China will grow larger!

As per Hollywood, any story which is about an increase in Chinese power should be accompanied by ominous Chinese music. For maximum effect, I recommend letting this video play in the background while you read. 

So it seems we’ve already seen another Tiger uppercut to the balls of this claim about how China will save Russia. In several recent articles I gave examples of this, from China paying for recent deals in dollars to reasons why Russia won’t be able to waste Chinese investors’ money without serious consequences.  What I learned yesterday, however, I never would have predicted. According to Gazeta.ru, China is more than happy to extend credit to Russian firms, but it comes with a lot of strings attached.

China is lending the money, on the condition that it be spent exclusively on Chinese goods. According to the article this condition is similar to their lending practices in Africa and Central Asia. I’m aware that the US has similar practices with its client states, including Israel. Russia and its banks need financing, and thus China is their only realistic option at the moment. China sees its obvious advantage and is clearly pressing it from the very beginning.  Russia’s giving them raw materials, China furnishes the products and sells them back, reaping that revenue plus interest on what they lent.  The relationship is practically colonial.

As stated before, China has been using similar tactics in Central Asia. They have been referring to this process as the construction of a new “Silk Road.” Like Russia, they are planning their own customs union type of agreement. Of course they have talked about inviting Russia into this union, but its clear who the leader will be. As Russia seeks to dominate Belarus and Ukraine via their own proposed union, China seeks to dominate Central Asia and Russia. Of course Russian officials speaking about this relationship always present it as an agreement between equal partners, but we also know from experience many Russian officials live in a magic fantasy land where up is down, houses are made from gumdrops, and hamburgers eat people.

Long story short, China’s got Russia by the balls and they’re going to do everything they can to press this advantage. Putin put Russia in this position as he scrambled for short-term, low-gain methods of preserving his power.  If at any point Russia balks at China’s demands, the Chinese can merely withhold investment. If they attempt to cheat China, the Middle Country can join the sanctions against them and even threaten military action. This is the reality of the situation in spite of how many Russian officials cluck their tongues about their “equal partnership.”  This is the price of living in fantasy land while you rob your nation blind.

Boots on the Ground

I have a couple of really good updates coming this week, but for the moment I wanted to address something that came up in an e-mail I received recently.

First of all, I have to admit that I was a bit of a dick with the person in question. One side-effect of watching endless Ukraine vs. Russia debates and having the extreme displeasure of reading page after page of bullshit is that you get this tendency to go off at the half-cock. The reader must understand that in this conflict, I have no “side,” meaning there is no community in which I can immerse myself. There are people on the Ukrainian side(many of whom are Russian) who seem intelligent and make good arguments against Putin’s regime. If I follow them long enough, however, they will inevitably start engaging in whataboutism, apologetics for the Ukrainian far-right, and the like. I’m sorry but even if the Russian grandmas are full of shit when they label everyone opposed to Yanukovych as Banderites, it doesn’t mean that Banderaism doesn’t exist in Ukraine or that it can be ignored.  By a similar token, any criticism of Ukraine’s government will almost always turn into apologetics, if not outright support, for Putin’s regime or its proxy in Ukraine.

Me, since July 2013.

Me, since July 2013.

One effect of this, besides general irritability, one major side effect of this is that you tend to develop a hair-trigger which is set off by certain memes found in a person’s writing. When an anti-Maidan article starts talking about fascist mass murderers I suspect pro-Russian bullshit, and a cursory examination of the sources usually bears this out.  When I see someone scoffing at the idea that Ukrainian nationalism is a serious problem in Ukraine, the same thing happens. Truth be told, if someone took excerpts from some of my writings on Maidan, maybe mixing them up and rephrasing some of the text, even that could set off the hair-trigger.  The ability to determine political slant via identifying talking points is useful, but it can be a double edged sword.

This is not the most important issue I want to address here, however. The topic I want to discuss is the question of why I’m qualified to speak on any of these topics and to what extent my living in Russia gives me an edge in these debates and discussions.

First of all, the idea that I base the correctness of my opinions on simply being in Russia is a ridiculous straw man.  While I do not hold any formal degree in Russian or Eastern European studies, I have been studying the topic of Russia and Eastern Europe since my teenage years. By the same token, I’ve encountered many Russian history majors with degrees whose views on Russia happen to be contrary to obvious reality. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the institution of academia, but in humanities topics such as this one it isn’t the be all end all. Ordinary non-university students have just as much access to literature, including academic literature and scholarly works, and I have availed myself of this for more than a decade.  During that time I’ve also had a number of radically different experiences and ideological changes which forced me to reconsider sources I had read before, as well as seek out new sources to get a different point of view.  So no, I don’t have the published academic papers or research, but my defense is that 1. Plenty of people who can say yes to that make claims which are easily refuted by simple observation, and 2. reading and studying Russian and Eastern European history as an autodidact for roughly 15 years ought to at least be considered equal to a four-year undergraduate degree in that subject.

Before I go on to the question of why living in Russia is so important, I’d like to relate an anecdote from late 2008 to early 2009, which tells you something about the limitations of academic knowledge. I was in the middle of a spat with a young American woman on the topic of Georgia and the war that had happened there. I was, and in a way still am on the side of Russia by default in that particular conflict. The woman said “The Caucasus is rising up against Putin!” I informed her that no, it was not in fact rising up, and that some time prior to this conversation Russia had pulled nearly all its forces out of Chechnya. I pointed out that Caucasian Emirate insurgents were the only forces in the region and that they were quite small and rather inactive. At this point she tried to pull out her degree on me, claiming that she had studied the region(I don’t remember the specific behavior).  I simply asked her if her university had a refund policy, because in spite of her fancy piece of paper, the Caucasus simply was not rising against Putin, or anyone else for that matter.  So you can flog your degree all you want, but if you’re making claims about insurgencies that simply don’t exist, I don’t give a fuck.

So what difference does spending nearly a decade living in Russia make? Well first of all, as I often say Russia is still very much a closed country and this is why most of the press about it tends to be sensational. You know those stories on Cracked.com where they tell you which viral social media news items happen to be fake? One thing you’ll notice is that they tend to be about China or North Korea.  North Korea, of course, is very isolated. China not so much, but it does have a massive language barrier.  Russia is not terribly tourist friendly and it also has such a language barrier. When a country is not very open, even for reasons like these, it means that it’s very easy for bullshit rumors or distortions to become real news.

Living in the country and speaking the language helps counter this because you have a frame of reference that other people don’t have if they need to rely only on internet-based media.  For example, every once in a while you’ll see a news story about some Russian politician talking about abandoning the dollar. This will be presented in an alarmist tone. Of course if you live in Russia, you’ll know that some politician will make a public statement about this at least one or two times a year, and nothing comes of it. The last time I saw such a statement reported on RIA-Novosti, it was almost immediately followed by an update wherein the Kremlin officially distanced itself from that adviser’s personal “opinion.”

