Check out my latest article for Russia! magazine. Why? Because this is one of those times when I got to go back to the roots of what this site was originally supposed to be about- dispelling myths about Russia. A lot of those myths are born when people hear the chatter of expats who might be blind to the privileges they have living in Russia, which in some cases might not be exclusive to Russia in the first place. And let’s face it- why should pampered college students be the only ones allowed to call people out on their “privilege?” I want in too!
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on, it seemed to me that these wars were having a negative effect on the US military’s strategy. You would constantly hear about how future wars would be against non-state actors such as international terrorist organizations. As such, the wars of the future would be all about UAVs and vehicles adapted to the threat of IEDs or mines, typical insurgent weapons. If you read between the lines, it really seemed as though they were saying: “This is the war we are fighting now, so all wars will be like this.”
As the US military adapted to asymmetric warfare, I wondered what would happen if it were to get in a conflict with a conventional army like that of Russia or China. For one thing, I figured the US would still manage to get air superiority, but it would be nothing like what they were used to. For the first time since maybe the Korean War, US military personnel would face the very real threat of aerial attack. After moving to Russia and learning about how pervasive some of the Russian military’s problems were even years after I’d first heard about them, it became clear that while the US and NATO forces would easily beat Russia in a stand-up fight, they would not do so easily. Having become so adapted to fighting poorly trained insurgents who fight with very rudimentary weapons, they’d be caught off guard by some of Russia’s capabilities in electronic warfare(EW), artillery, and air defense.
At least that was the case until recently, when Russia’s dipshit dictator decided to start flailing his arms around wildly in a pathetic attempt to make his country seem relevant after 15 years of plundering it and preventing it from reaching its real potential. Some of you have no doubt heard how NATO is taking advantage of Russia’s sabre-rattling in the Baltic region by observing the latter’s air patrols and military exercises. The frequent military activity has been leaking secrets and insights like a sieve, giving NATO planners plenty of data on Russia’s military capabilities, procedures, and plans. Now, American strategists have plenty of real data on which to retrain themselves on dealing with conventional powers.
Take this article, for example. Candid US military personnel talk about how they were impressed by Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities, an insight gleaned from observing their tactics in Ukraine. Thanks to Putin, the US military has realized the error of its ways and is working hard to shore up its defenses based on the practical data they’ve acquired courtesy of Putin.
Wouldn’t it have been embarrassing if the US military found itself in a conflict facing these jamming capabilities, totally unprepared? How generous it is of Putin to piss away the only fleeting chance his military would ever have in a conflict with NATO, something he and his legion of vatniks so zealously desire! And with the sanctions and the worsening economy, Russia will have no chance of keeping pace with NATO when they develop measures to counter Russia’s current EW capabilities. Putin outfoxes them again!
I’ve taken to saying that Russia has declared war on reality. There can be no more concrete proof than this. I really don’t have much more to say about this. It’s all in the story- a director of a historical archive gets chewed out for pointing out that the entire plot of a WWII film* is basically false, a fact which was originally revealed a few years after the Second World War. Reality is not “patriotic” and therefore it must be rejected.
Never mind the fact that the film depicts the deeds the Soviet Union and not Russia. Never mind the fact that glorification of the Soviet Union is essentially unpatriotic for the Russian Federation, while the latter is unpatriotic from the point of view of the Soviet Union. And let’s just forget about the fact that there are dozens upon dozens of actual, true stories of heroism from the Great Patriotic War which could have been depicted.
On second thought, let them make films about non-existent events instead. I’d rather they do that than fuck up the true history of WWII any more.
*CORRECTION: Due to the mention of the Ministry of Culture I had mistakenly believed that the film had received state funding. In fact, it was apparently crowdfunded.
What happens when I’m overwhelmed with work and too many news stories to write individual posts on each one? News roundup, of course!
Russia predictably vetoes resolution on UN MH17 tribunal
I know my readers are probably already heard the news yesterday about Russia vetoing the UNSC resolution to create a tribunal on the matter of MH17. Yeah I know, this is really strange, what with all the official Russian statements that called for an investigation, and Russian state media, the Russian Ministry of Defense, and the Investigative Committee all making public presentations claiming to have evidence that Ukraine downed the passenger flight. Sure, those stories change rapidly and often contradict each other, but they always seem so confident in their case that we’re all shocked to think that Russia wouldn’t want to pillory Ukraine in an international tribunal.
What the reader may not know, however, is that yesterday also saw the release of two brand new MH17 alternate theories, each claiming to have hard evidence that has been verified by absolutely no one. Even better- these theories not only contradict Russia’s Su-25 hypothesis, whereby MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian air-to-air missile in spite of all hard evidence to the contrary, but one of them even refutes both that and the Ukrainian Buk SAM story.
Lifenews, owned by a die-hard Putin supporter whose son prefers to live in Brooklyn, floated a new theory about a bomb being on the plane. Once again, a Russian “expert” claims to have intercepted radio traffic that “proves” this.
Even better was the hilarious “intercepted phone call” of a CIA agent posing as a BBC correspondent who is heard talking about arranging the shoot-down of MH17 with a Buk. That story was out by the Russian military channel Zvezda, but someone posted an English-language press release on a free press release site, complete with a transcript of the alleged phone conversation and even an audio file for extra hilarity. Marvel at the porno-quality acting.
So who was the culprit? None other than David Stern. No, not the former chairman of the NBA. David L. Stern, secret agent extraordinaire. The “conversation” sounds like some high school freshman’s short story assignment, complete with loads of clunky exposition and info dumps. I’m also pasting one line from the transcript which stands head and shoulders above the others:
X: Have you met with Ukrainian “warriors”? (laughs)
Question for the dipshit that wrote this, who may be posing under the name “Caleb Gilbert.” Why the quotation marks around “warriors?” This is a transcript of a phone call. Was he making air quotes? Maybe (sarcastic tone) would have been better, but you can’t have quotes in a phone call, moron. And while I’m giving you pointers, work on your exposition. People don’t tell each other things they already know. Secret agents aren’t going to be bantering about all those convenient details in the clear. May I suggest Writing Fiction for Dummies? Anyway, this obviously contradicts the Russian government’s latest claim that it was a SU25, possibly with an Israeli missile.
On that last note, have you ever noticed how Jewish themes keep appearing in these conspiracy theories? Russian anti-Maidan groups claiming that Ukraine’s leaders have Jewish heritage, David L. Stern, an Israeli missile… It’s almost like they’re implying something sinister about Jews or something.
Forget it. All you have to know is that we now have two more “alternative” hypotheses, including one that is totally new. Why oh why won’t the mainstream media listen to the “Russian side?”
