Julia Davis is a National Security/Foreign Policy Reporter, Russian Media Monitor, creator of RussiaLies.com, Screenwriter, Producer, member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Screen Actors Guild and other prestigious industry guilds, serving as an Advisory Council member for the Hollywood Stuntman Hall of Fame. Her investigative reports and interviews are prominently featured by print publications and news outlets.
In August 2015, Office of Inspector General (OIG) released “Management Advisory on Department of Homeland Security Components’ Reporting of Conference Spending.” This report reveals that the DHS had blown an astonishing $20.3 million of taxpayers’ funds in just one year on hosting and attending conferences. It should be noted that according to the OIG report, the DHS failed to report all of the conferences in contravention to their obligations to do so.
Kitty Logan was covering events in war-torn Eastern Ukraine for Deutsche Welle. Her reports didn’t garner much attention, but one of her Facebook posts changed everything. Kitty wrote: “Following previous failure to find rebel front line troops in action and returning with photos of pets, tried again to witness ceasefire breaches. ‘Should I shoot at them so you get something on camera?’ asks the rebel commander, pointing at Ukrainian positions across the open field, currently silent… Well, errr… Story deadline looming… Oh, OK, why not then… Within an hour, total mayhem. Two sides throwing everything at each other – RPGs, mortars, rockets. They were still at it when we made the mad dash out.. Some ceasefire. Did feel a tad guilty though.”
Russia’s propaganda games continue to escalate, parallel to its on-the-ground activities in Ukraine. Amorphous tactics of deliberately faking, distorting or skewing information are designed to make detection more difficult. For example, Russian media scaled down their misuse of photographs from Chechnya, Syria and other parts of the world as images of Ukraine, since those fraudulent representations are easily refuted. Propagandists resorted to altering images – for example, adding swastikas to Ukrainian flags and so on. Nonetheless, that technique was also easy to debunk. Therefore, the Russian media machine evolved to staging entire “events” and “demonstrations,” in order to produce original imagery and video recordings that would be considerably more difficult to dispel.
The Kremlin’s propaganda continues to advance by leaps and bounds. Instead of being embarrassed by the constant stream of debunked news stories, Russia’s agitprop machine is on the offensive.
The principle of “mirroring” is a common Soviet/post-Soviet tactic employed by the Russian Federation, brazenly accusing opponents of the same actions Moscow is undertaking. Russia’s talking heads and Internet trolls have taken to accusing the West of inventing “the myth of Russian propaganda.” The Kremlin’s official and unofficial spokespersons disingenuously accuse Ukraine of “faking the news.”
The stream of phony “experts” delivers deliberately false narrative to please the likes of RT and Sputnik. Russian media outlets tirelessly disseminate various hit pieces, targeting reporters and researchers who successfully debunk Kremlin propaganda. They’re aided by hordes of paid trolls. Nonetheless, this elaborate smokescreen is not sufficient to override outrageous misrepresentations and outright fabrications birthed by Russia as a diversion for its covert offensive in Ukraine.
“Ukrainian culture is only slightly more tolerable than a nasty bug,” implies an insensitive Verizon commercial and Ukrainians aren’t taking it lightly. Verizon’s latest FiOS campaign, features beautiful Rashida Jones – the daughter of musician Quincy Jones, best known for her parts in TV series “Parks And Recreation”, “The Office” and feature film “The Social Network.”
After a midlife crisis, controversial pianist Valentina Lisitsa revived her stalled career by uploading videos of her piano performances to YouTube. Self-promotion on social media worked wonders for Lisitsa. Several years later, the 46-year old pianist’s use of the Internet reversed her progress and severely undermined her career.
Valentina Lisitsa utilized her popularity as a podium to exhibit ethnic hatred, racism and support for terrorist activities. She liberally peppers her Twitter tirades with obscenities and vulgarity. A sour note permeating Lisitsa’s rants is her overwhelming hatred towards all things Ukrainian. While the pianist was born in Ukraine, she makes a point to identify herself as a “blonde Russian,” promising to never speak Ukrainian language as long as she lives.
Neo-Nazi Preston Wigginton is a familiar face at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He has been allowed to spread racist, anti-Semitic speech at this prestigious learning institution for nearly a decade. In January 2012, Wigginton held a demonstration at the University’s campus against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Prior to that, he sponsored an appearance of a notorious Holocaust denier, Nick Griffin. Texas A&M is the sixth-largest university in the country, with membership in Association of American Universities. It has an endowment valued at more than $5 billion.
