Don’t agree with Legatum? You must be a ‘KGB’ agent!

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Federal Security Service, formerly NKVD and KGB, building in Lubyanka Square, Moscow © Str
During the Cold War, western intelligence agencies devoted millions of dollars and endless hours of manpower in their attempts to uncover Russian intelligence operatives. Nowadays, this task is apparently much simpler.

“We don't see things as they are, but as we are” - Anaïs Nin 

According to the Legatum Institute, anybody who doesn’t agree with them is under the control of Moscow’s security services. The notion that an individual might have an honest personal opinion that differs from their worldview is unfathomable for these intrepid, self-appointed defenders of freedom.

You’ve read this correctly. A think-tank which claims to be devoted to “revitalising” democracy is smearing its opponents as ‘spooks’. Not just any old sort either - KGB agents. 

Yes, the same KGB that was disbanded in 1991. While many Western commentators on Russia are stuck in a Cold War mentality, Legatum’s top brass actually seem to believe that era never ended.

Legatum’s boreal conflict with imagined Russian functionaries turned febrile on Sunday night. Wikileaks, the well-known whistle-blowing organization, tweeted a profile of Anne Applebaum to its 2.8 million Twitter followers. Wikileaks is perhaps best known for releasing US State department diplomatic "cables" and publishing the "Guantanamo Files".

The November 2014 piece, by the veteran Moscow reporter John Helmer, provided evidence, from Polish state records that Anne Applebaum, the director of Legatum’s ‘Transitions Forum’ earned around $800,000 in 2013. For a journalist, this is mega money.

Interestingly, while the £140,000 she received from the UK probably mostly reflects her work at Legatum, the $565,000 she was paid from American sources can’t be explained, according to Helmer. Notably, it was up from a mere $20,000 the previous year

“In the absence of an explanation of where so much money has suddenly come from, Polish sources say they suspect that in 2012 the US Government restarted the financing of think-tanks, academics, books and journalism to produce anti-Russian material, which was once a feature of psychological warfare campaigns during the Cold War,” Helmer wrote.

As an example, Helmer cited “a publishing conduit in Amsterdam which was funded by the CIA for thirty years, called the Alexander Herzen Foundation. Its task was to assist in the smuggling out of the Soviet Union of manuscripts from dissidents, and to publish and promote them in both Russian and English.” He added: “The foundation started in 1969, and reportedly closed down in 1998. Fifteen years later, a foundation of the same name has begun handing out fresh money for the same regime-change purpose.”

In fact, the rebooted Herzen Foundation provided a “seed grant” for the foundation of The Interpreter, an American anti-Russia blog whose non-Russian speaking editor, Michael Weiss, has close connections to Legatum.

Back in the USSR

At the time the article was first published, Applebaum’s husband, the former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski was embroiled in numerous scandals. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian conflict was still dominating headlines. Thus, with most media professionals covering the former Soviet bloc distracted, Helmer’s investigation into Applebaum got somewhat buried, making few waves.

However, Wikileaks decision to re-visit the matter gave the allegations a new lease of life. Applebaum and her associates were not amused. After Wikileaks’ original Tweet, Legatum’s “Visiting Senior Fellow" (they love to give each other grandiose sounding titles) Anton Shekhovstov was straight out to bat for his boss. “WikiLeaks now seems to be fully under control of Russia's security/intelligince (sic) services,” he alleged.

Wikileaks fought back, countering “Is this the kind of nonsense the world can expect from Legatum? Everyone's KGB? No surprise.” The high-profile portal also linked to Mark Ames’ expose on Legatum’s twisted web of hypocrisy.

Shekhovstov, apparently unaware that the 21th century is already 15 years old, appeared to also associate Ames with “KGB” membership. Ames has previously pointed out that he's had personal difficulties with the Russian authorities. The only logical takeaway then is that Ames’ willingness to tackle Legatum chicanery and falsehoods is more likely to be based on journalistic integrity than Shekhovstov’s catch-all smears.

Sikorski was also invoking the "KGB" and Applebaum herself too.

Interestingly, while the dynamic duo were liberally throwing around "KGB" mud, neither attempted to deny the original allegation – that Applebaum had received around $800,000 in one year. Nor did either of them attempt to explain where it came from. They played the man, not the ball. People with nothing to hide rarely, if ever, resort to such tactics.

Smears and jeers

This isn’t the first time “Senior Fellow” Shekhovstov has attempted to taint writers and commentators who oppose his views as being beholden to Russia’s intelligence services. His blog is chockablock with conspiracy theories and denouncements. In one post, he attempts to link a number of prominent journalists to a putative “pro-Eurasian network”. They include RT contributors Neil Clark and Eric Draitser, The Guardian Moscow correspondent Alec Luhn, and Seumas Milne, who is now the press-secretary to British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

In the same piece, Shekhovstov stoutly defends Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups, attempting to mislead readers into believing that they are figments of Russian imagination. Indeed, Shekhovstov’s trademark seems to be whitewashing Ukrainian extremists while lambasting similar GreekFrench and other European constituencies.

