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Pro-Kremlin Disinformation at HuffPo

An extraordinary new low in the annals of online journalism was plumbed by the Huffington Post on 12/27/13.  It wasn’t just the fact that it was a commercial masquerading as an op-ed piece masquerading as a news story that was so shocking, but that the purpose of the commercial was to bilk Americans out of their hard-earned incomes in order to line the pockets of the corrupt, America-hating Russian Kremlin.  Happy New Year’s from HuffPo, Mr. and Mrs. America!

The author of the piece in question was one Shai Baitel, identified on the HuffPo website as an expert on Middle Eastern politics. So, quite predictably, the topic of the article was the Russian economy.

Should you take the time to search for them, however, Baitel’s credentials turn out to be in fact neither in Middle Eastern politics nor in Russia nor in economics. His HuffPo bio reads:

He served at the United Nations and at the Israeli Ministry of Justice’s Department of International Agreements and International Litigation in legal positions. Mr. Baitel holds an LL.M in International Law and is a member of the International Law Journal. He graduated from Tel Aviv University with honors, earning a degree in Law and Modern History of the Middle East.

In other words, Baitel appears to be some kind of Israeli jurist who knows a bit about Middle Eastern history.  How that qualifies him to advise Americans about Russian economics is anyone’s guess.

His article is essentially a commercial for the Russian investment bank VTB Capital, telling Americans how great it is and how underestimated the Russian economy is and urging them to plonk their money into VTB’s coffers.  Those coffers, by the way, are in the Kremlin, because over 60% of VTB is owned by the Russian government (one of many facts Baitel chooses not to reveal to his readers).  It’s the second-largest state-owned bank in the country.  And Baitel’s article reads almost like he is working for them.

Ostensibly, he’s not.  HuffPo says he’s a “Fellow in the Program on Applied Decision Analysis at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, at the Interdisciplinary Center” in Herzliya, outside of Tel Aviv in Israel.

But Ronald Lauder is hip-deep in Kremlin connections.  As the Financial Times reported back in 2009, the “scion of the Estée Lauder cosmetics empire [was] to forge a $2bn venture with the Moscow city government to manage and revamp the capital’s hotel business in time for Russia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2014.”

So who knows what type of influence VTB may have at Baitel’s employer, or what connections he personally may have to the bank?

Baitel begins his piece with an unsourced quote from Paul Swiggert, CEO of VTB, insisting that the world is missing the real truth about Russia by focusing on the fact that its economy and stock market showed almost no growth last year, that its currency is down one-third from 2008, and that the Kremlin itself admits things won’t change for the better for at least a decade.

Baitel then works feverishly to try to prove Swiggert is right and the world is wrong.

Claiming to have spoken “with sought-after experts” most of whom are employed by VTB, Baital begins by asserting that since many rich Russians are moving to New York, this proves Russians like Americans and can be trusted as investment partners. Never mind that Russia is buzzing the U.S. shores with nuclear bombers and inciting hatred of the USA throughout the globe, there are some rich Russians living in New York City! You think I’m kidding? Read it for yourself.

And when deciding to invest in Russia, Baitel make it clear there could be no better partner than VTB. This is what passes for “journalism” at HuffPo these days:

When a VTB manager such as Jyrki Talvitie, Senior Vice President and head of the bank’s Investor Relations Division shares his economic views people listen. Paul Swigart, CEO of VTB’s U.S. investment banking arm weighed in as well. After all, they have expertise in Russia and the CIS, as the No. 2 bank in Russia, uniting 15 banks in the Russia, the CIS, Europe, Africa, and Asia. They also have around 20 financial, investment and other companies offering services to customers in 20 countries.

