Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Real Power of Putin - The New York Review Of Books | How a Russian Fascist Is Meddling in America’s Election - NYT | Analysis : Putin Trump

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How a Russian Fascist Is Meddling in America’s Election

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NEW HAVEN — The president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “geopolitical catastrophe.” But the political thinker who today has the most influence on Mr. Putin’s Russia is not Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Communist system, but rather Ivan Ilyin, a prophet of Russian fascism.
The brilliant political philosopher has been dead for more than 60 years, but his ideas have found new life in post-Soviet Russia. After 1991, his books were republished with long print runs. President Putin began to cite him in his annual speech to the Federal Assembly, the Russian equivalent of theState of the Union address.
To complete the rehabilitation, Mr. Putin saw to it that Ilyin’s corpse was repatriated from Switzerland, and that his archive was returned from Michigan. The Russian president has been seen laying flowers on Ilyin’s Moscow grave. And Mr. Putin is not the only disciple of Ilyin among the Kremlin elite.
Vladislav Y. Surkov, Moscow’s arch-propagandist, also sees Ilyin as an authority. Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, who served as president between 2008 and 2012, recommends Ilyin to Russian students. Ilyin figures in the speeches of the foreign minister, the head of the constitutional court and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church.
What are the ideas that have inspired such esteem?
Ilyin believed that individuality was evil. For him, the “variety of human beings” demonstrated the failure of God to complete the labor of creation and was therefore essentially satanic. By extension, the middle classes, political parties and civil society were also evil, because they encouraged the development of personalities beyond the single identity of the national community.
According to Ilyin, the purpose of politics is to overcome individuality, and establish a “living totality” of the nation. Writing in the 1920s and ’30s after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, when he became a leading emigré ideologue of the anti-Communist White Russians, Ilyin looked on Mussolini and Hitler as exemplary leaders who were saving Europe by dissolving democracy. His 1927 article “On Russian Fascism” was addressed to “My White brothers, the fascists.” Later, in the 1940s and ’50s, he provided the outlines for a constitution of a fascist Holy Russia governed by a “national dictator” who would be “inspired by the spirit of totality.”
This leader would be responsible for all functions of government in a completely centralized state. Elections would be held, with open voting and signed ballots, purely as a ritual of support of the leader. The reckoning of votes was irrelevant: “We must reject blind faith in the number of votes and its political significance.”
In the light of Ilyin’s rehabilitation as Russia’s leading ideologue, Moscow’s manipulations of elections should be seen not so much as a failure to implement democracy but as a subversion of the very concept of democracy. Neither the parliamentary elections of December 2011 nor the presidential elections of March 2012 produced a majority for Mr. Putin’s party or for Mr. Putin personally. Votes were therefore added to produce a decisive result.
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The Real Power of Putin by Benjamin Nathans