Sputnik pushes the boundaries of idiocy
Sputnik News pushes the envelope of stupidity by publishing “news” about a twin barreled assault rifle that is “NATO’s Worst Nightmare.” I guess it can be likened to a nightmare in the sense that like a bad dream, the AO-63 isn’t real. It was designed, yes, and not in the 60’s as the article claims, but it ended up getting rejected by the Russian military- in the 80’s.
That’s right, Sputnik News is reporting on a rifle that for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist and will never be used by the Russian military, and calling this NATO’s worst nightmare. I don’t even know where to begin with this:
Better firepower, accuracy and repeatability – these are the qualities Russian armorers tried to bring together in the AO-63 twin-barrel assault rifle, this country’s best known of its kind. It was never mass-produced though.
That’s the sub-headline right there. That alone tells us this isn’t a story.
Developed in the 1960s and produced by the Central Research Institute for Precision Machine Building (TsNIITochMash), the AO-63 prototype was utterly unique in its approach to voluminous fire, utilizing an over-under, double-barreled configuration.
That’s interesting how it was developed in the 1960’s for a round that didn’t exist until the early 70’s.
It was capable of fully automatic fire, chambered for the 5.45 x 39mm round. Using two barrels it was capable of a whopping 6,000 rpm in a two-round burst and 850 rpm in sustained fire.
That sounds impressive, except when you remember two things: The first is that this means you burn through ammunition more quickly. In WWII the Germans fielded one of the fastest-firing machine guns ever made, the MG42. That was a belt-fed machine gun, however. Even then it ate up ammunition within seconds.
The other reason why this rate of fire is a problem is heat. Modern machine guns have quick-change barrels to deal with this. That assault rifle wouldn’t. Theoretically you could design one with a quick change barrel but why would you? Don’t fix what isn’t broken and don’t give the rifleman more shit to carry.
It also says the barrels were over and under, which makes me wonder about the accuracy of the thing. It would be great in close quarters maybe, but it seems there’d be a substantial difference in aim once you get beyond 50 meters.
The AO-63 assault rifle was briefly part of the project Abakan trials in the mid-1980s, in search of a more accurate alternative for the standard issue AK-47.
For fuck’s sake, Sputnik. You’re in Russia. You could easily find out that the AK-47 was long out of use at that time. Even before the AK74 came along, the USSR had been using the modernized AKM.
Its main downside stemmed from its complexity of construction and assembly, which eventually pushed the army to choose the the easier-to-build AN-93, better known as the AN-94 Abakan.
Yeah that and the utter absurdity of the concept. As for the AN-94, this was an impressive weapon but Russia had been talking about replacing the AK74M with this thing since about 2000-2001, and I think they only officially declined it around 2012. As far as I know most troops still use the AK74M.
The AO-63 twin-barrel assault rifle which instilled so much fear in the hearts of NATO intelligence analysts never entered service, making way for simpler and more traditional designs.
Uh yeah…Where’s the evidence that NATO intelligence analysts ever expressed any fear or worry about this experimental weapon? If I had been in their shoes and someone told me about a double-barreled assault rifle, my reaction would be: “Huh? Why would you build that?” It’s got that much going against it.
Even though the AO-63 was never produced, the need for a weapon capable of firing twice as many rounds per minute as a conventional one is still existent and Russian armorers are hard at work to come up with a wonder weapon of the future…
I’ve seen no evidence that this need exists. I also don’t see how a double-barreled assault rifle, or any assault rifle for that matter, could be a “wonder weapon.” But even if Russia does make some real wonder weapons, they can’t really afford them.
I think things like Sputnik News is a good example how Russia’s decision to wage a propaganda offensive leads to a total abandonment of any sort of quality. The Russian media will hire anyone who speaks English, if even that, and they put out pretty much anything because they have told themselves that confusion and saturation are a viable strategy. All this really does is make Russia look insane to the rest of the world.
The problem with lowering the quality like this is that the lower you go, the dumber the people it appeals to. If they argue that this kind of thing gets more views and is thus more pervasive, then they’re right, hands down. But it’s the quality of the audience that counts, and anyone with minimal critical thinking skills finds a lot of this material laughable.
What in the Actual Fuck is This?
A lot of my readers come from Reddit when someone links to one of my articles. But just the other day I found this. If this subreddit is a parody, it’s beautiful. If it’s not- God help us all. I mean look at this:
I don’t even know where to begin with that. This falls under the label of “not even wrong.” If this isn’t a parody, I’m sure some dipshit at the troll factory in St. Petersburg is convinced this is really effective.
In fact, looking at this and other examples of English-language Kremlin propaganda, I’m wondering if the line of reasoning behind this ever-decreasing quality is similar to that used by those who engage in those “Nigerian” 419 email scams. People will read those emails and laugh, baffled at how anyone could possibly fall for such a poorly written hook. But that’s just it- scammers send out waves of spam that is purposely aimed at the lowest common denominator.
Think about it- suppose they write a message with perfect spelling and grammar, complete with detailed explanations and sources about why they need to get all this money out of their country. It may be enough to convince someone to respond, but if they had to be convinced, it means they’ve got some measure of skepticism. Since these scams take a long time to pull off, there’s a danger of wasting time and effort if the person starts asking questions down the line. So the solution is you write something to appeal to the dumbest people out there. Anybody stupid enough to reply with interest is unlikely to ask any questions down the line.
Of course Russian propaganda isn’t aimed at scamming anyone out of money, but they do seem to have an interest in getting independent bloggers, writers, journalists, and activists to propagate their narratives and regurgitate their talking points. Some of these folks made their entire career off of just taking whatever side is saying the opposite of their own government, but a lot of them do care about credibility or respectability, and obviously people who can get beyond the whole “my country right or wrong” mentality have to possess some critical thinking skills. For the former reason, these people may be somewhat useful to the Kremlin, but they can also be unreliable, failing to repeat those talking points they don’t agree with or criticizing the Russian government at times. Abby Martin is a perfect example of this- useful, but too unreliable as a mouthpiece due to a pesky thing all Russian propagandists hate known as principles.
So what you do is put out even dumber propaganda, so the people you hook repeat your bullshit without question, even if it just means sharing it all over Facebook. This person attracts others like them. At the very least, you have advantage in numbers.
Anyway, that’s just a hypothesis. There’s no way I can verify it, though others might investigate. At least it would explain a lot.
