- Print This Post Print This Post

by John Helmer, Moscow 

There’s an invariable rule of politics the world over.

“It was worthwhile making sure of your potential friends,” the English novelist C.P. Snow put into the mouth of a rising cabinet minister in London a half-century ago. “As a rule you couldn’t win over your enemies, but you could lose your friends.”

In his career, President Vladimir Putin has accepted and followed only half that rule: he always keeps his friends — the Russian ones. Unfortunately, neither Putin nor his friends have understood the other half. That can be judged an improvement, nationally and historically speaking.

Lenin and Stalin understood  they couldn’t win over their enemies; they also shared an ideology explaining  why such conflict was unceasing, permanent. Since Lenin and Stalin had few friends and ended up treating them like enemies, the second half of the rule didn’t apply. Mikhail Gorbachev got both parts of the rule wrong. For different reasons so did Boris Yeltsin. Their mistakes have cost Russia and the Russians mightily, especially those who thought the ideology of permanent conflict wasn’t true.  

The same mistake might have happened to Putin if not for Russian soldiers whose ideology and whose job it is to do nothing but fight enemies. So, nationally speaking, Russians are today as good or better at fighting enemies as ever they have been. Between the Russian military and Russia’s enemies, Putin and his friends have been taught there is no winning by negotiation or persuasion, only by force. It’s less certain Putin’s friends are convinced this is so, especially towards the US and the UK, where the friends have sent their money and their children.

But those Russians have failed to win over the Americans and British. They have nothing to show for the process except for the inflated bills they have paid; a handful of foreign friends they have betrayed; and the limitless contempt of their enemies for having made the effort in the first place. Since the civil war started in the Ukraine in 2014 and sanctions followed, their bank accounts are today unprotected from freeze and unexplained wealth orders.

This is by way of reflection on two attempts this past week of Russian state spokesmen to defend Russia against its enemies by persuasion, not by force. The two are Maria Zakharova,  spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and Kirill Dmitriev, chairman of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the state sovereign wealth fund.  They failed with the enemies; this is to be expected and unremarkable.   But what friends they thought they were addressing and how they lost them – that’s the breaking news.  

Zakharova’s briefing is a weekly fixture, almost every Thursday afternoon. The purpose is to chronicle the activities of the Foreign Minister and his principal deputies, and provide a running summary of Russia’s relationships with the states of the rest of the world.  Zakharova also responds to a selection of allegations of mischief and wrongdoing which some of those states make, usually the US, the UK, and NATO.

Source: https://www.mid.ru/ru/

Last Thursday Zakharova made a point of responding to a London newspaper with a long record of being an enemy of the Russian state; it’s also the friend of Russia’s capital flight, its oligarchs and bank robbers. The newspaper  claimed to report classified papers of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on two incidents in England in March and June of 2018, in which Russian soldiers had allegedly attacked with a chemical warfare poison manufactured in Moscow. The story of the newspaper report and the OPCW documents was reported here.

This is the ministry’s English translation of what Zakharova said.  

“Question: Last month, a German company specialising in electronic payment services went bankrupt amid a fraud scandal. We know that the company’s COO has shown traders in London some documents leaked from the OPCW concerning the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018 and other people in neighboring Amesbury, also affected by a nerve agent at the same time. He never told the traders how he got those documents. A former commander of the UK’s chemical and biological weapons regiment told The Financial Times that the documents could have been leaked from Russia, adding that Russia had orchestrated a major misinformation campaign to discredit the UK investigation and undermine the credibility of the OPCW. Can you comment on these statements?

Maria Zakharova: Your question contains a lot of information. It is very indicative. All I can say to this is we do not know what exactly the Irish police found during the search of the Dublin office of the bankrupt German company. As you said, this firm specialised in electronic payment services and hardly had anything to do with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Regarding the role of the OPCW in relation to the Salisbury incident, it should not be forgotten that the British authorities immediately rejected our proposal to hold consultations on the Skripal case in accordance with paragraph 2 of Article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to remove whatever far-fetched concerns they had. So the OPCW just retreated to purely technical assistance under paragraph 38 (f) of Article VIII of the CWC. At the request of the United Kingdom, Technical Secretariat experts simply confirmed the presence of chemicals in the so-called Novichok class in the samples given to them.