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by Steven Lee Myers
Knoph, 572 pp., $32.50
by Anne Garrels
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 228 pp., $26.00
by Vladimir Gel’man
University of Pittsburgh Press, 208 pp., $25.95 (paper)
by Andrei P. Tsygankov
Oxford University Press, 259 pp., $105.00; $31.95 (paper)
by Walter Laqueur
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, 271 pp., $27.99
by David Satter
Yale University Press, 221 pp., $30.00
by Charles Clover
Yale University Press, 360 pp., $35.00
by Bobo Lo
Chatham House/Brookings Institution Press, 341 pp., $34.00
by Agnia Grigas
Yale University Press, 332 pp., $40.00
Biographies of political leaders typically offer a seminal moment, preferably early in their subjects’ lives, that crystallizes a character trait or provides a pivotal lesson for the life that follows. In the case of Yuri Andropov, longtime head of the KGB (1967–1982), briefly leader of the Soviet Union (1982–1984), and, most fatefully, patron of the young Mikhail Gorbachev, that moment came in the fall of 1956. From his window in the Soviet embassy in Budapest, Andropov watched in horror as, in the space of a single week in October, a student demonstration swelled into a popular uprising that toppled the Communist government and threatened to remove the Hungarian People’s Republic from the Warsaw Pact and thus from the outer tier of the Soviet Empire.
Through that same window, he could see the bodies of officers of the Hungarian secret police swaying from streetlights. Despite the successful crushing of the uprising by Soviet troops, in the course of which thousands of Hungarian civilians and hundreds of Soviet soldiers were killed, the events in Budapest marked the birth of Andropov’s—and the KGB’s—“Hungarian complex,” the mortal fear of small, unofficial groups sparking movements to overthrow Communist rule with direct (in the Hungarian case) or indirect encouragement by the West.
A generation later, in another Soviet outpost on the western edge of Moscow’s empire, a similar drama unfolded. This time the city was Dresden, the year was 1989, and the outpost was the KGB’s mansion on Angelikastrasse, directly across from the local headquarters of the Stasi, the KGB’s East German counterpart. A crowd of several thousand protesters had successfully breached the Stasi’s gates, gleefully ransacking the building while grim-faced intelligence officers stood by and watched. Also watching, from a window across the street, was thirty-seven-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Putin, who was temporarily in charge of the mansion, its voluminous intelligence records, and its staff of four. Shortly after dusk, a small crowd peeled away from the Stasi building with the intent of pulling off a similar victory against the KGB.
According to the New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers’s gripping account of this oft-told story in The New Tsar, Putin placed an urgent call to the local Soviet military command, requesting reinforcements to protect the mansion, only to be told that nothing could be done without orders from Moscow and that “Moscow is silent.” With his career and a treasure trove of highly classified documents on the line, Putin decided to take matters into his own hands. Approaching the mansion’s outer gates alone and unarmed, he announced in German to the crowd assembled there, “This house is strictly guarded. My soldiers have weapons. And I gave them orders: if anyone enters the compound, they are to open fire.” It worked, at least in one sense: the crowd returned to the Stasi building, leaving the mansion and its contents untouched. But if Putin won the battle, the Soviet Union lost the war.
What lessons did Putin draw from this episode, apart from its subsequent utility for biographical purposes? Haunted by the phrase “Moscow is silent,” he came to regard that silence as symptomatic of a “disease called paralysis—a paralysis of power.” A timely and assertive response to popular protests, it seems, might have produced a better outcome, might have kept Moscow’s East European buffer zone and perhaps the USSR itself intact. The protesters in Dresden that day were for Putin not a crowd but a mob: uninformed (some demanded to see the KGB’s nonexistent torture chambers), loud (some were shouting), and lawless (they ransacked the Stasi’s confidential files). They and their counterparts in Leipzig, Warsaw, Prague, Vilnius, Tbilisi, Baku, and Yerevan were sowers not of transparency but of anarchy.
We needn’t look therefore to the post-Soviet “color revolutions” in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004), let alone to the more recent demonstrations in Moscow against election fraud (2011–2012), for the source of Putin’s visceral aversion to public protests. The groundwork was laid much earlier, and its timing bears on the debate about the current direction of Russian politics. As Putin’s rule has turned more authoritarian and his foreign policy more aggressive, observers have been asking themselves whether something fundamental has shifted in his outlook, and if so, why.
To be sure, like most people who have built their careers inside intelligence services, Putin was never going to be a plausible spokesman for deliberative and pluralist politics. Instead, he has presided over “managed democracy” (managed, that is, by the Kremlin) or “sovereign democracy” (sovereign, that is, vis-à-vis foreign influence)—variations on the Soviet era’s “people’s democracy”—all Potemkin democracies draped over authoritarian structures of power, going back to what Max Weber called the “fake constitutionalism” of the tsarist regime at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Nonetheless, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, what appeared to drive Putin was the sober pursuit of Russia’s national interest after the disintegration and free fall of the 1990s, which he countered by renationalizing the country’s principal assets—oil, gas, and precious metals—and thereby restoring state capacity. Even without getting a sense of his soul, as George W. Bush claimed to have done in 2001, one could recognize Putin as a conservative patriot, a man, to borrow Margaret Thatcher’s assessment of Gorbachev, with whom one could do business.
And business was indeed done: post-Soviet Moscow became home to more billionaires than any other city in the world, even as a prosperous middle class began to spread its wings there and in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. Business was done across Russia’s borders as well, as China and the European Union became major consumers of Russian oil and natural gas. Putin imposed a semblance of law and a great deal of order at home, while Russia joined or sought to join the multilateral organizations (G8, WTOOSCE, etc.) that are the benchmarks of global integration. All these trends were widely understood as both cause and effect of Russia’s transition toward “normal” market democracy.
