Saturday 15 July 2023

¿Qué leer para entender a los complices europeos del chavismo?

 Una de las cosas que me llama la atención de los líderes opositores venezolanos es la manera como se abstienen de tocar el tema de Rusia o Cuba. Creo que en parte esto se debe a provincialismo, a falta de interés por ver el cuadro general, parte a temor por meterse más enemigos de los que ya tienen y parte a pura ignorancia.

No podemos seguir ignorando esa parte del problema que  hay en Venezuela. Para salir de la dictadura conviene ir más allá de nuestro continente.

Recomiendo los siguientes libros. Algunos ya han sido traducidos al español y otros no

Putin's People de Catherine Belton; un libro sobre cómo la mafia de la KGB y otros siloviki llegaron a retomar el poder en Rusia.

The History of Modern Russia de Robert Service: una historia general de Rusia y su imperio en tiempos zaristas y luego en tiempos de la Unión Soviética.

The Lost Kingdom, por Serhii Plokhy: este libro, mucho más alejado de nuestro país, explica en gran detalle los problemas de identidad que hay en Rusia y Ucrania y cómo el régimen de Putin utiliza la historia...dentro de una tradición que ya tiene muchos siglos.

Y para contrastar, podemos leer

Empires of the Atlantic World por J., H. Elliott, quien compara el desarrollo de los imperios británicos y españoles en América. Este libro es muy interesante cuando uno quiere entender mejor todo el tema de las Leyendas Negra, Rosada, Roja y todo lo demás, leyendas que han sido en parte desarrolladas en el mundo anglófono o francófono, pero desde hace muchas décadas promovidas por el imperio ruso (el imperio ruso en forma de URSS y el imperio ruso actual). 

Sunday 1 January 2023

Venezuela en 2023

Los venezolanos se sienten increíblemente frustrados ante el caos de la oposición. El régimen chavista se ha especializado en dos cosas: procurar riquezas para sus líderes y enmascular la oposición con todos los trucos típicos que aprendió de los rusos y de los cubanos y otros que ha inventado él mismo El chavismo podrá ser totalmente incompetente en todo lo demás, pero sabe sobrevivir.

Mientras tanto nosotros nos preguntamos qué hacer. Las conversaciones de la diáspora se asemejan cada vez más a las de los cubanos de los años setenta o a las de los rusos en el exilio hace un siglo.

Creo que es allí donde debemos comenzar. Como escribía Harari en su libro Homo Sapiens, casi todo lo que crean los humanos está ante todo en las cabezas: nuestra fe en el dinero, nuestra creencia en la existencia de países. Y nuestra creencia en que un gobierno exista.

Por supuesto que si un grupo de personas tiene el poder de las armas tiene un poder físico muy real, pero este poder no es absoluto.

Si los venezolanos de buena fe quieren realmente recuperar su país deben comenzar por hablar de cómo será una Venezuela democrática. Debemos comenzar a escribir y hablar sobre la Venezuela postchavista, sobre una Venezuela pluralista. 

Si hay algo que enfurece a la casta chavista es precisamente eso. Ellos se especializan en matar sueños. Cuando hayamos aprendido a ver eso el chavismo dejará de tener poder.

Sunday 17 October 2021

The Venezuelans that betrayed the country. Chapter CCCMLXIV

Over twelve years ago I wrote in Spanish an article about a document that Russian dissident Bukovsky found when he finally had a one time access to the KGB archives. This documents shows how the president of the Venezuelan Communist Party back in the eighties, Faria, asked the KGB to train his nephew in sabotage and the usual stuff extreme leftists train into when they want to sabotage a government. This nephew, working at a Venezuelan university, was going to the Soviet Union in the framework of a scholarship but, as others, simply used that for ideological purposes. The documents showed the petition was approved. 

We do not know what happened afterwards but we know the extreme left used the opportunity in early 1989 to promote riots in Venezuela. Those riots were later known as El Caracazo. The military and the extreme left got into a lot of violence. The military was definitely responsible for many of the killings but the whole thing was murky to say the least. One of the military officials who went to fight against the extreme left was the brother of a military who later became one of Chavez's people. That man was killed. Even if he was fighting against the extreme left, this extreme left later considered him a victim of the right. Anyway, a myth became part of Venezuela's history that  up to 5500 people were murdered back then. The curious thing is that even if almost all Venezuelans over 16 year old had an ID at that time there was never a list of missing people that added more names to the 270 identified victims. Even if the relatives of those who died asked for an independent investigation, none was carried out. The most curious thing about those times was that those military who actually were responsible for crimes against the extreme left became later the representatives of that extreme left. Two examples were Roger Cordero Lara, shooting at unarmed leftists in the IV Republic and representing armed lefists in the V and Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, who was in the top military group hunting leftists and when the leftist came to power became minister and big landowner.

Anyway: the current ambassador of Venezuela to Russia is Carlos Faria, the son of that communist who asked a foreign intelligence service to train another relative in sabotage.

Sunday 11 October 2020

Russia and us

Putin's Palace
Putin's Palace

I recently read Catherine Belton's Putin's People. I can recommend the book about how the ruling class in today's Russia came to be and how it is interacting with the West. 

