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Sec. Clinton's Audible on Putin's Visit to Beijing

On the heels of an embarrassing feud with the United States involving blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who now lives in New York city, and the recent US announcement that it will increase its naval fleet presence in Asia from 50% to 60% by 2020, Beijing is hosting newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin today for a three day visit. The show of Sino-Russian solidarity comes at a critical moment for East-West relations as the balance of power in the Middle East pivots upon the crisis in Syria and mounting concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

In response to Putin’s visit, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the equivalent of a diplomatic audible, deciding to push back her visit to Azerbaijan and Armenia to stop in the port city of Batumi, Georgia. Georgia, a nation with NATO aspirations that shares its northern caucasus border with Russia, is considered by Russia to be within its sphere of influence. As recent as 2008, Georgia went to war with Russia and lost a portion of its northern territory to a Russian military incursion. The show of US-Georgian solidarity is a significant counterweight to Putin’s visit to China and sends a clear message of US disapproval for the move. Clinton’s visit is also sure to irk Putin at a time when even his domestic mandate is tenuous at best.

Diplomatic and political tensions between the United States and Russia have escalated in the first half of 2012. Putin’s legitimacy has come under sustained pressure as scores of citizen protestors repeatedly took to the streets in the run-up to the Russian election. Secretary Clinton has warned of the dangerous erosion of democratic institutions in Russia and repeatedly called out both China and Russia for their lack of support in condemning the Assad regime’s massacres in Syria. Responsively, Putin has tried to shift attention to a bogus outside threat: the basing of US missile defense systems in Poland, a neighbor of Russia. The missile defense issue is also used by Putin to flex Russia’s atrophied international influence.

Nonetheless, the issues surrounding and business of missile defense both in Europe and in the Gulf appear to be approaching a breaking point for Moscow. The United States is moving forward with missile defense systems in Europe and in particular, in Poland, with the intention of protecting the European continent from an Iranian ballistic missile threat. To compound Moscow’s frustration, Secretary Clinton recently signed deals to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s patriot missile systems worth $1.7 billion and to provide the UAE with an anti-missile defense capability worth $3.48 billion, undercutting one of Russia’s most lucrative and sought after commercial pursuits in the region. Well played Madame Secretary.

Enjoy your dim sum Mr. Putin.


The Chinese Still Have Some Hurdles to Overcome


Russian TV Host Slams Media in Award Speech

From The Moscow Times, 29 November 2010:

A daring speech by one of the country's most acclaimed journalists, who publicly blasted federal television stations for their servile attitude and penchant for propaganda, set the media abuzz and even prompted talk of a new perestroika.

Leonid Parfyonov, a former editor-in-chief of Russian Newsweek and television host with a slew of successful projects — most of them nonpolitical — gave the speech Thursday evening while accepting the inaugural Vladislav Listyev Prize, presented to people responsible for “the event of the year” on Russian television.

Over the past decade “national television information services have become part of the government. Journalistic topics, like all life, have been irrevocably divided into those that can be shown on TV and those that cannot. … This isn't information anymore, this is PR or anti-PR by the authorities,” he said in a speech that was not broadcast by state-run Channel One, which gave the award.

“For a federal channel reporter, top authorities aren't newsmakers, they are his boss's bosses. But then … a reporter is not a journalist, but an official,” he said in a prepared speech that he read out after accepting the award.

Vladislav Listyev, the founding father of post-Soviet television and a key force in bringing the voice of democracy to the Russian television, was shot dead by an unidentified assailant in 1995.

“It's as if the authorities were someone who recently died — and you never speak ill of the dead,” Parfyonov said, adding that state-controlled television was resorting to Soviet-style propaganda tricks, such as showing protocol reports instead of real news.

An English translation of the speech is below:

I was given the chance to speak for seven minutes about the topic that seems most relevant to me today. I’m worried, and will not try to speak by memory; for the first time in the studio I’m going to read aloud.

This morning I visited Oleg Kashin in the hospital. He had undergone another routine operation, surgically restoring, in the literal and figurative sense of the term, the face of Russian journalism. The brutal beating of the Kommersant newspaper correspondent evoked a much greater resonance in society and the professional sphere than any other attempt on the life and health of a Russian journalist. The reaction of the federal television channels, it’s true, could be suspected of having been prepared ahead of time; indeed, the tone of the immediate response by the head of state to what happened was different than what was said by the person in charge after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.

And another thing. Before his attack, Oleg Kashin did not exist, and could not have existed, for the federal airwaves. In recent times he has written about the radical opposition, protest movements, and street youth ringleaders, and these topics and characters are inconceivable for TV. It seems that the marginal sphere is beginning to change something in the public situation, forming a new trend; but among television journalists, Kashin simply has no colleagues. There was one, Andrei Loshak, and he left altogether. For the internet.

After the real and imaginary sins of the ’90s, there were two points in the 2000s – at the beginning, for the sake of the elimination of the media oligarchs, and then for the sake of the unity of the ranks in the counter-terrorism war – when federal telecommunications were nationalized. Journalistic topics, and with them all of life, was definitively divided into what was allowed on TV and what wasn’t allowed on TV. Each politically significant broadcast is used to guess the government’s goals and problems, its mood, attitude, its friends and enemies. Institutionally, this is not information at all, but government publicity or anti-publicity – what else was the broadcast artillery in the run-up to Luzhkov’s dismissal – and, of course, publicity of the government itself.

