Professor Piers Robinson: Iraq, Syria, Russia and propaganda

Professor Piers Robinson is Chair in Politics, Society and Political Journalism at the University of Sheffield, UK. His inaugural speech below – he is setting up a unit to study propaganda which is very welcome news. He is also speaking at Media on Trial this week.

Audio only:

Audio and slides:

Russia books I’ve read so far

Via mostly offline random purchases, can’t remember library ones other than skimming through – A Russian Diary by Anna Politskaya. Somewhere fairly early on she mentions the Putin family & their labrador family with her opinion about labradors being distraction. It worked, having spent bits of childhood puppywalking some labs for Guide Dogs, I totally started wondering about their dogs.

A history of 20th Century Russia – Robert Service – found this really interesting because he said they had access to many sources previously unavailable. Haven’t read the follow up – too much Putin.

The new politics of Russia – interpreting change – Andrew Monaghan – interesting because he understands international relations even if I don’t share all his views.

Russia – Jonathan Dimbleby – lots of self reflection, when he does interviews – very good and some great descriptions.

Ustinov in Russia – Peter Ustinov (funnily enough) It’s pictures & text – coffee table book – great to see context (1987)

Kicking the Kremlin – Marc Bennetts ex BBC journalist & Putin critic. Very timely to read his interviews with Navalny’s campaign members in 2014 & the Russophobic New York Times admitting it over promotes Navalny.

An art tour of Russia – J Beavington Atkinson (1880s) 

Ice Road – Gillian Slovo – fiction set around early 20th century in St Petersburg

Russian Journal – Andrea Lee 

Recommended but not bought yet

Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

Environment / health projects in Russian speaking countries

I have no idea if I’ve mentioned this before (on this blog anyway) but I am learning Russian specifically in relation to a small part in possible environmental  & health research / learning projects that may or may not happen in a Russian speaking country with some of it taking place or not taking place in Russia – so very theoretical at this point!

The Foreign Agent legislation and subsequent regulation of NGO activity will take a bit of digging into but any research applications should help tease out the following

  1. If you are an NGO, what benefit are you providing that can’t be completed locally – what is the value of what you bring – different expertise, resources / services that can’t be provided locally within desired timeframes. What will the NGO be investing into the development of something.
  2. If you are a commercial entity – all of the above also applies

I won’t give an opinion about the legislation, it exists and there must be people who understand it and how to operate successfully within it whether working in partnership with Russian organisations, government or some kind of activity taking place in Russia for whatever length of time.

The researchers I may be working with do have a credible reputation within their field and they have been exploring potential work by a well known global international non-profit organisation (not Gates, Soros or anything remotely resembling US philanthropists) for a number of years but never been quite the right time to have discussions as a lot of their research is field based and other commitments.

There are very high level organisations/associations e.g NORDEN, Russian Humanitarian Mission1, NGOs which are supported by the Russian government such as RusFond, or operating out of the UK such as BEARR Trust.

I do expect to be moving forward with this over the next few months, circumstances permitting and will post any useful info that I find out along the way.

  1. Velikaya A (2017), Nation Branding: the case of Russia, RethinkingRussia international analytical center, available at

Russia #4 Dr Marcus Papadopolous, Icarus film (not related)

This is a really good summary of Russia – US relations by Dr Papadopolous in a presentation to the House of Lords

The Icarus film was at London Sundance recently. I haven’t seen it but it appears on twitter that like with many views on Russia, people see what’s comfortable for them to see so have swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Based on Imdb description and two reviews (one favourable, one not) it appears that the viewer will be asked to make several assumptions:

1. That the filmmaker  who doesn’t have extensive documentary experience, apparently decided to try and dope himself and apparently decided  Rodchenkov was an ideal person to speak to.

2. That the Russian government was oblivious to his contact with Rodchenkov.

3. That the Russian government was not aware or capable of stopping him helping Rodchenkov leave Russia.

I will see the film probably eventually but as per previous post on documentaries. The camera never lies? 

I am far more sceptical these days especially after so-called White Helmets ‘documentaries’. 

Rodchenkov never lies?
It’s possible the documentary has some truth but it’s also possible it is telling a story that is not based on fact. 

WADA flaws

WADA have used flawed scientific methodologies and procedures elsewhere as noted recently by Sports Integrity Initiative and as before, I believe and also with contributions from others, have demonstrated to an extent that Russians have been scapegoated with flawed evidence being provided where it should have been watertight and clearly wasn’t, they didn’t follow consistent procedures, the investigation and their actions were not a deterrent AND it should not have been used for political and financial gain (especially Paralympics where new places were given to people who hadn’t qualified) by certain countries. But this is all past history now with Russia taking their own measures to promote anti-doping in their country in collaboration with others and WADA being WADA. There are still European and US/UK ‘clans’ trying to make up the rules for everyone else (do they wonder or even care why they won’t be applied).

Paul Dimeo of Stirling University is writing a book about the current anti-doping crisis and WADA, having previously worked for WADA.

Academic profile:


Edinburgh Skeptics presentation on 21st August

I haven’t read all of his work so no idea what he knows about doping especially in East European and Asian contexts and I’ve no idea about the focus of his book or the conclusions he will be reaching as I haven’t asked. I don’t know him personally but follow on twitter.

