IRKUTSK, Russia — Russia has labeled him a pedophile and child pornographer who posted naked photographs of his 5-year-old daughter on the Internet, then fled Russia to escape a 15-year prison sentence.
But Yoann Barbereau, the former Irkutsk branch director of the nonprofit Alliance Francaise cultural organization, says he was framed by Russian computer hackers and law enforcement.
He says he thinks he became the target of so-called “discredit tactics” because of a “troubled local situation” in Irkutsk, strained Franco-Russian relations, and his “cultural sphere” connections with a mayor who was elected in opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
The Kremlin expressed “cautious optimism” about the prospects for an improvement in relations with the United States following a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comment on May 11, adding: “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
He also said a G20 summit in Germany in July would be a “good occasion” for Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet face-to-face.
While Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov implies Ukraine is “undemocratic” for voicing suspicions about Russia – which not only seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March 2014 but has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine – Kyiv has valid grounds to implicate Russia in the murder of a Russian MP who fled to Ukraine fearing for his life, and who told reporters of threats made against him.
Voronenkov was a key witness in Ukraine’s treason case against deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. In January 2017, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced that Voronenkov had given testimony about two letters written by Yanukovych in February 2014, one of which was registered with the UN Security Council by Russia on behalf of Yanukovych by the late Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, in which Yanukovych requested Russian troops to put down the Maidan demonstrations.
hey provide a dignified facade for a corrupt, authoritarian, and aggressive regime.
Some are adept at cloaking blatant lies behind a veneer of soothing diplomatic language. Others are fluent in the lexicon of international finance.
Many speak foreign languages. And all are comfortable in polite global society.
They’ve been called regime liberals, technocrats, and reformers. Some are sincere and others are cynical; some are competent and others not so much.
But they all serve the same function in Vladimir Putin’s regime: giving it the gloss and veneer of reputability.
Meet Russia’s Respectables, the comforting front-men of the Putin syndicate.
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin addressed the Federation Council this week to argue that Russia was in the midst of a full-blown economic crisis and the only way out was to implement deep structural reforms.
Days earlier, Kudrin told Interfax that he would consider returning to government under the right circumstances. This all got tongues wagging and tweeters tweeting about how a government shake-up was on the way and that Kudrin might be on the way back.
This may or may not be so. But it all misses a pretty important point. Vladimir Putin’s regime is incapable of implementing the kind of structural reforms Kudrin says are needed.
Doing so would threaten powerful entrenched clans in Putin’s inner circle. In order to reform and modernize this economy, you would need to effectively blow up the political system.
True reform, the kind Kudrin is talking about, would effectively mean regime change. Putin knows this and he is not going to let it happen.
Kudrin, who is close to Putin personally, disagreed with his decision to return to the Kremlin for a third term in 2011. He knew what it portended and he resigned over it.
And if Kudrin comes back now, he won’t be able to reform Russia’s economy. He would, in effect, be relegated to playing the role of a mafia accountant whose job is to keep the Putin syndicate’s books in order.
For somebody as capable — and, I believe, sincere — as Kudrin to play this role now would be sad to watch.
The Mafia Lawyer
Every time I hear Sergei Lavrov speak, I wonder how this guy manages to keep a straight face.
When the Russian Foreign Minister says things like he wants there to be peace and quiet in Ukraine and that the country should remain united, I can almost detect a slight smirk.
But just a slight one. As Russia’s chief diplomat, Lavrov has to be believable after all.
His role in the Putin syndicate is to obscure Moscow’s real agenda and intentions behind a veil of soothing diplomatic language.
Lavrov’s role is similar to that of a mafia lawyer. The buttoned-down public face of a mob family, whose role is to pretend that his clients are actually responsible businessmen.
Unlike Kudrin, it is hard to believe Lavrov is sincere. In fact, he seems about as cynical as they come. He convincingly passed himself off as a pro-Western liberal in the 1990s, when that was what was required to get ahead.
