Wednesday, 31 January 2018
What’s behind the latest round of Russia-related scaremongering in the West, relentlessly stirred up by politicians and the mainstream media?
We’ve all had our fill (and then some) of Russophobic fables warning about the grave danger the big, snowy and mysterious nation poses to each and every one of us; about how the civilized and free world (whatever that means) is threatened by undemocratic hordes from the east. Western media is quick to remind us that sinister Russian forces lurk behind every corner, ready to hack elections and install stooges, invade the Baltics, undermine democracy and even cut off our internet.
Of course, proof of the above isn’t necessary: it’s the thought that counts! Whatever dastardly deed our imaginations might dream up, you can bet your bottom dollar that President Putin is already hard at work making your nightmares a reality. Although it would be mildly amusing if these stories formed the basis of a Hollywood B movie or a mediocre spy novel, the joke rapidly wears off when it transpires that our leaders, alongside an acquiescent mainstream media, are suffering from a serious case of Russophrenia.
The latest episode in this horror fiction opened with comments made by the head of the British Army. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, General Sir Nicholas Carter focused upon how Russia supposedly poses more of a threat to Britain than any other nation and presents “the most complex and capable security challenge we have faced since the Cold War.” The general warned that “Russia could initiate hostilities sooner than we expect, and a lot earlier than we would in similar circumstances,” advising that the UK maintain a forward base in Germany in the event that the nation’s forces need to rapidly deploy to the area.
Former UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, has also been clamoring for an expansion of the war chest. In his first speech since resigning from the cabinet, Fallon called for the Ministry of Defence to receive an extra £1 billion (US$1.4 billion) in government funding this year, in addition to increasing the annual defense budget to 2.5 percent of the UK’s GDP (an extra £7.7 billion a year).
One could indeed sympathize with these gentlemen’s predicament if Russian bases were located in Norway and France and Russian troops were performing joint military exercises alongside their Irish counterparts just south of the UK border, or if Russian government officials were supporting an aggressively nationalist movement in Scotland whilst pro-Russian NGOs organized anti-government rallies and funded unpopular politicians within the UK. As Russia has been at the receiving end of such treatment from the West, it’s easy to see which of the two sides is the more hostile.
Britain’s next Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), where the nation’s military capabilities are reviewed and decisions are taken regarding defense spending for the next five years, is due to take place in 2020. Fear is a good motivator, especially when money is up for grabs. Now seems a good time to start thinking up reasons why the military ought to receive preferential treatment at a time of ubiquitous austerity.
The UK’s current defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, made his contribution to the cause a few days ago by claiming that Russia is ready to take actions “that any other nation would see as completely unacceptable.” Considering that NATO countries have in recent years alone destroyed several nations, leading to the death and displacement of millions, contributed to the rise of jihadist terrorism in Libya, Iraq and Syria, and set in motion a chain of events which has seen far-right and Nazi-inspired paramilitary groups march through a European capital, one has to wonder what the defence secretary considers unacceptable? Williamson assures us that Russia seeks to cause serious harm to the UK and "damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country."
I do wonder whether Williamson is actually referring to Theresa May’s Conservatives, who seem to be competently achieving the above without any external assistance. Or perhaps Williamson was just trying to draw attention away from his personal life.
I would believe Russia is up to no good if President Putin suddenly gave a large donation to the Conservative Party, perhaps in exchange for citizenship and a seat in the House of Lords. I also now understand why health professionals failed to get the Cameron and May governments to understand that the National Health Service needs more money, not less: we forgot to categorically state that Russia poses a threat to the health service. Or maybe UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is actually one of Putin’s agents undertaking a covert mission to dismantle the NHS and bring chaos, misery and death to thousands.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Russian billionaires could soon be forced to bring their capital home. While the US Treasury’s ‘Kremlin List’ does not imply sanctions yet, it may be a signal that wealthy Russians could lose their money abroad.
“The return of capital to the country began a few years ago when Russian citizens began to lose assets abroad, and foreign governments did not always follow the law. This has already led to the consolidation of rich people around the country’s leadership,”Gleb Zadoya, head of analytics at Analitika Online, told RT.
Sanctions and pressure in the West do not necessarily mean that capital will return to Russia, as there are other markets like India and China, and this is why the Russian government offers its tycoons capital amnesty, low taxes, and other benefits. And if the sanctions continue for at least one year more, “Russia will have the opportunity to use ‘external’ investments,” if the necessary infrastructure is created by both business and government, Zadoya said.
“Most likely, citizens who are on the Kremlin List will at least think about returning capital to Russia or other jurisdictions in order to protect themselves if the Americans begin to impose real restrictions. Moreover, Russia has special tools that would allow the oligarchs to bring their money back into the country. These are confidential bonds, designed for the return of money back into the country,” Forex Optimum analyst Ivan Kapustiansky said.
If wealthy Russians decide to keep their assets and capital abroad, they risk losing them forever, according to Sergey Kostenko, an investment analyst at Global FX. It’s one thing when you go somewhere else to spend money; it’s quite another thing when you try to become part of the local elite, he added.
