Russian Ammo Ban Hurts Gun Owners, Not Vladimir Putin

“The sanctions are ostensibly in response to the poisoning last year by the Russian government of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. That was a truly horrendous crime committed by an authoritarian regime against one of the few figures who continues to rally dissidents against Vladimir Putin’s regime, even from prison.

“There’s no need to apply sanctions on Russia,” Navalny told The New York Times this week. “For now, all sanctions were tailored to avoid almost all significant participants in Putin’s gangster gang. Do you want evidence? Name one real evildoer who suffered. The airplanes, the yachts, the billions in Western banks — everything is in its place,” he added. Navalny recommends directly targeting Putin’s allies.

As Navalny’s comments suggest, restrictions on imports of firearms and ammunition are less likely to hurt well-connected Russian manufacturers, who will almost certainly find buyers elsewhere, than they are to hurt civilian consumers of those goods. Amid social fracture and loss of faith in institutions, American firearms sales are booming, the ranks of gun owners swelling, and ammunition manufacturers are struggling to meet demand. Cutting off the largest single source of imported ammunition to the United States can only reduce supply and drive ammunition prices higher.”

Treat Tucker Carlson’s NSA Snooping Claims Seriously, but Not Literally

“Carlson had been communicating with intermediaries to try and arrange for an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is therefore extremely likely that at least one or more of the people Carlson communicated with (some of whom Axios reports had direct ties to the Kremlin) were legitimate targets of NSA surveillance. And therefore, the NSA did, in fact, probably get access to whatever emails were part of this discussion.

This means that the insistence by the NSA that it didn’t “target” Carlson is accurate, but it also means that Carlson’s claim that the NSA had read his emails may be accurate, at least to the extent that they were emails to the actual surveillance target.”

‘This Is No Way to Live’: Discontent Spilled Over in Russia. But Will It Matter?

“For some reason, despite the risks, millions of Russians are unhappy enough with Putin to go out in the streets and protest. The question is—why? And will it matter?”

“Why did he think Russians were turning out like never before? Davidoff said that everyone he asked began with the phrase: “Well, I don’t agree with Navalny about everything, but …” I had heard similar comments. Then the speakers would continue with phrases like these: “But if they can treat Navalny this way, they can treat me this way.” “But it’s a matter of self-respect.” “But the corruption is out of control.” “But my bills keep going up and my pension stays the same.” “But my salary just disappears.” “But I’ve got to help support my parents.”

Whatever the motivation for each person, it was strong enough for them to risk physical harm, detention or even imprisonment to express discontent with the country and their lives.”

“Russians really are having a hard time making ends meet. In Moscow, with its shopping malls, elegantly dressed population and boom of elite housing, it’s easy to miss.

It’s also not easy to see on paper. All the statistics seemed to indicate that Russia weathered the Covid storm better than most countries. At the beginning of 2021, data showed that the economies of European countries contracted about 7.4 percent in 2020 and the world economy was down 3.5 percent, while Russia’s economy contracted by only about 3.1 percent. Analysts at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics noted cheerfully that this was the first time in history Russia did better than the world average. This appears to be in part because the segments of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic—service sectors—are relatively small in Russia. The price of oil, Russia’s main source of income, did plummet for a while, but then it began to edge up again. Today it’s almost $70 a barrel, while the state budget is based on revenues of $42 per barrel.

But on the micro level it’s a different story. Household incomes are down 3.5 percent in the past year, and this is a deeper dip in a downward trend: Households are making 11 percent less in real terms than in 2013. From Dec. 1 to March 17 the price of gas jumped 18.5 percent. Food prices have risen by almost 8 percent from April 2020 to April 2021, and the government is paying 3 billion rubles (about $40 million) to subsidize the price of sugar. The government has even banned the export of buckwheat groats, a staple for Russian families in hard times, to keep the price affordable.

All of this means that none of my retired friends can live on their monthly pensions of 12,000 rubles ($164) without working or getting help from their children and families. And it explains why all of us have been living paycheck to paycheck.”