Again, simply living in the country doesn’t mean anything. I know people who have lived here almost as long as myself, some which speak the language and some which don’t. Either way, some of these people don’t know shit about Russian politics or history because they just don’t care. That is simply not me, however. I came here because I was interested and I wanted practical knowledge, not simply the academic variety.

In my early years here, I spent a lot of time interacting with Russian political activists of many stripes. Now I’m sure some readers will say, “AHA! You were probably hanging out with those liberal hipster types who frequent Jean-Jacques cafe!”  Wrong again. Russia’s liberals are probably the group I have interacted with the least since I’ve been here. I generally only encounter these types by chance, often through work. Most of my interaction has been with (self-proclaimed) “Communists,” both of the KPRF variety or various off-shoots.  I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with representatives of various nationalist movements and organizations in Russia, something many readers would probably prefer to avoid.  Lastly, aside from having countless candid discussions with Russian citizens of various social classes, my work has often brought me into contact with some pretty big fish. Obviously I can’t go into details about something like this on the blog, but suffice it to say I know what I’m talking about when I describe the gap between Russia’s masses and the elite that rules over them. If Yanukovych’s golden toilet was a shock for you, it wasn’t for me.

That is very important because I often see outsiders writing about Russia and poorly characterizing its internal politics to fit their own distorted views. People tend to see what they want in Russia’s internal politics, much as they did with Ukraine. Western liberals wanted to see Maidan as a progressive movement for democracy, and they didn’t want to see the nationalist, racist side of that movement. Many confused leftists in the West wanted to see Maidan as a Western-sponsored fascist coup against a government that was supposedly a staunch rebel against the IMF, another idea with no basis in reality.  Both Maidan and the Russian government have engaged in a massive propaganda campaign aimed at the rest of the world and using roughly the same tactics, usually taking advantage of outsiders’ ignorance of the region and their inability to understand the language. Russia, of course, has a far stronger media arm and therefore it tends to get its message out more than Ukraine, which must go via proxy of the Western press.

Russia’s propaganda strategy is based primarily on telling any lie necessary to dupe your audience. If you suspect they are left-wing, show them photos of rebels holding Soviet flags, compare the struggle to the Spanish Civil War, and characterize it as a fight between a neo-liberal world order and a supposedly alternative Russia.  If the audience is right-wing, and thus more compatible with the real ideology of most Russian politics, characterize it as a defense of morals and traditions against the Godless, perverted European Union.  It does not matter that both of these narratives are ultimately lies. Russia is not left wing and while it doesn’t practice the free-market-or-die economics of the United States, it has certainly managed to achieve extreme neo-liberal results without neo-liberal policies.  Russia is neither progressive nor right wing, nor does it offer any sort of alternative. Conservatives and other right-wingers might be disturbed to find out that Russia is not in fact a bastion of traditional values, as is evident from even a cursory browse through the various groups and profiles of sites like Vkontakte.  I grew up staunchly conservative and I can tell you most of the conservative and right-wing people I have known would have a heart attack if they knew what kind of stuff goes on here.

If you don’t speak Russian and you don’t spend any time living here, it’s easy to pick and choose what sources you want to listen to and then form your views about Russia based on that. The problem is, however, that you don’t have a frame of reference for judging which sources are probably accurate. Lately there’s been a lot of hysteria in the media about Russia potentially invading other countries, including Baltic NATO members. I’m sure many of these authors can quote all kinds of numbers and statements by Russian leaders, but I’m not convinced. Aside from vast military knowledge and personal experience in the military, I also have a lot of detailed knowledge about the Russian military, mostly from people who served in it. So for me that article about a Russian Baltic invasion is simply laughable.  I simply cannot pretend that Russia is a threat; that would mean actively believing something I know to be untrue.

When you’re limited to internet sources, however, you have the luxury of denial. If you happen across a news item which contradicts your view of Russia, you can simply dismiss it. It’s a state-run channel. It happens to coincide with something Putin said. Or conversely, this must have been written by someone from a Western-backed NGO. It’s propaganda. It’s anti-Russian. This article challenges my notion of what I think Russia should be.  I want Russia to be X, but if this article is true, Russia isn’t X, and therefore it can’t be true.  When you live here you don’t have that luxury. I can’t pretend Russia is a dystopian tyranny, teetering on the edge of collapse, because the truth is that most of the time everyone and everything leaves me alone and I don’t get any shit from any direction. Aside from some seriously worrying trends, it appears to be business as usual in Russia, at least in the capital. Serious problems are on the horizon, but for the moment everything appears to be running more or less as normal.  Conversely, I cannot pretend that Russia is some island of morality, or that it is a progressive, socialist society, because it simply isn’t. Crass consumerism is still the norm, nearly all politics are far-right, and people tend to be total dicks to one another.

I’m terribly sorry if the reality I see in front of my eyes every day contradicts the vision you have of Russia from your comfortable home in the US, Canada, the UK, or wherever. I’m sorry if you want Russia to be a certain way and what I report to you contradicts that. There is a simple way to rectify the situation. You can move to Russia and see what it’s really like. Don’t just stay in Moscow and seek out those Russians who happen to agree with your pre-conceived notions; you may find they are a very small group. Get out into the small towns, the other major cities, and the villages. Ride some trains. My bet is that you’re going to realize that your original ideas about Russia were flawed, if not totally wrong. You’ll probably feel lied to and betrayed.  That’s alright though, you can always accept reality and learn the truth. Or you can double down, insist that you are right, and work carefully to surround yourself with like-minded people while denying every day reality. This strategy of going into a fantasy land may not be so great for your mental health, but it could potentially land you a job at RT or Voice of Russia.

I’d like to end with one more recent anecdote which demonstrates the importance of being in a country. As I have probably mentioned before, I’ve been to Ukraine four times. To be sure, most of those trips were quite short and they were all to Kyiv, not known for being very representative when it comes to conditions in Ukraine. As long-time readers of this blog know, I have in the past endorsed a Ukraine-based “Communist” organization known as Borotba, mainly because at least up until this year their line was rather solid- they claimed to oppose both the EU association agreement and the Russian customs;’ union agreement. I approved of this because this basically started as two major economic powers trying to secure a deal with Ukraine which would ultimately benefit their own ruling classes.  As the insurgency in the East unfolded, however, Borotba’s line became distinctly pro-Russian, making excuses for alliances with Russian nationalists and fascists. I also stumbled upon third party reports about their collaboration with far-right extremists. I was also a skeptic regarding Russian military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, but while I do think there’s a good chance the Ukrainian government has been exaggerating the extent of that involvement, I quickly realized that I was wrong on this point. While there probably was some organic uprising not too dissimilar from Maidan in the early stages, the self-declared republics quickly came under control of Moscow-based figures such as Alexei Borodai and Igor Strelkov, both bringing unusually well-equipped contingents of fighting men with them and even arresting and disarming some of the local militia.

