Federation as a state i.e. those who controlled mineral resources, the military-industrial complex, metallurgy and industry. For these elites, preservation of their newly acquired capital and effective influence was only possible in conditions of the preservation and development of the state as a system-forming factor.

Accordingly, they began a search for a “new leader”, one capable of changing the current situation and ensuring national interests of the state and this part of the elite. At the same time, the new leader had to emerge in Kremlin not as a revolutionary, but through a soft transfer of power with subsequent democratic legitimization. Accordingly, they were choosing the best candidate from those who surrounded president Yeltsin at that moment. Yeltsin’s deteriorating health contributed to this “soft” scenario but the president’s associates, the so called “family” opposed it.

Background: The “family” are relatives and the closest associate of President Yeltsin who controlled all of Yeltsin’s direct contacts with other statesmen and elites. Famous representatives of the family were: Yeltsin’s daughter, Berezovsky, Diatchenko, Voloshin, Korzhakov and others. Many members of the so-called “family” were connected with international financial capital.

The other part of the Russian elite that formed in the 90’s, was comprised, for the most part, of those who acquired speculative financial capital, having established strong ties with the “international financial community”.

They began to act as agents for international interests on the territory of the former USSR and perceived themselves as part of the world oligarchy. These elites sought to maintain the status quo in Russia through control and influence on Yeltsin’s family and his closest associates. They also understood that Yeltsin’s health was a matter of serious concern and actively engaged in the analysis of candidates for possible successors. For them, the main task that Yeltsin’s successor was supposed to provide – was their personal immunity and carte blanche for further operations on the territory of Russia.

There was a conflict between these two competing interests. At the same time, President Yeltsin, despite, to put it mildly, his ambiguous role in the history of Russia, was well aware of the threats and challenges, facing the government as well as the destructive role of a number of individuals in his environment.

Exactly one year after the 1998 crisis, the Second Chechen War began. On August 7, 1999, a large detachment of militants, supported by Al Qaida, invaded Dagestan (a constituent entity of the Russian Federation).  Two days later, on August 9, 1999 Vladimir Putin was appointed as an acting Prime Minister and lead the operation against the militants. In September, 1999 about 8,000 militants operated in Dagestan. However, as early as September 15, 1999 the entire territory of Dagestan was liberated from militants, and on September 30, 1999 federal troops were stationed on the territory of Chechnya. The second Chechen campaign begins.

By the new year of 2000, significant successes of the federal troops and local forces that supported Moscow were already evident. These successes were not only military but also political.

On December 31, 1999 Yeltsin announces his early resignation and the appointment of the young and popular prime minister Putin to the post of Acting President.

Against the backdrop of the chaos of the 1990s, the restoration of the territorial integrity of the state and the economic recovery that begins, bring Putin an unconditional victory in the March 2000 elections. He becomes the second president of Russia. In April 2000, the active phase of the campaign in Chechnya comes to an end.

It seems that Putin was perceived by Yeltsin not only as an energetic politician of a conditionally “patriotic bloc”, but also as a compromise figure for elite groups. At the same time, apparently, Yeltsin was confident that Putin would at least keep his promise to ensure personal immunity to Yeltsin and his family.

The Putin Era: Forming New Russia

Immediately after assuming office, the new president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin faced many critical challenges, both to the Russian state and to himself personally, as an individual who sought to strengthen the “power vertical” and approach the problem of national development in a more systematic way.

Those with financial power sought to maintain their influence on the political decision-making processes. A significant part of the Russian oligarchy was conducive to the conditions of the 1990: a weak centralized authority, high level of corruption among official, legislative and judicial practices that ensured their personal interests.

At the same time, the Russian Federation had an enormous foreign debt. As of January 1, 2000, the external public debt of the Russian Federation was $158 billion, with the annual GDP (in current USD) of only $259 billion. Federal budget revenue in 2000 was 1,132 billion rubles, or only $40.48 billion USD.

The national tax system, while having nominally high tax rates, allowed big business to evade the tax burden through the use of offshores, legal loopholes, and a shadow economy. During this period there was no tax on extraction of natural resources by mining firms.

Excise taxes were set at a level of .7 to 2 dollars per ton of oil, depending on the enterprise, which was less than 1% of the market value of oil in the world at the time. Other mineral extraction fees were set even lower. The relatively high, income tax rate of 35% was easily bypassed by using a variety of schemes. For example, firms entered into contracts with their own subsidiaries registered in tax havens, and then sold oil at market prices using offshores, where all the profits were stored.

At the same time, the general level of taxation was overestimated. This was the reason for massive tax evasion by many companies.

That is why Vladimir Putin undertook to reform the tax system soon after his election as president in 2000. Overall, the tax reforms of 2000-2004 were successful. One of the most important events for Russia’s economy and its subsequent growth was the introduction of a mineral extraction tax (MET) on January 1, 2002.

Background: The tax rate for crude oil was set in absolute terms (in rubles per ton of extracted oil) and was applied using two coefficients calculated according to certain formulas. The first of these coefficients characterized the level of internasal world oil prices.  The second, introduced in 2007, characterized the degree of depletion of a specific oil deposit.

The introduction of MET and a highly progressive oil export tariff scale in 2002-2004 dramatically increased the fiscal efficiency of the tax system and led to a radical redistribution of revenues generated by the oil sector in favor of the state.

As the calculations on the total tax burden on the oil sector show, the share of taxes in the gross income of the oil sector increased from 28.1% in 2000 to 63.1% in 2008.

As a result of the reforms, by 2004 federal budget revenues increased 2.4 times compared to 2000, and by 2007 more than 6 times. Russia’s foreign debt, in contrast, fell to $121.7 billion by 2004, and by 2007 to $52 billion.

Background: In August 2006, Russia managed to fully pay off Soviet-era debts to the Paris Club member countries. This was preceded by several rounds of complex negotiations: not everyone wanted to lose out on income generated from interest on the loan. This meant that Russia had to pay a 1 billion euro fine. Nevertheless, these early pay offs allowed Russia to save $7.7 billion. Moreover, this allowed Russia to become a creditor instead of being a debtor state.

Putin’s actions to reform the economy, strengthen the vertical of power and the rule of law provoked active resistance from a significant part of the oligarchy, those who can be called the “supranational elites.” These oligarchs were supported by Western leaders and media. A struggle with them took place under the guise of traditional democratic and liberal slogans.

In February 2000, the first of these oligarchs, Gusinskiy, was arrested. A number of other oligarchs, as well as US president Bill Clinton and Israeli Politician Shimon Peres, immediately jumped to his defense. Gusinskiy was released from custody and hid in Spain.

In December 2000, another odious oligarch, Boris Berezovskiy emigrated to London without waiting for the results of the investigation into the “Aeroflot case”.

Background: The ‘Aeroflot case” was a criminal investigation and litigation concerning the embezzlement of funds owned by Aeroflot, and the appropriation of free foreign currency funds of the airline in the amount of 252 million dollars, by the Swiss firm Andava, the main shareholders of which were the top managers of Aeroflot and Boris Berezovsky.

Further, in the first half of 2002, a series of articles appeared in the European press incriminating the leaders of another Russian company, Yukos, of money laundering. These articles were provoked by the French tax police who discovered Swiss bank accounts through which hundreds of millions of dollars have passed. In Russia itself, YUKOS was accused of tax evasion, undervaluation of its taxable worth, and the sale of petroleum through phony intermediaries.