“Corruption in Russia has always been a problem, but the conventional wisdom is that it seems to have gotten worse in the past two decades. First, my friends would tell me, they had to pay 15 percent in kickbacks on state contracts, but now it’s 35 or 50 percent. The saleswoman in a local household goods store told me how she and her husband had saved up enough money to buy the rights to a small press kiosk, but since it was at a bus stop and owned by the city, he had to get an official’s signature. Dressed in his best suit, her husband went into the office and explained what he needed. The bureaucrat replied, “Well?” My friend’s husband didn’t understand, and after a few questions back and forth at cross purposes, the official finally said, “Didn’t anyone tell you? My signature costs $50,000.”

Businesspeople also run the risk that a competitor will pay off someone in law enforcement to bring charges against them—and watch as the competitor takes over their business. Everyone resents the day-to-day corruption that makes life difficult, the money you pay in taxes or fees that disappears into someone’s pockets. You pay your apartment fees, but the management company doesn’t shovel the snow or wash the floor in the entryway or fix the hole in the roof. You watch workers change the curbstones on your street four times in three months. The trash cans in parks are overflowing. Getting your kids in the right school or right class costs extra.”

“The government crackdown in recent weeks means life has changed dramatically for independent media and opposition political figures and activists. Dmitry Gudkov, once a member of the parliament who formed the opposition Party of Changes, packed up and left Russia on June 6 after being warned by sources in the presidential administration that otherwise a “fake criminal case would continue until his arrest.” On June 9, the Anti-Corruption Foundation was declared an extremist group, thus making all its employees ineligible for elections for at least three years—including, of course, in the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for September. For Russians who hoped for change through open media and elections, it felt like the end of an era in Russia’s political life.”

“Albats points out that throughout Russian history, autocrats have been forced out only when they lose the support of the “elites”—which these days means the billionaires around Putin.
Which suggests that a crusader like Navalny, no matter how charismatic, and ordinary Russians, no matter how discontented, are unlikely to change that pattern.”

Biden’s big Putin bet

“If one phrase defines President Joe Biden’s approach to negotiating, it’s “all politics is personal.” When he uses that line, he aims to convey a rock-ribbed belief that finding what the other person can and can’t accept — be it a member of Congress from the other party or a foreign leader — will eventually lead to better relations and even mutually agreeable deals.

During a Wednesday press conference following his Geneva summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden showed once more that he puts a lot of faith in that approach. “All foreign policy is the logical extension of personal relationships,” Biden said. “It’s the way human nature functions.”

That’s not Biden saying all it takes to improve US-Russia relations is to have a one-on-one chat with Putin, although they did have a roughly 90-minute discussion. It meant, as he went on to explain, that because of that discussion, both men are now clear on what red lines not to cross as they seek to cooperate on arms control, cybersecurity, and more.

That outcome, in Biden’s mind, was worth the trip.

“What I’m saying is I think there’s a genuine prospect to significantly improve relations between our two countries without us giving up a single, solitary thing based on principle and our values,” he told reporters. “This is not just about self-interest. It’s about mutual self-interest.”

It’s the clearest distillation yet of how Biden thinks about foreign policy and diplomacy. Sure, there are constraints on what can be achieved, but the only way to make progress is to hear the other person out and find areas of common ground.”

“Knowing the long odds, even Biden acknowledged his bet might not pay off. “Let’s see what happens,” he said at his press conference. “I’m not confident [Putin] will change his behavior.”

Analysts share that skeptical view, saying that reiterating America’s stances won’t have much of an effect on Putin. “We can deliver a message, as other presidents have, but from the Russian perspective, they’ve heard this before,” said Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, DC.”

Putin likely directed 2020 U.S. election meddling, U.S. intelligence finds

“Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed an effort by Moscow to try to swing the 2020 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, according to an American intelligence report released on Tuesday that linked the Kremlin and allies of the former president.”

“The report also punctured a counter-narrative pushed by Trump’s allies that China was interfering on Biden’s behalf, concluding that Beijing “did not deploy interference efforts.”
“China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,” the report said.

U.S. officials said they also saw efforts by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to influence the election, although “in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran.”

The Russian, Chinese and Cuban Embassies in Washington did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Iranian mission to the United Nations and the Venezuelan Ministry of Information also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Moscow, Beijing and Tehran routinely deny allegations of cyberespionage and election interference.

The report assessed that Russian leaders “preferred that former President Trump win re-election despite perceiving some of his administration’s policies as anti-Russia,” with its authors adding, “We have high confidence in this assessment.””