My mistakes regarding these two points were largely related to not being “on the ground.” The internet has virtually limitless resources, but we don’t have a constant feed giving us all the relevant facts. Most of the time we have to seek them out ourselves, and if we don’t happen to find the right sources, we miss things. The early Ukrainian claims about Russian involvement which I had seen turned out to be pretty unconvincing. Conversely, an article by a respected military reporter from the West strongly suggested that much of the insurgency was local; at that time it may very well have been.  Had I been living in Ukraine or at least staying there for some time, I might have been exposed to different sources.

This is why actual journalists visit war zones and other hotspots around the world. It’s expensive and dangerous, but it’s second to none when it comes to getting the facts. Unfortunately we live in an age when some extremely popular “citizen journalists,” in reality bloggers, sit in their American home in the suburbs and pontificate on all manner of international events without ever visiting any of the countries they write about, often without speaking the language as well.  These people have long lists of sources from various internet publications and insist that their analysis is just as good as anyone else’s. Granted, you could be right, depending on which sources you pick, but you have to ask what frame of reference you have to determine the veracity of those sources. If they all tend to say the same thing, you may be right, but then again it may be your confirmation bias seeking out articles and outlets which support the conclusion you want.  If someone is claiming to be bringing you the truth about events somewhere in the world, it really helps if they’ve at least spent some significant time there. Even better if they live there permanently and speak the language.

I’m pretty well-read on the Israeli-Palestinian question, but I admit that were I confronted with an opponent who’s actually living in Israel, I would be very hesitant to start a debate with him or her even if I totally disagreed with what they were claiming. They aren’t automatically right simply because they live there, but I don’t want to be embarrassed by saying something like, “X happens to Palestinians in Israel,” and then get slammed when they hit me with some question that reveals I have no personal knowledge of this topic beyond what I’ve read on the internet. Obviously I intend to visit Israel and Palestine, not because this will somehow make me automatically right, but because that experience of observing and communicating with actual Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs will help back up my arguments, as well as tell me which sources I can probably trust and which I cannot.

So in conclusion let me reiterate. Readers- at no time should you take my being here as the basis of my expertise on these matters. That is merely the icing on the cake that backs up my years of study. Furthermore, my being here has nothing to do with my objectivity in terms of politics on this blog. I’ve stated in the FAQ that I have no incentive to take a side in most of these conflicts. I don’t like the Russian regime(just like many Russians), but I don’t think that a standard liberal democratic regime is what the country ultimately needs. Of course I would welcome it as a sign of progress, but I guarantee you I’d continue to criticize it just as I criticize the US government. Lastly, if you’re a reader with questions or you want to send me something, I shall strongly endeavor not to jump to conclusions about what position you’re taking, and I shall try not to be a dick. But please, if you wish to do so, it would really help if you lay out your cards on the table ahead of time and say where you’re coming from, what experience you have with or in Russia, and most of all what it is you want to find out from me.  Thank you for your understanding.

The news sucks

Gee, I wonder what news there is from Russia today? Oh shit, it’s the same headlines we’ve been reading for fucking months now!

There’s a new Cold War! 

Wow! How original! And this time it comes from former Soviet leader Gorbachev, no less! This somehow makes it far more relevant than the other 12.6 million “Oh shit it’s a new Cold War” articles dating back to the early 2000’s or something.

Putin and Merkel bla bla bla….

Merkel whines about Russian involvement in Ukraine without considering her own country’s previous interference in Ukrainian politics.  Putin whines and pretends that Germany and all those European countries are under the control of the US. Of course he’s just looking out for the interests and human rights of the Donetskian Novorossiyan people, but he’s definitely not actually doing anything to support their cause. That’s just Western propaganda to justify their sanctions!

Oh no! China and Russia are getting closer together!

Our first story concerns claims that China and Russia are “considering” building a Moscow-Beijing high-speed railway line. First of all, Russia “considers” a lot of things. They’ve been considering this phantom electronic payments system for years now. Or perhaps they’ve been thinking about it but they need six months to develop it. Oh no wait, it’s already built, it just needs to be switched on. You’ll see! You’ll all see!

Second, let me explain exactly what will happen if this actually gets off the ground. Basically within the first phase of the project, the Chinese will get their part of the railway line in place, probably on schedule.  Sure, some bureaucrats will try to skim money off the budget; China is not immune to problems of corruption. But China also has a decent go-to remedy for corruption known as jail time. China will do its part because China gets shit done. That’s why China doesn’t lecture the world about “spiritual values” and other pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

Anyway, the wonderful project will suddenly run into major problems, coincidentally on the Russian side of the border.  Timetables will go awry, budgets shall runneth over many times. Lord help Russia if any significant portion of that missing money comes from the Chinese side.  As this article points out, China isn’t going to go running to some arbitration court if the Russian government tries to pull the kind of shenanigans it does with other foreign investors and domestic businessmen.

This is precisely what the media and the pro-Kremlin Russophiles simply don’t understand about the relationship between Russia and China. First of all, in many of these trade deals China is paying in dollars, not rubles. Secondly, assuming China invests in Russia to replace the massive capital flight from that country, they will expect results. The Kremlin can talk about seizing foreign assets of Western businesses all it likes, but what’s it going to do when it’s China’s money on the line?  There is no “China-Moscow” alliance; it is only China sensing Russia’s weakness and setting up its pieces for the kill.  Don’t believe me? Check out the other “Oh no China and Russia” story:

China Embraces a Russia Cut off From Western Capital

Yeah, embraces.

From the article:

The deepening ties between Russia and China may reverberate throughout East Asia as Putin meets his neighbor’s desire for state-of-the-art weaponry. Russia is likely to sign contracts for the delivery of S-400 missile systems and Su-35 fighter jets to China as early as the first quarter of next year, says Vasily Kashin, a China expert at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow. Russia may also supply China with its newest submarine, the Amur 1650, he says.

Xie xie, tongzhi! Zhe hao! That means that China’s PLA will know all about Russia’s best weapons, and possibly be fielding more of those weapons than the Russian armed forces themselves, seeing as how Russia’s military modernization program has turned out to be a big bust. So I’m terribly sorry but the Moscow-Beijing Axis just isn’t happening. Sorry, Eurasianist dipshits. Sorry, Cold Warrior chicken littles.

And so that’s your news from this part of the world this week. Stay tuned for updates next week, when some other expert warns of a new Cold War, Putin cries about sanctions while simultaneously claiming that they are totally ineffective, and various pundits warn of a Sino-Russian Red Dawn-style invasion of the West Coast.  In other words, same bullshit, different day.