What happened? Why did Putin’s Russia jump the rails? Why is the talk (not to mention the book titles) in the West no longer of transition but regression, with a “new tsar,” a “new Russian empire,” and a “new cold war”? Americans—the quintessential middle-class nation—cherish the notion that a rising middle class expands political freedom and the rule of law; that commerce among nations reduces the threat of war; and that, in the long run at least, democracy produces the greatest good for the greatest number. The distinguished historian Moshe Lewin argued that Gorbachev, Russia’s leading democratizer to date, was part of a rising tide within the Soviet population, an emerging majority of educated, white-collar urbanites, and that perestroika was the product not just of a handful of Communist Party reformers but of the accumulating modernization of Soviet society itself. Deep currents of Russian social history were flowing in the direction of liberalization, and Gorbachev rode the wave.
This notion and the cherished assumptions behind it are now facing historic tests not only in Russia but in China, Poland, and elsewhere. The members of Russia’s middle class who appear in the veteran NPR reporter Anne Garrels’s Putin Country, a survey of life in the provincial city of Chelyabinsk, hardly fit Lewin’s liberalizing mold. Enmeshed in webs of corruption that stretch from ballot stuffing to journalism for hire, from evasion of military service to the auctioning of university admissions, they blame the “everything for sale” mentality precisely on the neoliberalism imported from the West in the 1990s. As one woman puts it, “All those financial manipulations, the rush to privatize, these ideas didn’t come from here, they came from you, from the West, but the West didn’t have to live through the results.” Public protests in Chelyabinsk, however, are extremely rare, since few people can envision a viable alternative to the status quo.
Instead, Garrels’s subjects follow the time-tested Russian strategies of adaptation and circumvention. On the eve of recent elections, for example, students at Chelyabinsk State University were informed that, to express their gratitude for government-issued scholarships, they should support United Russia, Putin’s party. To verify that support, officials required students to use their cell phones to photograph their ballot as they voted. Some students complied with a twist: they placed a thread in the shape of a check mark next to “United Russia,” photographed the ballot, and then removed the thread and voted as they pleased.
According to Authoritarian Russia, by the political scientist Vladimir Gel’man, it is precisely such microstrategies of coping that help perpetuate Russia’s authoritarian politics. Like most politicians, Russia’s leaders are simply “rational power maximizers.” The difference is that they operate in a country almost entirely devoid of institutional and political constraints on elite behavior. Gel’man thus shows little interest in Putin’s worldview, or the views of those around him; in fact, he writes, “ideology as such has probably been the least meaningful factor in Russian politics since the Soviet collapse.”
Putin was able to abolish regional elections of provincial governors and instead appoint them himself, with impunity. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, brought in tanks to fire on the popularly elected Russian parliament and rewrote the constitution to fortify executive power, with impunity. Even Anatoly Sobchak, the law professor and first post-Soviet mayor of St. Petersburg (among whose protégés were Putin and his future sidekick Dmitri Medvedev), did not hesitate to dissolve the city council and concentrate power in his own hands, also with impunity.
These were assaults not on individual rivals, opposition parties, or independent media, but on the fundamental structures of the democratic process itself, and yet they generated hardly a ripple of protest. “Almost all success stories of democratization,” Gel’man notes, “result from constraints imposed on would-be dominant actors… by institutions, or by other actors, or sometimes even by themselves.” Rather than parse Putin’s speeches for signs of creeping authoritarianism, or endlessly cite the color revolutions as triggers of the Kremlin’s backlash against civil society, we should recognize that the Russia that emerged from seventy-four years of Soviet socialism was already deeply authoritarian before Putin set foot in the Kremlin.
Indeed, as the political scientist Andrei Tsygankov reminds us in The Strong State in Russia, in the wake of previous catastrophic breakdowns during the past thousand years, whether triggered by rebellion from within or invasion from without (or both), Russia has always reestablished a strong, centralized state. That state has taken a variety of forms, to be sure, but through all of them runs a common trait: the tendency for power to reside in persons more than in institutions. Like most premodern monarchs, the tsars recognized no formal constraints on their authority. And despite the transfer of sovereignty from the tsar’s mortal body to the immortal working class and Communist Party, the Bolsheviks constructed personality cults around Lenin and Stalin that dwarfed anything produced by the sacred monarchies. In Russia there are few signs of institutional or any other domestic constraints emerging in the near future. The new urban middle class, for all its visibility, lacks formal instruments through which to promote its interests. And while Russia may be famous for its fabulously wealthy oligarchs, they have been too busy maneuvering against each other to form an actual oligarchy.
In The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep, the veteran journalist David Satter shares the sense that there has been little change in Putin’s politics, and that the consolidation of authoritarian rule was already well underway in the Yeltsin era. But his analysis of those politics is much darker, focusing on the simmering accusation that in the fall of 1999, Russia’s security services (FSB) directly or indirectly orchestrated a series of bombings of apartment buildings in the cities of Buinaksk, Moscow, Volgodonsk, and Ryazan (the last foiled by alert residents), then falsely claimed that they were the work of Chechen separatists, thus providing a pretext for Prime Minister Putin, previously the FSB’s director, to launch Moscow’s second war against the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Those accusations were first leveled in 2002 by Yuri Felshtinsky and Alexander Litvinenko, the latter a defector from the FSB who was fatally poisoned four years later by an FSB emissary in London using radioactive polonium 210. Whereas Myers and other authors under review present disturbing evidence but withhold final judgment about responsibility for the bombings, in which nearly three hundred civilians were killed and over a thousand wounded, Satter is convinced that these were acts of state-sponsored terrorism against the state’s own citizens.