Preston Wigginton, on the other hand, is anything but impressive. He is a member of Vladimir Putin Fan Club, close friend of America’s most notorious racist David Duke and claims to be in contact “with political people in Russia on a daily basis.” He boasted of connections to Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, whom he offered to bring as a speaker to Texas A&M University. Wigginton is a virulent racist and anti-Semite. He believes that all black people should be confined to Africa and all Jewish people should live in Israel.
A powerful march of peace and unity took place today in Los Angeles. Russians, Ukrainians and Americans came together for the March of Peace and Freedom. Organizers of this event stated: “We know that the power in the Kremlin does not represent the whole of Russia, nor all the Russian communities in foreign countries. Russian propaganda created a huge gap between Ukrainian and Russian people, bringing hostility and hatred, which will be passed on to the next generation if we do not act quickly.” They aim to stop the war between Russia and Ukraine, to defend the independence of Ukraine, and to restore intelligence and democracy in Russia. The march honored the memory of the late Boris Nemtsov and demanded the release of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov and other Ukrainian POW’s illegally held in Russian prisons.
Little-known American pianist, Valentina Lisitsa, created her own popularity out of thin air by posting videos of her performances on YouTube. Recently, she was propelled into notoriety for a number of hate-filled Twitter postings. Lisitsa’s hate-mongering, offensive and racist public speech caused the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to dismiss her from a previously scheduled performance. They’re now facing criticism for alleged censorship of what RT (formerly Russia Today) described as Lisitsa’s “pro-Russian Tweets.”
Lisitsa was born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine, but is quick to point out that she is Russian and Polish by nationality. She has been spewing her visceral hatred towards Ukraine and all things Ukrainian for years, after immigrating to the United States in the ‘90s. Lisitsa’s criticism may be sour grapes, caused by the fact that Ukraine never invited her to perform in her former homeland. She was also expressing her anger at the Ukrainian diaspora for referring to her as “Ukrainian-born” and not “Ukrainian,” in spite of the fact that she is indeed a Ukrainian-born American citizen. At the same time, Lisitsa had no issue whatsoever with the head of RT, Margarita Simonyan and other RT personnel referring to her as a “Ukrainian-born pianist.”
California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R) stunned fellow Twitter users last Friday by claiming that all of Ukraine’s problems stem from “assassination of elected president” Viktor Yanukovych. This stupefying Tweet was made in response to another user (@UANews4ENMedia), who posted an article entitled “Putin Bootlickers Assemble in D.C.” The article aptly wiped the floor with a slew of Putin supporters in the West, including Congressman Rohrabacher, who obviously felt the need to discuss the topic on social media.
Astonished Twitter users questioned Rohrabacher about the reasons behind his obviously false statement. Vodka, peyote, pot, hacked account and incompetent interns were among suspected reasons for the public flub. After all, it was difficult to fathom that such a glaring misrepresentation could be made by a Congressman who is serving his 13th term, while also heading the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as Chairman. Erasing all doubt, Congressman Rohrabacher retorted that he runs his Twitter account personally and flat out lied about making the assassination remark altogether. He denied using the word “assassinate” with respect to the fate of Yanukovych and accused pro-Ukrainians of dishonesty for suggesting that he did.
Russia’s onslaught of disinformation against Ukraine continues to pour through the pipelines of the Kremlin’s puppet media. It should be noted that after facing many embarrassing fiascos, Russian propagandists have changed their modus operandi. The use of photos from other conflicts is no longer as prevalent. Instead, photos and videos are now being staged to represent protests and other events in Ukraine. Another tactic involves planting stories in various blogs and media outlets, which Russian media then proceeds to re-appropriate. Russian propaganda also relishes and regurgitates convenient pieces provided by the ill-informed “useful idiots” in the West.
Having hosted a gathering of Neo-Nazis and fascists in St. Petersburg, Russia, Holiday Inn received a portrait of Adolf Hitler from outraged activists. Member of the group RPR-Parnassus Andrey Zaretsky commented: “In our opinion, this terrible dictator and murderer of millions of people personifies the administration of this hotel, since they not only allowed entry to self-proclaimed fascists, but also aided in the arrests of those who came to protest their actions. Moreover, in December, the administration of the same hotel actively helped to disrupt the conference of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, “Open Russia,” drowning out the sound with their loud music and sirens. In our organization’s opinion, this behavior is unacceptable. Our goal is to demonstrate to Russian society that the youth objects to the actions of people who allow the return of fascism. 70 years ago, our ancestors did not surrender the city to the Nazis. And we also won’t give it up!”