For a federal television channel correspondent, the highest official persons are not newsmakers, but the bosses of his boss. Institutionally, a correspondent is then not a journalist at all, but a civil servant, following the logic of service and submission. There’s no possibility, for example, to have an interview in its truest sense with the boss of the boss: it’d be an attempt to expose someone who wouldn’t want to be exposed. Andrei Kolesnikov’s conversation with Vladimir Putin in a yellow Lada Kalina allows one to feel the confidence of the prime minister, his attitude towards 2012, and his ignorance about unpleasant topics. But can we imagine in the mouth of a national television journalist, and then on a national television channel, the question posed by Kolesnikov to Putin: “Why did you corner Mikhail Khodorkovsky?” This is again an example from Kommersant. At times, one gets the impression that the country’s leading social/political newspaper (which is in no way programmed as oppositionist) and the federal television channels talk about different Russias. And the leading business magazine, Vedomosti, was actually likened by [State Duma] Speaker [Boris - ed.] Gryzlov to terrorist supporters, including by their contextualization of the Russian mass media, television most of all.

The rating of the acting president and prime minister is at about 75 percent. On federal television broadcasts, no critical, skeptical or ironic judgments are heard about them, hushing up a quarter of the spectrum of public opinion. The high government comes across as the dearly departed – only good things or nothing is spoken about it. On that point, the audience has clearly demanded other opinions. What a furor was caused by almost the only exception – when the dialogue between Yury Shevchuk and Vladimir Putin was shown on television.

The longstanding techniques are familiar to anyone who caught USSR Central Television, when reporting was substituted with protocol recordings of meetings in the Kremlin; the text has intonational support when there are canons of these displays: the person in charge meets with the minister or head of a region, goes to the people, holds a summit with foreign colleagues. This isn’t news, it’s old; a repetition of what’s customary to broadcast in such situations. The possible shows lack an informational basis altogether – in a thinned-out broadcasting vegetable patch, any vegetable is going to look like a big deal just by having regularly appeared on the screen.

Having worked only in Ostankino and for Ostankino for twenty four years, I speak about it with bitterness. I don’t have the right to blame any of my colleagues, I myself am no fighter and don’t expect any heroics from others. But things at least need to be called what they are.

Television journalism is doubly shamed given the obvious achievements of large-scale television shows and domestically-created serials. Our television thrills, captivates, entertains and makes you laugh with all the more sophistication, but you would unlikely call it a civic socio-political institution. I am convinced: it is one of the main reasons for the dramatic decline in television viewing among the most active part of the population, when people from our circle say: “Why turn the box on, they don’t make it for me.”

What’s more frightening is that a large part of the population already feels no need for journalism. When they’re perplexed: “So they beat someone – do you think there so few among us who are beaten, and what’s this fuss over some reporter?” Millions of people don’t understand that a journalist takes a professional risk for the sake of his audience. A journalist isn’t beaten because of something he wrote, said or filmed, but because this thing was read, heard, or seen. Thank you.

Translation by

The New Times magazine has published a series of photographs of significant media personalities below a video and transcript of the speech.



Al Qaeda Propaganda Now Available in Hebrew

By Mahmoud Habboush and Dan Williams:

An al Qaeda-linked group issued a Hebrew threat on Thursday to avenge Israel's killing of two Gaza militants, in what an expert said was the first use of the language for such propaganda.

In the half-minute-long recording posted on a website used by declared al Qaeda affiliates, a hoarse male voice tells the "aggressor Jews" they will not be safe from rockets and other attacks until they "leave the land of Palestine."

The speaker identifies himself as a member of the group Jemaa Ansar al-Sunna or "Community of Sunna Supporters," which has a presence in Gaza.

Mohammed Nimnim and Islam Yassin, killed in Israeli air strikes on November 3 and November 17, were Gazan leaders of the Army of Islam, a Palestinian Islamist group inspired by al Qaeda. Israel accused them of having planned to attack Israelis in the Egyptian Sinai.

Matti Steinberg, an Israeli intelligence veteran who specialises in Islamism, said it was unprecedented for Hebrew to be used on an al Qaeda forum.

While Osama bin Laden's followers have made public appeals in languages other than Arabic, this was usually to "win over, educate and preach to the wider Muslim world," Steinberg said:

"Here, by contrast, it seems the idea to make Jews feel that the threat is close at hand -- and not some distant menace."

The recording, which was quoted on Israel's Army Radio, ends by invoking "al Quds," Arabic for Jerusalem. The speaker's reference to rockets suggests links with Palestinians in Gaza, where this has been a favourite mode of attack against Israel.

Steinberg said Jemaa Ansar al-Sunna has had a presence in Gaza for several years and was independent of the Army of Islam.



Israelis Make Quick Use of Imagery

Great post by J. Michael Waller of

The Israel Defense Forces made quick use of imagery to state their case concerning their enforcement of a blockade against Hamas-controlled Gaza, and the incident involving flotilla of civilian vessels reinforcing the terrorist group. In boarding one of the ships by helicopter, IDF troops can be seen using amazing restraint as they are set upon by mobs wielding clubs and metal bars. Obviously the Israelis did not board the ship shooting, or with intent to wound or kill. One of the IDF soldiers is shown being thrown overboard.

IDF also released overhead video of riots on land, showing that the provocations came from the Hamas side and not Israeli forces.

These videos and other images, including still photography and well-prepared legal analysis and eyewitness reports released by the foreign ministry, show how the Israelis have become much more nimble in the information sphere and can get its side of the story to the public almost in real-time.

Now, if the US military could only do the same with such a fast turnaround, we'd be much better off.