Chicken Little

So a new piece by Harley Balzer on The Moscow Times asks the rhetorical question, “Is Alaska next on Russia’s list?” Let me help you out there, Harley. No. No, Alaska is not next on Russia’s “list.” Yes, Russia has a number of pseudo-intellectual jerkoffs in high positions who like to engage in masturbatory fantasies about recapturing lost territories of the Russian empire, but this deserves no more credence than someone in Iran pontificating the restoration of the Achaemenid empire. Actually I’d give Iran better chances in that endeavor than Russia has.

“But what about the Crimea?” Oh yes, you mean the Crimea that Russia threw away its future for? The annexation throughout which the government continually denied the presence of Russian military forces?  It has been theorized that the Kremlin has been planning the annexation of the Crimea for years, but it’s clear that they did not plan much further beyond that.

And what of “Novorossiya?” It’s pretty much doomed. There is violent infighting among the insurgents, there is no functioning economy, they have failed to open up a land route to the Crimea, and once again, Russia has continually denied that it has given any support to the rebels. Laughable as that claim may be, I think we can admit that any rising superpower that could truly annex part of the United States, much less threaten it, should at least be able to openly admit when it engages in military operations. You don’t see the US denying that its planes are bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. More importantly, since anyone who isn’t a complete moron knows that there was at least some Russian military involvement in the Donbass, in addition to obvious logistical and manpower support, we must conclude that in an indirect way, the Russian military was defeated by the Ukrainian military. That’s not a good record.

I really wish folks like Mr. Balzer wouldn’t take this kind of nonsense so seriously. As much as Russian “patriots” scream when the Western media portrays Russia as a threatening country or a force of destabilization, they secretly love it. They get off to it. Because they have nothing to offer their people but mindless hate, these folks love the idea that people in Europe and especially the US fear Russia. Of course most people, especially in the US, literally don’t give a fuck about Russia one way or the other, but sometimes you wouldn’t know that when you read some of the more sensationalist publications out there.

I don’t see anything wrong with highlighting the wacky beliefs of certain Russian figures, if only to show what kind of clowns are allowed, via their connections, to achieve high positions in Russian politics, but taking them seriously only gives them validation they don’t deserve. The only way Russia is going to invade any part of the US is if they make that the plot of another Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game.

Oh god it’s another one!

What is it with Americans with Western Slavic names turning into pro-Kremlin Russophiles? There was myself, then Tim Kirby, and now some guy named Andrew Korybko with this standard, delusional Eurasianist article. Yes, I look at a name like Korybko and see Ukrainian or possibly Polish, but who gives a shit? He’s American, not Russian.  That is all that matters. See we Americans, including those of us with Polako-Ukrainian heritage such as myself, have this luxury that native-born Eastern Europeans don’t have. We can be interested in any foreign country and not be ostracized for it out of some stupid centuries-old national rivalry. But that’s a topic for another article. All that matters is we have another American coming to Russia and lecturing Russians as to what they should do, and of course this means they have to support their government because Mr. Korybko is upset with his own.

Actually, the article is entitled “Will Russia lift the lamp?” In case you’re wondering what the fuck that means and you don’t have time to read either his article or my send up of it, I’ll answer his rhetorical question for you. No, Russia will not lift the lamp. Russia isn’t lifting any lamps. For those with the time, I’ll summarize by telling you that the article is a collection of the author’s suggestions about what Russia can supposedly do to improve its position in the world. Surprise, surprise, it’s the same tried-and-failed bullshit that hasn’t worked thus far.

Before I start taking this apart point by point, I want to mention a couple general things I notice about these types of articles. The first is that they all seem to be written by people with a very low knowledge of economics and globalization, and who seem to see the world as some kind of computer strategy game. You get this any time some Russian pseudo-intellectual starts babbling about geopolitics as well. They’re always looking at the map like some kind of chessboard, and they assume Russia is strong because it has resources, nukes, tanks, and SU-27 fighters. I’m not sure it’s even fair to blame the author of this article when he is probably just regurgitating the stuff he “studies” here in Moscow.

That being out of the way, let’s get on with it. What are Mr. Korybko’s suggestions for Russia? Are they even remotely plausible?

Take the Initiative: Instead of permanently being in a defensive position vis-à-vis NATO, Russia must take the initiative in building strategic partnerships (energy, economic, military, diplomatic, etc.) in states formerly thought of as being securely in the Western domain. It can start in Egypt, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Latin America, thereby applying the West’s policy of strategic encroachment into their own ‘backyard’. Wherever there are cracks in the Western-led international order, Russia should present itself as the attractive alternative, thereby wedging the gap even wider and weakening the entire Western structure.

So Russia should “take the initiative” by offering alliances and partnerships that nobody wants, save for stagnant dictatorships which currently don’t enjoy the support of the EU or US. Sounds like a plan.  I love how simple he makes this sound. Why oh why did the geniuses in the Kremlin never think of this before? And it can start in Egypt, a military dictatorship which is now infamously unstable? Great! It’s not like the USSR had a far more stable Egypt with a far more popular government on its side for decades. How did that work out? And which Bulgaria is he referring to? If he means Volga Bulgaria, aka modern Tatarstan, they have no choice but to go with Russia, since you can’t even publish anything in this country about separatism or federalization without being slapped with a criminal punishment. He couldn’t possibly be referring to the NATO and EU member state Bulgaria. Hungary is also a member of both alliances, so the reader may be wondering as to why he thinks this has potential for Russia. Well dear reader, the reason is that the Kremlin-funded Eurasianist movement has ties to Hungary’s right wing Jobbik party. They make no attempt to deny this, but remember kids- Ukraine is where all the fascists are!  And then there’s Latin America. Uh yeah. No. Latin America is never going to go over to Russia’s side. They’d be better off with Brazil.

The other problem with this suggestion is that it posits that there is a “Western dominated” world order. That simply can’t be the case in a world where some of the top economic powers include Japan, South Korea, and China. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also major players. Ditto for countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and so on.  Yes, you could say this means that past Western domination is certainly declining, but this doesn’t automatically bode well for Russia. See all those other nations who are coming up in the world and challenging hegemony are doing so by developing their economies, by manufacturing things, and by attracting investment. Japan, which found itself utterly destroyed in 1945, did not see its path to greatness in retaking lost territory such as Korea or Manchuria. Within a few decades they managed to rival and in many ways beat their former conqueror, the United States, simply through hard work, ingenuity, innovation, and a very intelligent trade policy which utilized the state to protect domestic industries until they could compete on the world market. Sure, Russia has oil and gas, but every single time more oil or gas is found somewhere else, Russia’s potential wealth is threatened. By contrast it would be easy for some developing country in Africa to suddenly challenge Japan in auto manufacturing.

