New Cold War Pyrotechnics, at The Financial Times of January 18, 2021. American Skeptic comments.

The Financial Times on the jailing of Alexei Navalny:

Headline: Russia jails opposition activist Alexei Navalny for 30 days

Sub-headline: Two EU countries call for bloc to impose sanctions if Putin critic is not released

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to 30 days in jail a day after returning to the country, following threats from EU member states to impose new sanctions against Moscow if he was not released.

Mr Navalny was detained by police at Moscow’s main airport on Sunday evening after returning from Germany where he had recovered from an assassination attempt involving use of a nerve agent from the novichok group.

The attempt on his life in August last year was blamed on the Kremlin and sparked widespread condemnation from western governments. Moscow denied any involvement and has suggested Mr Navalny could have been poisoned outside Russia.

The anti-corruption campaigner, who has emerged as president Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, was found guilty of breaching the terms of a suspended sentence on Monday by a hastily assembled makeshift court set up in the police station where he was held overnight, according to his lawyer.

The designation of ‘a nerve agent from the novichok group.’ helps avoid the vexing issues that Novichok, itself, is immediately toxic. The Heroes and Villains, here are Duchamp’s Ready Mades, in rhetorical guise. The disappeared Skipals , now long forgotten, here is a reminder:

The latest example of alleged Russian perfidy – the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia – is yet another case of faith-based attribution. In accusing Russia of some heinous crime – in this instance, the murder of a former double agent working for MI6 – one needn’t present any real evidence: it’s only necessary to point the finger at the Kremlin. And of course we haven’t had any real evidence proffered by the British government: Prime Minister Theresa May simply declared that Russia is the culprit and gave a midnight deadline for the Kremlin to explain how “its nerve weapon” – as NBC reported it – was used to attacked Skripal on British soil. She has since announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats. The absurdity of this was inadvertently underscored by the comments of Vil Mirzayanov, the Russian-born chemist who first revealed the existence of “Novichok,” the nerve agent developed by the Russians. Mirzayanov came to the United States in 1995: in 2007, he published a book, State Secrets, which tells his story as a chemist working in Russia’s secret chemical weapons facilities. Now 83, he gives the following explanation for the attack on Skripal:

The reader wonders as to who wrote the final version of this ‘news story’: Henry Foy in Moscow, Michael Peel in Brussels, Guy Chazan in Berlin, James Shotter in Warsaw?


Ben Hall on the arrest of Alexei Navalny in Moscow, under the rubric of ‘Opinion’.

Headline: Alexei Navalny is Russian for ‘domestic enemy number one’

Sub-headline: Arrest of opposition activist has only elevated his status as a symbol of repression

In 1976, a year after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for being “spokesman for the conscience of mankind”, Andrei Sakharov was classified by the KGB as “domestic enemy number one”.

Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition activist arrested on his return to Moscow on Sunday, may not possess the same righteousness as Sakharov, the most famous of Soviet dissidents. But there is no doubting his courage. Or that today’s Kremlin regards him as its greatest domestic enemy. As with the nuclear scientist half a century ago, Mr Navalny’s treatment by the Russian government has only elevated his status as a symbol of repression.

The cruel suppression of Sakharov came to symbolise the moral bankruptcy of the Soviet system and helped galvanise western, especially European, opinion against it. It would be naive to think Mr Navalny’s treatment will have a similar effect. The cold war is long over and most western capitals have other interests beyond countering Russian aggression.

But just as the KGB fretted about Sakharov’s impact, so Russian president Vladimir Putin fears that Mr Navalny can mobilise opinion against his increasingly autocratic regime. Russia is due to hold parliamentary elections in September and Mr Navalny and his fellow activists have been organising surprisingly successful campaigns in local elections. They are rallying support for any candidate able to beat incumbents from Mr Putin’s ruling party, which has suffered a fall in popularity ratings to record lows in recent months.

The Kremlin’s high-visibility persecution risks turning Mr Navalny into a rallying point for domestic opposition. He must be effective if Mr Putin fears him so much. The Russian leader does not seem to care that dispensing with due process makes Mr Navalny a symbol of the abuses of an authoritarian regime. But the west must.

Ben Hall focuses his History Made To Measure on Sakharov, yet forgetting Alexander Litvinenko, and the long-ago assassination of Soviet Dissident Georgi Markov, and the Skripals are again absent. The Heroes and Villains of The New Cold War narrative are the constants of the Financial Times’ writers.


Here is Gideon Rachman making his contribution to the ‘Yellow Peril’ variant of The New Cold War, couched is a self-serving political nostalgia, in sum, more of the same History Made to Measure, the sine qua non of political fiction writers.

He watches the Kennedy 1961 Inaugural Address, focused on the American Political Present, in the waning days of Trump and Trumpism. And the looming threat of China, as America’s self-obsessions gives opportunity to its enemy. At least as Rachman presents them. Does this even make any kind of political sense? The reader need only think of the careers of James Clapper and John Brennan, and their long service to the American National Security State. The operatives of this Security Sate never sleep! Mr. Rachman relies on a serviceable rhetorical naivete, as to the how and why of American Intelligence Operations. Mr. Rachman insults his readers, with such a pastiche of dull-witted naivete, passed off as informed comment.

Headline: America’s disarray is China’s opportunity

Sub-headline: China’s economy is growing strongly while the US is mired in a political crisis

On January 20 1961, John F Kennedy, America’s youngest ever elected president, gave his inaugural address from the steps of the Capitol. Exactly 60 years later Joe Biden, America’s oldest ever president, will be sworn in at the same place — just days after it was stormed by a riotous mob.

Kennedy used the magisterial backdrop of Congress to proclaim that the “torch has passed to a new generation”. Mr Biden is the representative of an older generation — one that now fears the torch of liberty is in danger of being extinguished, even in the US itself.

Watching Kennedy’s address again, it is striking how much of it was addressed not to the American people, but to the leaders of the Soviet Union. JFK was speaking at the height of the cold war. Much of the American elite now believes that the US is on the brink of a second cold war — this time with China. But, unlike Kennedy, Mr Biden cannot promise to “pay any price, bear any burden” to ensure the “survival and success of liberty” around the world.

Mr. Rachman’s political/historic despair, flirting with nihilism, doesn’t quite match the Manchurian Candidate variant of 1962?

America’s disarray is China’s opportunity. As part of a planned pushback against China, Mr Biden had planned to call a summit of the world’s democracies. But, after an attempted coup d’état by a sitting president, America may lack the credibility to act as convener of the free world. Mr Biden’s democracy summit is likely to be quietly shelved in favour of a D10 meeting of 10 democracies, brought together by the UK.

A large part of America’s emerging struggle with China will be a battle for economic influence around the world. When 2019 ended, 128 of 190 countries in the world already traded more with China than with the US. China’s centrality to the global trading system will increase this year — with the World Bank projecting the Chinese economy to grow at around 8 per cent compared to 3.5 per cent for the US.

The Americans are also in a struggle with China to shape the technical standards and regulations that govern the world economy. The US needs new tools that go beyond the coercive power of sanctions.


As presented by the Financial Times’ writers ‘we’ face the implacable enemies: Putin and China! Mr. Rachman expresses a deep pessimism:

America’s disarray is China’s opportunity. As part of a planned pushback against China, Mr Biden had planned to call a summit of the world’s democracies. But, after an attempted coup d’état by a sitting president, America may lack the credibility to act as convener of the free world. Mr Biden’s democracy summit is likely to be quietly shelved in favour of a D10 meeting of 10 democracies, brought together by the UK.

American Skeptic

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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