He argues moreover that the horrific hostage-taking episodes at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow in 2002 and at School No. 1 in the North Caucasian town of Beslan in 2004, in which a combined total of over five hundred people were killed, including nearly two hundred children, were “the result of a Russian provocation” designed to further Putin’s consolidation of power in the name of the war on terrorism. Satter’s shocking accusations are not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from those linking Russian authorities to the assassination of vocal critics such as Paul Klebnikov (2004), Anna Politkovskaya (2006), Anastasiya Baburova and Stanislav Markelov (2009), Natalya Estemirova (2009), and Boris Nemtsov (2015)—to name only the most prominent cases. The victims at the Dubrovka and in Beslan, like those of the apartment bombings, were not critics but anonymous, random targets of lethal violence, which is to say, of terrorism.
These charges, as Satter recognizes, boggle the mind. To understand today’s Russia, he insists, “is actually very easy, but one must teach oneself to do something that is very hard—to believe the unbelievable,” because “Russia is a universe based on a completely different set of values.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived at a similar conclusion in March 2014, following a telephone conversation with Putin in the midst of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Merkel reported afterward to President Obama that Putin was out of touch with reality, living “in another world.” One needn’t fully share this Manichaean perspective to conclude that Gel’man’s “rational power maximization” cannot adequately capture what drives Putin—or any other politician. To put it another way, it fails to grapple with John Maynard Keynes’s dictum that “the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”
According to Putinism, by longtime Russia observer Walter Laqueur, Keynes’s pronouncement should apply particularly to Russia, which even today is unable “to exist without a doctrine and a mission.” The Soviet Union from which Russia emerged in 1991 was the most purpose-driven society the world has ever seen. Yet Laqueur struggles to put his finger on what he calls “the emerging ‘Russian idea,’” partly because so many doctrines are competing for influence (Russian Orthodoxy, Eurasianism, antiglobalism, nationalism), and partly because, as he concedes, the vast majority of ordinary Russians “are not motivated by ideology; their psychology and ambitions are primarily those of members of a consumer society.” The ubiquity in contemporary Russian political thought of fantastic conspiracy theories periodically leads Laqueur to throw up his hands in frustration. At one point he concludes that, apart from a vague “nationalism accompanied by anti-Westernism,” “there might be no elaborate Putinist ideology” after all.
Financial Times reporter Charles Clover takes a different approach to the role of ideas in Putin’s Russia. Black Wind, White Snow—a phrase borrowed from Alexander Blok’s apocalyptic 1918 poem “The Twelve,” about Bolshevik apostles ushering in a new age—offers a highly person-centered (and thus appropriately Russian) history of “Eurasianism,” a keyword among today’s Russian conservatives. Like Blok, the original Eurasianists (many of them exiles in interwar Europe) sought to reconcile themselves to the Soviet project by recasting its historical meaning. Beginning with the aristocrat Nikolai Trubetskoy, they made their peace with Bolshevism as the only available means to insulate Russia from the violent self-absorption of a European civilization in steep decline.
Eurasianism began as an imaginative—to put it generously—theory of historical linguistics, allegedly showing that Russian tonal patterns had more in common with those of the steppe peoples of Inner Asia (“Eurasia”) than with Europeans’. For Trubetskoy and his collaborator Roman Jakobson, moreover, linguistic structures captured and preserved deep affinities of culture and consciousness, rendering visible, to the trained eye, the true frontiers of a great Eurasian civilization that had amalgamated dozens or even hundreds of tribes in a single “convergence zone.” From here it was a short step to declaring that Russia was neither a Slavic nor a European country, that in fact most of Russia’s problems came from trying to be European when it wasn’t. Better to recognize and embrace one’s inner Mongol.
The most fertile Eurasianist of all was Lev Gumilev, whose story Clover relates in a series of utterly absorbing chapters. The offspring of two of modern Russia’s greatest poets, Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilev, Lev Gumilev seems to have passed through all of his country’s twentieth-century agonies to emerge a profound and profoundly damaged thinker. During his decade as a zek(prisoner) in the Gulag, he became a keen observer of human relations in the primordial setting of the camps, developing categories of analysis that we would now recognize as belonging to evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. Rather than a Hobbesian war of all against all, Gumilev found that prisoners naturally organized themselves into microcommunities:
Groups of from two to four persons emerged on this principle; they “eat together,” that is, share their meal. These are real consortiums, the members of which are obliged to help each other. The composition of such a group depends on the internal sympathy of its members for each other.
Internal sympathies, or what Gumilev called “complementarity,” led members of such communities to defend and make sacrifices for each other in ways that cannot be explained solely via rational self-interest (let alone rational power maximization). He called these prerational or suprarational impulses “passionarity,” a New Testament–tinged neologism signifying the instinct for self-sacrifice on behalf of a greater collective good.
Gumilev’s time in the camps was interrupted by service in the Red Army toward the end of its epic battle against Nazi Germany. Compared to the Gulag, he wrote, “the front line felt like a resort.” As he approached Berlin in the spring of 1945, Gumilev struggled to make sense of how a backward, motley country like the USSR could have overcome superior German organization and technology. Amid the “ornate books,” “asphalted roads,” and “luxurious apartments and automobiles,” Gumilev and his fellow Soviet soldiers, “dirty and unshaven, stood and wondered, why are we stronger? How are we better than this immaculately groomed and shiny country?” His eventual answer: Eurasians’ higher coefficient of complementarity and passionarity.
Gumilev went on to write a slew of works, intricate, inspired, and ill-equipped to withstand scholarly scrutiny, culminating in the long-delayed publication of his Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere (1989), which was all the rage when I was a graduate student in Leningrad. With the Soviet Eurasian state disintegrating around him, Gumilev’s Stockholm syndrome, as Clover calls it, came into full bloom: he rose to public prominence as an ardent defender of the very state that had executed his father, silenced his mother, nearly starved and worked him to death for twelve years, and murdered millions of his fellow Eurasians. Was this Gumilev’s version of passionarity?