So in my last post I linked to an article by a professor Paul Robinson at the University of Ottawa. He apparently took issue with a previous entry of mine and wrote a response. He was also kind enough to tell me so once it was published. Now as I wrote in the above-linked rebuttal, the main problem I had with the response was the fact that he seemed to miss the point of the article right in the thesis: It wasn’t so much about “whataboutery,” as in: “Annexation of Crimea? What about Iraq?!” It was about people who don’t even put that much effort into making a logically fallacious argument. For example, they read something about censorship in Russia and their response is simply: “Sounds like America!”
Now in case you’re wondering, this isn’t going to be round 2 with the professor. See I check my site stats and I saw that his article had been republished on the hilariously bad Russia Insider. Why bother pointing this out? Well whereas Robinson’s article is articulate and coherent, Insider just can’t resist lowering the bar. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen. You’ll see an article on the blog of some more articulate albeit pro-Kremlin writer, and then you see the RI version and it looks as though it were written by teenagers. Their outrage at an RFERL piece about Stephen Cohen was a perfect example of this.
One interesting thing about RI is that they seem to be interested in the ADHD demographic, because they preface the piece with some talking points. But first I have to start with the headline:
‘Whataboutism’ Provokes Anger Because It Bursts the Bubble of Western Moral Superiority”
Let it be known that the headline itself is false. Now part of this is on Paul, and in the first link to my response I explain why. If whataboutism provokes any anger, it’s probably because it’s the only tactic these people ever use, and they use it so repeatedly and with such predictability that I can almost make them say what I want. Russian aggression in Ukraine? Iraq! Libya! Dilapidation and decay in Russia? Detroit! It’s like a goddamned phrasebook.
Now as for bursting the bubble of “Western Moral Superiority,” it seems the author of the headline forgets that whataboutism is just another term for a logical fallacy- “tu quoque” or “you too.” Actually depending on the situation it can also be a red herring, which is annoying to anyone in any discussion because the comparison isn’t even accurate. But more importantly, logically fallacious arguments really can’t take down any sense of anyone’s moral superiority. Reasoned arguments are better for that. Anyway, on to those talking points:
-Westerner who point fingers at Russia believe Russia has no right to do the same because it is morally inferior
Yes, that’s directly copied and pasted as-is if you haven’t clicked over to the link. This is confusing to me because I’m not sure if that “Westerner” is supposed to refer to me and they left the “s” off of “point,” or if it was supposed to be Westerners, plural. If it is me, I’m guessing they didn’t read the link that Robinson provided in his article, because I never made such an argument.
There are pundits out there who will simply dismiss arguments as whataboutism, even when they might actually be valid, but I’ve never seen any of them making this specific claim. If you happen to be doing something bad, you’re morally inferior on that topic.
Let me give a quick example. The Magnitsky Case was a travesty, but the Magnitsky Act was highly questionable as it punished people without an investigation and it was extremely selective. The act was supposed to be aimed at regimes with human rights violations, but we all know how ridiculously problematic that is, and to the best of my knowledge it has thus far only been applied to Russia. So long as that was the case, Russia held the moral high ground at least on that one issue. Then of course Russia had to prove that it could “answer” those sanctions, because goddammit nobody keeps a Russian official from his Western bank accounts and property! Their answer- punish Russian orphans, particularly the disabled. Moral high ground: blown.
In any case, those pundits who dismiss any comparisons in discussions about Russia, no matter how apt, rarely appear angry to me. That’s the luxury of just dismissing arguments, though it makes you look like a colossal asshole in the process. Sometimes these people may be committing a logical fallacy themselves- most likely special pleading.
-Nothing angers a westerner more than the temerity of Russians who disregard this and ask awkward questions about western policies
I know of no evidence for this statement. If anyone gets pissed it’s at the constant repetition of this often red herring tactic, and its selective use by those who use it.
Here I should also probably point out that Russia Insider’s authors are themselves Westerners, however long they might have lived in Russia. In any case, I’m all for asking awkward questions about Western policies. Here’s one off the top of my head: “Why do Western countries lament over the actions of Russia today while they used to happily accepted billions in dirty money from Russian state officials and businessmen, all the while investing in Putin’s Russia to the point of even selling him military technology?” Awk-ward!!!
Now you think that these talking points were good enough to let the reader get the gist and move on to the article, but no.
Kudos to author for his concise insight but he does not go far enough:
I knew it! Robinson’s failure to toe the party line 100% is no accident! Could he be a crypto-neocon? You can’t prove he isn’t!
West spreads far more mayhem, misery and death around the world than Russia does
This statement is totally unsubstantiated and can easily be turned on its head. For example, RI is on this thing called the internet, commonly accessed by these things called PCs. Who invented all these things? Have the internet and the PC, not to mention the smartphone, not revolutionized the entire world and raised living standards everywhere? You know what? Screw the technology for a second. Read this man’s story some time. He’s known as “The man who saved a billion lives.” These are just two examples, associated with the United States alone. That’s not even counting the whole “West,” and then we’d have to include Japan and Korea as well.
The point here is that we can decide to focus only on the bad or we can be more realistic and acknowledge the fact that by almost every indicator, humankind lives better today than it ever has. Keep in mind that there are people who think that Russia is inherently bound up with dictatorship, a “slave mentality,” corruption, and theft. Incidentally many of those people happen to be Russians but that’s beside the point. The point is- dialectics, mah boy!
Russians pointing a finger at the west are much more often onto something than westerners raising an issue with Russia.
If you’re hoping for the author to substantiate this, you’re shit out of luck. It’s basically just saying this is right and that’s wrong, which when you think about it isn’t that far removed from those Western pundits who smack any comparison down with the word whataboutism.
I think I know what happened here- the person who published this wasn’t able to construct a coherent article, so they tacked on their own unsubstantiated, highly questionable assertions to the top and then said Robinson didn’t go far enough. I want the reader to think long and hard about that next time you hear the Team Kremlin crowd talking about how the “Western media” is in lockstep (check the comments of the first link in this article if you want to see that argument get torn to shreds with real examples).
The intro they tacked on is amusing as well:
A much needed article. It may come as a surprise to you but this is actually a thing. For years now western Russia commentators have claimed Russian critique of the west in reponse to western critique of Russia is invalid – unworthy of any consideration – and should be dismissed out of hand.
Is it a “thing?” I hadn’t heard the term used in discourse on Russia until at least 2014, when the whataboutist arguments started flying fast and furious. They say “for years now,” but I and many others can tell you that this country was very different as little as two years ago.
The key thing in this for me is where they say “western commentators have claimed…” First of all, I’m surprised to find that I’m now somehow representative of “western commentators.” For one thing, I’ve been living in Russia all this time and the closest connection I have to the “Western media” beyond some friends and acquaintances I met this year was the time I was featured in a debate against Ed Lucas on Sky. 500 Neocon points awarded!