My point here is that Russia can’t just will itself into a good position in this world where Western dominance is declining. For one thing, there is nothing to stop Russia from being dominated by a non-Western power, but more on that later. The point is that in order to take advantage of this situation Russia has to get in the game. It needs to manufacture things and attract investment. For their part, both Putin and Medvedev were doing this a few years ago. The most comedic irony about these Eurasianist pseudo-intellectuals surrounding the Kremlin is that all the success of their heroes has come not from isolating Russia from the West, but rather from attracting investment and making Russia somewhat competitive. Of course they managed to piss all that away in the space of about a year, but hey, maybe something that has never worked anywhere before will suddenly work this time around.

Before moving on, I want to say that while I’m being hard on Korybko’s suggestions, I’m not trying to be hard on him. I have no idea how much time he’s spent here or where he comes from politically. I believe he might have some political baggage which inclines him toward Russia, but I was the same way. I think he may just lack experience and the ability to discern the veracity of what he’s being told.

His problem in this respect is that he’s been tricked into believing that all this anti-Western rhetoric is anything but a bunch of populist bullshit to distract the people of Russia while a small elite steals their national wealth and lines their own pockets with it. See when you live in a country so rich in resources, with partially state-owned enterprises worth tens of billions of dollars if not more, and yet just outside the capital city you have almost third world conditions, it makes you start asking questions about where all this money is going.  Indeed, Moscow is the only place in Russia where many people can hope to better their lives, and many parts of Russia do exist under third world conditions. How is this possible given the amount of money firms such as Gazprom and Rosneft rake in every year? Where is the money going? It’s not going to the roads in villages or the far east. It’s not going toward more clinics. We’ve seen what happens when the government tries to build hospitals.

Of course every Russian knows where their money goes, especially if they live in Moscow. It goes into luxury hotels and restaurants, foreign, mostly Western luxury products. There are massive, walled compounds in Rublevka and Nakhabino, where Russia’s elite surround themselves with all manner of Western comfort. Always Western, always European- these people want nothing out of Russia but its wealth. They spend entire summers in France. They send their children to summer camps, prep schools, and universities in the United States and Great Britain. They own property in London.  Opposing the West? They’ve robbed Russia and the West is their fence!  Whenever the people start to grumble too loudly about this, whenever the Kremlin can’t distract them enough with phony political movements and inter-ethnic hatred, they point their greedy little fingers at the West.

Now they are doing so more than ever out of sheer desperation. So-called ‘silent-austerity’ has been a creeping problem in Russia since 2009. Capital flight and regions severely underwater in debt have been major problems even in 2013, before Maidan even started and before Putin pissed away any chance he had at pulling Russia out of a tailspin. The poorly-planned annexation of the Crimea has been a big bust, especially since “Novorossiya” appears to be doomed and degenerating into chaos while the rebels failed to secure a land route to the isolated peninsula.  This means more expenditure for the Russian government which can’t finance its ambitious military upgrade program, a program which doesn’t even address some of the most glaring problems of the Russian military in the first place.  With many Russian oligarchs on the sanctions list and unable to enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of their theft in Europe, they are taking it out on the people by sanctioning themselves, with measures that will only ensure the continual flow of capital out of Russia.

Russia only “stood up to the West” when its leadership ran out of ways to control the masses and feared for its own power. Now that it has tried, it has been a spectacular failure, all because the elite that rule this country are corrupt. They sold the stones for the fortress’ walls. They sold the weapons and armor and pocketed the money. Unable to have peace with the West for fear that the citizenry will prefer a more equitable, free system, they now rattle their sabres for a war they cannot possibly win. Make no mistake. There is a fifth column which has weakened Russia. But it’s not Navalny or the liberal hipsters who frequent Jean-Jacques. It lives in Rublevka.

Alright, let’s get back to the show.

Deepen Existing Bilateral Partnerships: Russia can deepen its strategic partnership with China and work on formalizing one with Iran, with the former being global and the latter being in the West’s most vulnerable theater. A Russian-Iranian strategic partnership would extend beyond Caspian and nuclear energy issues and see implicit cooperation between the two in the Mideast, especially in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It can even carry over into Afghanistan after the NATO drawdown by year’s end.

Um…No. First of all, it’s funny how Russia’s pro-Kremlin hacks suddenly switched from being Sinophobes, most likely due to their Brezhnevite upbringing, to flagrantly praising China and calling it an ally. Unfortunately many people are taking these claims seriously, probably because they aren’t used to the traditional “up is down” lying style of Russia. They’re praising China not because they actually believe that China will save them, but because saying this is an “answer” to their failure to strike back at the West. The West is saying Russia’s in trouble so the way for Russia to “win” is to claim that China is their friend and that she will bail them out. Yet as they conclude deals with China, they are only placing the noose around their neck. China, whatever its faults, lives in reality. China doesn’t babble on about “historical missions” or “spiritual values.” It has results to show. And as much as China is portrayed as a competitor toward the United States, one must understand that China’s economy depends on the US, and indeed the strength of the dollar. That is why China buys up American debt. The relationship is mutually beneficial.  Also unlike the United States, China has territorial disputes with Russia. China also has a very large, advanced military. In China, people actually bribe military officials to get in the army, whereas in Russia it’s the exact opposite.  In short, China is not going to save Russia. If Russia tries to pull any of its traditional shenanigans when the investors are the Chinese state, the settlement may end up being a military one. China is going to own Russia unless some country or countries which have an interest in containing China’s influence decide to help Russia out. Hmmm….I wonder what nation that could be.

As for Iran? No. Iran is not in a position to get into Afghanistan. True, they hate the Taliban and they are historical enemies. Luckily for Iran, there just happens to be a nation which is also interested in fighting the Taliban and unlike Russia it actually has the capability to keep troops in Afghanistan. Oh I know what you’re thinking. Iran hates America! Well, kind of. Actually Iranians love Americans and American stuff. They’re actually eager to get American tourist dollars. The politeness of Iranians toward Americans is legendary, and I have experienced it myself with the Iranians I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Indeed, they practically storm the embassy of your heart with their refined manners.  In any case, Iran isn’t going to go on military adventures for the sake of Russia.

Expand Multilateral Activity: BRICS could be expanded to include the MINT countries, thus furthering the organization’s scope and creating opportunities for a long-term strategic ‘flip’ of those states from their largely Western orientations. The SCO is already enlarging with the forthcoming admission of India and Pakistan, so this will present many more unforeseen advantages for Russia’s foreign and economic policies. Russia should support integrating its multilateral partnerships even further, as the interests of these organizations and their members largely coincide with Russian foreign policy.

One thing I’ve noticed about all these pro-Kremlin hacks is that they give BRICS far too much credit than it deserves, as if it’s some kind of formal alliance or something.  First of all, let’s see what the name BRICS refers to in the first place.

“The BRICS members are all developing or newly industrialised countries, but they are distinguished by their large, fast-growing economies and significant influence on regional and global affairs; all five are G-20 members.”  – BBVA EAGLEs Annual Report 2012

See that thing about “fast-growing economies?”  Yeah you can scratch Russia from the list and call it BICS now, because Russia’s growth is now around zero with little reason to believe that will change.