After his death in 1992, his fame only increased. Eurasianism offered a renovated moral purpose for the multi-national USSR (and for a possible successor state) that was neither Marxist nor nationalist, a “third way,” as Clover puts it, emphasizing “the unconscious sympathy of the people of the Soviet Union, the millennia-old unity of inner Eurasia, and a lurking distrust of the West.” It is easy, and not entirely wrong, to dismiss such sentiment as a fig leaf for Russian imperial ambitions. But it is worth recalling that Russians have never inhabited the nation-state form; for centuries they have been accustomed to living in multinational polities, always as the dominant ethnic group but rarely with the ambition to become the only ethnic group.
In the post-Soviet chapters of Black Wind, White Snow, Eurasianism’s lineage starts to unravel. Clover looks to Alexander Dugin, a prodigious right-wing intellectual impresario, to carry the banner raised by Trubetskoy and Gumilev, but the diversity of sources on which Dugin draws—nationalist, fascist, postmodern—makes him an uncomfortable fit. Clover’s method for establishing Dugin’s and Eurasianism’s influence on the Kremlin is similarly unconvincing, focusing entirely on the occasional appearance in Putin’s speeches of keywords such as “passionarity” or “Eurasia.” One could just as easily cite other keywords uttered by Putin in order to draw the attention of other constituencies, a technique Clover correctly identifies as the “dog whistle.” While Eurasianism has clearly found its way into the rhetorical stew from which Russian political elites feed, and periodically provides ideological gloss for this or that initiative, there is little evidence that it has actually shaped Kremlin policies, whether at home or abroad.
If there is one arena in which Russia’s “power maximizers”—rational or otherwise—bump into unavoidable constraints, it is in the conduct of foreign policy. Simply by virtue of its size and the number of its neighbors (both greater than any other country), Russia remains a global player. But as the Australian scholar-diplomat Bobo Lo persuasively argues in Russia and the New World Disorder, Moscow has yet to adapt to the disorder of the post–cold war world or to the limited efficacy of “hard power” and adversarial paradigms.
To be sure, Putin has demonstrated considerable skill in the arts of soft power. Much has been made of his election-year comments concerning Donald Trump, especially by Trump himself, who brags about Putin calling him “brilliant” and “a genius.” Actually, the word Putin used was yarkii, “colorful” or “flamboyant,” a description with which it would be hard to disagree.
More significant—and more alarming—than any mutual flattery between the two autocratic figures, however, have been the financial ties between the Trump camp and a range of Putin’s allies. Paul Manafort, who resigned as Trump’s campaign manager on August 19, previously sold his services to Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian leader whose ousting in February 2014 led to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, as well as to Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate and Putin confidante who was banned from entering the United States. Carter Page, one of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, formerly worked for Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom. Trump himself, after his hotel and casino business went bankrupt in 2004, benefited significantly from infusions of capital that originated with Russian oligarchs.
For Putin, Trump represents not just a man with whom the Kremlin can do business, but potentially the most useful among the cohort of ultra-nationalists, including Nigel Farage in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who are leading the latest assault on globalization, neoliberalism, and the Western alliance system—this time from within. But whatever drove the Kremlin to hack the DNC’s e-mail, and whatever inspired Putin to express oblique praise for Trump, neither action seems to be helping Trump’s campaign—on the contrary. This may well be another example, as in Dresden in 1989, of Putin winning the battle but losing the war. It may also be a sign that, in Russia as in the US, all politics is local, and that Putin’s actions in the US election are designed primarily to bolster his domestic image as a master of political intrigue. Here, he appears to be succeeding.
Putin has also waged a soft-power irredentist campaign to mobilize millions of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the “near abroad,” the former Soviet republics that now ring Russia’s western and southern flanks. And where a Russian political diaspora cannot be found, the political analyst Agnia Grigas shows in Beyond Crimea, Moscow creates one: via humanitarian assistance, media saturation, and widespread granting of Russian passports. But these efforts to recoup at least some of what was lost in 1991 have been both selective and opportunistic.
Even in the most dramatic examples, in Georgia and Ukraine, Putin appears once again to be winning battles but losing wars. Having skillfully annexed the Crimean peninsula and locked eastern Ukraine, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia into protracted conflict, Moscow has effectively pushed the rest of Ukraine and Georgia more firmly than ever toward the European Union, while setting off a punishing regime of sanctions against Russia by the West. Other former Soviet republics now look with greater wariness at Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union,” and NATO is beefing up its mission in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Is Putin’s newly assertive stance a symptom of “reimperialization,” as Grigas insists, or rather of what Lo calls the “prolonged agony of post-imperial adjustment,” not unlike the Anglo-French attempt to occupy the Suez Canal in 1956, or the brutal French war in Algeria in the 1950s? “It is unrealistic,” Lo reminds us,
to expect Russia to be the exception to the rule that empires, modern and ancient, do not go quietly. They either collapse as a result of crushing defeat (Germany, Japan) or domestic implosion (China), or they strive for decades to cling on to the scraps of their imperial past (Great Britain, France). Less than twenty-five years ago, Russia was the largest land empire in history. The current political generation was born and raised in imperial times.
One needn’t subscribe to the theory of Eurasian “complementarity” to grasp that, with decades or even centuries of cohabitation by Russia and its former imperial holdings, and without oceans or other natural borders to separate them (apart from the Caucasus), Russia is unlikely to go quietly anytime soon.
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Trump's Big Daddy Lie | Huffington Post