I do not agree with everything journalist Catherine Belton writes there. Still, I think she presents a huge amount of insights and hypothesis from which we can start many interesting discussions. Her statements should be considered in political circles in the EU, in Britain and in the rest of the West. 

Other specialists on Russia like Mark Galeotti have a different stance, they consider Putin's Russia is above all an adhocracy and they think the siloviki, the members of the security apparatus in Russia, are not that powerful and rather a bunch of improvisers. 

For me, the discussion whether Putin and his cronies came and remain in power as part of a master plan conceived by the  KGB  or whether the current situation is the result of a chain of trials and errors by some thuggish clan is less interesting than getting to know more details about what the siloviki have been up to in general.

Michael Kimmage wrote a rather negative review of Belton's book, which you can read it here. I bought the book after reading that review, I agree with some of Kimmage's points and yet I still found the book invaluable. Perhaps it is because I think most people can discern what is sheer speculation, what falls into the realm of cliches and what are actual facts or very probably facts. When I read a book that is on politics I do not expect to find a single idea explaining how some part of the universe came to be but get some pieces of concrete information and some possible explanations I can judge upon. 

You can watch some interviews with Belton in English here and here and in Russian here. I particularly liked the interview in Russian as the one doing the interview is taking the view of a Russian. You can read a more positive review on the book here and another one here by Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin. You can find many more on the Web on your own.

Some of the things I like, in no particular order:

  1. there are references galore one can check out. Even if there are many anonymous sources and a lot of statements from individuals who are clearly biased against the ones in power in Russia now, there are also a lot of other sources one can delve into in order to judge by oneself
  2. there is a lot of information about Igor Sechin, the Gazprom man.
  3. Gazprom appearance and expansion is explained in full detail. Admittedly, there is too much of a Khodorkovsky perspective but again, I think any person who has been interested in Russia for some time can separate the wheat from the chaff here.
  4. there are interesting pieces about the role of former Stasi members in the relationships between Europe and Russia. It is not only Matthias Warnig but Martin Schlaff and some others.
  5. also some background on Nikolai Patrushev.
  6. one can also read a lot of interesting information about the Beslan and Moscow Hostage crises
I liked less the final chapter, on how several characters linked to the Russian security services and how they were lobbying in the USA, in particular helping Trump to gain power. I do think Trump is more than compromised when it comes to Russia: many loans to his companies can be traced back to Russia, Trump's state of mind makes him love strongmen like Putin, he has repetedly show his man-love to Putin in a way that has been very embarrassing for the US intelligence agencies, to say the least. Still, the whole chapter seemed like a bit disconnected from the rest. One could have said there there are just as useful and often unconscious fools within the EU or Britain. Why a whole chapter for Trump? I am sure the current Russian government still would prefer for Trump to be re-elected but the last chapter should perhaps have been more general or have gone more into a discussion about what policies the West can develop.

As others mentioned, Belton gives a lot of credit to her contact Pugachev. She mentions a recording with his voice that was discovered after he left his house. I would be a bit careful about any recording, whatever its content.

As Kimmage wrote, Belton does not discuss much of the latest blunders the Russian regime has made. That is definitely a pity.

For those interested in what the siloviki are doing in Syria or Venezuela: you will find nothing of it in the book (there is only one single reference to the money Russia has loaned to Venezuela, for instance). Still, the book is very insightful and even more so for Venezuelans who want to have the big picture and who want to see where the Chavista regime is getting some of its ideas and support from. Igor Sechin, for instance, has big stakes in Venezuela and this book shows you a lot of where he is coming from. The money laundering parts are also very illuminating to understand how all these regimes work.

All in all, Belton's book is worth reading.

Sunday 7 June 2020

Are the Putinists weaker or stronger now in Venezuela?

A few months ago Putin changed his ambassador in Venezuela. The new one is the Armenian Russian Sergey Melik-Bagdasarov. The one before was Vladimir Zayemski (Wikipedia Spanish here).  Zayemski was an old school Brezhnev apparatchik. In fact, he started working as a "translator" at the Soviet embassy in Costa Rica back in 1974 and he became ambassador in the back then democratic Venezuela in 1976. He stayed there until 1979 and did the usual tour of a Soviet diplomat. He became again ambassador to Venezuela in 2006, while it was being transformed into a dictatorship with Cuban and Russian help. While Zayemski was a quiet albeit very loyal Putinist - remember Russia has never known the difference between State, government and ruling party - he was rather quiet and pretended to follow the rules. You would not see him on Twitter sending messages Trump-style. He would give some interviews to El Universal, a Venezuelan newspaper that became neutralized by the regime years ago, he would talk to Putin's largest organ abroad, RT, and he would give interviews to the Russian Kommersant. I have written about him earlier.
Parrot in a jail in Cuba

The current ambassador, Melik-Bagdasarov, keeps on tweeting in a rather chatty, clumsy way...but die-hard Chavistas follow him and parrot him.