Against this background and in the run-up to the 2004 elections, Mr. Khodorkovsky, the main owner of the Yukos company, begins to oppose Putin, with direct support of the US and the Israeli establishment. Khodorkovskiy, with the help of former intelligence and security services officials, creates the Open Russia civic organization, attempts to seize information channels, conducts active and largely successful liberal propaganda campaigns aimed at the youth, with particular emphasis put on Russian regions, and finances opposition parties. However, Putin’s popularity is very high. He is backed by the majority of the national elites and by the “power ministries.” Everyone clearly remembers the chaos of the 1990s.

Khodorkovskiy commits strategic errors, demonstrates his lack of understanding of Russia’s society, and in the end demonstrates his inability to influence Russia’s political processes. During the March 2004 elections, Vladimir Putin scores an overwhelming victory with 71.31% of the vote.

In 2004, Russian-U.S. relations deteriorate. Earlier, in early 2003, Russia took a tough stance on US intervention in Iraq. At the end of 2004, the situation in the relationship is aggravated by the interference of the US and Western countries in the political crisis in Ukraine. In December 2004, Congressman Ron Paul stated that the US government sponsored the presidential campaign of the leader of the Ukrainian opposition.

After the statements of Ron Paul and L. Kraner, the head of the press service of the US President, Scott McClellan, officially confirmed that over the last two years the US spent about $ 65 million “on the development of democracy” in Ukraine.

Disgraced Russian oligarchs also actively participated in the financing of events in Ukraine. According to Forbes investigation, Berizovsky alone, spent more than $ 70 million to support the “orange revolution”.

With time, Russian-U.S. relation deteriorate further. On May 4, 2006, while in Vilnius, Vice-President Richard Cheney, delivered a speech that many now call “Vilnius”, following the example of Fulton’s Churchill speech. According to Cheney, the US is not satisfied with “the use of Russia’s mineral resources as a foreign policy weapon pressure, violation of human rights in Russia and the destructive actions of Russia in the international arena.” It is important to note that the turn of the US policy towards the Russian Federation took place long before the war in Libya in 2011 and the Crimean events of 2014.

Background: The US Vice President openly expressed his displeasure that many countries receive Russian mineral resources at prices well below market prices. For example, until 2005, Ukraine bought Russian gas for only $50 per thousand cubic meters. This was a price set out in the intergovernmental agreement meant to last until 2019. After the first “orange revolution” inspired by the West in Ukraine in 2005, the new Ukrainian government unilaterally broke this agreement, and started purchasing gas at market price. By 2009 the price of gas in Ukraine is $360 per thousand cubic meters. The profitability of the remaining industrial Ukrainian enterprises falls rapidly and tariffs for the population significantly increase.

Apparently, it was during this period that the American establishment and financial elites, who were interested in Russia’s natural resources, decide to pursue a strategy of uncompromising confrontation in order to change the political trajectory of Russia’s development, oust the post-soviet changes and balkanize the state. That is, they seek to complete the goal that did not work out in the late 90’s.

In August 2008, a new round of confrontation between Russia and the United States was caused by invasion of the Georgian troops into South Ossetia. Russia cleared this “unrecognized” territory, which by that point was almost fully captured by the Georgian army. Afterwards, Russia officially recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

In domestic politics, Putin’s second presidential term, from 2004 to 2008, is characterized by the continuation of reforms. In September 2005, the implementation of the “National Projects” was launched in Russia to resolve the most urgent social problems: health care, education, housing policy and agriculture. 6 billion dollars were allocated towards these programs.

Enforcement systems are also enhanced. In fact, during this period, organized crime stops being a factor that significantly influences Russian society.

At the same time, many measures were half-hearted. The level of corruption in the state apparatus remained high. The society expected radical changes that did not happen. On the one hand, the population experienced an increase in income, on the other hand, there is a growing stratification of society. It is impossible to form a new national idea and cultural strategy that the population can adopt. The new elite, including the supreme bureaucracy, grew and increased its power and influence on political decision making. The judicial system remained imperfect. Lawmaking was not effective enough and trailed behind the executive.

Same tendencies are seen during the presidential term of Dmitry Medvedev, from 2008-2012. During this period, Russia faced the problem of obsolescence of production capacities that remained from the Soviet era. Modernization of Russian economy became the main task of the new president.

It should be noted that despite numerous problems, high level of corruption and ineffectiveness of many initiatives, modernization and reindustrialization of the Russian economy has borne fruit.

The country managed to maintain its positions in traditionally strong sectors of the economy: in the military-industrial complex, mining, and science and technology sectors, even during the financial crisis of 2008 which took a hard hit at the economy.

Background: According to the World Bank, Russian crisis of 2008 “began as a crisis of the private sector, provoked by excessive borrowing in conditions of a major triple shock – terms of trade, capital outflows, and tight external borrowing.

However, by the second half of 2009, the country overcame its economic recession. In the third and fourth quarters of that year, Russia’s GDP growth, taking into account seasonality, was 1.1% and 1.9% respectively.

In 2012, during the next presidential election, Vladimir Putin wins again, gaining 63.6% of the vote. Putin and Medvedev switch roles, with the latter becoming prime minister.

Elections take place under difficult circumstances. Russia’s system of government is structured in such a way where all decision-making powers are tied to the president and his administration. Therefore, despite the fact that during Medvedev’s rule, Putin continued to remain unofficial leader, Putin, as a Prime Minister, had very few instruments of operational control compared to the president. Medvedev in turn, was a political figure that was more liberal, soft and subject to influence.  Many experts associate this personal characteristic of his with an insufficiently quick reaction during the South Ossetian conflict.

At the start of the conflict, Premier Putin was in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics and Russian troops began operations in South Ossetia only after his return to the country, that is, at least 2 days later than they could have.

In the political sphere, during Medvedev’s presidency, some liberalization is observed. Up to a point where pro-western opposition forces, which openly declared their goal of changing the country’s constitutional system, receive grants and subsidies from government sources. This could be the reason why various representatives of the opposition, supported by outside forces had decided that they had a chance to seize power. This was further facilitated by a recession in the economy, a decline in the power vertical and increasing confrontation with the U.S.

Opposition received generous support from varied pro-western foundations through the employees of the Georgian, Polish, and Baltic special services.

At the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, there are massive rallies of the opposition. Protests unite very different political movements that can be separated into two parts: Ultra right and ultra left radicals and liberals, including representatives of sexual minorities. The leaders of these protests took all possible measures and methods of “color revolutions”. Media distorted information, by multiplying the number of protestors, providing disinformation about the actions of authorities with respect to the protests, inciting hysteria and an atmosphere of fear. Western media ran fake news stories.

For instance, Fox News provided video coverage of protests in Moscow on December 7, 2011, by showing violent acts such as arson. This footage was actually taken in the Greek capital of Athens during nationwide protests in Greece.

The protests did not receive any widespread distribution or public support. Even in Moscow where the opposition sources were concentrated, the largest protests collected no more than 40 thousand people with a population of 12 million (0.3%). In other Russian cities, protests were much more modest ranging from a few hundred to 2 thousand people.

Meanwhile, public leaders of oppositions fully demonstrated their negative qualities both personally and professionally: extreme egoism, hypocrisy, cowardice, inability to consolidate or engage in mutual compromise. Segregation and discriminatory rhetoric became the norm for the leaders of the protests.

They divided the population into the “creative class” which was a small group of people that had liberal views. The rest were considered “cattle”, who were denied the ability to fully exercise their rights.

These events allowed Kremlin’s political advisers to adopt the idea that manifesting real shady faces of the Russian liberal opposition’ leaders is the best method of ensuring support for the ruling regime. The wave of protests was failing by the end of 2012.

Modern Russia

The electorate expected the new “old” president to focus on reforming the state apparatus, the process of elite formation, elimination of clans within the government, genuine battle against corruption, and economic development.