In an exhibition of absurdity, the Holiday Inn located in St. Petersburg, Russia hosted a far-right gathering - the Russian International Conservative Forum. The event’s participants included fascists, Neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and proponents of white supremacy. This far-right bash was organized by Russian party ‘Rodina’ (‘Motherland’), which caucuses with Putin’s ‘United Russia’ party and was formerly led by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. In 2005, Rodina was banned from the Moscow City Council elections for running a blatantly racist, anti-migrant campaign ad, featuring Rogozin and promising to “clean up the trash.”
Ukrainian citizen Roman Muzychenko, 37, died in the intensive care unit without regaining consciousness, after he had been violently beaten by a group of 21 Nazis in Moscow, Russia. The incident was recorded on surveillance cameras near the Silikatnaya subway station. Large group of individuals surrounded their unsuspecting target and started viciously beating him. Chilling footage shows passers-by calmly minding their own business and walking along, as a violent group of young men brutally pummeled Roman Muzychenko.
Russian propaganda keeps churning out brazen disinformation about current events in Russia, Ukraine and the West. Since Edward Snowden’s representatives are reportedly negotiating a deal that would allow him to return to the United States, Russian propagandists decided to use his name with a sinister motive. Putin’s regime is producing multiple conspiracy theories about the recent murder of Boris Nemtsov – Russia’s former Deputy Prime Minister and a prominent Russian opposition leader.
The most obvious motive is quite clear: Nemtsov was a prolific critic of Vladimir Putin, who compiled thorough reports and made public statements about the corruption of Putin’s kleptocracy. Nemtsov’s latest project was to expose the open secret of Russia’s troops covertly fighting in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine is explicitly avoiding any discussions about the real motives behind the long string of deaths of those who dared to criticize Russia’s autocratic leader. Instead, Russian propagandists are promulgating tall tales that disingenously attempt to pin the blame on Islamic extremists, romantic jealousy and the U.S. Department of State.
Russian military regulars fighting in Ukraine is an open secret –a “secret de Polichinelle.” Putin’s ghost army is ravaging the Ukrainian countryside, while Russian officials continue to deny their presence in a neighboring country, brazenly lying to the world. Russia is quietly transporting its wounded soldiers,checking them into hospitals after-hours and omitting their names from the general registries. The dead of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine are being buried in secret. Injured survivors are ordered not to admit where the said injuries occurred, at the risk of losing military benefits. Their families are also discouraged from speaking out.
Russian government labeled the non-profit group Soldiers' Mothers a “foreign agent,” after its chairman, Ella Polyakova (also a member of the Kremlin's human rights council) openly stated that Russian soldiers were fighting in Ukraine. Russia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was gunned down near Kremlin walls, just before he was to present incontrovertible evidence about regular Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. Nemtsov was under constant surveillance and the location where he was assassinated is the most-policed area of Moscow. The brave truth-teller became yet another casualty of Putin’s covert war in Ukraine.
Boris Nemtsov, prominent Russian opposition leader, was murdered in Moscow late Friday night near the Kremlin. Nemtsov was walking on the Bolshoi Kamenny Most, as a white vehicle approached him. Nemtsov was killed with four shots to the chest. This murder has all the indications of a contract killing.
Garry Kasparov commented, “Devastated to hear of the brutal murder of my long-time opposition colleague Boris Nemtsov. Shot 4 times, once for each child he leaves.” He added, “Dictators do not ask why when it comes to taking human life, only why not. Putin has oceans of blood on his hands already and is still there.”
Earlier this month, Nemtsov voiced his fears that Putin would have him killed. Another mass rally against Putin, headed by Nemtsov and the People’s Freedom Party, is scheduled for March 1, 2015. Organizers of the rally publicly denounced Putin for Russia’s devastating economic woes and the covert invasion of Ukraine. Nemtsov openly criticized Putin’s imperialistic incursions, theft and corruption permeating Russia’s ruling elites.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin arrogantly scoffed at the defeat of the Ukrainian military in Debaltseve, gloating at their “shame” of losing the battle “to yesterday’s coal miners and tractor drivers.” In reality, Ukraine is fighting against Russian military that is hiding behind the fraying veil of local “separatists.” Much like Russia’s “little green men” in Crimea, Ukraine is crawling with regular Russian troops and armaments. Russia is using its most sophisticated weaponry in eastern Ukraine, including the truck-mounted SA-22 surface-to-air missile system (Pantsir-S1). Ukraine does not possess these types of weapon systems, which immediately dispels ludicrous claims of separatists about “capturing” weaponry from the Ukrainian armed forces.
