This past Saturday the Gray Lady published an exposé (Steven Lee Myers and Jo Becker, "Even Loyalty No Guarantee Against Putin") on the recent house arrest of Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov for money laundering, the upshot of which is that the state stripped Yevtushenkov of assets he held in the oil company Bashneft. There was a hush, hush quality to the story, as if some deep, dark perfidy was being exposed by journalists Myers and Becker.
It turns out there is nothing much to the story, a garden variety corporate-Kremlin struggle that took on a new urgency after the February coup in Ukraine, Crimea's joining the Russian Federation and the subsequent Western sanctions leveled against Russia. Yevtushenkov wanted to go ahead with a public offering of Bashneft shares in London. People in Moscow, with good cause, questioned the wisdom of such a course of action:
Rosneft had approached Mr. Yevtushenkov last year about the possibility of a merger or sale, according to news reports at the time, but Mr. Yevtushenkov resisted, and instead prepared a public offering of the company’s shares in London.
The deterioration of relations with the West in the wake of the war in Ukraine appeared to make the sale of Bashneft’s stocks abroad increasingly worrisome to the Kremlin. In the weeks that followed the annexation of Crimea in March, the powerful Investigative Committee — an investigative body often seen as pursuing political cases at the Kremlin’s behest — quietly began a civil and criminal inquiry into Bashneft that exploded into public only in July.The Yevtushenkov story is part three of what so far is a four-part Gray Lady series called "Putin's Way": "[A] series . . . examining how President Vladimir V. Putin’s system of personalized state-sponsored capitalism allows him to wield power at home and abroad."
After I read the Yevtushenkov story, I went back and looked for the other parts of the series because I had somehow missed them. I missed them because they had appeared in the Sunday paper, and I don't get the Sunday paper. I get Monday through Saturday. I take a pass on Sunday because it's too expensive (you can subscribe to all other days of the week for almost the same cost as Sunday) and there's too much paper that goes unread.
The first part of "Putin's Way" (Steven Lee Myers, Jo Becker, and Jim Yardley, "Private Bank Fuels Fortunes of Putin’s Inner Circle") is about Rossiya Bank, and it appeared in September. The second part (Jo Becker and Steven Lee Myers, "Putin’s Friend Profits in Purge of Schoolbooks") is about the shakeout among Russian schoolbook publishers, and it appeared at beginning of November.
These stories share the same "Deep Throat" hush, hush tone that strongly conveys to the reader that serious investigative journalism is being done. Call it the legacy of Watergate. But ever since Watergate, mainstream political investigative journalism, when it focuses on national or international targets, is more often of a Whitewater type; meaning, that there is a lot of smoke and very little flame underneath.
I'm sure in this case the liberals glance at the headline and maybe skim a few paragraphs. But the large size of the story, the amazing abundance of column inches, scares them off a thorough appraisal. So they turn the page, left with the thought, "Boy, that Putin is really rotten."
And that is the point. The Gray Lady is building the future of the New Cold War, locking in a mindless predisposition to Russophobia among the smart set.
Today's installment of "Putin's Way," part four, "How Putin Forged a Pipeline Deal That Derailed," by Jim Yardley and Jo Becker, is the best to date, and by this I mean the most illuminating in its ham-handedness. Note the opening:
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Barely two weeks after President Vladimir V. Putin annexed Crimea on one side of the Black Sea, he won a different prize on the other side. In Bulgaria’s Parliament, lawmakers gave initial passage to a bill clearing the way for a mammoth gas pipeline from Russia.
The pipeline, known as South Stream, was Mr. Putin’s most important European project, a tool of economic and geopolitical power critical to twin goals: keeping Europe hooked on Russian gas, and further entrenching Russian influence in fragile former Soviet satellite states as part of a broader effort to undermine European unity.
The bill that Parliament took up on April 4 was arcane. But it swept aside a host of European regulations — rules that Mr. Putin did not want to abide by — for a pipeline that would deliver gas throughout southern Europe.
It was a dream bill for Mr. Putin, and with reason. While Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry ostensibly wrote the legislation, documents reveal the hidden hand of the Kremlin: Not only did much of the language come from a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, but Mr. Putin’s energy minister was directly involved.
“If this happens in the U.S., the whole government would resign,” said Martin Dimitrov, a minister of Parliament from Bulgaria’s Reformist Bloc. “Not in Bulgaria, apparently.”What Yardley and Becker don't point out is that it did just happen in the United States, and, no, no one in government resigned. I'm speaking here of Obama signing off on the gutting of Dodd-Frank. Citigroup wrote the language, Republicans inserted the language into the budget bill, and Obama signed off on it. We're not talking here about a pipeline deal that would benefit Europe by bypassing fracturing Ukraine. We're talking about undoing one of the main bulwarks against another meltdown of the global economy. Which is more corrupt?
At the end of the story on South Stream Yardley and Becker reveal that the U.S. blackmailed Bulgaria to drop the pipeline:
. . . In early June, the European Commission told Bulgaria to stop work on South Stream, saying it was investigating whether the pipeline construction contracts violated European competitive-bidding rules. When the Bulgarian government refused, the European Union cut off tens of millions of euros in regional development funds.
By this point, Ukrainian government forces were battling pro-Russian separatists in the east, and in the West there was talk of a new Cold War. On June 6, the American ambassador, Marcie B. Ries, warned Bulgarian companies against doing business with companies linked to Mr. Timchenko, who is on American sanctions lists. On June 8, a congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, met privately with Mr. Oresharski.
In desperate need of the European funds, the prime minister announced the next day that South Stream would be halted until it had full European Union approval.Blackmail, plain and simple. Should we call this "Obama's Way"?
There are many "tells" throughout the Yardley and Becker expose that we're dealing with hortatory rhetoric unconcerned with balance or truth. For instance, Bush apparatchik C. Boyden Gray is quoted several times -- he's given the last word -- without mentioning that he is a conservative Republican operative. How fair is that to Gray Lady's liberal subscribers?
The final, unexpected development came on Dec. 1 when Mr. Putin, on a state visit to Turkey, announced that South Stream was dead. He blamed Europe and, according to press reports in Turkey, said he was “fed up with Bulgarians.”
Since then, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe’s most powerful leader, has suggested that South Stream might yet be built. After meeting with her, the new Bulgarian prime minister said he was confident European Union objections could be overcome.
Even if they are not, some diplomats contend that Mr. Putin achieved many of his goals.
While “he overreached, and he underestimated the response” to his intervention in Ukraine, said Mr. Gray, the former American diplomat, the Russian leader has been “quite effective” in countries like Bulgaria.
“He won a great deal by getting Nabucco stopped,” Mr. Gray said. “Ultimately, his goal is to keep as much control over the former parts of the Soviet empire as possible.”We're back to the future. The New Cold War is here, and The New York Times is playing its part.