Protectionism and the merger between the new economic elite with the bureaucracy was visible at every level of society. It became a critical problem that delayed the country’s development. The courts were ineffective, many criminal cases concerning corruption, negligence, and abuse of authority never resulted in sentences, and those punishments that were meted our were remarkably mild.

In July 2012, the Krasnodar Kray in southern Russia experienced a flood that killed 172 people. The overall number of victims reached almost 35 thousand. These consequences were the result of incompetence and idleness of local and regional authorities. Planned measures to protect the territory against flood that should have been implemented in the previous decade were not implemented. No alert about the looming menace was issued.

Even more severe damage was avoided only thanks to a timely response by Russia’s EMERCOM, the participation of numerous volunteers in dealing with the flood, and the president’s personal involvement in the process. In spite of the impact on the public opinion and the evidence of negligence by officials, only a few local officials were ever convicted.

Background: Only three local officials were sentenced to imprisonment in penal colonies. According to Russian law, such colonies have no guard force, only supervision by colony administration. They enjoy free movement throughout colony territory between the wake-up and reveille, and can leave the colony without supervision if the administration permits it. The convicts could be allowed to live together with their families not only on colony territory but outside it as well. They could have money on their person, wear ordinary clothing, etc.

During that same 2012, another corruption scandal broke out. Since 2007, the country’s defense minister was a civilian official with education in economics, Anatoliy Serdyukov, who was appointed to carry out “long overdue reforms within Russia’s MOD.” Russia’s military operations during the 2008 conflict with Georgia revealed a mass of problems related to troop command systems, obsolete weapons, equipment, and communications.

However, Serdyukov teams actions, particularly those related to the so-called “optimization” of MOD’s property holdings, the closure of military academies and the destruction of the military health care system, caused growing astonishment within the majority of experts and career soldiers. On top of that, Serdyukov deliberately replaced the top leadership of the MOD, appointing civilian specialists from the private sector in the place of career soldiers.

Background: By 2011, out of 10 Deputy Defense Ministers, only two were military, including the Chief of the General Staff.

In the fall of 2012, Russian investigative agencies discovered large-scale embezzlement at the MOD and the linked Oboronservis commercial entity. Financial losses were estimated at no less than $100 million, resulting in criminal cases launched against almost 20 individuals, many of whom were close to Serdyukov.

After many inspections and a lengthy investigation that lasted for over a year, Serdyukov was also formally charged with negligence. However, in February 2014 the Main Military Investigative Directorate of the Russian Investigative Committee decided to cease investigating Serdyukov since he was covered by the amnesty issued on the 20thanniversary of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Other key individuals named in the corruption scandal received insignificant prison terms.

Background: The main defendant in the corruption scandal, the former MOD Property Department head E. Vasilyeva was sentenced to 5 years in prison, but spent only 3 months there.

Nevertheless, the corruption scandal led to far-reaching changes, at least in the MOD. The new minister became Army General Sergey Shoygu, who earlier headed the EMERCOM. Shoygu’s appointment was greeted with enthusiasm by the Russian military. The previous leadership’s military reforms were reviewed and swiftly corrected.

Background: On May 22, 2013, Defense Minister Shoygu listed Serdyukov’s greatest errors. Among them was the closure of several academies and the reduction of the number of cadets at the remaining ones which caused a shortage of military specialists in troop units and in the navy, the elimination of military medicine system, the collapse of defense orders, belated signing of contracts with defense enterprises.

It is under Shoygu’s leadership that Russia’s continued and modified military reforms continued, thanks to which the Russian military assumed a “new look” within only a few years. At the same time, it has been argued that the success of recent reforms owes a great deal to the unpopular measures undertaken during the Serdyukov era.

In foreign policy, after Putin’s return to Kremlin, the state system stabilized which lead to a deterioration of relations with the United States and their satellites in Europe. US officials publicly called Putin’s victory “a loss of democracy,” in fact considering it a threat to the next phase of the US global expansion. The characteristic features behind the American establishment became quite obvious: they wanted an unstable state, an economy that is easily controlled by the world bank capital and MNC and degrading population, in effect a colony which would be sold as a “true democratic Russia”.

In any other case, Russia was a threat to “the whole civilized world”. However, in the information space, Western propaganda found nothing better than to resume the use of and to strengthen its traditional narratives.

However, the world was already different. There was disappointment with the consequences of the “Arab Spring” and there was an increasing amount of questions about the real role of the Western elites in world conflicts. It was during this period that the audience began to lose their confidence in the mainstream media (MSM).

Background: The western media’s coverage of the 2008-armed conflict in South Ossetia became one of the turning points in discrediting the MSM. During the conflict and immediately after its termination, MSM accused Russia of aggression and unprovoked invasion of a territory belonging to a sovereign state. The facts, testimonies, and eyewitness reports were hushed or deliberately distorted. The United States and its allies also accused Russia of aggression. However, as early as 2009, an international commission responsible for investigating the circumstances of the war of 2008 in the South Caucasus region, concluded, with irrefutable evidence that the armed conflict was provoked by Georgia. The West did not, in turn, consider it necessary to condemn the Georgian aggression.

The Kremlin immediately took advantage of this, both within the country and in the global information space. In late 2012, the well-known television channel, Russia Today expanded its capacity and moved to a new building. In 2013, state financing of this channel increased many times. It is interesting to note that in the broad strata of Russian society in the period 2012-2013, the words “liberal”, “universal values”, “the entire civilized world” received negative-abusive connotations.

2012-2014 became the period that determined the course of the world in subsequent years. The conflict in the Middle East became worse and ISIS appeared. At that time, instead of actively preventing terrorists from consolidating themselves on the territory of Syria and Iraq, the US and the EU tried to use that political moment to shift the legitimate government of Syria and to secure a geopolitical foothold in the region. In practice, they actually helped to strengthen terrorist quasi-state entities in the territory of Syria and Iraq. Similarly, the West began to operate in Ukraine, where in autumn of 2013 the political crisis began.

Background: The crisis in Ukraine (2013-2014) is a political crisis caused by the decision of the Ukrainian government to suspend the process of signing the Association Agreement with the European Union. This caused massive protests in Kiev and a number of other cities in Ukraine, which were supported and coordinated by the West. These protests grew into street riots and armed clashes with the forces of law and order.

Events in Ukraine moved rapidly from organized protests to unrest. As a result of political deception that took place under the guise of Western “intermediaries” who acted as guarantors on the part of the opposition, the president of Ukraine made concessions and fulfilled the basic demands of the protesters. However, the opposition, using the withdrawal of law enforcement forces as an opportunity, seized government buildings, and an unconstitutional coup took place.

Background: Putin commented on the events of the winter of 2014: “We were approached by our American partners, they asked us to do everything, almost literally a direct request that Yanukovych avoid using the army, so that the opposition can clear the plazas and administrative buildings and move on to implement the agreements that were reached to normalize the situation”. The President noted that the Russian Federation agreed to help the US, but a day later a coup d’état was carried out in Kiev. “They should have said something. There is a term “excess of actions”, we did not want the coup to happen, but this is how the events developed. We did everything to normalize the situation. There was not one word against those who committed a coup d’etait, on the contrary, they had full support.

The West, once again, bet on the radical nationalists and the oligarchic circles, who seized power in Ukraine. A routine practice of using “unknown snipers” and creating sacred sacrifices, named by the Ukrainian media as the Heavenly Hundred, was also used. That situation caused a backlash in the south and east of the country, where a wave of protests, under federalist and pro-Russian slogans, arose against the actions of the ultra-right nationalist organizations and in defence of the status of the Russian language. The new Kiev government began to actively apply force. They sent armed nationalists to the various regions, providing them with complete freedom of actions without any consequence from law enforcement agencies.

