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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

Witnessing the Collapse of Communism

Roundtable discussion marking the 30th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Participants include Timothy Garton Ash, Bridget Kendall, and Jens Reich.

The Evictors

Around Moscow, there’s a whole industry of so-called “black creditors” — microfinance institutions (or MFOs) that swindle and seize debtors’ homes. Ivan Golunov’s investigation for Meduza has discovered that almost 500 apartments have been seized from their owners over the past five years without so much as a court order. In fact, this scheme involves more than simply “squeezing” people from their homes. It is possibly part of a wider, international money-laundering system. Here’s Meduza special correspondent Ivan Golunov on the ins and outs of this industry.

US “Private Contractors” in Georgia

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The Financial Times is reporting that two US military contractors, MPRI and American Systems, provided combat training to 80 Georgian commandos a few months before Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia.  However, “here is no evidence” FT states, “that the contractors or the Pentagon, which hired them, knew that the commandos they were training were likely be used in the assault on South Ossetia.” According to one unnamed US military official, the training program began in 2006 after Georgia offered to send commandos to Afghanistan.  Nevertheless, the revelation will give more weight to Putin assertion on CNN of US involvement in orchestrating the war.

This isn’t the first time MPRI trained commandos have used their skills in other matters.  According to the FT,

MPRI was hired by the Pentagon in 1995 to train the Croatian military prior to their invasion of the ethnically-Serbian Krajina region, which led to the displacement of 200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars. MPRI denies any wrongdoing.

I would imagine that the Georgians used some of its training to a similar effect in South Ossetia.

I would also like to stress the connection between government, military, and capital in all of this.  MPRI and American Systems were contracted out “to help supplement its own trainers because of a lack of manpower.”  It is clear all things can be outsourced. Even the nation state’s monopoly on violence is for sale.

Moscow has claimed that American mercenaries were fighting with the Georgians, though no credible evidence has been found of direct involvement.  Apparently MPRI and American Systems trainers did arrive in Georgia on August 3, but as one former contractor told FT, “They would have only seen the inside of a hotel room.”  FT inquires to both companies have remained lacking specific details.

MPRI and American Systems aren’t the first mercenary corporations to arrive in the region.  American mercenaries have been in Georgia and the Caspin Sea region since 2003.  In his Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Jeremy Scahill writes that the American government launched a project called “Caspian Guard” in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.  A similar plan was launched in Georgia which included $135 million to “create a network of commando and special operation forces that would protect the lucrative oil and gas exploration being plotted out by transnational oil corporations.”

In early 2003, Cubic, a private Washington military contractor, received a three year, $15 million contract, writes Scahill quoting the Guardian, “to equip and advise the former Soviet republic’s crumbling military, embellishing an eastward expansion that has enraged Moscow.”  The impetus at the time was the supposed presence of “Chechen terrorists.” The real reason wasn’t lost on a Georgian security official who said, “the Cubic team would also improve protection of the pipeline that will take Caspian oil from Baku to Turkey through Georgia. Georgia has already expressed its gratitude by agreeing to send 500 troops to Iraq.”

The most notorious and lucrative American mercenary outfit, Blackwater, entered the Caspian region in early 2004.  Their focus was to form “a SEAL team for Azerbaijan” to patrol oil interests, joining a U.S. corporate smorgasbord which included Bechtel, Halliburton, Chevron-Texaco, Unocal, and ExxonMoboil.

Given all of this, is it too much to at most suggest or in the least ask questions of direct American involvement in this war?  Maybe Putin isn’t crazy after all.

It is no surprise that US Vice President stopped in both Azerbaijan and Georgia this week.  He had a special present for Saakashvili.  A guarantee of $1 billion from American taxpayers. Was this aid or really a payment?  I only wonder how much of this money will be whisked away into Saakashvili and his people private coffers.

What a well oiled scam.  The American corporate-political-military establishment has ensured its position in Georgia as protector and partner. Saakashvili got fat paper stack for playing the victim.  And once again the American taxpayer didn’t even get a reach around.