It is noteworthy that none of the experts were [sic] able to identify the geographical origin of the chemical compounds found. Therefore, we have no idea whatsoever of the rationale applied by those who suddenly admitted the possibility of some Russian footprint in this highly dubious story. Most likely, these fantasies (and this is how they should be qualified) should be considered in the context of London’s tactics of accusing Russia in their preferred ‘highly likely’ style we know so well (now elevated to a new level – ‘almost certain’).

In general, it seems more appropriate to ask the initiators of this Russophobic hoax for clarification. Apparently, this was done just to keep this fabricated Skripal case story afloat. Why London would want to go around in a new circle (something that’s obvious now, given today’s statements and the Financial Times’ quite coincidental interest in this topic) is a big question.”

Tass, RT and Sputnik, the Russian state media, quoted from other parts of Zakharova’s briefing;  they didn’t pick up these comments and republish them either in Russian or English.  To whom then was Zakharova addressing them?

The Foreign Ministry has been holding the OPCW reports since before they were released to the OPCW member states. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced  what Russian espionage had managed to learn from them in April of 2018; that was after the alleged attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, but before the alleged attack on Dawn Sturgess the following June. Read what Lavrov announced at the time.   For the full story, click for more.

In other words, more than two years before the London newspaper report alleging the documents had been leaked by Russians, Zakharova’s minister had announced officially that the OPCW investigation had not substantiated the British government’s allegations. Dozens of OPCW member states were able to confirm for themselves from their own copies of the OPCW documents what Lavrov had announced; they have known this for two years. That the Austrian government had leaked the OPCW reports to sources who leaked them in turn to the London newspaper had been established before Zakharova spoke last Thursday.

She answered: “[the OPCW] Technical Secretariat experts simply confirmed the presence of chemicals in the so-called Novichok class in the samples given to them. It is noteworthy that none of the experts were able to identify the geographical origin of the chemical compounds found.” This was not a direct quote from the documents; it was Russian hearsay. Zakharova was asking Russia’s enemies to believe her – or was she asking Russia’s friends?

The release of the full texts of the four OPCW reports, to which the London newspaper had referred, could have been made in answer,  since the question was an explicit challenge, not to the disclosure of the documents themselves, but to the misrepresentation of what the documents said and to a “Russian misinformation campaign…to discredit the UK investigation and undermine the credibility of the OPCW.”

If Zakharova intended to speak to Russia’s friends, she could have announced that the OPCW reports spoke for themselves and republished them. Russia’s friends would count the technicality of leaking classified OPCW documents as less faulty, and more necessary in last week’s  circumstances, than the evidence that the British government and all the allied enemies of Russia had combined to falsify what the OPCW had reported.

But Zakharova  didn’t do this. Instead, she called the newspaper’s allegations a “dubious story”, one of several “fantasies”, a “Russophobic hoax”, and a “fabrication [keeping] the Skripal case afloat”. This was an appeal to Russia’s friends to believe what she was saying; to take her on trust. To Russia’s enemies, Zakharova’s remarks were evasions. To them, and possibly to a Russian friend or two, indirect confirmation of the British allegation, not the Russian truth.

On Snow’s rule, notch Zakharova’s presentation down as another failure to win over Russia’s enemies, and a fresh risk, if not outright loss,  of a friend as well.

The Kremlin spokesmen (left to right): Dmitry Peskov, presidential press secretary; Alexei Gromov, first deputy chief of the presidential staff;   Margarita Simonyan, head of RT.  Among themselves,  Russian friends, like friends everywhere, are forgiving of well-intentioned mistakes. About these friends, this is what the enemies believe to be the truth of their intentions-- Gromov;  Simonyan.