Russian media dropped the pretense of tractor-driving local separatists with the recent report published by Ilya Barabanov in Russia’s newspaper “Kommersant.” It confirms longstanding reports by Ukrainian soldiers that they were fighting Russian regular troops, and not local militants, in Debaltseve. Barabanov writes: “20-year-old Misha was born in Yekaterinburg, 21-year-old Alex – in Mozdok, Artem is 22 years old, he is from the Slavyansk-on-Kuban, Dima is 23, he is from Vladikavkaz. Other guys are from Chita, Norilsk, Ulan-Ude. At the first glance, they have nothing in common. And yet, they do: the city of N, military unit *****, separate motorized infantry brigade 'N'.”
A wave of protests accompanied Russian opera singer Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev throughout the string of their North American performances. Both of them earned the ire of Western audiences for openly endorsing Vladimir Putin’s forcible annexation of Crimea and covert invasion of Ukraine. Gergiev signed the controversial “letter of support” for Putin’s aggression, while Netrebko fraternized with terrorist leader Oleg Tsarov, who was sanctioned by both the U.S. and the EU. Tsarov was sanctioned by the United States as a person who poses a threat to national security.
Executive order signed by President Barack Obama with respect to the sanctions stated that “the actions and policies of persons including persons who have asserted governmental authority in the Crimean region without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine that undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Netrebko could face U.S. sanctions for providing material support to Tsarov as a sanctioned individual, since the Presidential order specifically prohibits “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.” The opera star owns residential properties and spends extensive time periods living in the United States.
While the West enjoyed the celebration of love on Valentine’s Day, events in Eastern Ukraine were far removed from the lovefest. In spite of the ceasefire, fierce fighting continued in the area of Debaltseve, where several thousand Ukrainian troops are cut off from the only road to Ukrainian-held territory. Continually arriving shipments of sophisticated weaponry by the regular Russian army allow the militants the ability to maintain a protracted standoff.
Russia-sponsored terrorists say they do not consider Debaltseve to be covered by the ceasefire and will not allow Ukrainian troops to leave, unless they surrender. “I’m not a bloodthirsty person, but a hungry death awaits them, in all likelihood,” said Eduard Basurin on behalf of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’. Basurin ludicrously asserts that Ukrainian troops on Ukrainian territory are “an enemy who has come to our land.” President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko vowed that Ukrainian troops would return fire if attacked by the unlawful combatants.
Knowing that the fragile ceasefire could be violated by the illegal factions at any point in time, the Russian media cooked up a story meant to blame Ukraine for the anticipated confrontations. Russia’s disinformation campaign started with the hacking of the website that belongs to the National Guard of Ukraine.
Brave Ukrainian pilot, MP Nadiya Savchenko, was kidnapped in Ukraine, illegally transported to Russia and unjustly imprisoned there. She has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 13, 2014, protesting her unlawful imprisonment by Russian authorities, based on bogus charges. Putin’s lawless regime refused to release Nadiya (in spite of her international diplomatic immunity), as well as numerous other Ukrainian POW’s languishing in Russian prisons. Savchenko is imprisoned in the same jail where Sergei Magnitsky was brutally murdered.
Nadiya’s big heart and unbreakable spirit has made her a symbol of Ukraine’s strength and independence. Even as her life hangs in the balance, this fearless young woman is determined to continue her hunger strike – until her release, or until her death. “A person who was born free and not a slave in captivity cannot live in prison, especially if he or she is innocent,” Savchenko wrote in a Jan. 12 open letter. “I have given my word: ‘Until the day I return to Ukraine, or until the last day of my life in Russia!’ and I will not back down.” In a video of her interrogation, Nadiya said that she does not expect to return home alive, but is not afraid. She said that her strength comes from her faith in God, as well as the energy of every person who thinks of her at least once a day.
On Feb. 6, 2015, the crooked horse of Russian propaganda advanced by leaps and bounds. RT (formerly Russia Today) managed to ensnare Newsweek, a respectable publication, into re-publishing intentionally bogus claims. On Feb. 5, 2015, RT released an article with the following headline: “Ukrainian parliament passes law allowing army deserters to be shot.” The next day, Newsweek took the bait and published an article, entitled: “Ukraine Passes Law to Shoot Deserters.”