Baitel goes on to tout a recent bond placement by VTB, deals which he says “successfully support VTB’s objectives in the United States, namely to be an important and profitable distribution hub that plays an key role in their capital markets activities, to reach U.S. clients, and, more fundamentally, to bring VTB closer to the Western investment community.”  And he breathlessly announces:  “the Russian banking sector — relatively small in relation to its GDP — is bound to continue its growth at a faster pace than the GDP, catching up to reflect its actually [sic] performance and role in the country’s economy.”

While delivering this shameless propaganda diatribe, Baitel chooses to completely ignore the wave of bank failures that swept across Russia in 2013, terrorizing investors and critically undermining his claims about the fundamental soundness of Russia’s financial sector. The problem was so pernicious that even the Kremlin’s own English-language propaganda mouthpiece Russia Beyond the Headlines reported it.

But just ignoring critical facts was far from enough for Baitel.  Soon enough, the shameless disinformation started.  Baital claimed that the World Bank was projecting economic growth for Russia of 3.1% next year, making this year’s miserable 1.4% growth (a figure down two-thirds from what was expected by the World bank at the start of the year) more palatable and asserting that his “experts” believed the Putin regime was taking “the right steps to spur growth long-term.”

But he was simply lying.  Nearly two weeks before Baital went to press, the World Bank had already revised the 3.1% projection downward dramatically, to just 2.2%, a massive one-third cut before the year has even begun.  Baital simply lied about the World Bank’s position in favor of pure propaganda, going on to call Russia’s economy “dynamic and robust.”

Baital then touts the fact that Russian “underlying”  inflation is “only” around 5%, a figure that would be viewed as a crisis in the United States, and predicts “headline” inflation will drop from its current 6.5% to that same level next year.  Amazingly, Baital completely ignores the news that Putin is so panicked over the prospect that inflation will skyrocket next year that he’s planning a draconian set of price controls that will further choke off economic growth.

Finally, recklessly ignoring the fact that Russia’s currency has lost one-third of its value since 2008, Baital laughably quotes his “experts” proclaiming that it may soon become a reserve currency, offering no credible evidence whatsoever to support his claim.

To cap things off, through its HuffPo mouthpiece VTB touts its sponsorship of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, boldly predicting that Russia would win more medals than the USA. Four years ago, Russia had one-third America’s gold medal count and less than half its total medals.

Baital chooses not to mention the humiliating fact that five of the seven G-7 presidents will boycott the Sochi games on human rights grounds, and chooses to ignore the incredible financial burden that funding the games, by far the most expensive and corrupt in history, is imposing on the Russian treasury.

One expects biased and misleading reporting from the Huffington Post.  Given its affinity for Barack Obama and Obama’s affinity for Putin, it’s not even too surprising to see pro-Kremlin propaganda on HuffPo’s virtual pages.  But isn’t the publication going a bit too far when it misleads hapless American investors with half-truths, distortions and outright lies about the Russian economy so that it can line the pockets of corrupt, malignant Russian rulers who are engaged in an all-out assault on basic American values?

11 responses to “Pro-Kremlin Disinformation at HuffPo

  1. Vlad ⋅

    Mr. Beitel’s credentials as an “expert” on Middle Eastern or Russian economy/politics may be non-existent, but they still beat your own credentials,Kim.

    • larussophobe ⋅

      The mistake you are making, because you are an absolute illiterate idiot, is in thinking that any Kim’s byline refers to her as an expert in Russian economics, or that Kim publishes pieces about Middle Eastern economics. based on such credentials. No such dishonest or misleading statements are made about Kim. Therefore your comment is simply total gibberish.

      The point of this article is to criticism HuffPo for claiming this man is an expert in economics (and implying he is an expert in Russian economics) and to point out the errors in his text, NONE of which you challenge.

      • Beetlejuice ⋅

        “The mistake you are making, because you are an absolute illiterate idiot, is in thinking that any Kim’s byline refers to her as an expert in Russian economics”

        Kim, nobody with even half a brain could possibly take you for an expert on anything concerning Russia, or the USA for that matter. Your little sorry excuses for “bylines” have demonstrated your lack of credentials.