Last week in parallel, Snow’s rule was tested by a different group of state officials. They were responding to Russia’s enemies accusing it of trying to steal the secrets of western vaccines against the corona virus. To that end it was decided that Dmitry Peskov would start, Kirill Dmitriev would follow.

According to Peskov in Margarita Simonyan’s outlet, “we have no information on who could’ve hacked the pharma companies and research centers in the UK. We can only say one thing – Russia has nothing to do with those attempts.”   If Russia’s foreign friends were polled, they are highly likely – this is the British government’s standard of veracity – to think the first sentence can’t possibly be true  because it’s the responsibility of the state intelligence agencies to gather that information. It’s equally highly unlikely that those agencies would be refraining from the type of industrial, commercial and scientific espionage which every other major state, including enemies and friends, consider it to be their duty to conduct.

“We reject these kind of accusations”, RT quoted Peskov as concluding. That’s one certainty Russia’s friends can accept with enthusiasm.

Alexei Gromov, Peskov’s superior, then decided that more needed to be said in the direction of Russia’s friends and enemies. To this end, Dmitriev was recruited. “The hacking claims were an attempt to ‘tarnish the reputation of the Russian vaccine’ against the coronavirus,” Dmitriev told RT on Thursday. “Those behind the slur are ‘scared of [the vaccine’s] success because the Russian vaccine could potentially be the first on the market and it potentially could be the most effective,’ he explained. It’s no coincidence that those accusations were made just after the announcement that the state regulators will be approving the Russian vaccine in August, Dmitriev added. Besides, stealing data from the UK would have made no sense for Moscow, as a Russian firm, R-Pharm, will be producing the British vaccine made by Oxford-based AstraZeneca. ‘No secrets are needed. Everything is already given to R-Pharm,’ Dmitriev said.”

Acknowledging that only a handful of Russia’s friends read RT, it was decided that the next day Dmitriev should speak to two enemy newspapers, The Times of London and the Financial Times.  The first enemy to run with the story was The Times.  It headlined its story “Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine will be produced in Moscow… A Russian drug company has signed a deal to mass produce a British coronavirus vaccine despite claims from intelligence agencies that British scientists were the targets of industrial espionage.”  

Dmitriev’s point was the same – why would Russians steal if they had already promised to pay for the goods? The enemy understood this to be half an admission that Russian agents had been trying to steal the British vaccine secrets. The enemy also understood Dmitriev to be trying to pull the enemy’s leg with a logic defying business practice, especially in a Rupert Murdoch enterprise convicted in the British courts of being the most active hacker in British media history.

The next day Dmitriev tried again by calling in two reporters from the Financial Times for a face-to-face, mask-to-mask session.

Source: https://www.ft.com/

“The head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said his country and a handful of other leading powers would develop viable Covid-19 vaccines in the new year, forcing the rest of the world to chose which of them to align with,” their report opened.   

 “Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, also warned that public health could be put at risk and coronavirus immunity divided by geopolitical faultlines if countries chose ‘political biases’ instead of sourcing the most effective defences against the virus. ‘Six months from now, we will be in a situation where a few countries will have vaccines, and we believe those countries will be the UK, Russia, China and the US,’ Mr Dmitriev told the Financial Times in an interview. ‘And basically other countries will decide . . . which vaccine to buy . . . and who do you trust?’”

“The warning comes a day after the UK, US and Canada accused hackers linked to the Russian state of attempting to steal information about the development of a British vaccine, and the US accused China of attempting to hack American research.”

“Mr Dmitriev rubbished the Russian hacking allegations as ‘unsubstantiated and frankly, strange’ and ‘an attempt to derail the success of the Russian vaccine, which we believe will be the first possibly in the world and the most efficient in the world’. Moscow did not need to steal any information about the British vaccine being trialled by Oxford university because AstraZeneca, the UK-based pharmaceuticals company that is part of the development team, was about to sign a deal with an RDIF-owned drug company to manufacture it in Russia, he added. ‘The Oxford vaccine will be fully transferred to Russia,’ said Mr Dmitriev. ‘[But] we believe that the Russian vaccine is better’…  Mr Dmitriev said it would enter phase three testing — on several thousand people — next month, adding that he had injected himself and his 74-year-old parents with it. ‘You have a major problem in the world . . . that political barriers and political biases prevent the best technologies being used,’ he told the FT. ‘Political biases are detrimental to people’s wellbeing in those countries.’ ‘It is a terrible [virus],’ he said. ‘Let’s get people safe and then we can do the politics . . . This nationalism does really prevent best solutions being openly discussed and analysed.’ Moscow is in talks to supply the vaccine to countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, Mr Dmitriev said, but western states were under pressure not to use Russian technology.”