Newsweek parrots RT’s false narrative, exclaiming: “The Ukrainian parliament has approved a motion to allow commanders in the armed forces to fire at army deserters and use force against servicemen for “negligence” or “drinking alcohol” while on duty … The act will allow commanders to “utilise drastic measures” - defined by the UN as the use of force and firearms - towards officers caught acting “negligently” or in violation to the code of conduct during combat duty or while they are on border patrol. The new act adds “drinking alcoholic or low-alcoholic beverages” while on duty as an offence punishable by force.”
The timing of Bill Browder's new book, “Red Notice,” is quite impeccable. After years of craven appeasement, the West finally realized the failure of its “reset” policies with Russia. “Red Notice” provides a powerful glimpse of what’s been taking place in Putin’s Russia, while the world looked the other way.
As the hedge fund manager, Browder was hugely successful with Hermitage Capital Management, a company he founded in Russia in 1996. It became the largest investment fund in the country. Browder was the prime example of succeeding the right way – without chicanery, fraud or embezzlement. This was the surefire way of irritating corrupt Russian elites. Big business and big government in Russia are intrinsically intertwined, brazenly operating as organized crime. Vladimir Putin is the Godfather of this far-reaching mafia family. He empowered the group of his cronies to enrich themselves at the expense of Russian economy, on the backs of the country’s longsuffering people. Resounding success of Bill Browder’s company, combined with his efforts to expose and uproot corruption, brought on the ire of the Kremlin gangsters.
The recent performance of “Iolanta” at the Met was outshined by the high-spirited protests, accompanying Russian Conductor Valery Gergiev’s and opera singer Anna Netrebko’s performances in the West. Mariinsky theater musicians callously asked protesting Ukrainian artists: “When will you all die already [expletive]?” and exclaimed “Alaska will also be ours!” (play on words for the Russia’s distasteful annexation slogan, “Crimea is ours!”) Undeterred, protesters put on quite a show, inside and outside of the Met. Dressed in colorful costumes, they reenacted Anna Netrebko’s ill-fated donation to the sanctioned separatist leader, Oleg Tsarov.
While the protesters’ musical act and a political message was a resounding success, critics lambasted Gergiev’s barely-rehearsed productions. They were also far from impressed with Netrebko’s waning vocal chops. A review of “Iolanta” bemoaned her poor performance: “Maybe it’s sentimentality that’s kept this role in Netrebko’s repertoire, because at this point in her career neither her voice nor her stage appearance really suit the role of the sheltered, blind princess. Netrebko’s now rather mature looking and what’s more, acts mature. The youthful ebullience is no longer really there … Her voice has also changed. She always had a dark, rich timbre, but in this rather lyrical role one noticed a thickness to her voice that sounded matronly. It had a slight but persistent beat on sustained notes. Her pitch sagged. What was most surprising was how often she seemed to be pushing ... Tonight in the duet with Vaudémont (Beczala) and in the final wedding chorus she was hunched over, fists balled, screaming ... I’ve heard her in almost everything she’s ever sung at the Met and she’s never sounded this bad.”
Russia’s Charyshskiy Theatre of Russian Folk Culture prepared a special treat for the children. This year’s celebrations of Maslenitsa (the Butter Festival) will feature an “anti-sanction” jester Petrushka’s ritual killing of American President Barack Obama. Petrushka and Obama are the main characters of the children’s puppet show. The show’s host, Evgeny Golovinin, said: “This year’s Petrushka is not just the average one, but anti-sanction Petrushka. In our show, Petrushka will kill Obama.”
In addition to Obama’s theatrical murder, children will be greeted with Russian singing, pancakes and “manly” amusements. This year’s Maslenitsa celebration will take place on Feb. 16 through Feb. 22, 2015.
Russia’s growing hostility towards the West is undeniable. It is complete with nuclear saber-rattling by the Editor-in-Chief or Russia’s National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko and Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin’s New Year’s greeting that featured Russian Santa Claus bombing people out of his gift sack, spilling out “surprises” that would give Russia’s enemies “heat during winter and chills in summer time.” Russia’s chief spin doctor, Dmitry Kiselev, boasted on-air that Russia is the only country "genuinely capable of turning the US into radioactive ash".