Background: On February 20, 2014, in the Cherkassy region of Ukraine, eight buses filled with Crimeans, who participated in rallies against the coup, were attacked. The busses were stopped by groups of armed supporters of Maidan, four buses were burned, people were beaten, and sustained fractures, burns, craniocerebral injuries and were subjected to mockery. About 30 Crimean residents went missing and at least 7 were killed.

During this time, nationalists from the western regions of Ukraine began to infiltrate the territory of Crimea in order to consolidate the anti-Russian forces and provoke a civil conflict.

There were murders, abductions of dissenters, seizure of administrative buildings. With this in mind, local authorities in the Crimea changed the executive bodies of power. The new Crimean authorities refused to recognize the legitimacy of the coup and turned to Russia for support.

Background: On February 27, Russia moved to active operations in Crimea. Over the next few weeks, independence of Crimea was proclaimed, a referendum was held on its status and Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation. In the east of Ukraine, where Russia has not moved to active action, civil confrontation gradually developed to an armed conflict, and the slogans of the federalization of Ukraine have been replaced by the requirements of the independence of the regions. To suppress anti-government speeches, the Ukrainian leadership announced the beginning of a military operation in mid-April. Civil war broke out.

Events in Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimea and the civil conflict in the east of the country caused further confrontation between the West and Russia. The sanction war began. Both Russia and the West rendered direct support to opposing sides.

In fact, relations between the Russian Federation and the West began deteriorating to the state of the “cold war”. At the same time, the Kremlin does not take any active measures as it did with Crimea. It does not provide direct support to the pro-Russian population in Eastern and Southern regions on Ukraine, as it was done for residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. As a result, the new Kiev regime is given a carte blance for actions in other dissenting regions like Kharkov, Odessa and Kherson. Ultra-nationalist formations are introduced into these regions and law enforcement personnel are replaced by people from the west and centre of the country.

Political repressions and mass arrets begin. Total control over information space is established. These measures prove to be effective. Moscow loses its avenues of influence within Ukraine.

At the same time, the situation on Russia’s southern borders is growing more complex. ISIS successes in Iraq and Syria have spread radical ideas among the population of Central Asia and some southern regions of Russia. During the summer of 2015, ISIS included no fewer than 3,000 militants with Russian citizenship and another 2,500 citizens of Central Asian states. The leadership and command staff of ISIS special services and subunits consisted mainly of emigres from Northern Caucasus. Starting in 2015, having a command system and well developed propaganda outlets, ISIS intensified its recruitment on the territory of former USSR. Russian intelligence noted an upsurge of extremist activities on the country’s territory. This, and the prospect of loss of influence in Syria, the last place with Russian presence on the Mediterranean, led Russia’s leadership to provide military assistance to the government of Syria.

Background: On August 26, 2015, Russia and Syria entered into an Agreement on Stationing a Russian Armed Forces Aviation Group on Syrian Territory. Slightly later, in late September 2015, the land portion of Russia’s military operation in Syria began, which included special operations troops, artillery, combat engineers, and also an enlarged complement of instructors and advisors. According to some report, Russian military advisors were present in the ranks of SAA units operating on the most difficult sectors of the front already in the spring of 2015.

The Russian group of forces in Syria demonstrated its high effectiveness. Battlefield situation dramatically changed already in the first months.

In 2016, SAA went on the offensive on every key sector of the front. In the rear areas, Russian advisors and instructors facilitated the regrouping, rearmament, and training of Syrian forces. In late 2016, Syria’s second largest city, the strategically important Aleppo, returned under the control of government forces. By the end of 2017, government controlled the majority of Syria’s territory including Homs, Palmyra, Deir-es-Zor, and the outskirts of Aleppo. ISIS has ceased to exist as a quasi-state terrorist formation.

Since the start of operations in Syria, Russia encountered the opposition of the US and its allies, which from the start actively supported the armed opposition. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary in the Obama Administration, said that Russia aim was not fighting extremists but supporting the “Assad regime,” “while the rest of the world community…is cooperating with the US within the ranks of the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria which also fights against other extremists.” The US official’s term “world community” was an apparent reference to the 60-some countries in the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, during the previous two years, the US and the “world community” have failed to reconquer a single square meter from ISIS, not to mention “other extremists”. And they were also unable to achieve their main goal, the toppling of Assad.

The conflict in Syria in any event made the US-Russia relations even more complex. As part of its anti-Russia strategy, the West opted to continue and expand sanctions war that started in 2014 under the pretext of events in Ukraine. These measures had their results.

In particular, the limitations on access to world finance and international credit instruments were painful. Sanctions and the fall of energy prices were one of the causes of ruble devaluation in 2014. In August-October 2017, the ruble was the most rapidly falling currency out of 170.

Background: Sanctions were one of the reasons for the large-scale outflow of capital from Russia, which in the first 10 months of 2014 reached 110 billion dollars. On April 27, 2015, Vladimir Putin noted during e legislative council meeting that sanctions cost the Russian economy $160 billion.

2015 and the first half of 2016 were the most difficult for Russia’s economy. However, the West and its sanctions unwittingly helped drain the Russian bureaucratic swamp. Both the state apparatus and major corporations were forced to act. The food embargo was introduced as an answer to the sanctions already in 2014. The embargo had its greatest effect on the economy of Ukraine and Baltic States.

Background: The embargo was introduced in 3 phases: in 2014 on the EU, US, Australia, Canada, and Norway, in 2015 on Iceland, Liechtenstein, Albania, and Montenegro, in 2016 on Ukraine.

Positive consequences of the embargo in Russia include the significant increase in agricultural production and food processing. Negative ones include retail price increases of goods that fell under the embargo. In the first phase, food prices increased by 10%-25%. However, the annual 2016 food price inflation stood at 4.6%, and in 2017 it dropped to 1.1%.

Assessing the results of the sanctions war on various sectors of Russia’s economy as of early 2018, one could say that the embargo and sanctions overall had positive consequences, if not for the whole of the economy then at least for its manufacturing component. The national manufacturing sector finally experienced long-awaited and necessary changes which were not implemented since the break-up of USSR. One could also identify positive institutional changes in the military and space industries.

Background: Roskosmos head Oleg Ostapenko stated that “overall one can discern a positive impact of sanctions on our branch.” He added that new technological solutions are being implemented more rapidly, and likewise standardization measures are also carried out more swiftly.

The introduction of sanctions accelerated the process of import substitution in the space industry, which was already ongoing for several years. The Russian financial sector was forced to remember the lessons of late 1990s, in other words, how to operate under the conditions of an unfriendly international financial environment.

On the other hand, a number of Russian corporations, particularly in the fuel and energy sector, attempted to (and succeeded) to recoup their losses induced by sanctions and drop in energy prices using the budget and national reserve funds.

In the meantime, the Russian government continued to seek ways to reduce tensions. The victory of Donald Trump in presidential elections in November 2016 gave rise to hopes in Russia that bilateral relations would improve.

Background: On November 14, 2016, in the first phone conversation between President Putin and President-Elect Trump, the two speakers agreed that “the state of Russia-US relations is extremely unsatisfactory, and spoke in favor of active efforts to improve them and to work on constructive cooperation on a widest range of issues”.

Nevertheless, there has not occurred a single genuine summit meeting between the two countries in the first year after the election. Moreover, right after the election highly placed members of the Washington establishment accused Russia of meddling in the election and swaying its outcome.

Background: According to this version of events, “Russian secret services” organized a cyberattack on DNC servers and published email messages embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, and also used social media to manipulate US public opinion.

Limited Russian successes in propagating alternative points of view on international events using RT, Sputnik, and other instruments allowed the Washington establishment, with the help of mainstream media, to paint a picture of so-called “Russian propaganda” and to accuse Russia of unleashing a “hybrid war”.