And because he is so cynical, because he can say utterly absurd things with a straight face and be taken seriously, he’s very good at his job — which explains why he’s been able to stay in it for 11 years.
Lavrov is indeed a skilled diplomat, just like Frank Ragano was a skilled lawyer. You could just as easily imagine him as Vaclav Havel’s foreign minister — or Saddam Hussein’s.
The Front Company CEO
Sure Dmitry Medvedev has become something of an international punchline. If Kudrin is capable and sincere, and Lavrov is just capable — Medvedev appears to be neither.
But Russia’s much-maligned prime minister has nevertheless served an important function for the Putin syndicate. Affable and nonthreatening, his role is akin to that of a bumbling CEO for a mafia front company.
His job is to keep the “legitimate” side of the operation running smoothly and to take the heat when things go wrong.
Indeed, Medvedev’s odd little “presidency” from 2008-12 is best viewed as the Putin syndicate flirting with the idea of “going legit.”
This may have been just a ruse. Or some of the syndicate’s “made men” might have this was a good idea — but lost the argument in the end. That’ll be one for the historians to figure out.
But the idea is clearly off the table now and Medvedev’s role is clear.
Kudrin, Lavrov, and Medvedev are just the tip of the iceberg. Russia’s elite is filled with similar, lesser respectables.
And as the nature of the regime becomes increasingly obvious, one has to wonder how many of the more sincere among them will jump ship — and become truly respectable.
by — Brian Whitmore — The Power Vertical — Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
Russia’s taken an aggressive interest in a tiny Balkan state’s political turmoil — and it’s connected to Moscow’s latest gas pipeline agenda.
Last weekend the Republic of Macedonia was rocked by anti-government protests and pro-government counter-protests following the release of covert recordings that allegedly show the government planning to rig votes and covering up a murder.
The still-in-charge Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is openly Moscow-friendly. He’s has taken a stance against the Western sanctions on Russia and supports the proposed Russian gas pipeline that would probably go through Macedonia.
Against this backdrop, it looks like Russia’s worried about the possibility of a new anti-Moscow government, which could potentially weaken the Kremlin’s position. (Especially because Moscow has traditionally used its arsenal of gas pipelines as tools of coercion in Europe.)
On Wednesday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that “the Macedonian events are blatantly controlled from the outside,” according to Russian state-controlled media outlet TASS.
“They are trying to accuse Gruevski’s government of not fulfilling its obligations to the population.
“However, the reason behind this is a desire to influence it in connection with its refusal to join anti-Russian sanctions, support of the South Stream and willingness to be involved in the implementation of other options of fuel delivery, including the so-called Turkish Stream,” he said.
“I don’t have any hard-line facts, but it’s a logical suspicion,” Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the EU, told Bloomberg TV in an interview when asked about the claims.
“If you look at the geography of the region, Macedonia is the best place for constructing the extension of the newest energy infrastructure project in the region, the so-called Turkish Stream,” he added.
The Turkish Steam, an OAO Gazprom project, was announced back in January after the company abandoned the $45 billion South Stream project in December.
The key geopolitical takeaway regarding both projects is that they’re supposed to bypass crumbling Ukraine — which would allow Russia to both maintain its gas leverage over the EU and to hurt Kiev.
“To help Gazprom reach Central European markets, Russia has advocated the construction of a pipeline that would run from Greece to Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary,” analysts from Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor wrote in a report, according to Bloomberg.
“These four countries are at the center of a Russian diplomatic offensive.”
Although some analysts have expressed doubts over the projects, “the Russians seem determined to let their transit contract with Ukraine expire by 2019 in favor of the alternative route under the Black Sea.
Gazprom has already laid 472 kilometers (293 miles) of the so-called Southern Corridor, the onshore part of the pipeline in Russia, in anticipation of the deal,” according to Bloomberg.
In any case, it looks like Russia might be closely monitoring the political conflict in Macedonia with the goal of avoiding another Ukraine circa 2013-2014, when pro-Kremlin Yanukovych’s regime was kicked out by the masses.