Horrific rocket attacks by Russian insurgents in Ukraine have left 30 people dead and over 100 injured in the city of Mariupol. Kremlin continues to deny its direct involvement, in spite of a growing body of information about numerous Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, as well as sophisticated Russian weaponry used by the so-called “rebels” in their attacks. Russian paratroopers, captured in Ukraine, revealed the use of misleading uniforms that enable members of the Russian military to covertly operate within Ukraine. These techniques, also known as “masquerades” or false flag operations, were common under Soviet military doctrine. Soviet and Russian commandos were sent into Afghanistan and Chechnya, posing as locals.
Another front of Russian aggression is the country’s notorious propaganda machinery, which aids the Kremlin in its efforts to obfuscate the facts and spread disinformation. One common technique of the Russian mainstream media is boasting about the offensive mounted by Russia-funded “rebels,” but immediately shifting the blame to the Ukrainian military whenever terrorist activities cause mass casualties of civilians. This strategy was previously used in Russia’s coverage of the downing of Malaysia Airlines jet MH17 by Russian separatists in Ukraine. After touting the admissions from “the rebels” about downing yet another Ukrainian jet, Russian mainstream media abruptly changed their story once it was clear that Russian terrorists shot down the civilian airliner.
While Putin’s Russia runs roughshod over the sovereignty of its neighbors, his cultural emissaries are legitimizing his imperialistic aspirations in the West. Conductor Valery Gergiev is a personal friend of Vladimir Putin, having known Russia’s President since his notorious St. Petersburg days. Gergiev’s protégé, Anna Netrebko, is another loyal Putinista. Gergiev and Netrebko openly support the most loathsome policies of their favorite dictator: from oppressive anti-gay policies and invasions of neighboring countries to the annexation of Crimea and Russia-funded terrorist activities in Ukraine.
Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko are now touring the United States, with a series of performances sponsored by sanctioned Russian banks, Sberbank and VTB. Perhaps the financial incentives take precedence over the perceived artistic value of such productions. Scruffy Gergiev, who doesn’t seem to own a comb and rarely uses a razor, seems to be just as sloppy in his interpretation of timeless classics. Critics have panned his performances, writing: “This is bad … Gergiev simply hasn’t a clue about how this music should go, and his interpretation, if one could call it that, doesn’t even have the virtue of being grotesque. It’s just flat and, well, wrong … It’s less an interpretation than an act of sabotage.” Gergiev’s disc sets have been said to contain “an unfortunate number of performances of striking mediocrity.”
Russia continues to express its overt rejection of Western ideals, such as the freedom of press, speech and expression. While the civilized world mourned the victims of terrorist attacks in Paris, France, Russian media and politicians chose to blame the victims. They’ve emphasized the need for strict censorship andurged Russia to turn away from the West and to look inward. So far, it’s not a pretty sight.
The Russian ministry of culture is proposing a decree that would ban the showing of any film that is perceived as denigrating the country’s national culture, threatening its national unity and undermining the foundations of the constitutional system. This would ban controversial films, such as Oscar-nominated “Leviathan” (the first Russian film to win a Golden Globe since “War and Peace” in 1969) from being shown in its native Russia. The pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov panned the film as “part of the new cold war the west is fighting against Russia … an anti-Russian film basically made according to a western order, a cinematic anti-Putin manifesto.” It should be noted that “Leviathan” was partially funded by Russia’s Ministry of Culture, which is now condemning the film.
Controversy continues to surround Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and opera singer Anna Netrebko. Both of them are close friends of Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. Indeed, Gergiev and Putin are said to be Godfathers to each other’s children. Until the outbreak of hostilities in Gergiev’s home region of Ossetia, the conductor kept his political views to himself. He complained that the West attempts to politicize Russian composers for what he described as "propaganda wars" perpetuated by "boring people who don't hear the music."
Contradicting his own stance, Gergiev chose to politicize his position when the Russian Federation invaded Georgia. The maestro openly supported Russia’s aggression, even though it meant betraying his native land. From that point forward, Gergiev used his celebrity status to promote his political views. His views could be summed up quite simply: no matter how draconian, the conductor blindly supports all of Putin’s policies.
This week’s abhorrent terror attacks in France outraged people around the world, prompting them to rally in defiance against those behind this attack on free speech. Twitter was ablaze with more than 5 million Tweets bearing #JeSuisCharlie hashtag, with some glaring exceptions. Chief among them is Russia, where the hashtag clearly didn’t catch on. The issue, however, goes much deeper. Russian politicians, religious organizations and public figures largely blamed the victims of the attack for having brought these acts upon themselves.