“Assessing the potentially gloomy prospects, we can say that a significant part of the capital will return to their homeland with a high degree of probability. There will be bargaining with the authorities on the terms, but in the end it will be done, not because it is desirable to do so, but because there will be no choice,” Kostenko said.
There is also a point of view that the ‘Kremlin List’ will hardly change anything, as it doesn’t come out of the clear blue sky.
“Most likely, some measures have already been taken, because the first sanctions were introduced almost four years ago. It was obvious that the sanctions are here to stay, given the positions of Russia and the US on Crimea; it is possible they are forever. The ‘Kremlin List’ was announced six months ago; why wait for it? It is better to take care of everything in advance. Some rules will change, but, most likely, we should not expect any massive return of capital to Russia,” Teletrade financial consultant Mikhail Grachev said.
Mikhail Mashchenko, an analyst at a social network for investors in Russia and the CIS – eToro – says the new list does not imply sanctions yet.
“There are no specifics on this list, and it is likely that those wishing to continue their life abroad can find loopholes. It is unlikely that such a broad list will be subject to stringent restrictions and it is possible that in the future it may be reduced,”he said.
The Latin America Seeds Collective has just released a 40-minute film (‘Seeds: Common or Corporate Property?) which documents the resistance of peasant farmers to the corporate takeover of their agriculture.
The film describes how seed has been central to agriculture for 10,000 years. Farmers have been saving, exchanging and developing seeds for millennia. Seeds have been handed down from generation to generation. Peasant farmers have been the custodians of seeds, knowledge and land.
This is how it was until the 20th century when corporations took these seeds, hybridised them, genetically modified them, patented them and fashioned them to serve the needs of industrial agriculture with its monocultures and chemical inputs.
To serve the interests of these corporations by marginalising indigenous agriculture, a number of treaties and agreement over breeders’ rights and intellectual property have been enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Since this began, thousands of seed varieties have been lost and corporate seeds have increasingly dominated agriculture.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that globally just 20 cultivated plant species account for 90 percent of all the plant-based food consumed by humans. This narrow genetic base of the global food system has put food security at serious risk.
To move farmers away from using native seeds and to get them to plant corporate seeds, the film describes how seed ‘certification’ rules and laws are brought into being by national governments on behalf of commercial seed giants like Monsanto. In Costa Rica, the battle to overturn restrictions on seeds was lost with the signing of a free trade agreement with the US, although this flouted the country’s seed biodiversity laws.
Seed laws in Brazil created a corporate property regime for seeds which effectively marginalised all indigenous seeds that were locally adapted over generations. This regime attempted to stop farmers from using or breeding their own seeds.
It was an attempt to privatise seed. The privatisation of something that is a common heritage. The privatisation and appropriation of inter-generational knowledge embodied by seeds whose germplasm is ‘tweaked’ (or stolen) by corporations who then claim ownership.
In the film, an interviewee claims that if corporate seeds end up in a peasants’ field, the corporation can take the entire crop. It is a way of getting rid of the small farmer as agribusiness corporations strive to take control of the entire global food chain.
However, the film is as much about resistance as it is about corporate imperialism. No matter how well organised small farmers become, they might not be able to win the battle on their own. The struggle has to be taken to cities to raise awareness among consumers about how food is being appropriated by transnational corporations without their consent or knowledge. Without involving consumers, they become an ignorant link which merely serves to perpetuate the chain of corporate control.
The film moves from country to country in South America to highlight how farmers and social movements are fighting back to regain or retain control. Corporate control over seeds is also an attack on the survival of communities and their traditions. Seeds are integral to identity because in rural communities, people are acutely aware that they are ‘all children of the seed’. Their lives have been tied to planting, harvesting, seeds, soil and the seasons for thousands of years.
Corporate control is also an attack on biodiversity and – as we see the world over – on the integrity of soil, water, food, diets and health as well as on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational corporations.
The film highlights the fight back against the ‘Monsanto law’ (GM corn) in Guatemala. It shows how movements are resisting regulations and seed certification laws designed to eradicate traditional seeds by allowing only ‘stable’, ‘uniform’ and ‘novel’ seeds on the market (read corporate seeds). These are the only ‘regulated’ seeds allowed: registered and certified. It is a cynical way of eradicating indigenous farming practices at the behest of corporations.
As part of the resistance, farmers are organising seed exchanges, seed fairs, public markets and seed banks. They want to ensure that seeds for different altitudes, different soils and different nutritional needs remain available.
In Brazil, the film describes how previous governments supported peasant agriculture and agroecology by developing supply chains with public sector schools and hospitals (Food Acquisition Programme). This secured good prices and brought farmers together. It came about by social movements applying pressure on the government to act.
The federal government also brought native seeds and distributed them to farmers across the country, which was important for combatting the advance of the corporations as many farmers had lost access to native seeds.
Governments are under immense pressure via lop-sided trade deals, strings-attached loans and corporate-backed seed regimes to comply with the demands of agribusiness conglomerates and to fit in with their supply chains. However, when farmers organise into effective social movements, administrators are compelled to take on board the needs of local cultivators.
It indicates what can be achieved when policy makers support traditional cultivators. And it is essential that they do because, unlike industrial agriculture, peasant farmers throughout the world have been genuine custodians of seed, the environment and the land.
Colin Todhunter is an independent writer