His obsession with the “KGB,” which exists inside his own head, is played out in numerous Interpreter posts. Also, in the conspiracy theory to beat them all, Shekhovstov once accused Russia of provoking the Euromaidan. His views on how turkeys feel about Thanksgiving are not known.

Legatums’s associates use their influence to scratch each other’s backs and promote one another. In April 2014, Michael Weiss pitched up on the Council on Foreign Relations blog asking “Can Radek Sikorski save Europe.” At the time, the EU foreign-policy chief position (which later went to Fedrica Mogherini) was up for grabs. It's fairly evident that Weiss was trying to persuade US policy-makers to back Applebaum’s husband for the post.

A few months later, Weiss, with Legatum fellow Peter Pomerantsev, published a think-tank report on Russian media. To publicize it, they appeared at a Legatum event in London alongside Applebaum, US ambassador to Kiev Geoff Pyatt and John Herbst of the Atlantic Council. Their own website admitted that the evening was “hosted in cooperation with the US Department of State and the US Embassy in London”. Later Weiss spoke alongside Janis Karklins, Director of the Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence of NATO, on a Legatum podcast.

Imagine Legatum’s reaction if a group of journalists spoke at an event sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry in London in conjunction with appearances on podcasts with Russian military personnel? The volume of “KGB” smears would reach 11 on a scale of 1-10, and any reference to journalism or editorial independence surely would be ridiculed.

Help from their friends

Before Pomeranstev became the poster child of Legatum, the well-known anti-Russia journalists and activists, Oliver Bullough and Ben Judah, were employed by the institute. They published a number of reports and spoke at various fora during their association.

However, Judah appears to have fallen foul of the Legatum inner-circle after his calamitous Politico interview in late 2014, which helped to accelerate Sikorski’s exit from Polish power-circles. The absurd piece suggested that Vladimir Putin had proposed to current European Council President Donald Tusk a dastardly plan to divide Ukraine between Russia and the EU. Of course, the article was total nonsense and Judah was hung out to dry by his ‘friends’.

In a Tweet to RT’s social media editor, Ivor Crotty, he admitted as much. And Judah hasn’t been employed by Legatum since.

For his part, Sikorski's implosion is practically unprecedented in European politics. In the space of a few months, he went from being mentioned as Catherine Ashton's replacement in Brussels to absolutely nowhere. Instead of promoting American values at the top of Europe's power structures, he is now reduced to tweeting "KGB" smears against journalists.

While Applebaum appears to be Legatum’s top dog, there are a few other interesting characters on its payroll. Christina Odone is the wife of notorious Economist Editor, Edward Lucas who is now an “e-resident” of Estonia. Estonian taxation rates are half the rate of the UK, where he lives and works. Applebaum is so close to Lucas and Odone that she introduced them. She found the time to do that when she wasn't busy reviewing Lucas' books and co-writing articles with him.

Lucas is also fond of branding people as Russian spies, like the time he alleged that Edward Snowden is a Russian operative. Who does he choose to reveal his concerns to? One Michael Weiss.

Pomerantsev, another Legatum “star" and arguably RT’s number one “fan,” has built an entire career (if the stops on his world tour of anti-Russian demagoguery are anything to go by) purely by using words “Russian”, “propaganda” and “psy-ops” in the same sentence and repeating it hundreds of times.

What they want

As for what Legatum wants? We will leave that to Ames. In his thorough Pando exposé he wrote: “Legatum turns out to be a project of the most secretive billionaire vulture capital investor you’ve (and I’d) never heard of: Christopher Chandler, a New Zealander who, along with his billionaire brother Richard Chandler, ran one of the world’s most successful vulture capital funds—Sovereign Global/Sovereign Asset Management. That family of funds, based in the offshore haven of Monaco, operated until 2004, when the Chandler brothers, Richard and Chris, divided their billions into two separate funds. Brother Christopher Chandler took his billions to Dubai, where he launched Legatum Capital, and, in 2007, the Legatum Institute, where Peter Pomerantsev serves as a Senior Fellow.”

“The Chandler brothers were the largest foreign portfolio investors in Russia throughout the 1990s into the first half of the 2000s, including the largest foreign investors in natural gas behemoth Gazprom. The Chandler brothers reportedly were the single biggest foreign beneficiaries of one of the greatest privatization scams in history: Russia’s voucher program in the early 1990s, when each Russian citizen was given a voucher that represented a share in a state concern to be privatized . . . and most naive Russians were fooled or coerced into dumping their vouchers for next to nothing, snapped up by clever vulture capitalists and factory directors from the inside. Institutional Investor magazine described how the Chandlers benefited by snapping up Russians' vouchers and converting them into stakes in some of the largest and most lucrative companies in the world,” he explained.

The Legatum team and their associates seem to pine for a time when Russians were impoverished and Oligarchs ran wild in the country. A period when the state effectively collapsed. They hate Vladimir Putin for strengthening Russia's vitality domestically and influence internationally. Anybody who doesn't agree with their position is a "KGB" agent. Meanwhile, they are laughing all the way to the bank.