Today, Russian police detained activists for holding up signs that said “Je Suis Charlie,” clearly demonstrating the official position against Charlie Hebdo. The controversial newspaper published irreverent cartoons poking fun at Russia’s lies and hypocrisy with respect to its unlawful annexation of Crimea and covert activities in Ukraine.
On January 8, 2015, Russian government published a decree that was recently signed into law by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. In a continued backward slide, Russia now bans the issuance of driver’s licenses to people with “personality and behavior disorders” described in sections F60 through F69 of the International Classification of Diseases, published by the World Health Organization.
While the Russian government claims that the new restrictions are meant to reduce the number of road accidents, in reality it serves as an extension of the ongoing crackdown against sexual minorities. The new decree is broad enough to be used as a retaliatory tool, banning the issuance of driver’s license to anyone who dares to publicly oppose dubious activities and the official position of the Russian government.
Russia’s mainstream media and President Vladimir Putin continue to remain silent about numerous prisoners of Putin’s undeclared war against Ukraine. Pilot Nadiya Savchenko and 30 other Ukrainian service members are still being illegally held in Russian jails. Taking hostages is one of Russia’s Hamas-style tactics against its perceived enemies – foreign and domestic. In that sense, Nadiya is much more than a prisoner. To Putin and his regime, she is the symbol of Ukraine itself: spirited, strong and unbroken. In a video of her interrogation, Nadiya said that she does not expect to return home alive, but is not afraid. The brave pilot has entered the third week of her hunger strike, during relative media silence. In the meantime, Savchenko’s attorneys are fighting an uphill battle, seeking justice in kangaroo courts of Russia’s Banana Republic.
To break the media silence, activists all over the world are taking Twitter by storm with a trending campaign, #FreeSavchenko. Appealing to the conscience of Russia’s leading gray apparatchik is not what truly matters. The collective conscience of the world must be awakened to speak out and take action against many injustices perpetrated by Russia in its undeclared war against Ukraine. While American self-professed truth-seeker Oliver Stone was having a tea party with Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych, he didn’t raise any questions about the unlawful detention of Ukraine’s POWs in Russian prisons.
On January 3, 2015, Senator Tom Coburn released the report that outlines his findings pertaining to the efficacy of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in executing its primary missions. Senator Coburn has been a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee since 2005. The report finds that the DHS is failing miserably in every one of its stated missions.
Since criticizing the DHS is an unspoken taboo for most of the mainstream media, this report was released on Saturday and received very little press coverage. Traditional reporting typically defends the DHS by telling the viewing audiences that the agency is comprised of “our best,” all of whom are risking their lives to protect the nation. In reality, neither of those statements holds water.
For months, publishing giant HarperCollins has been selling an atlas that was “developed specifically for schools in the Middle East.” The map looked to be perfectly accurate, except for one glaring omission – the name of Israel was conspicuously absent. This wasn’t a mistake or an oversight. Israel was purposely left off because of “local preferences.” Collins Bartholomew, a subsidiary of HarperCollins that specializes in maps, said that it would have been “unacceptable” to include Israel in atlases intended for the Middle East.
After being exposed by the media, Harper Collins apologized on its official Facebook page, stating: “HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas. This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for any offence caused.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton infamously presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a gift-wrapped red button, which said "Reset" in English and "Peregruzka" (“Overload”) in Russian. The prop, pilfered from a Jacuzzi or a swimming pool in Geneva, turned out to be quite symbolic. While the West naively looked the other way, Russia overloaded the world with the deluge of disinformation and propaganda.
Putin told the delegation of rabbis: “Unfortunately, just like 70 years ago, arrogance often achieves its goals. After all, Goebbels had said, “The more improbable the lie, the faster people believe it.” And he achieved his goals, he was a talented man.” By that definition, as a mediocre Chekist who rose to the highest position in the land, Putin himself is quite talented. His propaganda machine spreads fantastical stories, outright lies and ludicrous conspiracy theories. Even after those fabrications are exposed, they plant the black seed of deception in the minds of worldwide audiences.
On the heels of North Korea’s fury about “The Interview,” other countries are now attempting to influence American film and television productions. On Dec. 27, 2014, Pakistani diplomats told the New York Post that the fourth season of Showtime’s hit show “Homeland” portrays their country as a “grimy hellhole.” Disgruntled officials complained directly to the show’s producers, to no avail. Now they’ve decided to go to the press. “Maligning a country that has been a close partner and ally of the US … is a disservice not only to the security interests of the US but also to the people of the US,” said Pakistan Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana.
The diplomats were displeased with the lack of greenery in the depiction of the nation’s capital. The show’s Islamabad-based scenes were actually filmed in Cape Town, South Africa. Pakistani officials were also appalled at the portrayal of their homeland as a perpetual war zone, with constant shootouts and bombings. Pakistani diplomats were also peeved with the way their language was being used, featuring uncommon accents. Their biggest complaint by far was the representation of Pakistan as a terrorist-friendly nation by insinuating that the country’s intelligence agency is complicit in protecting the terrorists at the expense of innocent Pakistani civilians.
On November 26, 2014, North Korea fired another salvo against the United States, blaming the US for shutting down its Internet services and expressing outrage at the release of Sony Pictures film, “The Interview.” North Korea’s National Defense Commission, led by the country’s leader Kim Jong-un, stated: "Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest." The commission threatened "inescapable deadly blows" to the United States as the consequence of America’s “arrogant, high-handed and gangster-like arbitrary practices despite (North Korea's) repeated warnings.”
In Putin’s Russia, similar insults, threats and comparisons are not uncommon. Russia joined North Korea’s Stalinist comrade regime in its outrage against the controversial feature. "The very idea of the film is so aggressive and scandalous that the reaction of the North Korean side ... is completely understandable,"said Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
As of December 26, 2014, Ukraine cut off electricity to Russian-annexed Crimea. Ukraine also discontinued train and bus service to the beleaguered peninsula. Ukrainian security services issued a statement, stating that travel to Crimea is being halted to protect passengers, citing threats of “armed groups, extremist parties and the military aggression of the Russian Federation.”
Crimea’s only mainland link is with Ukraine, which maintained its control over the recently-annexed peninsula for over 60 years. Crimea is dependent on Ukraine for most of its supplies, including food, electricity and water. Ukraine’s decision to halt train and bus service to Crimea comes shortly after Russia decided to halt its train services to Ukraine on Dec. 14, 2014.
On December 23, 2014, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland, California denied Facebook's bid to dismiss a class action lawsuit, accusing the company of violating user privacy by scanning the content of private messages for advertising purposes. Facebook alleges that the scanning of private messages is covered by an exception under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act for interceptions by service providers, occurring in the ordinary course of business. Judge Hamilton said that Facebook had "not offered a sufficient explanation of how the challenged practice falls within the ordinary course of its business." Judge ruled that “Facebook’s unwillingness to offer any details regarding its targeted advertising practice prevents the court from being able to determine whether the specific practice challenged in this case should be considered ‘ordinary.’”
On Dec. 23, 2014 at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, United States Congressman Michael Grimm pleaded guilty to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return. He is refusing to resign his seat after pleading guilty to the felony tax charge. After his court appearance, Grimm said: “I’m going to get back to work and work as hard as I can.”
Grimm is a former undercover FBI agent, who has served as a member of the United States House of Representatives, representing New York’s 11th Congressional District since 2011. Grimm made the headlines in January 2014, when he threatened to "break" a reporter in half and throw him off a balcony for asking questions about a fundraising investigation for Grimm’s 2010 campaign. In September 2014, Congressman’s former girlfriend, Diana Durand, pleaded guilty to funneling illegal campaign contributions to Grimm in a straw-donor scheme.
On Dec. 23, 2014, Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claimed that Santa Claus was enrolled in the agency’s Global Entry program. It allows expedited clearance for “pre-approved, low-risk travelers” upon their arrival in the United States. Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens, Panamanian citizens and Mexican nationals. More than 1.8 million members are already enrolled in Global Entry and 50,000 new applications for the program are being filed every month.
On Dec. 21, 2014, North Korea’s defense department made an assertion that the U.S. government was “deeply involved” in the making of the Sony Pictures comedy “The Interview.” In response to President Obama’s statement that the United States intended to retaliate against the isolated country for its cyberattack, North Korea threatened to “blow up” the White House, the Pentagon and other U.S. targets. North Korean National Defense Commission stated: “Our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists who earned the bitterest grudge of all Koreans.” The statement added: “The army and people of [North Korea] are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces, including cyberwarfare space, to blow up those citadels.”