Analysis : Putin Trump

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Sep 20, 2016
Trump’s views on Russia, NATO and the United States’ responsibilities in the world go against 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy consensus. On <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>, we are raising questions about Trump’s policy pronouncements and providing answers for the vast numbers of American voters we believe share our national security concerns.
We have been compiling the most important news articles and opinions on the Putin-Trump connection – and the danger it poses – for interested citizens and voters of all political parties. These are some of the alarming details the editorial team has learned so far about the Putin-Trump relationship:
We are following the money trail from Russia to Trump:
Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign banks and interests – but one of the bigger unknowns about Donald Trump’s finances, without benefit of his tax returns, is how much direct or indirect investment in his business empire comes from Russian oligarchs and other former Soviet sources. What is known is that Russian money has kept some of his various development entities afloat. Read more
Trump’s campaign staff has extensive ties to Russia:
Former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort has been linked to undisclosed cash payments of nearly $13 million from the pro-Russian political group, the Party of Regions, in the Ukraine. Read more
And he’s not the only one. Several other top Trump advisers, past and present, have strong ties to Russia’s elite. Read more
Russia is believed to be interfering with the U.S. election process:
Russian government hackers are widely believed to be behind the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee’s email system, which led to the release of 20,000 private emails just before the Democratic National Convention. Trump then invited the Russian cyber-thieves to do even more, to dig into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server to find supposedly missing emails. In effect, Trump was asking the Russians to become a player in the U.S. presidential election – on his behalf – an invitation that has been widely condemned. And two states’ election systems have also reportedly been targeted by hackers. Read more
Trump campaign rhetoric is already having an impact in Russia and Ukraine:
The Trump-Clinton race has become summer’s “must-see TV” in both Russia and Ukraine – and Trump’s campaign is actually having a tangible effect on the ground in both countries. Read more
All of this has voters and national security experts worried:
Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump in the U.S. Presidential election, is setting off alarms with American voters of Eastern European ancestry. Read more
And 50 senior Republican national security officials signed a letter declaring that Donald Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” Read more
If you are concerned, too, learn more about the <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> project – and keep watching this space. Through Election Day Nov. 8, the editorial team will continue to gather, analyze and share the reporting that journalists around the world are doing on the Trump-Putin connection and the danger that poses. You can also keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter.
And most important: Remember to vote.
Sep 7, 2016
follow_the_money_imageOne of the bigger unknowns about Donald Trump’s finances, without benefit of his tax returns, is how much direct or indirect investment in his business empire comes from Russian oligarchs and other former Soviet sources.
What is known, is that Russian money has kept some of his various development entities afloat and that may be one reason for his extremely favorable treatment of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian policies since the start of Trump’s campaign. Writing in Slate about “Putin’s Puppet,” Franklin Foer collected the history of what he called Trump’s slavish devotion to Russian leaders and investors going back more than two decades:
“Russians helped finance his projects in Toronto and SoHo; they snapped up units in his buildings around the world – so much so that he came to target them, hosting cocktail parties in Moscow to recruit buyers. (His tenants included a Russian mobster, who ran an illegal poker ring in the Trump Tower and accompanied Trump to the staging of the Miss Universe contest in Moscow.) Even when he built a tower in Panama, he narrowcast his sales efforts to draw Russians, as the Washington Post has reported. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., bragged. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports many U.S. banks have shunned Trump, but not the Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, which is a well-known conduit for money from Russian oligarchs, according to The New Yorker.
The Journal: “Other Wall Street banks, after doing extensive business with Mr. Trump in the 1980s and 1990s, pulled back in part due to frustration with his business practices but also because he moved away from real-estate projects that required financing, according to bank officials. Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley are among the banks that don’t currently work with him. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., bankers “know better than to pitch” a Trump-related deal, said a former Goldman executive.”
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo concluded, “it is an open secret on Wall Street that none of the big banks will do business with Trump because he’s not trustworthy.
Trump’s most recent financial disclosure as a candidate, released in May 2016, shows that he owes at least $250 million to banks (Wall Street Journal blog Moneybeat). He has multiple loans of more than $50 million apiece from the German bank, according to an investigation by Mother Jones. That raises other questions:
“Two of those megaloans are held by Deutsche Bank, which is based in Germany but has US subsidiaries. And this prompts a question that no other major American presidential candidate has had to face: What are the implications of the chief executive of the US government being in hock for $100 million (or more) to a foreign entity that has tried to evade laws aimed at curtailing risky financial shenanigans, that was recently caught manipulating markets around the world, and that attempts to influence the US government?”
Russia has strategically supported right-wing populist and authoritarian parties in Eastern and Western Europe that tend to support Russian interests. This financial support could potentially prove disruptive to NATO cohesion and the Western consensus against an expansionist Russia. Among those getting Russian help are the French National Front and Marine Le Pen, former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary, among some 15 right-wing political parties that are believed to have Russian support of one kind or another.
The New York Times has reported: “The Kremlin’s goal seems to be to sow division, destabilize the European Union and possibly fracture what until now has been a relatively unified, if sometimes fragile, consensus against Russian aggression.” Russian support for Trump fits right in with this pattern.
Foer concludes in Slate:
“A Trump presidency would weaken Putin’s greatest geo-strategic competitor. By stoking racial hatred, Trump will shred the fabric of American society. He advertises his willingness to dismantle constitutional limits on executive power. In his desire to renegotiate debt payments, he would ruin the full faith and credit of the United States. One pro-Kremlin blogger summed up his government’s interest in this election with clarifying bluntness: ‘Trump will smash America as we know it, we’ve got nothing to lose.’ ”
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright told Business Insider: “Vladimir Putin could not dream up a better presidential candidate than Donald Trump to help him move his grand vision forward.”
Albright, who supports Hillary Clinton, listed some of the reasons why the Kremlin would favor Trump:“Donald Trump, beyond just praising [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, has defended his most unacceptable behavior and proposed a series of pro-Kremlin policies,” adding that Trump would be open to easing sanctions on Russia and recognizing the country’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. “He has stoked European disunity, celebrated Brexit, and casually predicted the break-up of the European Union,” Albright said. “[He] even encouraged Russian espionage in a US election.”
Aug 23, 2016
The U.S. election is still 76 days away, but the Trump-Clinton race has become summer’s  “must-see TV” in both Russia and Ukraine – and Trump’s campaign is actually having a tangible effect on the ground in both countries, Politico reports:
In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign – especially Trump’s – is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine and at the same time frustrating and confusing the Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin. This is partly because the U.S. campaign is happening against the backdrop of rising tensions between Kiev and Moscow. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko put his army on combat alert after Putin accused him of sending “saboteurs” into Crimea. State television showed footage of the Russians capturing the suspects under a full moon. Russian intelligence claimed that the Ukrainian military had killed a Russian officer and soldier. Kiev called the allegation “a fantasy.” …
Many Ukrainians, torn by their own political scandals and conflicts, say they’re shaken by the level of discourse in the United States, whose democracy many Ukrainian revolutionaries once saw as their compass. The GOP nominee’s laissez-faire attitude toward Ukraine’s future is a particular contrast to the two previous Republican standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and John McCain, both of whom made strident statements in support of Ukraine’s independence and opposed Putin’s aggression.
And on Russian state television, twists and turns in the U.S. campaign are reported through a “pro-Trump lens”:
Every new Trump attack on President Barack Obama or Clinton is also regularly broadcast, as if the state media wants to say, “See, did we not tell you exactly that for years?” Trump’s latest attack line—that Obama created ISIS—is especially popular in Putin’s Russia, where the state-controlled media would have you believe that Russia’s brave leader is alone in fighting malign forces in Syria.
Sources: Politico
Aug 23, 2016
Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump in the U.S. Presidential election, is setting off alarms with American voters of Eastern European ancestry, according to the Washington Post. This is especially critical in and around Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Detroit and all of Wisconsin, areas Trump needs to win. Voters there and elsewhere are worried, the Post says, because:
  • Trump has suggested that America will only conditionally live up to its obligations under the NATO charter and questioned the value of the alliance.
  • He’s said he’ll look into whether Putin should be allowed to keep Crimea, which he annexed with complete disregard for international law. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said this month.
  • Just three weeks ago, Trump pleaded directly with the Russian government to find and release tens of thousands of Clinton’s private emails. Asked whether Russian espionage into the former secretary of state’s correspondence would concern him, he replied: “No, it gives me no pause.