Second, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone actually claim what they say they do. There are certainly people who dismiss specific attempts and don’t consider them, but not such a blanket statement. As I said before, actual whataboutist arguments are inherently fallacious from a logical point of view, so right there is a justification for dismissing them. But on the other hand I have seen people engage with such arguments and explain why the comparison is improper. I personally do this all the time. I’m actually trying to teach people about these things.
The piece de resistance is a photo of a US soldier, probably in Iraq, and…get ready for it…a whataboutist caption!
“Like that time Russia blew up the Middle East”
They totally burned me there! See I was totally in favor of US military intervention in the Middle East because I know that America is always the good guys and they have to go killed the evil terrorist bad guys in those Arab countries!
Oh wait…Hang on a second. That’s all bullshit. In the real world, I was against that war in Iraq from the start. I attended three separate demonstrations and even did some counter-recruitment work. I was also opposed to military involvement in Libya and Syria. Say what you will, but I think there were better options and what we have there now is kind of the worst of both worlds.
I’m getting something else too…Yes…I remember now! I’m not a representative of the US government, nor have I ever been. I haven’t even worked for any level of American government since 2002! I can reasonably call myself a hardcore “dissident” since 1999, even earlier to be honest.
Do you realize what this means?! It means that I can say whatever I goddamned well please about Russia’s actions in Ukraine because I never endorsed aggressive actions like the Iraq War and was in fact dead set opposed to them in word and deed.
And suppose I wasn’t even American? What do these geniuses say when a Russian voices criticism of their government’s actions? “Hey Sergei, don’t you know America invaded Iraq?” I know full well that this kind of thing actually takes place, but it’s even more idiotic because there’s even less of a reason to assume the person in question would endorse actions like those of Bush.
If you want to have some real fun with that little Middle East barb, read on.
See the thing about whataboutism is that if you’re doing a wrong thing right, you want to make sure that the thing your opponent does is exclusive to them. The classic example of Soviet whataboutism was: “They lynch negroes in the South.” There was a good reason for choosing that topic. For one thing, the USSR had America dead to rights on the topic of racism for many decades and American Cold War propagandists knew this. More importantly, however, whatever you think the USSR was doing, they sure as hell weren’t lynching any black folks or burning crosses.
Now on the other hand, if someone accuses you of theft and then you point out the time they stole from the same place, you’re still both guilty of theft. So you want to make sure your logically fallacious accusation can’t be leveled back at you.
So how does this have anything to do with the Middle East? Well several things, really:
-When the USSR was powerful, it did intervene and get involved in other countries far from its borders. This is not a moral judgement but intended to make a point- that is to say that history tells us that when Russia was strong enough to throw its weight around on the world scale, it did. Moreover, when we look at how readily the Kremlin moved to invade and punish its “brother people”(the same people, according to Putin) in Ukraine, we’d have to be naive indeed to believe that Russia, were it to have the kind of power to project force the way the US does, wouldn’t use that power. This is something we can also infer from the utter lack of any substantial opposition or criticism of the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. By contrast, in Western countries serious talk of war inevitably leads to protests and anti-war organizations.
-Russia was a supporter of the “War on Terror” and it was also a member of US CENTCOM from 2001, shortly after 9/11. Putin’s government has supported the NATO mission in Afghanistan and it also shared intelligence with the US regarding terrorism. Are we really to believe that Russia wouldn’t have got involved in some way if it were stronger at the time?
-The Iraq War presented Putin with the best of both worlds: he got to criticize US imperialism but at the same time benefit from rising oil prices that helped make Russia what it was in the glory years. But guess what- Russia still benefits from the Iraq War today. Iraqi Kurdistan is often called “the other Iraq” due to its meteoric success post-invasion compared to the bloody quagmire that characterized the other parts of the country. This region had de facto autonomy since 1991 but Saddam had isolated the area economically and obviously it wasn’t the most attractive place for investment given the fact that it was still officially part of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. After the invasion, the Kurds took control and the place has boomed. And guess who’s there. That’s right: Russia’s Gazprom. Nice of the US, UK, and Poland to do the heavy lifting while Russia comes in and gets a cut, don’t you think?
-Most of the weapons we see in Middle East conflicts are Soviet or Russian designed. Keep in mind that many of these weapons and their ammunition can be license built copies, but arms trafficking and Russian organized crime go hand in hand. To what extent is anyone’s guess.
-The US supports brutal dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. Russia supports Assad. Personally I’m more hostile to the Saudi regime, but it’s still backing a dictatorship, and this is basically a thought experiment.
I could go on but the point here is that Russia’s hands are not clean in the Middle East, and just by listening to Russian discourse on Ukraine and other former Soviet republics it isn’t too far fetched to imagine how Russia would act if it actually possessed the ability to project its force around the world. Why else do you think they were so interested in those Mistral carriers, and why are they still trying to update their navy? Blue water navies are imperialist tools. It’s also more disturbing that in Russia you don’t have the kind of political diversity of opinion and media that the West has. As I said before, the West is full of people who hear their government sabre-rattling and then immediately oppose it due to ideology or principle. Western politicians have to worry about elections and their own media. Bush managed to get the media on board in 2002, but by 2004 the administration had become a joke.
Let me make the above perfectly clear- I’m not saying any of those points above somehow mitigate the US’ actions in the Middle East. But if you want to play the “you’re not so clean yourself” game, Russia’s a fair target.
I really don’t know why people find it so hard to understand how idiotic these arguments are. If they aren’t a red herring that has nothing to do with the topic, they’re basically moot from the get go. Using some inspiration from my good friend, I’ve sort of developed a game-theory-like way to understand this.
When we are confronted with the immoral deeds of governments, any governments, we can take essentially two positions:
1. Call out immoral actions of all sides as best as possible. This doesn’t mean every side is equal, and we can consider mitigating circumstances, but essentially we try to stand for some kind of principle or standard.
2. We can point out that some other country also does bad things every time someone points out the bad deeds of a particular country. Since this could basically go in circles, the only real way to end this is for both sides to shut up.
Obviously there are other options in some cases, such as reasonably proving that two cases are actually different, but beyond that these are the two main approaches in our game.
So then we’re left with the question as to which approach makes the world a better place, and which makes it worse- Option 1 or Option 2? As a corollary to this, which system is better- one where human rights are enshrined yet the system often falls short of its professed values, or one where human rights are a priori dismissed as a ploy used by conspiratorial national rivals and thus dismissed using whataboutist arguments any time a human rights issue is raised?