I stopped editing the wiki after no-one else contributed as it was not free hosting. This is what I originally thought and still think about doping regulation. Outrage did get me off my butt and I’m now a qualified British taekwondo level 2 coach actively trying to encourage others with disabilities to get involved. I was particularly inspired by the attitudes demonstrated by Russian paralympians in a video I watched. I have published a pharma module (not about anti-doping) co-written with international pharma experts which may or may not be used but the module has been completed for now.

This is most of the content of blogposts I have written previously:

…I like others are furious at the treatment of Russian athletes before and during the Olympics. I first became aware of what was happening a couple of weeks before Brexit I think. As someone who helps coach young martial artists from time to time I am completely appalled at how the process has been handled. As principles – if you cheat it is an injustice to other athletes, if you call for/impose a punishment on clean atheletes it is an injustice. You cannot say to young people you can achieve anything you want if you train hard etc

In short, technology is changing, drugs or other methods of substance delivery are changing, supply chains are changing and I don’t think a WADA can achieve what it is trying to do re enforcement and regulation. Whilst reading the report and other information about the sporting bodies – I am concerned about the lack of diversity of WADA, IAAF (headed by a British establishment Tory peer), IPC (headed by another Brit) executive & decision making representatives.

Political messages inflame expressions of hatred as evidenced by fans behaviour both on and offline at the Olympics. There is no point in putting Russia or other countries into some kind of political sin bin – it’s ridiculous – why not work with other regulators to actually put in place a realistic long-term deterrent if there is credible evidence but the hype and hastily assembled report makes assertions that it cannot back up (it looks like the author wants to dine out on it academically for a number of years). Russia can lead the way in anti-doping as an example to other countries.

…lots of practical issues that I need to think about including use of drugs/enhancements and safeguarding.

Aside from politics and cheating temporarily – I was trying to imagine a scenario where there are no banned substances or enhancements but any use or adaptation which affects the body as in a clinical trial is available in real time as national & international data. The UK consent process would be more adequate and clinically accountable (theoretically),  better early signals of adverse effects.

However from safeguarding perspective this doesn’t cover absent knowledge of long term effects (e.g. like a new cancer drug where there hasn’t been enough long term use to know yet) and how a temporary modification in a child could reduce their life quality or worse as a young adult or older.

Wider, more open knowledge of substances or enhancements may lead to data that could provide therapies, cures or vaccines for other areas. The increase in citizen science self reporting through apps makes it more feasible.

However, does it make the costs & time compared to anti doping better, will companies producing enhancements report adequately in their clinical trials to provide enough data for consent which is also safeguarded for athletes and even if with a no banned list, would people still do things under the radar?

Don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable enough with the safeguarding aspects. And where is a line drawn in a martial art and improved self esteem with Courtesy Integrity Self Control Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit.


#Russian Art – mosaics

The Hermitage has days & years worth of art collections available for viewing. After reading a little about Russian artistic development, it was great to see some Russian art represented with mosaics.

Mr Beavington-Atkinson in his 1873 “An Art Tour to Russia” 1 said that “the mosaics too are directly national, if not always in design, at any rate in execution…mosaic – the art for eternity – cannot be carried out in a hurry” (pp140-1) and he talks about the Imperial Manufactory of Mosaics and mosaic development in all of Chapter 7.

These two were opposite / near the gardens on first floor, very intricate and beautifully presented with miniature pieces:


St Petersburg day 3

It’s not just the grand architecture of the Metro which makes it so special but the polite and warm attitudes of busy Russians during peak times. Russian men offering seats and warm smiles for women who sit there. This is the same everywhere we have been, unfailing calm and patience.

Not pretending that it’s a perfect city when you visit as a tourist but I love it here. Our beautiful guide took us to a great place to eat Russian pies where she goes, just like our guide yesterday she is really proud of her city and country, she wants to share it with visitors.

We briefly visited Tsarskoe Selo (just outside St Petersburg) today which was absolutely packed with tourists. It was shocking & distressing to see pictures of German soldiers standing around the wreckage they were causing and taking photos. There is a dedicated program of restoration ongoing and they are doing a wonderful job.

Apparently there are stables somewhere in the gardens/parks where St Petersburg families can bring their children for horse riding lessons. My nephew will be delighted to hear this and I will investigate St Petersburg residency / citizenship, I don’t mind tagging along too. 

Victory day processions are family oriented too, they can join in at the end after the military processions and have a wonderful time.
We have booked a 5hr performance of Crime & Punishment tmrw, don’t think back will survive but can attempt at least. 

St Petersburg day 2 

Beautiful weather again with sun kissed snow showers falling lightly along the banks of the River Neva.

We had the best city tour I’ve ever been on, our tour guide was intelligent, informative and happy to throw in personal anecdotes. When we visited St Nicholas Cathedral, she was happy to share the history within the context of her own religious views which was very interesting. 

There was something about ordinary St Petersburg residents popping in and out of the building to remember and say prayers for departed loved ones that makes it easier to try and understand a kind of spiritual concept of devotion. 

With Victory day parades 2 days ago, they interviewed a 97 yr old St Petersburg resident who remembers the siege and subsequent defeat. 

The military medical academy which completes world class research across many years also has clinical services available to St Petersburg residents. It partners with St Petersburg State University as well. There are approx 200 museums here.

We briefly visited the Russia Museum which houses a fantastic art collection and the building itself has incredibly intricate paintings:

One of my relatives was a builder and wants to know about Russian cupolas – the Church of the Spilled Blood has magnificent examples: