Geopolitics

Vladimir Putin: Enough With The West’s Imaginary Threats

In Italian daily La Stampa, the Russian president writes that it's time for the U.S. and Europe to trust Moscow as a partner in confronting the world's problems.

Putin at a Russian military training exercise in the Orenburg region
Putin at a Russian military training exercise in the Orenburg region
Vladimir Putin

-Exclusive-

MOSCOW — The redistribution of economic power and political influence in the world is increasing the contradictions between Russia and the West. This mutual mistrust is limiting our opportunities to find effective responses to the common challenges and concrete threats facing the world today.

However, many of our partners seemingly have no intention to resolve the most salient international issues. In several power structures, including relics of the Cold War era like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), there have been limited efforts to adapt to our new reality despite many claims to the contrary. Instead, these countries are pursuing efforts to transform the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) — a crucial mechanism that guarantees European and Transatlantic stability — into an instrument of foreign policy. By doing this, they have effectively rendered OSCE running in idle.

There are perpetuating clichés about a number of imaginary threats in the West, including the infamous "threat" of Russian military aggression. This is fundamentally profitable for many countries, because they can increase military spending, bend their allies to follow superpower interests, expand NATO, and bring the alliance's forces and weaponry to Russia's borders. They conveniently portray themselves as defenders of civilization against a new wave of barbarians, but the truth of the matter is that Russia has no intention of attacking anyone. Europe alone has 300 million inhabitants, and including the United States and other NATO member countries this rises to 600 million. Russia, on the other hand, is home to only 146 million people. It's simply ridiculous to even contemplate a Russian invasion of NATO countries, yet this idea continues to be exploited for political purposes.

Another imaginary problem is the manufactured hysteria in the United States over supposed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. It seems the United States faces real and urgent issues, from its enormous public debt to the soaring number of gun deaths and police shootings.

But it is easier to distract attention by accusing Russian hackers and spies than to identify the root causes and find solutions to these issues. Let's be honest: Does anyone truly believe that Russia could in any way influence American elections? The United States is a great power, not a banana republic.

Sovereignty above all

As we witness what is happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and many other countries, I ask myself what results were achieved by the global war on terror. There have been successes at the regional level or in specific areas, but at the global level it has been a failure and the terrorist threat continues to grow. We all remember the enthusiasm in certain capitals for the so-called "Arab Spring" — where are those brave protesters now? Russia's calls for a united front against terrorism continue to go unanswered. All the while terrorist groups are being armed, resupplied, supported, and trained by other players using them to advance their own political interests. The West is playing a very dangerous game.

The United Nations remains the only institution unparalleled in the world in its representativeness and universality. It is a unique platform for equal multilateral dialogue. Its universal rules make it necessary to foster economic and humanitarian integration in the highest number of member states possible, and guarantee political responsibility while respecting their sovereignty and respective development models.

Sovereignty is undoubtedly the principle that lies at the foundation of the system of international relations. Respect for and the consolidation of sovereignty are the key to peace and stability at the domestic and international levels. There are many countries that, like Russia, have a millenary history and have learned to appreciate their identity, liberty, and independence. But we do not seek global domination, expansion, or a clash with anyone. In our vision of leadership, leading does not mean inventing false threats and exploiting them to subjugate others. Leadership is identifying the real problems facing the world and collaborating to unite our efforts to resolve them. This is how Russia conceives its role in the global arena today.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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