I think it’s clear that the first option in both situations is desirable. Many of America’s fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, were absurdly hypocritical when they penned the Constitution. Here they were proclaiming equality and liberty while some of them, many in fact, owned human beings as property. But because they had proclaimed these ideas and enshrined them in a founding document, people were able to use those words again and again throughout US history to call the system into account when it failed to deliver on its promises. Here we see Lincoln invoking this in one of his debates with Douglas:
“I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why may not another man say it does not mean another man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get this statute book in which we find it and tear it out.
Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man—this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”
Pointing out the gap between ideals and reality would be revisited again and again in the struggle for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, in the case of the latter up to this very year. See the nice thing about aiming high with lofty values is that when the system fails to achieve them, people who are seeking justice already have a moral advantage right out of the gate. The document says equal rights, these people aren’t treated equally- burden of proof is on the system to justify that.
The other path is that of ultra-cynicism. “Yes, so we are corrupt. But look at what your mortgage lenders did in 2008! Who are you to lecture us! Leave us alone!” Assuming the other party actually did so, then both parties would just go on being corrupt in their own ways, to varying degrees if not more so because nobody ever calls it out. Of course that’s usually not how it works, and thus it’s just distraction and red herrings over and over gain.
On the topic of human rights in this system, well they’re just a propaganda trope used by the enemy. No need to worry about how well our society respects them. If someone does call us out, we’ll just find some bad thing in their present or past and throw that in their face.
This path makes the world a worse place. It’s bad for America, it’s bad for Russia, it’s bad for everyone. And you can look at the comments on articles like this and all you’ll see is this echo chamber of people explaining how terrible the West is and how morally superior Russia is even if they’ve never lived there, but they don’t do anything. They just sit online reading bullshit and complaining about how terrible their governments are while doing jack shit to change it.
Rest assured that the people in charge of Russia’s foreign language media aren’t interested in seeing any of those problems in the West go away. What would they do without them? In fact they were truly sincere about highlighting this hypocrisy of the West, they’d essentially be screwing themselves because theoretically they might inspire enough people to go out and create a movement for change. Then they would have significantly improved the lives of Westerners at the expense of the Russian people, whose money pays their salaries. Of course the people who run Russia’s foreign language media aren’t concerned about that. They believe that it’s an effective strategy to distract and confuse foreign audiences, and so they keep pairing more intelligent guests and opinions with conspiratorial bullshit and ridiculous comparisons.
Yeah, this is a bit of a long one I know. So I’ll sum it up short and sweet- The invasion of Iraq? Horrible. Criminal. Unprovoked aggression. So is the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas war. And for the exact same reasons. Principles. Get some.
Who doesn’t love a good polemic from time to time? Looks like one of my recent articles provoked a response, entitled “In Defense of whataboutism.” I’m not sure how necessary this is given the fact that while I haven’t defended whataboutism or whataboutery, I’ve repeatedly examined the concept to show why it is such a poor argument (it’s actually a logical fallacy known as “Tu quoque” or “You too”), but also why many things that might at first glance sound like whataboutism are in fact not, and can in fact be valid arguments. In fact here’s an article I wrote some time ago on that topic. Here’s another, where I actually bring up a publication from The Interpreter, the significance of which will become apparent to the reader once they read that response to my article. In that one, I deal with a tactic often used by some Russia critics, by which they dismiss any comparison, however valid, with the magic words “moral equivalency.” Put simply, you cannot claim that I use whataboutism or whataboutery as debate-ending words. If I call it out, I’m usually careful to explain why the comparison is wrong or why it doesn’t matter from an ethical point of view.
Unfortunately, it seems the blogger in question missed the point of this recent article, which in fact isn’t about simple whataboutery at all, but a specific “meme.” To refresh your memory, it’s the one about people who read something critical of Russia and say something like “Sounds like just like the United States!” In particular it’s about how people will say this in cases where there is literally no comparison unless you go back to maybe the early Cold War or 19th century. If we speak about crackdowns on independent media and someone says “That sounds just like America,” that’s not whataboutery, it’s simply idiocy. Here’s a passage from that very article:
I cannot stand this non-argument. It’s not just whataboutery, it’s actually worse simply because it is not just a non-argument, but it’s basically the equivalent of pointing your finger and saying: “No, YOU are!”
There are make a clear distinction between that specific trope and whataboutery. I don’t know how this couldn’t be more clear, and yet…
“The anger which whataboutism provokes in some Western commentators suggests that it hits a raw nerve, possibly because it bursts their bubble of moral superiority. This week, in his blog Russia Without BS, Jim Kovpak describes the finger pointing involved in whataboutism as ‘one of the most irritating memes, for lack of a better word, that one encounters in discourse on Russia.’ This retaliatory finger pointing, Kovpak writes, is an example of ‘“fractal wrongness”, i.e. wrong on every conceivable level’.”
Saddle up and let’s take this apart. First we have implied “anger” at whataboutism. This is a common tactic which I find questionable- the idea that people criticizing something means they’re enraged and thus it must be striking some nerve, some truth they want to keep hidden. Very well- many people get angry, sometimes enraged at moon landing conspiracy theorists. Buzz Aldrin got angry enough at one to punch him in the face in pubic, while being recorded.
Such fury! Allegations about faking the moon landing sure get a rise out of Aldrin! Perhaps they strike a sensitive nerve? Alright you get the point.
I suppose Paul, the author, is basing this on the fact that I used the terms “the most irritating memes.” The problem is that I wasn’t describing the “finger pointing involved in whataboutism;” I was, as I wrote above, describing a particular meme that I actually distinguished from run-of-the-mill whataboutery. If anything, accusations of whataboutery seem to provoke more anger from the pro-Kremlin side since the term came back into fashion last year, mainly because they realize that it’s essentially pointing out a logical fallacy in their arguments and thus invalidating them (assuming the accusation is accurate in a specific case).
But as for anger? Well anti-vaxxers provoke a lot of anger with their “arguments.” Does that mean they’ve struck a raw nerve? No.
On the question of moral superiority, I suppose I’ve handled this topic before. There certainly are supporters of the status quo who refuse to hear any criticism of their side. These tend to be people with close ties to governments, veteran pundits, and think tank wonks. Or they may be politicians themselves. That being said, the Russia watchers I tend to follow and interact with are virtually all, at the very least, left leaning if not radically so. Not one of them asserts some kind of general moral superiority in the West and we discuss not only apt comparisons between Russia and, for example, the US, but we even routinely discuss those few areas in which Russian policies or cultural aspects are actually superior to American analogs. And speaking for myself with my politics, I can rattle off facts about the US government’s bad deeds for hours, to the point where RT would be offering me my own show, so long as I never let that condemnation turn to Russia.