  • Trump’s campaign chairman until last Friday, Paul Manafort, orchestrated the ill-fated political comeback of Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine and is closely linked with other Putin cronies.
  • At the Republican National Convention last month, the Trump campaign stripped the party platformof language calling for the United States to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to resist Russian belligerence.
Sources: Washington Post
Aug 19, 2016
Paul Manafort has resigned as Trump’s Campaign Chairman after a staff shakeup. That may be because of an Aug. 14 The New York Times investigation linking Manafort to undisclosed cash payments of nearly $13 million from the pro-Russian political group, the Party of Regions, in the Ukraine. Manafort was a consultant for former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych for five years before he was ousted from power and fled to Russia. The payments came to light through an investigation by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Manafort later denied ever receiving any off-the-books cash payments or having ever worked for the Ukraine or Russian governments. The Times reports:
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin. …
“He understood what was happening in Ukraine,” said Vitaliy Kasko, a former senior official with the general prosecutor’s office in Kiev. “It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption.”
Aug 18, 2016
 The Associated Press unearths more details about the trail of Russian money linked to Trump‘s now former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort in a story revealing Manafort assisted Ukraine’s pro-Russia governing party in funneling money to two Washington lobbyist firms via a nonprofit organization. This path sidestepped U.S. Justice Department rules requiring lobbyists to disclose that they represent foreign leaders or political parties. The AP reports:
Manafort and business associate Rick Gates, another top strategist in Trump’s campaign, were working in 2012 on behalf of the political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych.
People with direct knowledge of Gates’ work said that, during the period when Gates and Manafort were consultants to the Ukraine president’s political party, Gates was also helping steer the advocacy work done by a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit that hired a pair of Washington lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC.
The nonprofit, the newly created European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, was governed by a board that initially included parliament members from Yanukovych’s party. The nonprofit subsequently paid at least $2.2 million to the lobbying firms to advocate positions generally in line with those of Yanukovych’s government.
That lobbying included downplaying the necessity of a congressional resolution meant to pressure the Ukrainian leader to release an imprisoned political rival.
The lobbying firms continued the work until shortly after Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014, during a popular revolt prompted in part by his government’s crackdown on protesters and close ties to Russia. …
Gates told the AP that he and Manafort introduced the lobbying firms to the European Centre nonprofit and occasionally consulted with the firms on Ukrainian politics. He called the actions lawful…
Aug 17, 2016
Trump says he doesn’t have investments in Russia, but that’s not the whole story. It appears that Russians have big investments in Trump’s developments. Trump claims he doesn’t know where the money comes from, but it is clear he has sought to capture the enormous amounts of capital pouring out of the former Soviet Union. By his own admission, The Financial Times says, Trump “has agreed to serve as the public face of a murky business.” The paper describes one relationship this way:
During the first decade of this century, Donald Trump began doing business with an unlikely partner — Bayrock, a New York property developer founded only a few years before by a Soviet-born newcomer to the US named Tevfik Arif.
The Republican presidential nominee and Bayrock were both based in Trump Tower and they joined forces to pursue deals around the world — from New York, Florida, Arizona and Colorado in the US to Turkey, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Their best-known collaboration — Trump SoHo, a 46-storey hotel-condominium completed in 2010 — was featured in Mr Trump’s NBC television show The Apprentice.
Yet when Mr Trump testified under oath in 2011 about his relationship with Mr Arif’s company, he confessed that he found his partners puzzling. Mr Trump said he knew what they did. But he said he was unsure of exactly who they were. …
Mr Trump’s Bayrock blind spot gains significance in the context of this year’s presidential race. Mr Trump has taken a stance on Russia that is at odds with US political orthodoxy — praising President Vladimir Putin’s leadership skills and saying he would consider lifting sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. Critics have asked whether Mr Trump’s business interests might be colouring his policies.
Aug 8, 2016
 In a letter released Aug. 8, 50 senior Republican national security officials declared Donald Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” The letter is signed by Michael Hayden, a former director of both the CIA and National Security Agency; John Negroponte, a former director of national intelligence and former deputy secretary of state; Robert Zoellick, a former deputy secretary of state; and two former secretaries of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff. Among the signatories, some reportedly will vote for Hillary Clinton, and some say they will not vote – “but all agree Trump is not qualified and would be dangerous.” The New York Times summarizes the letter: 
The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States’ moral authority and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American policy should be based. And it laments that “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”
“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” the letter states, though it notes later that many Americans “have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us.”
Jun 17, 2016
A deeply reported story in the Washington Post describes Trump’s 30-year history of business dealings with Russian oligarchs and government officials. These dealings began in the 1980s when there was still a Soviet Union. Trump’s many business deals and activities include bringing the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow in 2013. Of more serious consequence has been heavy Russian investments in Trump’s properties and businesses, as acknowledged by Trump’s son Donald Jr. Maybe that’s why Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man Trump thinks he can do business with. Meanwhile, the Post says that most American political and national security leaders see Putin as “a pariah who disregards human rights and has violated international norms” and who remains a top geopolitical threat to America’s national security interests. The Post:
Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
The dynamic illustrates the extent to which Trump’s worldview has been formed through the lens of commerce rather than the think tanks, government deliberations and international diplomatic conferences that typically shape the foreign policy positions of presidential candidates.
It also reflects Trump’s willingness to see world leaders through his own personal connections. In a Republican Party in which an ability to stand up to Putin has been seen as a test of toughness, Trump’s relationship with the Russian leader is instead one of mutual flattery.
One thing intelligence operatives, foreign and domestic, can agree on: Vladimir Putin is exercising his KGB skillset to manipulate Trump for Russia’s interests.
“[Putin] played this perfectly, right? He saw that Donald Trump wanted to be complemented. He complimented him. That led Donald Trump to then compliment Vladimir Putin and to defend Vladimir Putin’s actions in a number of places around the world. And Donald Trump didn’t even understand, right, that Putin was playing him. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.” – Former CIA Acting Director, Michael Morell
Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessments, has said Putin, “understands that Clinton is a real politician, and it would be more difficult to get her to believe what he wants.”
Sources: NBC News | USA Today
Russian government hackers are widely believed to be behind the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee’s email system, which led to the release of 20,000 private emails just before the Democratic National Convention. Trump then invited the Russian cyber-thieves to do even more, to dig into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server to find supposedly missing emails. In effect, Trump was asking the Russians to become a player in the U.S. presidential election – on his behalf – an invitation that has been widely condemned.
As Foreign Policy Magazine reported, “Trump’s appeal to Russia to spy on the nation’s former chief diplomat is startling and unprecedented, to say the least. He’s appealing to a country now accused of trying to sway a U.S. presidential election in favor of Trump, a candidate of whom Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has spoken highly. Trump has done the same, and has also said some Baltic members of NATO might be on their own if Russia decide to invade.”
Evidence for the Russian hack includes:
  • Russian language settings were found within metadata of hacker’s computer.
  • Motherboard, an online tech magazine, published an interview with supposedly lone hacker Guccifer 2.0 where the hacker switched from English, to Romanian, to Russian, and then promptly cut his interview off. Motherboard had a linguistics specialist review the interview, finding Guccifer 2.0’s Romanian answers were not that of a native Romanian speaker as well as “the syntax of several of his English lines echoed Russian sentence constructions.”
  • Second linguistic analysis provided to New York Times by cybersecurity firm Taia Global confirmed Guccifer 2.0’s Russian identity.
Source: The New York Times 
Did you know that a number of Trump’s top advisers, past and present, have strong ties to Russia’s elite?
  • Michael Caputo, former adviser: Contracted to improve Putin’s image in 2000
  • Carter Page, former adviser: Ran the Moscow branch of Merrill Lynch, which included advising Russian energy giant Gazprom.
  • Paul Manafort, now former Campaign Chairman and Convention Manager
    • 2005 : Manafort was officially hired as an adviser for Rinat Akhmetov, one of the Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen.
    • 2006 : Akhmetov introduces Manafort to Viktor Yanukovych, to be hired as an election campaign adviser (2007-2012). As consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Russian ruling political party, Manafort’s name was listed on secret records showing he received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments, according to the New York Times.
      • In those 5 years, Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department. A requirement to “insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.”
    • Trump used to stand for a harsher watch on Russia in Ukraine, but after Manafort stepped in, he changed his opinion of Crimea and Putin’s occupation. The campaign also changed the GOP party platform removing language that had called for arming Ukraine against further Russian incursions. The gutting of this platform plank is contrary to the view of most GOP foreign policy leaders.
Read the whole story
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Putin Trump