Yes, I’m aware that BRICS is something of an organization, but this is not the equivalent to the EU or NATO. For one thing, China and India still have territorial disputes, as do Russia and China. India, China, and Brazil do lucrative trade with the US. In other words, BRICS is not some kind of alliance against globalization. It is made up of countries which benefited highly from globalization, plus one loser that decided to take his ball and go home because Ukrainians didn’t want to sign a trade deal.  And adding Pakistan to the mix is supposed to help things? India and Pakistan are bitter enemies who both illegally developed nuclear weapons as a deterrent against one another. And remember what he was saying about Iran’s interests in Afghanistan? Guess what government is a fan of the Taliban? Guess what two governments hate the Taliban? Oh Korybko! Do you see a problem here? I don’t think I even need to mention that India still has an ongoing Maoist-led armed insurgency in its Western regions, do I?

Another Kremlin talking point about BRICS which his simply hilarious is the constant threats to get off the dollar as a reserve currency. Russian politicians have been flapping their gums about this for years. You hear someone in the Kremlin make a statement about Russia leaving the dollar at least once a year it seems, and then shortly after a statement is issued distancing the government from that “individual’s” opinion.  First of all, remember Russia’s new best friend China and their lucrative gas deal? Yeah, about that. It seems the Chinese are paying in dollars. What is more, BRICS is supposed to be forming some kind of development bank, whose capital and reserves consist of…you guessed it. Good old American greenbacks.

Be the Bridge: Russia has the geostrategic opportunity of being an air, land, and sea bridge between Europe and East Asia. In line with China’s Silk Road and New Eurasian Land Bridge projects, the concept of the Northern Sea Route, and international air routes traversing Siberia, Russia can use its geographic position to reap the resultant dividends of East-West trade and thereby increasing its middleman importance. In the case of air travel, it can also prohibit American military overflight from Afghanistan and sanction Western air carriers.

This is where I get the idea that these Russophiles learn their geopolitical strategy from playing computer games. I’m terribly sorry but the time when this kind of “land bridge” concept brought so much riches is long gone, thanks to such innovations as long-range navigation around the Horn of Africa, direct routes to India, the breaking of the Venetian monopoly on the spice trade in Europe, the opening of the New World, and air travel, to name a few.  There is no reason why countries like China or India need to ship most of their exports through Russia. The US can easily fly in and out of Afghanistan without approaching anywhere near Russian airspace, and forbidding flights by Western air carriers is only going to hurt Russia even more. I don’t know when this is going to sink in- every “answer” Russia has to sanctions just ends up hurting Russia more. It’s time to admit defeat and move on.

Nah…That would mean the elites wouldn’t be able to steal as much!

Play the Devil’s Advocate: The EU is rife with both left- and right-leaning groups that preach a form of ‘Euroscepticism’ that endangers the current Atlanticist establishment. Whether or not they are explicitly Russian-friendly, their existence, such as that of the UKIP and the National Front, sends quivers down the Eurocrats’ spine. Moscow can use its information channels to provide implicit support for these movements and their supporters, thereby irking the West in the same manner that it does Moscow through its support of Navalny and others.

Here the author endorses the same failed Russian propaganda strategy I and many others have written about numerous times(such as here, and here).  It’s also worth noting that while he talks about groups on the left and right, the only two organizations he mentions by name are far-right and fascist, respectively. Remember folks, the fascists are in Ukraine!  But I digress.

Just a typical cossack parade in anti-fascist Russia!

Just a typical cossack parade in anti-fascist Russia!

Anyone can see how simultaneously playing to both left and right doesn’t work in the end. Much of the far right in the West has a knee-jerk reaction to Russia’s superficial love of Soviet imagery and use of symbols such as Stalin or Lenin. No doubt they are conflicted when they tune into their beloved RT to see Russian commentators lamenting the destruction of Lenin statues and the burning of Soviet flags. At the same time, any leftist who has any familiarity with Russia’s society and the hypocritical values the state preaches will not see Russia as a champion for the international working class. In fact, Russia has managed to achieve wealth inequality that is staggeringly high even compared to that of the United States. At least in the US you can have a major protest movement against this, which continues for months. In Russia by comparison, the police crack down on mimes.

The author also overestimates how threatening these right-wing parties are to the so-called “Eurocrats.” This is a common theme in Russian Eurasianist politics, the idea that supporting any anti-government movement in Western countries will some how benefit Russia. Of course because geniuses like Dugin have absolutely no interest in actually learning about American politics, it means that Russian propaganda tends to fall mostly on the ears of the least effective people in any given society. The incoherent populist message resonates with people who ramble on about chemtrails and the Illuminati. Most of these people have no desire to get involved in politics and they merely sit online collecting “wounds,” i.e. reading and writing about how the world is screwing them over. Sure, they “like” every post RT puts on Facebook, and they leave plenty of comments, but they are utterly useless for Russia.

The truth is the “Eurocrats” of the Atlanticist Empire of Gaydom aren’t the least bit concerned about organizations like UKIP. The truth is that in a time of economic crisis and capitalist failure, right-wing parties come out of the woodwork and are extremely useful to those in power. They distract the workers’ attention away from their exploiters and turn them against their fellow exploited. How else can one explain the liberal support for Maidan and the willingness to ignore the right-wing militant elements involved in that movement? Even today I know of no European head of state who has condemned the Ukrainian government’s continued use of armed nationalist paramilitary units, while Maidan supporters still insist that we ignore the right-wing extremists in their midst. Even though they don’t represent the entire Maidan movement, their role is crucial. Their radical anti-Communist ideology ensures that Ukraine’s revolution will be neo-liberal and not of a socialist or social democratic nature. Much like how the Kremlin utilizes its own nationalists and cossack paramilitaries to advance clericalism and nationalism in Eastern Ukraine. A working-class movement is the last thing Putin or Poroshenko want.

And now, folks, we get to the grand finale!

Conclusively, by following the above-mentioned policies, Russia would ironically be harkening back to the words that Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, albeit addressing the non-West and those within it who are dissatisfied with its global dominance:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

So for Western leaders, the question shouldn’t be “What can we do to Russia?”, but rather, “Will Russia lift the lamp?”

 Okay I’m going to have to break that one down a bit.

“Give me your tired, your poor,”

Russia’s got plenty of tired and poor. Keep in mind that this poem appears on the Statue of Liberty, and is often in reference to immigration. Russia on the other hand is incredibly xenophobic, even to ethnic groups which are indigenous to the territory of the Russian federation. Hell, even to their own “Slavic brothers” in Ukraine. What’s funny is that folks like Tim Kirby say they want Russia to have a strict immigration system, but not for them of course. In spite of the fact that Kazakhs, Uzbeks, or perhaps Azerbaijanian people may be more inclined towards life in Russia due to shared experiences in the Soviet Union, Russia should only throw open its doors to embittered, alienated Americans and other Westerners.

“Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,”

Again, this is a poem directed at immigrants to America, many of whom incidentally fled the Russian Empire because it was an absolutist monarchy that oppressed people based on nationality, language, and religion. To be fair, Russia today has far more freedom than that society, yet its schools and media glorify it. Does Russia offer people freedom? Is it actually offering an alternative to Western-oriented policies? Could it be that some countries side with the West because it is beneficial to them and they make a conscious choice, or are they all just puppets who are bought and paid for, as Russia commonly alleges?

Is Russia more free than the West? How is it more free? How is the West less free, and which countries are less free? See, freedom is something which we actually can measure. Whenever some Russians or Russian wannabes are confronted with this question of freedom or democracy, their response is to call it an illusion. Yet apparently freedom from the evil, oppressive West isn’t an illusion, even if it comes at the hands of a country whose elite robs the people’s wealth to buy Western products and send their children to the West for their education.  Freedom and democracy aren’t an illusion. They can be measured. I used to get fed up with conservative Americans who justified everything America did by tossing out the word freedom. Now I’m sick of Russophiles who pretend like it doesn’t exist, except when they say it does. I don’t care if you’re a flag-waving American patriot or a member of Team Russia, fucking define freedom if you’re going to bring it up! See a certain figure in Russian history once said, “Whenever someone mentions freedom, ask freedom for whom, to do what.” That’s a good starting point.

Finally we can get to his conclusion:

So for Western leaders, the question shouldn’t be “What can we do to Russia?”, but rather, “Will Russia lift the lamp?”

No, Andrew, it will not. Well if it is, nobody’s buying. China’s looking at real estate in Siberia, the government is shitting itself as to where they’re going to steal from next and how they’re going to get out of the county with their assets, and asses intact, the little brother Serbs are on their way to the EU, where they export more products and receive more investment. Syria’s Assad is actually quite pleased with the US bombing campaign against ISIS. India, Iran, and Pakistan are not going to team up to replace the US in Afghanistan, unless by teaming up you mean “engaging in a bloody war that spans many years if not decades.”

Andrew, please, for the love of God, come back to the real world. You need to realize that all these things the Russians tell you about China saving their ass and the West reeling under the blows of Poland’s rejected apple crop are nothing but delusions. Many of the people you hear were protesting on Bolotnaya just a few years ago. Now they praise the president and laugh at the West in public, but then they go to Sberbank and exchange their meager savings for US dollars. They grumble about their pensions being raided to pay for the Crimea, and they’re upset about tax increases in a country where many people survive only because they have been allowed to avoid paying taxes for so long. Still many women, patriotic pronouncements aside, continue to hook up with foreign, usually European boyfriends in hopes of marriage and emigration. Your suggestions are cute but ultimately unfeasible, and very soon now the people aren’t going to be regurgitating the party line for much longer.

I’m sure you came to Russia out of some love of the Russian people, and however romantic or over-idealistic that might have been, you’d do far better not to actively engage in feeding into these delusions of grandeur. Who are you to come to Russia and decide that this government best represents and looks after these people, simply because it spits empty rhetoric at your own government? Is it not possible for you to oppose both on principle? Realize that this regime won’t last forever, and when it is swept away there will be no need for the hacks of RT, Voice of Russia, and all those organs that lied not only to the people of Russia, but the people of the world.  Come back to the light, man.

Is this what you want to become?

Is this what you want to become?

UPDATE:

After finishing this article I thought Korybko’s suggestions sounded awfully familiar. I noticed that some of the ideas, particularly an incoherent and ineffective policy of supporting any “dissident” organizations in Western countries so as to stir up chaos. As it turns out, these ideas are clearly inspired either directly or indirectly by Alexander Dugin’s delusional masterpiece, known as Foundations of Geopolitics. Go ahead and read through its summary if you want a laugh, and then you’ll definitely see why I say these Eurasianist dipshits live in real-time strategy game world totally disconnected from reality. Also note the hostility toward China, and the assertion that Russia should just go on conquering nations without doing anything to improve itself. Remember, in Russian Fantasy Land, you build a fascist empire first, then suddenly all your problems with corruption magically disappear!

Domestic Stupidity

As much as Russian society has been going full potato this year, I still have this lingering fear about moving to the United States. People who find me critical of Russia often fail to understand the concept that I live here, work here, and have in fact spent most of my adult life here. Ergo I talk about the society in which I live, the society which is my daily reality. When I lived in America, guess what society I criticized the most? Once I do move back to America, I will have a lot to deal with, and I will have lost a certain luxury that living in any non-English speaking country provides.

This can be hard to explain to anyone who is monolingual, but I’m going to try. You see, there is a certain level of fluency one can achieve where the foreign language is not as natural as your native language, but you can still understand virtually anything someone is saying so long as you pay attention. In  other words, if I’m out on the street or in a supermarket, I can pick up all kinds of Russian conversation, but if I choose not to “tune in” it basically becomes background gibberish that can be easily ignored. This comes in handy on those many summer nights when drunk people decide to have parties throughout the night. It also means that when someone is expressing an idiotic opinion, such as the idea that America shot down the Malaysian airliner to cover up the genocide of Donbass children by their “Greywater” mercenaries, this ridiculous idea is unlikely to be noticed and processed by my brain. If I should realize that someone is sounding off with similar bullshit, I can just tune them out. Since I don’t constantly watch Russian TV or videos, and I rarely have to communicate in Russian on most days beyond a few sentences, it’s unlikely that I’ll lose this ability.

Now to some this might sound like a deficiency, but it’s actually quite a luxury. On the few occasions that I’ve been able to visit the US in the past decade, the first and most shocking thing upon arriving at JFK in New York is hearing English being spoken everywhere. Suddenly you understand everything that everybody is saying all the time. You feel as though you’re eavesdropping on everyone around you whether you like it or not. You recognize signs and notices instantly, without any effort to consider them. They are just there and the message is already in your brain before you know it. Having experienced this two times in the US, and following American politics as best as I can from abroad, I realize that I’m going to be in for some serious bullshit when I finally do move back.

Why am I writing about this now? Is it really so bad to be able to readily understand and process Americans expressing opinions out loud, in public?  You tell me:

Yep, this is the kind of bullshit I have to look forward to in the US- I mean the opinion, not “Obamacare.” That’s another matter entirely. Now I think readers on this blog can probably surmise that no, Stalin did not in fact say this. I also wonder if the hammer and sickle was put next to the portrait just to make sure that the audience for this picture understands that he was a Communist. All of this is beside the point though. The point is that a vast majority of American citizens are intellectually lazy beyond all recognition, and they suffer for it.