Let’s move on to the next part:
Kovpak’s view, and I suspect this is an opinion held by many others, is that only one side may legitimately ask ‘what about?’
I honestly don’t see how someone could have got my opinion in that piece so wrong. In my work I’ve actually identified times when it’s the Western politicians and their supporters who resort to whataboutery. So there goes that theory, at least as far as it concerns me.
The West can point fingers at Russia, because it is objectively better, but Russia has no right to point fingers at the West, because Russia is objectively worse than the West. The comparisons Russian whataboutists make are therefore invalid.
Is the West objectively better? That’s hard to say because there is no “the West” anymore, but how could we even test this? Well we could look at things like GDP per capita, infrastructure, quality of life, life expectancy, individual freedoms, etc., and I’m really sorry but virtually every time we look at these things and compare them to Russia, we see that “the West” comes out on top. That might not justify in particular action taken by a particular Western country, but at the very least they can claim their way gets results, unlike Russia’s “special path,” which presented at best, a temporary stop gap that is going to lead to catastrophe when its rotten system inevitably collapses due to its own internal inconsistencies and dependence on a single personality.
As for whether these comparisons are invalid or not, it depends on how accurate the comparison is. To take an extreme example, I recently saw a pro-Russia commentator condemn Belgium for supporting the sanctions against Russia by bringing up the horrors of the Congo Free State and its subsequent colonial regime after it was seized from Leopold II by the state. Got that? Belgium has no right to criticize Russian aggression because of atrocities that happened largely in the Victorian era. In any case, Belgium gave up its colonies in the early 60’s. Russia wants colonies today. Incidentally, however, the topic of Leopold II would be a valid criticism in some debates, such as the question of Lenin monuments in Russia or Ukraine.
Again, that is an extreme example, but one which provides a perfect example of an invalid comparison. It’s also a bit amusing because while Belgium no longer behaves as a 19th century power, Russia wants to, and virtually all its political scientists subscribe to an ideology formed in that century.
And speaking of invalid comparisons:
However, even if Kovpak is right that the West is objectively better than Russia, it still seems to me to be completely valid to point out hypocrisy where hypocrisy exists. For instance, when people like Michael Weiss of The Interpreter Magazine denounce the Russian media for their bias, it is surely entirely fair to comment, as I have, that Weiss and The Interpreter are hardly bastions of balanced reporting themselves.
Ignoring the extent to which the West is objectively “better” than Russia, I don’t see any problem with pointing out hypocrisy so long as it is accurate and it’s not the sole argument one has. Again, whataboutery is at its core, nothing more than a “Tu quoque” fallacy. But in this sole example he gives, it’s an inaccurate comparison. The Interpreter is basically a watchdog of Russia. It is an organ of a think tank. It’s actual purpose is looking at things like bias in the Russia media, but it is not the media itself. That being said, The Interpreter does hurt its case by relying so heavily on people like Paul Goble, who appears willing to give a platform to any whackjob Russian intellectual so long as it fits his narrative. Read enough of Goble’s articles and you’ll be convinced that Russia is about to collapse in a singularity of AIDS, demographic crisis, and ethnic conflict by the end of the week. The Interpreter also employees Catherine “Catfitz” Fitzpatrick, who is, and I’m sorry there’s no nice way to say this, batshit insane.
That being said, The Interpreter also has articles on topics such as the Ukrainian far right and their involvement with Maidan. According to the pro-Kremlin side, the evil Western neocons are trying to cover for Ukrainian neo-Nazis. So why would they even publish such a thing? The Interpreter isn’t even media, really. Now you can say these are exceptions, which they are albeit for good reasons, but I’ve yet to see anyone on RT or any Russian media outlet being allowed to make a case for Maidan or against the Crimean annexation, save for Abby Martin who got reprimanded. I’ve never seen these pro-Kremlin sources having lengthy discussions with various Maidan supporters to see how they really feel about Russia and far right nationalists, or ask why they were protesting. By contrast in the “Western” media I can find plenty of info on far right nationalists in Ukraine, in its volunteer organizations, as well as interviews with pro-Russian separatists and their leaders.
The truth is that when it comes to bias, pro-Kremlin people will continue to insist that there’s an information war against Russia or that “the Russian side is shut out” until the Western media stops reporting negatively on Russia’s deeds in Ukraine and starts accepting their numerous, often-contradictory “alternative explanations,” which is not going to happen because while they might not be perfect, mainstream Western news outlets are actually concerned about fact checking. Ask Dan Rather or Brian Williams what happens when you drop the ball. I sometimes wonder what these people want “the Western media,” which is of course a hive collective, to do. When Russia’s state owned First Channel aired a story showing a laughably fake “satellite” photo proving a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down MH17, should Western sources have taken this seriously and reported on it for balance?
Alright enough of bias, back to the main topic.
When, for instance, people respond to complaints about ‘Russian aggression’ by pointing at American and NATO aggression elsewhere, they are making a fair point. Western commentators often claim that Russia is a ‘revisionist’ power; that in Ukraine it is trying to tear up the existing international order. Whataboutism allows us to see what a ridiculous claim this is, since the people making it are citizens of states which have done more to undermine that order than anybody else, through actions such as the invasion of Iraq and the bombing campaign against Libya.
I guess I should say something about this existing international order issue. Long-time readers might notice I’ve never brought up this issue, particularly because I am not a fan of the existing international order myself. I would say that on that point, yes, to a certain extent Russian complaints could have some validity. It isn’t valid when it comes to the question of aggression, especially with all these airspace violations and constant screaming about their nuclear weapons. And while the world still suffers from the stain of the Iraq War today (though not Putin, as he benefited from higher oil prices), I’m not sure Libya can be completely laid at the feet of NATO, which got involved later. I opposed the campaign against Gaddafi, if only because it seemed ridiculously short-sighted and selective given other events in the region at the time. However, in some ways Gaddafi made his own bed. This is what happens when you rule a country that way for over 40 years. Because there’s no mechanism for the peaceful change of power, armed revolution becomes the only option. I just think NATO leaders could have greatly helped the situation by stepping in first as mediators and peacemakers; they were already working with Gaddafi in increasing capacity since the early 2000’s.