Putin and Biden confirm extension of New START treaty

“Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed Tuesday to extend the New START nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which is due to expire next month, according to Kremlin and White House summaries of a phone call between the leaders.

“They discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension by February 5,” the White House said.”

“Formally called the “New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” the agreement limits Washington and Moscow’s deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 each. It was signed in 2010, entered force on February 5, 2011 and was set to expire on its 10th anniversary.

New START is the last remaining nonproliferation agreement between the former Cold War superpower rivals, after another key nuclear accord, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, expired in August 2019.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s new Russia report, explained

““The Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multi-faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election,” the report, which was co-signed by both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate committee, says. “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president” to WikiLeaks.

Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, comes under heavy criticism in the report for his “willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” — this “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”

However, the report goes further than special counsel Robert Mueller did — it claims some information suggests Manafort and a longtime associate of his, Konstantin Kilimnik, were “connected” to the Russian government’s effort to hack and leak Democrats’ emails. These details are redacted, though.

The report also retells the story of how Roger Stone tried to get inside information on WikiLeaks’ plans at the behest of the Trump campaign. “Stone obtained information indicating that John Podesta would be a target of an upcoming release,” the report says. It also describes Jerome Corsi’s claims that Stone tried to get WikiLeaks to time the release of Podesta’s emails to distract from the Access Hollywood tape.

There are many other topics addressed in the report, including some criticism for how the FBI handled the “Steele dossier” allegations about Trump. There are also matters that remain murky — most notably, the purpose and extent of Manafort’s communications with Kilimnik, and the exact nature of the information Stone got regarding WikiLeaks.”

Top Putin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned, German doctors confirm

“Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic is lying in a coma in a Siberian hospital from a suspected poisoning — and his family and supporters allege Putin and his government are behind it.
They have good reason to suspect that. The Kremlin has a long, sordid history of poisoning political dissidents, defectors, and other enemies of the state. Indeed, this is actually the second time Navalny — the leader of Russia’s splintered opposition — is suspected of having been poisoned in just a little over a year.

On Thursday, Navalny drank some tea at a Siberian airport before boarding a flight to Moscow. He became ill on the aircraft, with a video purportedly showing the politician moaning and needing immediate medical attention.

The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, near Kazakhstan, where an ambulance waited to take him to a local hospital. But Navalny’s condition worsened, and he fell into a coma before he arrived at the facility.

Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, where Navalny is currently being treated, has since become the site of a frustrating standoff between Navalny’s family and supporters and the doctors overseeing his care. Navalny’s wife and supporters allege the doctors are controlled by the Kremlin and trying to cover up the poisoning attack instead of properly treating their patient.

The physicians say Navalny wasn’t poisoned but instead suffers from a “metabolic disorder” that leads to low blood sugar. “Poisons or traces of their presence in the body have not been identified,” Anatoly Kalinichenko, the deputy chief doctor at the Omsk emergency hospital, told reporters on Friday. “The diagnosis of ‘poisoning’ remains somewhere in the back of our minds, but we do not believe that the patient suffered poisoning.””

“A medical plane sent by the Berlin-based humanitarian group Cinema for Peace Foundation arrived in Omsk on Friday to take the opposition leader to Germany for treatment. The Russian doctors initially blocked the transfer, saying Navalny wasn’t stable enough to travel, before finally allowing the German physicians to take a look at the patient’s condition.”

“Late on Friday, the Russian physicians granted the transfer request, but the earliest he’d be transported would be Saturday morning, his team said.

Hanging over all the drama, though, are two pressing questions: Was Navalny actually poisoned? And if so, did Putin have anything to do it?

As of right now, we don’t have definitive answers to those questions — and we may never get them.”

“Plausible deniability is baked into the cake of his authoritarian system. Everyone who works in the government knows what Putin wants without him having to explicitly ask. That means Kremlin operatives have the green light to pursue some of those goals — like knocking off a political rival — while officially keeping Putin out the loop.

That, in a sense, is how he gets what he wants without having his fingerprints on the government’s dirtiest actions.

So Putin could have ordered Navalny dead himself, but it’s equally possible that someone who wanted to make Putin happy did it on their own initiative.”

“things aren’t looking too great for Putin right now. He’s overseeing one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, facing protests that question his leadership, and watching as his ally in Belarus faces nationwide calls to step down. With all that instability, Putin may have wanted to target his main political rival to send a strong message.”