Russia’s successes in this area were greatly exaggerated, as was the influence of Russian state media on the world audience, in order to increase budgets for “combating propaganda” and stepping up censorship of alternative media both in the US and the world at large. By 2018 this campaign acquired the character of mass hysteria.

Thus on January 10, 2018, Democratic senators published a 200 page report titled Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for US National Security, in an effort to push Trump toward harsher sanctions. The report called for creating a new global front against the “Russian threat”, including European allies.

Background: In the 2 years of investigating the so-called “Russian meddling”, not a single convincing fact or piece of evidence has been presented.

US-Russian relations are at their lowest point since Russian independence. On December 28, 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced in a New York Times editorial:

“On Russia, we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with. The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others’.” One should particularly note the use of the phrase “resurgent Russia”. Apparently the phenomenon of a “resurgent” Russia as a center of world power is behind the observed actions by the Capitol Hill establishment.

On March 13, 2018 the Secretary of State Tillerson who was not known for his love for Russia was replaced with a more aggressive individual, the CIA Director Mike Pompeo. His nomination was enthusiastically received by both the Democrats and the more hawkish Republicans.

Backgorund: “We hope Mr. Pompeo will turn a new leaf and strengthen our anti-Putin and anti-Russia policies,” said the Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer. For his part, the well-known GOP hawk Lindsey Graham emphasized that “one couldn’t pick a better person.”

Presidential Election 2018

By the time of its March 2018 presidential elections, Russia found itself in a complex situation. In spite of certain successes in overcoming crises and challenges posed by the sanctions war, Russia’s economy is continuing to experience difficulties.

Background: In the fourth quarter of 2017, Russia’s GDP growth dropped to an annualized rate of 1%, and during the entire 2017 Russia’s economy grew by about 1.5-1.6%, which is considerably lower than the Ministry of Economic Development September 2017 forecast of 2.1%.

Disposable incomes are not growing. Small and medium business is still hidebound by excessive bureaucracy. Conditions necessary for their development still do not exist. Financial sanctions, tight monetary and credit policy, low demand, and negative expectations have led to a shortage of private sector investments.

On the other hand, while two years ago the ruble exchange rate was tightly linked to world oil prices, that dependence has greatly decreased.

In 2015, the ruble-oil correlation was around 80%, by 2017 it dropped to about 30%. The record low inflation rate of 2.5% in 2017 stopped the rise in prices. In spite of the expanding sanctions, Russian assets such as the Russian state obligations, Eurobonds, and the ruble, continue to appreciate.

The state is stimulating the economy through investment in global infrastructure projects such as the Crimea Bridge, and the Power of Siberia gas pipeline.

Overall, the Russian economy is displaying a variety of trends, and the likelihood of a dramatic worsening is extremely low. The situation is more complicated when it comes to social relations.

During the entire period of existence of new Russia, the question of fighting corruption and clannishness has always remained a tool of political warfare. However, there were no systemic measures until 2016. Only in 2017 did the ruling team start to take systemic measures.

Background: In 2017, Russia adopted a range of measures to combat the growth of corruption. In December 2017, State Duma adopted after the third reading the law on a registry of officials who lost public trust and were discharged for bribery.

Several highly placed officials had criminal cases launched against them. The total sum of bribes uncovered in 2016 reach about $41 million, or about $18 million more than a year earlier. In 2017, that sum reached $120 million. This increase was not the result of its growth in corruption bur rather due to different approaches to combating it and heightened attention by law enforcement.

It is remarkable that in 2017 the number of launched corruption cases decreased by 11.2% by comparison in 2016, while the sum of bribes increased by almost a factor of 3. It indicates that the attention of law enforcement shifted from “petty” corruption to combating bribery among top officials.

Background: The sums mentioned refer only to cases concerning Article 290 of Russian Federation Criminal Code, Receiving Bribes.

Thus in 2016-17, individuals charged with bribery and arrested included the Minister of Economic Development Ulyukayev, several current and former regions heads, dozens of highly placed officials and managers of state enterprises.

At the same time, a significant portion of Russia’s population is skeptical, and believes that the law enforcement are using corruption for political and electoral reasons and are not touching people close to ruling clans.

This public perception was formed over the course of the last 2 decades and it obviously can’t be changed in a year or two. This has been effectively used by opposition figures. Opposition also has been using quite correct, given Russian realities, slogans of budget inefficiency, absence of social mobility among youth, problems in health care and education systems.

Nevertheless, due both to Vladimir Putin’s actual successes and to opposition composition and their views, it has not been able to select a competitive candidate for 2018 elections or propose a rational alternative development plan for Russia, acceptable to any sizable portion of the population. One also ought to distinguish the so-called “liberals” from among the opposition as a whole.

Background: Liberal oppositionists include mainly representatives of humanist and creative intelligentsia, some small and medium businessmen (mostly in retail, financial), IT and service sectors, a proportion of college students, and office workers in big cities, mainly Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, and Novosibirsk. Their electoral base does not exceed 5% of the population.

Rank and file oppositionists’ aspirations include positive changes in daily life, such as less bureaucracy, more entrepreneurship, an open society, in other words, creating a European model of democracy from the 1990s. Therefore, and traditionally, contemporary West is idealized. This has been effectively used by that part of Russia’s elite whose interests are tied to global financial capital and establishment and who see Russia as, at best, West’s raw materials base.

These individuals who call themselves leaders of protest opposition understand they lack broad popular support and can’t directly compete with Putin.

Background: All early March polls suggest Putin will win a decisive victory in the first round.

At the same time 2018 elections are perceived as a chance to change the direction of the country’s development and to use external forces to topple the “Putin regime”, up to and including a coup d’etat. Therefore they have chosen the tactic of attempting to discredit the elections as such. Already several weeks prior to the elections, the liberal media and the social media have launched a large-scale campaign promoting non-participation in the elections and, at the same time, accusing the government of planning mass forgeries.

The aim is to create the necessary image for MSM and “the entire world community” in order to continue the campaign to declare the elections illegitimate, with the support of external forces.

Background: For the last several years, media resources of “liberal opposition” have been focusing on youth aged 12-20 years. Most of that audience cannot yet take part in presidential elections, since the voting age is 18. This fact demonstrates that the opposition is not seeking to come to power using the existing elections process, but through discrediting the system and implementing a scenario resembling in some ways the Kiev Euro-Maidan or Arab Spring.

Moreover, the combination of “international support” and “illegitimate” elections results could be used both to launch street protests which would draw large numbers of 14-16 year old youths, in the hopes of creating images of “the bloody Putin regime beating children.”

Nevertheless, protests alone, even protests involving tens of thousands of participants will not be able to destabilize the existing Russian Federation state institutions. They would require assistance in the form of pressure by international crises, escalating instability close to Russian borders, or even a new theater of military confrontation or the threat of global war.

International crisis pressure would have to be based on several unrelated but major charges against Russia’s leaders. The British provocation in the form of “the Skripal poisoning” fits into this scenario perfectly, as does the alleged preparations by the Syrian government to use chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, as do the provocations in eastern Ukraine. It is entirely possible that the world will see, during the 2-3 weeks immediately after the elections, several other improbably brazen anti-Russian provocations.

Even if they fail to damage Russia’s statehood, they will serve as an excuse to strengthen Russian sanctions in 2018, expand efforts against the so-called Russian propaganda and, most importantly, to significantly increase US defense spending as well as defense spending of several other NATO countries.