        “But isn’t the publication going a bit too far when it misleads hapless American investors with half-truths, distortions and outright lies about the Russian economy so that it can line the pockets of corrupt, malignant Russian rulers who are engaged in an all-out assault on basic American values?”

        As if American investors would care about anything other than making a profit. It’s called basic American values, baby Kimmy.

        • larussophobe ⋅

          Again, you’re illiterate. Kim hasn’t claimed to be an expert, only an observer reporting facts and giving opinions. But HuffPo DID claim that its author was an expert, in a highly misleading manner.

          • Vlad ⋅

            Now, to the substance. You wrote:

            > The point of this article is to criticism HuffPo for claiming this man is an expert in economics (and implying he is an expert in Russian economics

            Please tell me how you decided that “HuffPo” was “implying he is an expert in Russian economics”. Thanks in advance.

            • larussophobe ⋅

              Your problem is that you didn’t read the text.

              It clearly states that HuffPo did NOT claim he was an expert in Russian economics. It states it claimed he was an expert in MIDDLE EASTERN POLITICS and then allowed him to write about Russian economics, a clear contradiction.

              It touts his expertise in a way designed to deceive the reader into thinking he knows something about Russian economics when in fact he knows nothing.

              There’s no evidence AT ALL that this man is even a Russia watcher. He works on the Middle East in an area having NOTHING to do with economics. The point of the article is that there is no reason for this man to have been designated by HuffPo to write this column, it is basically an advertisement for a Russian company who apparently has the author in its pocket. As such, it is corrupt.

              MEANWHILE, you don’t even ATTEMPT to defend ANY of the documented lies set forth by this “expert” in his text, nor about the obvious bias towards a Russian firm. As such, your comments are rude and inane, highly abusive of the privilege of commenting on this blog.

              • Vlad ⋅

                Kim, child,

                Unfortunately you lack the most basis logic needed for even most basic thinking. No wonder nobody reads your posts anymore. I am about to give up myself.

                You now seem to say that a person, Shai Baitel, who is an expert on Middle East politics/law but not an expert on the Russian economy, to write about the Russian economy.

                But let’s look at you. You know nothing about the Russian economy or culture or history or language. And yet the American Thinker keeps on publishing your articles on Russia. How come you have more entitlement to write about Russia than does Shai Baitel?

                • larussophobe ⋅

                  You are very illiterate. We’ve repeatedly said that Kim does NOT hold herself out as an expert in ANY field. But this writer DOES.

          • Beetlejuice ⋅

            And I didn’t say you did, Kim. Who’s illiterate now? You’re an emotionally disturbed anti-Russian bigot who presents facts as the very opposite of what they are and then give your warped opinions.

            • larussophobe ⋅

              So you admit Kim never claimed to be an expert, yet you attack her for not being one?

              That’s just nuts. The point of this article is to criticize those who claim expertise yet do not possess it.

              Your comments are deeply infantile and stupid. You make personal attacks rather than addressing the contents of this article, which points out a litany of substantive errors made by the author about Russia. You are grossly and rudely abusing your privilege of commenting on this blog.

              • Beetlejuice ⋅

                Oh no. I applaud you, Kim, for admitting not to be an expert on Russia. Maybe if you had better reading skills you’d have seen that right at the beginning. There is no content in any article here to discuss except your lack of knowledge of Russia, its economy, people, culture, and history. Anybody who disagrees with you is “grossly and rudely abusing your privilege of commenting on this blog”, at which point you reply with “illiterate baboon” or some other elementary school level insult. And what are you gonna do about it? Ban me? You’ve banned me 4 times! I was your most hated poster back in 2007-2008 when you banned me for insulting your friend Penny and then for ridiculing your crocodile tears about the war in Georgia. Then you banned me for insulting Andrew (the whole New Zealand Army) and his Georgian wife. Know me now, Kimmy?

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