None of this gives Russia the right to interfere in Ukraine’s sovereignty or annex part of its territory. That it wants to do so shows that it actually has no problem with aggression or violating sovereignty. That’s the main problem with whataboutery. You’re not condemning the action itself, you’re only condemning another country doing it. Now that might work against governments, but there are millions, in fact tens of millions of people worldwide which do not agree with such policies. We’re talking about people who didn’t bomb Libya or invade Iraq.
In a recent episode of RT’s Crosstalk show (yes, I know, RT, lackey of the Kremlin, propaganda, lies, blah, blah, blah), Dmitry Babich commented that the real problem in international politics was not whataboutism but ‘let’s move on-ism’. I like this. Take the example of the torture carried out by Americans during the War in Terror. Nobody apart from whistleblowers has been jailed. Why? According to President Obama, because ‘we need to look forward, not back’. Likewise, consider the invasion of Iraq. ‘I know a large part of the public wants to move on’, said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, ‘I share that point of view.’ And so on. Nobody is ever held to account.
Okay this might seem like a minor nitpick, but Peter Lavelle, host of Crosstalk, is paid extremely well by the Russian government, and at least on the air, he faithfully touts their line. That being the case, is it really unfair to call him a lackey of the Kremlin or a propagandist? Never mind that, I’m looking at Babich. I don’t think I’ve read anything from him since that op-ed piece in the now-defunct Moscow News where he condemned marijuana legalization in the US because drug use is a “sin” and this would lead to the legalization of more “sins.”
Babich doesn’t like what he calls “let’s move on-ism.” But the fact is that the US has moved on, specifically from the policies of the Bush era. How would the Bush administration responded to things like the Libyan and Syrian civil wars? Would we have this Iran deal the US just signed? Would a true neocon-dominated government normalize relations with Cuba? Would the US be closing all those foreign bases, downsizing the Marines and Army, while the president declared the era of large-scale military operations to be over?
The fact is that the US and many Western countries have moved on. One of the reasons why the Iraq War faced so much opposition, and why it and the ideology that spawned it have earned so much just derision, is because it represented a giant leap backwards to an era Americans thought had passed. It was not even Vietnam, it was a straight up conventional invasion and conquest of another country. And what about that supposed “coup” that was Maidan? Well even if we accepted the seriously problematic idea that this was a coup and the protesters had no free will, just compare Maidan to what happened to Allende in Chile, Arbenz in Guatemala, or Mossadegh in Iran, to name a few. One way to spot a real coup is that they didn’t have popular support; they were typically carried out by representatives of the privileged few, which is why they tended to involve military officers.
Now the argument is that nobody has been held accountable for any of this. Good point, but it fails for two reasons. The first is because while it would have been nice to see some punishments handed down, what is far more important is that the behavior stopped. This is a reality of life that is hard for many of us to accept, no matter the topic. We want to see criminals punished, but we have to remember why we are punishing them in the first place. Society is more important than getting satisfaction against individuals. The US not invading and occupying countries and not torturing is more important than punishing the people responsible. Poor winners and their vindictiveness have caused many problems throughout history, one of those being this spat called the Second World War.
The other problem with this concept is clear if you ask- “What if they did?” Suppose the next time a Russian diplomat screams “What about Iraq,” Obama suddenly gets this quizzical look on his face and doesn’t respond. The next day you pick up the paper and the front page story is that Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and several other architects of the war have been arrested and indicted for war crimes. What then? What will Russia do? Would it pull out of the Crimea, end support for its pseudo-states in the Donbas, and halt its provocative military drills? Of course they wouldn’t. As always, they’d crow triumphantly about the impending trials and say it was proof that they were right.
This is something that is hard to explain to people who don’t live in Russia, and it actually took me a few years to pick up on it myself. When you’re criticizing all these actions of your own country, they nod their heads and applaud you, but they don’t have any kind of solidarity with you. It’s not like an anti-war Brit talking to an anti-war American, where they both have some kind of ethical or ideological opposition to their government’s policy. Any time the US gets involved somewhere military, it’s just taken as a given that there will be opposition, and vocal at that. The fact that it’s “our” country doesn’t matter- right is right. This point of view is sadly lacking in Russia, and it was never established before the annexation of the Crimea.
One difference in the way Russians seem to perceive war seems linguistic. Their forces are usually referred to as “nashi,” which simply means “ours.” The term is actually used in the military as well as by civilians. By contrast, in the US military the term is typically “friendly forces,” and in the media they are typically referred to objectively as US forces, soldiers, marines, etc. When people talk about “our troops” we know there are political connotations to that. We expect propaganda. The Russian use of the term “nashi,” at least to a non-native speaker of Russian, makes war sound like a football match. And indeed, the way war in general is portrayed here, especially to children, is disturbing at times.
To sum up this point, this is a sort of trap that we Westerners who oppose our governments’ policies often fall into. We see some kind of hypocrisy, and then we see Russian commentators seeming to echo what we’re thinking. But the commonality is totally superficial. Go to Russia and start criticizing the same policies being carried out by the Russian government, and see how welcome you are on RT. Suddenly you become “the warmongering neocon” just for opposing their aggression.
Babich and those like him seem upset at this idea of moving on, because the Kremlin doesn’t want to move on. It wants to go back to a time when governments weren’t so vocal about domestic human rights issues, so that it can continue to steal from the people of Russia with impunity. The “geopolitical experts” don’t want to move on. They want to return to a 19th century world where great powers rule over their own spheres of influence. They call it a “multipolar world,” but the fact is the world isn’t interested in their “poles,” (which Russia simply can’t be anyway). Those of us who follow a materialist analysis of class understand why the dream of a borderless world without neocolonialism, exploitation, and wars is impossible under the current mode of production, and this is why we cannot pretend that the US has totally “gone straight” as its called in criminal parlance. That being said, if we pretend the US of today is comparable to that of the Cold War or the 19th century, we’d simply be dishonest. The industrialized world simply doesn’t do things the same way, and Russia needs to learn this if it wants to join this century.
All in all I think this was a decent polemic; it’s not every day you get a direct response from a professor. Though to be fair I feel Paul should have read that article a little more carefully and I really think the argument would have been better directed at someone like Anne Applebaum than myself. Indeed, as the term whataboutery has come back in fashion, there are those who want to use the word as a debate-ending term, much in the same way they use terms like moral equivalency. That being said, actual whataboutery is a logically fallacious argument, it doesn’t actually promote better values as those who use it merely want to stifle criticism rather than rectify the behavior they’re criticizing, and it’s also pretty much the best tactic the Kremlin’s supporters can come up with these days.
Okay so check out the subheadline of this article.
The likelihood of Putin moves on Baltics and Central Europe is uncomfortably high.