أين يقف حزب الله من خلافات أمل والتيار؟

أين يقف حزب الله من خلافات أمل والتيار؟

ناصر قنديل

فبراير 5, 2018

– بعد كلام وزير الخارجية جبران باسيل لمجلة الماغازين عن نظرته للعلاقة الاستراتيجية مع حزب الله مطمئناً إلى ثباتها ومستقبلها، منتقداً ما وصفه بالبعد الداخلي للعلاقة، القائمة على نواقص ونقاط ضعف، تتمثل بإحجام حزب الله عن دعم مواقف للتيار يفترض أنها إصلاحية، ويتسبّب الحزب بذلك بإلحاق الضرر بمشروع بناء الدولة، وفقاً لما قصده الوزير باسيل. والمعنى واضح وهو طبيعة علاقة حزب الله بكل مواجهة يخوضها التيار مع حليف حزب الله الآخر حركة أمل، والتي تحول دون مضي التيار قدماً في هذه المواجهة. لم تعُد القضية المطروحة للنقاش قضية ما قاله باسيل بحق رئيس مجلس النواب نبيه بري، وكان شرارة إشعال أحداث الأيام التي مضت. فالقضية كما يكشفها كلام باسيل الهادئ للماغازين، وبعده كلام النائب ألان عون عن موقف حزب الله المحايد أو الوسيط أو المنحاز لبري في كل قضية خلاف، وبعدهما كلام الوزير السابق كريم بقرادوني الصديق المشترك للتيار ولحزب الله ولحركة أمل عن موقف حزب الله في كل خلاف بين التيار وأمل بالتوصيف ذاته، وساطة وحياد وإلا فالانحياز لبري. القضية الآن بهدوء قضية تباين في النظرة لعملية بناء الدولة بين التيار الوطني الحر وحزب الله، ومن بين مفردات التباين النظرة للعلاقة بحركة أمل.

– إذا ارتضى التيار وأصدقاؤه تفسيراً لموقف حزب الله من كل خلاف بين التيار وأمل، باعتبار الحزب يضع وحدة الشارع الطائفي الذي ينتمي إليه فوق مرتبة تحالفه مع التيار وفوق همّ بناء الدولة، فهذا يعني أن التحالف مع الحزب معرّض للسقوط، لأن البعد الأخلاقي الذي ميّزه يتآكل. وعندما يصف الحليف الاستراتيجي بالطائفي، وهذا ليس حال نظرة الحزب للتيار، لكنه بذرة مثل هذا التوصيف موجودة في مواقف بعض قادة التيار وتوصيفاتهم لمواقف الحزب، يفقد التحالف حرارة الإيمان بصدقيّته، المؤسسة أصلاً على صدقية كل طرف بعيون شريكه في التحالف.

– هذا التفسير الأسهل على قادة التيار لتبرير مواقف التصادم والتمايز، لا ينطبق على الواقع. فالخلاف الأهم الذي وقع بين التيار وأمل كان موضوعه ترشيح زعيم التيار ومؤسسه لرئاسة الجمهورية. ولولا هذا الترشيح ومن ثم الفوز بالرئاسة لما كان للتيار أن يلعب دوراً محورياً، يتيح له الدور القيادي في إدارة الدولة، والتحول لطرف خلاف وتصادم مع أمل الموجودة تقليدياً منذ اتفاق الطائف في هذا الموقع. وفي هذا الخلاف الذي لم يكن على الاستراتيجيات مع أمل، ولا كان الاتفاق مع حزب الله حوله منطلقاً من الاستراتيجيات فقط، وكان حزب الله منحازاً بشدّة للتيار بوجه أمل، ولم يغب عن مناقشات حزب الله وأمل كحليفين البعد الداخلي، كان الحزب منحازاً للتيار وليس للطائفة، ولا لوحدة الشارع الطائفي. وكان النقاش بوضوح، يدور بين اتهامين، يرفضهما حزب الله، اتهام التيار لأمل بالحنين لدولة ما قبل الشراكة المسيحية منذ الطائف يتقاسم فيها الحكم ثلاثي إسلامي عرف بحلف الرئيس نبيه بري والرئيسين رفيق فسعد الحريري والنائب وليد جنبلاط. ويعتبره التيار من بقايا مرحلة الوجود السوري، واتهام أمل للتيار بالحنين لمرحلة ما قبل الطائف، والتقاسم الماورني السني للسلطة مع دور هامشي للطائفة الشيعية التي تتموضع على ضفاف اتفاق الطائف كشريك كامل في كل مفاصل الدولة حتى يكون وقت إلغاء الطائفية برضى وقبول مسيحيين.

– عندما كانت قراءة حزب الله لرفض أمل لوصول العماد ميشال عون لرئاسة الجمهورية تعبيراً عن اتهام ظالم لعون وتياره بالسعي للعودة لما قبل الطائف، ووثق حزب الله بالخلفيات الإصلاحية للعماد عون والتيار، وعنوانها المضي في الطائف بعدالة الشراكة الطائفية وتخفيف مستواها ما أمكن تمهيداً لمعايير أكثر مدنية في العلاقة بين المواطن والدولة، وقف ضد أمل وليس وسيطاً ولا محايداً، ومضى حتى النهاية في خياره ليوم تتويجه بوصول العماد عون للرئاسة، ليس لوضع الاستراتيجيات، التي لم يشك الحزب بصدقية انتماء المرشح سليمان فرنجية إليها، في سدة الرئاسة الأولى فقط، بل لوضع البعد الداخلي الإصلاحي في موقع القرار. وعندما عارض أمل بخيارها الرئاسي بحليف هو فرنجية لم يفعل ذلك فقط بداعي الالتزام الأخلاقي مع ترشيح عون وبخلفية الوفاء للمواقف، بل لأنه مقتنع بأن وصول الأوسع تمثيلاً في طوائفهم للمناصب الأولى المحسوبة لها، يشكّل سقف المكاسب المسموحة طائفياً، كحقوق مكتسبة واجبة الأداء على الآخرين لتحرير الطوائف من عقدة الحنين لمكاسب تهدّد السلم الأهلي. وهذا مبدأ ينسحب على وجود الرئيس بري في رئاسة المجلس النيابي أيضاً، ولأنه مقتنع أيضاً بأن رفض أمل لترشيح العماد عون وتبنيها حليفاً موثوقاً لكنه شريك من مرحلة الطائف الأولى يحتمل شبهة اتهام التيار لأمل بهذا الحنين .

– ما بعد الرئاسة، كانت محطات أداء لم تقل فيها مواقف أمل لحزب الله بأن اتهام التيار للحركة بالحنين لتهميش التمثيل المسيحي والعودة للمرحلة الأولى من الطائف في مكانه. فلا النقاش حول قانون الانتخابات النيابية، وتراجع التيار لشهور طوال من النقاش عن اعتماد قانون يقوم على النسبية الكاملة ولبنان دائرة واحدة، كما كان يبشّر التيار دائماً، والسعي لصيغ مخالفة لمنطق الإصلاح وتحمل شبهة الحنين لمنطق طائفيات ما قبل الطائف، جعل الحزب يقف بوجه هذه الدعوات بعيداً عما إذا بدا ذلك تضامناً مع أمل أم لا، حتى بلوغ التسوية الأخيرة لقانون الانتخابات وكانت تسوية بين الحزب والتيار، بدلاً من توقّعات الحزب أن الأمور ستذهب لموقف إصلاحي متقدّم لجبهة تضمّ الحزب والتيار والحركة والحلفاء، وصولاً لتسوية بين هذه الجبهة وتيار المستقبل والحزب التقدمي الاشتراكي والقوات اللبنانية، فكانت المفاجأة نضوج مواقف المستقبل والاشتراكي لصيغ النسبية قبل التيار الحليف والشريك في الإصلاح كشأن داخلي.