Last year Russian journalists in exile published in English an article about why Putin is meddling in Venezuela so much. Things haven't changed: if Venezuela becomes democratic, Cuba's dictatorship falls and that would be a sign for a lot lot more.

Bear in mind: I will from now on try to differentiate more and more between Putinists and Russians. Not all Russians are Putinists and not all Putinists are Russians. It is true Russia has never known a democracy - unless we talk about Veliki Novgorod's times, but then that was a city-state -. But more and more Russians are starting to think their country deserves better.

Saturday 4 January 2020

Los matasueños de Venezuela: cómo vencerlos

Ahora la gigantesca mayoría de los venezolanos cree que la dictadura chavista seguirá durante mucho más tiempo de lo que pensábamos.
La liebre y la tortuga
¿Cómo hemos llegado aquí? Ha sido un camino largo. El chavismo lo ha logrado

  • al poder usar y desperdiciar el mayor boom petrolero de la historia, 
  • al poder aprovecharse del descalabro de los últimos años de la época democrática que lo precedió, 
  • al contar con el apoyo y, más aun, la dirección de las fuerzas de seguridad cubanas y con el régimen de Putin, entre otras cosas. 

Pero el chavismo también aprovechó numerosos errores de la oposición: las fuerzas opositoras que surgieron tras la llegada al poder del caudillo Chávez eran ante todo caraqueños que desconocían casi por completo al resto del país, que pensaban que Caracas conformaba la mayoría de Venezuela. Casi todos los líderes nuevos tenían poco poder retórico o eran relacionados con las clases pudientes de otrora en Venezuela. Ante todo la oposición pecó y sigue pecando por pensar a corto plazo: ahora sí, sí vamos a sacar al chavismo. Se trata de ahora. Y el chaviso usó esto vez tras vez. 

Cada año desde 2014 se ha repetido la misma historia: comienzan protestas en los primeros dos o tres meses y luego se produce una nueva ola de emigración. El chavismo ha generado la mayor emigración que se haya vivido en América Latina en un país que había sido conocido por muchas décadas como el país por excelencia de inmigración no solo para otros países latinoamericanos.

Actualmente el chavismo está siendo asesorado y en parte dirigido por fuerzas cubanas y rusas. En particular las fuerzas del poder en Rusia y Cuba han aprendido de sus pérdidas de finales de los ochenta y los noventa.

¿Vamos a comenzar a debatir cómo hacer las cosas de manera diferente, más inteligente?

Este año comenzaré a bloguear más.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Russia's hybrid war: a Norwegian perspective

I just finished a book by Norwegian journalist Øystein Bogen. The book came up last year, its Norwegian title, Russlands hemmelige krig mot Vesten, means "Russia's secret war against the West".  It is still only available in Norwegian but I  really hope it gets an English translation soon. It presents a comprehensive analysis of how Putin's Russia is carrying out disinformation campaigns, massive hacking and more aggressive attacks in the West. I have read a lot of things about Russia since I was a child and I always keep an eye for those things but I learnt a lot, even in cases I thought I had read enough already.

Bogen presents a short but very solid historical background of how the Soviet Union was carrying out its desinformation wars in the West. Osten goes into interesting details about how USSR did this. For instance, the KGB worked with obscure newspapers in India to start writing AIDS was "in reality a biological weapon that came from US labs". This lie ended up spreading to Africa and then to the whole world. The Soviet Union also worked with sympathizers in the West, something its follower, Russia of Putin, keeps on doing through obscure think tanks and politicians of both the extreme right and extreme left.

Here a few of the topics covered in this book:

  • How the propaganda machines RT and Sputnik work
  • How the Russian intelligence services carried out the attack on Estonia in 2007, what came up before and afterwards there (among many things, what happened to Eston Kohver)
  • How the invasion of Crimea and the Donbass war were prepared and how Russia carries out a propaganda war against Ukraine
  • How the Russian intelligence services tried to influence things in Montenegro
  • How the extreme right and the extreme left in Europe are used to destabilize the West
  • How the Russian campaign for Trump and against Clinton was carried out and what precedents there were in the USA
  • How Russia used the migration crisis in Europe to destabilize the West (an example that comes up is the way it let thousands of refugees go all the way across Russia to Northern Norway and Finland)
There is also a chapter with the general references to the Litvinenko case but also to many other murders (briefly mentioned on BBC here). There were details I was not aware of like how Henry Kissinger became a lobbyist for Putin.

And there are a couple of chapters on how Russia is meddling in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The only thing that might be a challenge for most English readers in this book is that there are a couple of chapters mostly dealing with Russia's attacks in Scandinavia and no Scandinavian readers might lose focus when things are not so much about themselves.

Bogen presents both sides of the story - or more as there are often more than two - and also his own account and analysis. He has been there and up there. He offers a wealth of sources.The book is very well documented, with sources from the Russian side and from every Western country mentioned.

Those who have read my blog for some time know I have followed Russian events for many years. I can tell you: Osten knows what he writes about. You might want to check out Mr Bogen's appearances in English online. Those of you who read Norwegian should try to check out his books if you have not done so before (most Norwegians will know he works at TV2).