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As the U.S. presidential election enters the home stretch, we see overwhelming evidence that a Donald Trump presidency would put U.S. national security interests at risk. Trump’s cozy relationship and lavish praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump’s criticism of the historic U.S. alliance with NATO partners, his invitation to Russian hackers to meddle in the presidential election, and his campaign staff’s financial ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine all pose a danger to America’s vital national interests.
Through Election Day, will analyze and raise awareness on this critical set of issues. Our goal is to be the Web’s most rigorous and thorough source for news and information on the dangerous Putin-Trump connection.

Exclusive: How EU firms skirt sanctions to do business in Crimea

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SIMFEROPOL, Crimea/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Products for sale in the Crimean stores of two European retailers are being shipped there from Russia via a ferry and port that are subject to EU sanctions, people involved in the transportation said, suggesting companies are finding ways around the punitive economic regime facing Moscow since 2014.

Syrian Ceasefire Collapse? 

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Many killed in aid convoy attack; inside a Gulen school; can computers cure cancer? (Photo: Damaged trucks carrying aid, in Aleppo Credit: Aleppo 24 News/Associated Press)

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UN suspends all aid convoys in Syria 

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Syrian ceasefire in tatters, life with neo-Nazis in a German village, can computers help battle cancer? Prince William on his 'sad and dark moments'

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International Edition 1305 EDT - September 20, 2016 

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the U.S. General Assembly for the last time as president, the presidential candidates comment on the New York City bombing and the Black Eyed Peas issue an updated version of "Where's The Love."

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