– ما بعد الرئاسة أيضاً كانت قضايا كالمرسوم الخاص بالأقدمية لضباط دورة 1994. وهو أمر يتعاطف فيه حزب الله مع التيار من زاوية إنصاف مَن تضرّروا بسبب وقوفهم مع العماد عون، لكن طريقة الإخراج أشارت لاستسهال الخروج عن منطق الشراكة والطائف وروح الدستور، الذي يعرف الجميع أنه يستدعي توافقاً على تخطي توقيع وزير المالية، وإلا فهذا التوقيع. فبدا أن شبهة العودة لزمن ما قبل الطائف بتجاهل الشريك الشيعي، وباستسهال ثنائية سنية مارونية أمر يستدعي لفت النظر، فكان موقف حزب الله بتبني رؤية الرئيس نبيه بري والدعوة لمعالجات دستورية ووطنية توافقية، أما عندما رفضت نتائج مباريات مجلس الخدمة المدنية لموظفين من الفئة الرابعة بداعي السعي للتوازن الطائفي، خلافاً لنص المادة 95 من الدستور التي تلغي المناصفة، في ما عدا الفئة الأولى لم يكن وارداً أن يتبنّى حزب الله موقف التيار، ولا أن يقف على الحياد.

– الصحيح أن التيار الوطني الحر صاحب حق بأن يثبت للمسيحيين أن خياراته أعادت لهم الكثير مما أخذ منهم، لكن هذا ينطبق على مَن يحالفهم التيار ولا يشتبك معهم، وفي طليعتهم تيار المستقبل، وليس حركة أمل، والصحيح أن التيار صاحب حق أن يثبت للمسيحيين بأن خياراته الاستراتيجية المشرقية المنغرسة في هموم المنطقة والمتحالفة مع المقاومة هي خيارات تثبّت المسيحيين في أرضهم وتمكّنهم من نيل حقوقهم، وتحقيق مكاسب، لكن ضمن أحد مفهومين: شراكة بين الطوائف وفقاً لتفاهمات الطائف، والشيعة شريك كامل فيها، من بوابتي دور ومكانة وصلاحيات رئاسة المجلس النيابي وتوقيع وزير المالية، أو السير نحو دولة أكثر مدنية وأقل طائفية بحدود الممكن من دون شبهة تحوّل اللاطائفية لطائفية مضمرة. وهذا يعني أن يحمل حزب الله الكارت الأحمر لحليفيه، كلما بدت شبهة حنين أمل لمرحلة الطائف الأولى وعلاماتها تحالف أمل والمستقبل، يقف مع التيار ولو وحيداً، وكلما بدا لدى التيار حنين لمرحلة ما قبل الطائف وعلاماتها تحالف التيارين الأزرق والبرتقالي، يقف مع أمل ولو وحيداً، لأن المطلوب في التحالفات الطائفية أن تكون منصفة ومتوازنة، والثنائيات هي التي تفضح.

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نقاط على الحروف شجاعة الاعتذار أم شجاعة العناد؟

ناصر قنديل

يناير 30, 2018

– ليست القضية الآن مناقشة مواضيع خلافية حول قانون الانتخابات أو حول مرسوم الأقدمية أو حول نظرة التيار الوطني الحرّ وحركة أمل لبعضهما البعض واتهام التيار للحركة بالسعي لبناء دولة محاصصة على حساب تطلعات التيار الإصلاحية، واتهامات الحركة للتيار بالسعي لتعميم أوسع نطاق للمحاصصة باسم مناهضتها، أو اتهام التيار للحركة بالحنين إلى العودة لزمن الغياب المسيحي عن دولة ما بعد الطائف، أو اتهام الحركة للتيار بالحنين لدولة ما قبل الطائف كلياً، فكلّ هذا يصبح صغيراً أمام أن يذهب البلد إلى حيث تنفلت الغرائز وتغيب السياسة، وتذبل القيم، ويصير الحلال حراماً والحرام حلالاً، ويغيب الأوادم وينتشر الزعران، في المنابر والشوارع والأحزاب.

– ليست القضية فيديو مسرّباً ولا كلاماً منسوباً، ولا قضية متربّصين ولا مصطادين بالماء العكر، بل كلام معيب ومرفوض ولا يتصل بقواعد وأدبيات وقيم العمل السياسي ارتكبَ فيه فعلَ القول وزيرُ خارجية لبنان ورئيس التيار الوطني الحر جبران باسيل، بحق مقام وطني كبير هو رئيس مجلس النواب نبيه بري. والوزير باسيل شخص يشقّ طريق الصعود والتقدّم في الحياة السياسية ويبني حضوراً في الداخل والخارج ويتأهّل للعب أدوار، وينجح بجمع النقاط وتحقيق المكاسب ويحظى بثقة مواقع هامة وفاعلة تتيح له تحويل الطموحات واقعاً. وفجأة يرتكب الخطأ القاتل فيحوّل الخلاف والسجال من حيث هو تباين وصراع وتجاذب، إلى حيث هو شتيمة ولغة هابطة. والشتيمة هنا لا ينفع في تبريرها أيّ كلام عن تسريب أو كلام منسوب، فهي فعل وله فاعل ونقطة على السطر.

– ليست القضية أن يختلف البعض بحق أو بغير حق مع رئيس مجلس النواب نبيه بري، ولا أن يتوسّل البعض الخلاف معه لكسب سياسي أو سلطوي أو طائفي، ولا أن يكون الرئيس بري كلاعب سياسي حاسم وفاعل في المعادلة اللبنانية القائمة منذ عقود، كركن من أركان نظام يمكن أن يُقال فيه وله وعليه الكثير، وأن يناله من هذا الكثير بسلبه وإيجابه الكثير أيضاً، موضوعاً لتقييم أو طرفاً في خلاف، بل القضية أنّ الرئيس بري يختزل في شخصه قامة ترمز لجيل وطموحات أجيال، ورجل دولة قلّ نظيره في برلمانات العرب والعالم كرمز للقدرة على حماية لغة الحوار والحلول وصناعة المبادرات، قامة كتبت تاريخ صعود المقاومة وانتصاراتها، وسجل لها ريادة النضال لإسقاط مشروع الاحتلال «الإسرائيلي» لبيروت الذي توّج باتفاق السابع عشر من أيار، وإسقاط مشروع العنصرية الطائفية واستبداله بحكومات الشراكة الوطنية وصولاً إلى اتفاق الطائف، وإسقاط مشروع الاستتباع الأميركي ومشروع فيليب حبيب، واستبداله بلبنان العربي الهوية والانتماء بعلاقته المميّزة مع سورية الذي كرّسه اتفاق الطائف. والرئيس بري رمز جامع لطائفة لبنانية مؤسسة أنصفها النظام اللبناني واعترف بحقوقها مكوناً كامل الأوصاف متأخراً، تتويجاً لنضال وعذابات لأجيال توّجت مكانتها مع رمزية قيادية مرجعية مثلها موقع الرئيس نبيه بري، والنيل بلغة مسيئة ونابية من الرئيس نبيه بري هو استنفار عصبي لكلّ من تعنيهم هذه الأبعاد وتلك المعاني.

– ليست القضية أنّ عابر سبيل أو كاتباً نكرة قال كلاماً مسيئاً بحق الرئيس نبيه بري، بل القائل هو رئيس التيار الوطني الحر، التيار الذي صار زعيمه ومؤسّسه رئيس الجمهورية القوي العماد ميشال عون، الزعيم المسيحي الآتي من خلفية تاريخ مليء بالمواقف الجدلية والسجالية، لكن المشهود له بالشجاعة والصدق والوفاء والثبات والصمود وشرف الاتفاق والخلاف، وقد رفض البيع والشراء في طلب الرئاسة، وصار رئيساً، في انتصار لخيار تاريخي راهن عليه جمهور المقاومة التي يتشارك جمهور الرئيس بري في تكوينه، بغضّ النظر عن ملابسات الموقف الانتخابي وتفاصيله، والكلام المقال يأتي على خلفية انقسام بين تيارين وجمهورين وشارعين شريكين في الخيارات الكبرى، لكنه يُقال على خلفية الإقرار بسهولة اشتعال الحرب الكلامية وغير الكلامية بينهما بمقدار سهولة سيولة الشوارع الطائفية في لبنان.