“RDIF has also applied for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the test. But Mr Dmitriev said ongoing furore over Moscow’s supposed influence on American politics was holding back selling the tests. Mr Dmitriev’s failed efforts to develop a ‘reconciliation plan’ through back channels with the Trump administration were detailed in US special counsel Robert Mueller’s report last year into Russian election interference. ‘They could use our solution, but they’re not because of ‘Russia’,’ he said. ‘We see barrier after barrier to anything that has to do with Russia being adopted,’ he added. ‘We see a concerted effort to stop anything Russian from being adopted by other nations because of the national interests of western powers.’’’

The FT’s proprietor is a Japanese enemy of Russia, Dmitriev knew in advance of the interview. The principal media markets for the newspaper are in hostile territory – the US and the UK. But Dmitriev believed that what he had to say about the Russian vaccine might be able to win over his enemies and reassure his friends.  

Two of Russia’s friends were asked to assess this. One of them has spent many years at the top of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world; the second an equal number of years in the Russian media business. By their own standard they say they have been Russia’s friends of long standing. They haven’t read Snow’s novel, but they are know the enemies-and-friends rule.

The pharmaceutical source said Dmitriev had violated the rule. “After trying to play the darling of foreign investment funds, Dmitriev attracted intense suspicion in Kremlin so he feels the need to act the super-patriot. Dmitriev has also lost much of the credibility he had with western investors. He has a personal interest in advertising himself in the FT. This interview of his is a misguided effort to do these contradictory things at once. No serious commercial pharma company believes the media hype for vaccines in the short term is anything but share boosting. The big pharma developers believe no vaccine for mass inoculation can be expected for up to two years. Dmitriev’s line that Russia had no motive for hacking foreign pharma and vaccine institutions because it is already paying for licences to manufacture the Oxford vaccine is sheer silliness as a defence. It makes the Russians look, yet again, guilty.”

Kirill Dmitriev’s friends. Top: in November 2018 President Emmanuel Macron awarded the Legion of Honor order (Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur), France’s highest distinction, to Dmitriev “for his contribution to developing ties between Russia and France”.    Bottom:  in October 2019 he received the highest award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the order of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in recognition of his contribution to strengthening cooperation between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The ceremony was held by the Crown Prince and Minister of Defence of Saudi Arabia,Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud. In May 2020 Dmitriev was awarded the Order of Star of Italy.  

“Is Kirill Dmitriev just a vain fund manager or a first class [expletive] I can’t tell,” comments the Russian media veteran. “Does he believe, does the world at large think the  country that develops a vaccine first wins the race?  Does the world have so much trust in Russia and China that everyone will just rush to buy the Russian or Chinese vaccine, if they are first on the market?  Russia sent pandemic aid to Italy and Serbia , did it not? Every country has some obligations to every other country. No nation is an island in this. So Russia is very willing to help other countries. But now it seems Dmitriev is saying he thinks this will make trillions for Russia. It’s either arrogance or stupidity if he thinks the Russian vaccine would be the ‘best’ and the world will come to Russia on its knees. The world is not the West — there is Asia, Africa, Latin America. Yes, they believe big pharma is evil but that is no excuse for a Russian fund manager to assert world domination. These idiots make Russia look bad — to its friends first of all.”

Note: The illustration is a cartoon published in the Russian satirical journal Skorpion in 1906. It shows two chorts (demons from Slavic folklore) dragging a person to a door with text above it that says, 'Point of no return'.

Leave a Reply