No. No it’s not, actually. I can’t stand these neo-Cold Warriors who believe that they are resolutely defending Ukraine and democracy more than anyone, while in fact what they are doing is precisely what Putin needs them to do- run around like a scared chicken so his media can tell his vatniy base that the West is afraid of big bad Russia. That’s what all this Ukraine business and all those snap military drills and air patrols are about.
Putin, unable to make good on his so-called May promises among many others, is desperate for an external threat to excuse his failures. The problem is, that for the past few years the US has been getting out of Europe. In fact, that’s still happening to some extent. It’s even in this article too, though it uses this fact to explain why Putin is supposedly being so bold, an assessment I highly disagree with. Those hawkish types who want to see a big military buildup (without actually using these forces to help Ukraine) are essentially giving Putin precisely what he needs.
Another irritating thing about these big bad Russia articles is that they always let Western governments off the hook for creating the Frankenstein’s monster that is Putin’s current regime. Take a look:
There can be no denying that Europe’s overall military weakness has played a role in Russia’s calculus, not only during the annexation of Crimea and the escalation in Donbas but already in its 2008 war against Georgia, Putin’s first direct challenge to the normative security order, albeit not yet in Europe itself. Simply put: Weakness invites further aggression.
Bullshit. I’ll tell you what played a role in this- capitalism and the free-market-as-god ideology is what created this problem. For over a decade, even today to some extent, Western governments happily turned a blind eye as corrupt businessmen and oligarchs around Putin squirreled ill-gotten gains away in Western banks and real estate abroad. Meanwhile the West was happy to invest money in Russia and still does in spite of the massive capital flight as of late. Our globalized world is ruled by the idea that the market should decide everything, and as it turns out the market decided in favor of Russia for several years while oil prices were high.
The other problematic part of that passage is this idea about “weakness” inviting further aggression. It suggests that some countries, particularly Russia, could only be dealt with by force. This totally ignores the Russia-NATO cooperation of the 2000’s, or the fact that Russia was a founding member of US CENTCOM after 9/11. If weakness invites aggression, where do we draw the line when it comes to countries we should be “strong” with? How can we trust Canada not to invade us while we’re downsizing our military? Weakness invites aggression!
Then it just gets worse:
Putin has been successful in moving forward with his project to reestablish a sphere of Russia’s privileged interest in Eastern Europe in large part because the Western response has been weak and contradictory.
Okay but why is that response weak and contradictory? The reason has to do with capitalism. Russia’s a big market, a lucrative investment opportunity. Every time you hear opposition to sanctions in Europe, where is it typically coming from? Businessmen. That’s the main argument you hear coming from inside and outside of Russia- the sanctions are bad for business, Indeed, I believe wholeheartedly that what the two sides really want is a detente where Putin will be assured the supremacy of his regime in Moscow and the EU will eventually be allowed to continue integration with Ukraine. Right now they’re stuck at an impasse and don’t know how to achieve this without saving face. If they could, no doubt we’d go back to where we were a few years ago as dirty money flows out of Russia and Western money flows in.
To use a term coined by my good friend at The Russian Avos, the Kremlin takes advantage of “the rot.” The rot is partly the corruption in Russia, and partly the amoral, market-dominated neoliberal capitalism of the West. Both are steeped in cynicism. Many years ago, at a time when NATO/Russian cooperation was robust, the West could have made a stand with Putin. This is not to say a show of force or something overtly hostile, just a cold dose of reality. They could have informed him that they weren’t going to serve as shelters for laundered money and real estate. That he would have to transform his country into a functioning democracy with rule of law, but most importantly, that they would help him do this. But that didn’t happen because instead, the West and their Russian partners were growing fat and happy off of each other’s money.
But without significant military assistance to Ukraine to arm its military, Russia can contemplate its next steps at leisure, whether that’s another move in Ukraine or stirring up ethnic tensions in the Baltics, either keeping current semi-frozen conditions in place or choosing to escalate.
This is false, Russia cannot do anything “at it’s leisure” given the economic situation it is in and the fact that as it is right now, it is forced to prop up both quasi-states in eastern Ukraine. Escalation means more money, more dead soldiers, more deserters, and more sanctions. Of course the author doesn’t seem to consider this as they go on to write this:
“The risk of a war in Europe is greater today than it was a year ago because the allies have not used the time since the Wales summit to send an unequivocal message of reinforcement and deterrence along NATO’s Russian flank. Putin is still confident the game of escalation and de-escalation is his to play.
It is ultimately academic to try to second-guess Putin’s ultimate goals, and debate whether he will be satisfied with the current territorial gains in Ukraine or move further.”
This totally ignores the fact that Putin is an opportunist who can only think tactically, not strategically. He pulled this stunt in Ukraine because he could. He could have pushed further, at least maintaining the front around Sloviansk in June. Seeing as how at that point no one among his opponents believed that this was a local uprising, he could have said “fuck it” and used his troops to prop up the fight on that line. Instead he let the rebels flee and then trickled his forces in to stave off total defeat. If Putin were stupid enough to escalate, he would escalate in Ukraine, not against NATO member states. This would probably be a strike against Mariupol aimed at creating a land-bridge to the Crimea. This is the only territorial gain that actually holds some potential value.
Attacking NATO is something Putin cannot afford to do. For one thing all those NATO members in which he has friends will have to take a side. That means Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria, etc. That also means an inevitable, visible military defeat, complete with footage of burnt out Russian tanks lining the highways and hundreds of dead within a few days. This is something he cannot afford. Russia has lost very few military personnel in Ukraine but the scandal is such that it has caused dozens of contract soldiers to risk prison and desert.
Of course it doesn’t even have to go that far. Plenty of talk from Russian politicians and ministers reveals that they are extremely concerned about the prospect of being cut off from SWIFT. This would almost certainly happen if they tried to acquire more territory in Ukraine, not to speak of the Baltic countries. If you’re afraid of sanctions, and Russia clearly is despite their claims to the contrary, you’re not going to risk going to war with pretty much all of Europe, the USA, and Canada. Moreover, that kind of war entails strategic thinking, and again, Putin is tactical, not strategic.
So once again we have another chicken-little article that seems like it ought to be sponsored by the defense industry if not the Kremlin itself. It will most likely be picked up by some pro-Kremlin source somewhere, and shown as proof of either A: “The neocon hawks plot war against Russia!” or B: “Look how the West trembles at the rising Russian superpower!” Either is bad.
Look, folks, the Kremlin spends a lot of money on propaganda. You don’t have to do their work for them. What the author seems to be pushing for, a Cold War style build up of forces as a “deterrent,” is precisely what Putin’s regime needs.