– ليست اللحظة للتأمّل ولا للعتاب، ولا لمناقشة الصحّ والخطأ في قضايا الخلاف، بل اللحظة للقرار والإقدام. وكلّ إسراع توفير لمزيد من الخسائر، والقرار بيد رئيس الجمهورية ورئيس التيار الوزير جبران باسيل، ثمة خطأ، وثمة عناد يبني شخصية الرجل القوي رئيساً للجمهورية أو رئيساً للتيار، والمفاضلة بينهما اليوم هي مفاضلة لصالح الوطن، والاعتذار الذي يشكل أقلّ الواجب عما قيل، قد يبدو انكساراً لشخصية العناد التي تبحث عن صورة القوة، لكن ليس هذا هو الحساب الذي نتوقع أن يقيمه من يتولى المسؤولية الأولى في الدولة، أو مَن يتصدّر لتوليها في يوم من الأيام ويجمع النقاط بنجاح نحوها، بل الحساب هو أن ثقافة الاعتذار حرص ومسؤولية عندما تكون واجباً عن خطأ تمّ ارتكابه فعلاً، هي الشجاعة التي تكتمل بها معايير صناعة الشخصيات القيادية للشعوب والدول، «ومَن كان منكم بلا خطيئة فليرجمها بحجر»، و«التراجع عن الخطأ فضيلة»، بل هو الفضيلة. الشجاعة هنا تفوق شجاعة موهومة يرسمها العناد، قيل في الماضي «كلمة بتحنّن وكلمة بتجنّن»، واللبنانيون اليوم يحتاجون وينتظرون «الكلمة اللي بتحنّن» ومن حقهم أن يضعوا أيديهم على قلوبهم من «الكلمة اللي بتجنّن»، والفاصل بينهما هو حق وحقيقة، وليس منّة ولا جميلاً.

The Rise of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Reveals a Harsh Truth

Bernard Haykal

23-01-2018 | 11:37

Many journalistic accounts of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman (often referred to as MBS), depict him as power-hungry and corrupt, and cite these two impulses for his behavior and policies.

When King Salman designated MBS as his heir in June 2017, MBS effectively became the most powerful man in the kingdom. And despite ill-advised purchases (including a yacht and a French chateau, which have cemented the impression of the crown prince’s greed), power consolidation and money alone cannot explain recent developments.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS

The fact is that MBS is trying to deal with a harsh truth about Saudi Arabia: The kingdom is economically and politically unsustainable, and is headed toward a disaster.

The crown prince inherited a sclerotic state with limited administrative capacity and an economy that is largely reliant on declining oil revenues. The country is burdened by a venal elite comprised of thousands of royals and hangers-on who operate with impunity and are a huge drain on the economy. It is saddled with a bloated public sector which employs 70 percent of working Saudis, and its military is incapable of defending the homeland despite billions spent on armaments. The nation’s religious elite prevents social change to maintain its dominance and privileges. And on the international front, Iran seeks to destroy the kingdom’s system of rule.

Additionally, there is almost no taxation in Saudi Arabia, and the government provides a generous system of entitlements that can only be maintained at ever higher oil prices. To top that off, women – the better educated and more motivated portion of the population – are largely left out of the workforce.

The system of rule up until MBS’s rise to power depended on an unwieldy process of consensus building between various royal factions that has proven incapable of reforming the system. For change to happen – and for the dynasty to survive – it became necessary for a leader to emerge who would disenfranchise large sections of the royal family, force the religious establishment to relinquish its monopoly on public morality and space, as well as lead a reform of the economy and the military.

But what has MBS accomplished so far? On the domestic front, he has emasculated the royal family and is in the process of ending their culture of immunity from legal and financial responsibility. The arrest of 11 Saudi royals on January 6th and several others in November during the anti-corruption drive should be understood in this vein.

In addition, the country is socially transforming, as the religious establishment and the “Islamist” opposition have been tamed through a combination of threats and imprisonments. Women will be driving soon in Saudi Arabia, cinemas will be opening, and weekend musical concerts are now held, attracting large throngs of young people who can be seen singing and dancing. MBS is trying to appeal to young Saudis, who form the majority of the population. His message is one of authoritarian nationalism, mixed with populism that seeks to displace a traditional Islamic hyper-conservatism – which the crown prince believes has choked the country and sapped its people of all dynamism and creativity.

Internationally, MBS can claim two important successes. First, he has resumed the strategic relationship with the United States (and the Trump administration, specifically) after relations between the two countries reached its nadir under President Barack Obama. Secondly, he has developed a strong relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, evidenced by successive oil production agreements and the beginning of coordination between the two countries on the matter of Syria.

But the economy represents MBS’s Achilles’ heel. On one hand, the crown prince is keen to balance the fiscal budget, and to do so by ending the regime of subsidies and entitlements that represent a massive drain on the government’s finances. On the other hand, he also wants a bullish economy and for the private sector to become more dynamic and the principal generator of employment.

The difficulty lies in that the private sector’s performance has historically correlated with the scope of government spending. The government has pursued inconsistent economic reform policies, such as cutting energy subsidies, imposing a value-added tax on goods and services, and increasing allowances and salaries to government employees. The state’s administrative capacity must improve, along with better signaling of policies: Economic malaise has the potential of generating widespread displeasure among the population, especially because Saudis have placed very high expectations of MBS’s ability to improve their lives.

Ultimately, MBS wants to base his family’s legitimacy on the economic transformation of the country and its prosperity. He is not a political liberal. Rather, he is an authoritarian, and one who sees his consolidation of power as a necessary condition for the changes he wants to make in Saudi Arabia.

Source: WP, Edited by website team

Iran Reformists Condemn Violence, US Support for Protests

January 2, 2018

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Iran’s reformist politicians on Tuesday condemned violence that has rocked the country in recent days, accusing the US of stirring unrest.

“Without doubt the Iranian people are confronted with difficulties in their daily lives… and have the right to peacefully demand and protest,” said a statement from the Association of Religious Combattants, headed by reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami.

“But the events of recent days have shown that opportunists and trouble-makers have exploited the demonstrations to create problems, insecurity and destroy public buildings, while insulting sacred religious and national values.”

The group said the violence seen through five days of protests across the country would help Iran’s “enemies”. “The enemies of Iran, headed by the United States and their agents… have encouraged the trouble-makers and the violent actions.”

Some cities of Iran have witnessed rallies in the past few days in protest at price hikes and economic woes, but some rioters have taken the protest so far by damaging public property and attacking police forces.

According to Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution, “public gatherings and marches are allowed so long as the participants do not carry arms and are not in violation of the fundamental principles of Islam.”

In the recent demonstrations in Iran, 10 people have been pronounced dead, while unconfirmed reports suggest that the death toll has risen to 21 on Tuesday morning.

In Najafabad, a city in the central province of Isfahan, a rioter opened fire to police forces on Monday night, killing one and injuring three others with a hunting rifle.

President Hassan Rouhani has stressed that the united Iranian nation will stand firm against a small group of foreign-induced rioters that have tried to hijack recent peaceful protests in the country, saying any protest should be organized in compliance with the regulations.

SourceAFP

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