First of all, the so-called Affordable Care Act was signed by Obama on 23 March 2010. This after roughly a year of debate and public discussion, complete with near-constant news coverage. Single payer healthcare, which is the closest thing possible to “socialized medicine,” was off the table for discussion from the very beginning. Next came the widely discussed “public option,” whereby the government would sell its own health insurance so as to force private providers to compete. This is basically a market-based solution but even that was too Communist for pot-bellied old white people. Finally Obama settled with a plan which was originally devised by the conservative Heritage Foundation, wherein people are forced to buy healthcare from for-profit providers. Since the insurance companies are still private, such a system would have been literally impossible in the Soviet Union or any other socialist country, seeing as how they all abolished that form of private property.

Information about every conceivable detail of the law and its provisions has been readily available to anyone with even temporary access to the internet or a public library.  That same access can be used to look up things such as “socialized medicine,” and “single payer healthcare.”  One can learn about how virtually all industrialized have some form of single payer healthcare, and that so long as it is well funded, these systems work. The better the system, the better the health statistics of the country. Cuba, in spite of a blockade spanning decades and which continues to this day, still has some of the best health statistics in the region, with many indicators such as life expectancy actually rivaling those of the United States. Virtually every criticism which can be raised against Cuba’s health care system can be attributed to the embargo. So even in a tiny island blockaded by the world’s greatest superpower, “socialized medicine” works miracles.  That phony, ignorant picture was posted on Facebook, and commented on by other morons who also managed to secure Facebook accounts. There is no excuse as to why they cannot Google “Affordable Care Act.” None whatsoever.

It is said that ignorant people like this don’t read or do research. No, they “do research.” They’ll happily fork over money to some ex-radio DJ for his new book about “what’s destroying America”(HINT: It’s liberals and the breakdown of the family!). They religiously watch the news…on Fox. They love watching Youtube videos with some jackass wearing multi-cam telling them about how to survive the coming UN invasion. What they won’t do, under any circumstances is type a few words into Google to read even the most basic information about something they are apparently very concerned about.  The Affordable Care Act has a Wikipedia page. The UN’s Agenda 21 has one as well. This is not to say that everything you might find on that page is accurate, but you will find links to the original sources, and at the very least you should know what you are criticizing.

I struggle over whether I should call this stupidity or extreme laziness. These people always see themselves as being informed, but they religiously get their information from a narrow field of approved sources. I’ve had a lot of interaction with conservatives in the past, and there’s one which I regularly communicate with since moving abroad. What’s interesting is how she’ll rant about this horrible thing Obama is supposedly doing, and half the time it’s either some manufactured scandal of the week that never happened, or it’s something that plenty of other presidents have done long before Obama came along. Virtually every time I inform her that this information can be easily verified, and whenever I do this I’m always hit with this sob-story about how busy she is and how she doesn’t have time to check simple facts.  There’s time to browse the internet and read those horror stories, but no time to open a tab, type a few words into Google, or check out Snopes.com. I’ve never quite understood this form of logic, that you are confronted with some story and your reaction is, “I must believe this story and get angry about it right now.”  Then when confronted even with mild skepticism from someone else, rather than wondering if you’ve been had you inform them that you don’t have time to check and see if something you’re really upset about might be utter bullshit. You think they’d be relieved to know that Obama won’t be imposing Sharia law in public places after taking your guns and forcing your kids to marry partners of the same sex.  But no, some people just prefer being angry and afraid all the time.

Is it stupidity? Yes, I do think this is a just label in this case. We’re not talking about ignorance, but rather willful ignorance. These people know that they have other avenues of information regarding the things they are so worried about.  To use the words of Fred Clark, internet-famous for his hilarious but informative dissections of the Left Behind series of novels, these people don’t believe stupid things because they are stupid, they become stupid because they believe stupid things. What I mean is that in order for a person to believe, for example, that Obamacare is “socialized medicine” and that this will lead America to Soviet Communism, one must be actively ignorant. One must avoid reading anything about the ACA from an even remotely neutral point of view, as well as avoid learning anything about countries which actually have single-payer healthcare. This just isn’t as easy to do these days with so much access to information. Since the ACA is the law and no doubt many conservatives have signed up, they must understand that they are paying a private company which would not exist under socialism, yet they ignore this. They live in a world surrounded by private corporations and businesses wielding a massive amount of power, even over the personal lives of their own employees, and yet they continue to loudly proclaim that their country is on the verge of Marxist socialism, if it isn’t there already. It takes conscious effort to eat a breakfast consisting of products made by different private companies, get in a car also made by a private corporation, go to work in a private business, consume private media via radio, television, and internet, go shopping in a private supermarket, and then as you eat your roast chicken which came from a privately-owned agribusiness company, lecture your wife and kids about how Obama has turned America socialist. Likewise, it also takes effort for many of these people, who often receive some form of government benefits one way or another, to insist that “big government” is socialism and that welfare is bankrupting the country. Numerous individuals recount hearing rants like this from people who are actually state and sometimes federal employees.

Discourse on Russia often shows the distinction between simple ignorance and active stupidity. It is terrifyingly easy to get Russia wrong, seeing as how most press on the subject is ridiculously one-sided and biased towards one side or the other.  In the roughly seven years between my first visit to Russia and my return in 2006, I was duped both by the Western press and the Russian foreign-language media. The former said Putin was a strong man who was standing up to the West and restoring Russia’s pride. I saw that as a good thing and thus I believed it. The Russian press just backed that up.  In this case, I had prior experience in the country, something many people don’t have, plus I was actively using the information at my fingertips via the internet so as to be informed. And yet I was wrong, utterly, totally wrong. Now at this point I could have just rejected the reality I woke up to every day. I could have dismissed the anecdotes of hundreds of Russian citizens I knew. I could have pretended all manner of things never happened, or I could have dismissed them by thinking of an example of a similar thing that happened once in the United States.  I could have ignored reality and lived in a fantasy land, but what would that have brought me, aside from a lucrative career at RT?  No, I prefer living in reality, however ugly that may be.

And that’s an important point to keep in mind in case you’re a reader who thinks I’m being unfair to conservative or right-wing people. First of all, I’m well aware of leftist being similarly duped by Facebook memes and conspiracy theories. I’ve had to spend a fair bit of time debunking Russian propaganda about the Donbass for many leftist friends, and I’ve definitely lost more than a handful for exposing the deceptive efforts of Russian nationalists to deceive leftists in the non-Russian speaking world.  Far more important, however, is the fact that I come from conservative roots and was for a significant portion of my life quite radically right wing. Why did I change? Well the simple answer is that I grew up, but a large part of it had to do with me repeatedly finding out that I’d been lied to by the intellectual figures I’d trusted, from talk-radio pundits to obscure, radical authors. Each lie I discovered made me wonder what else they were lying about. And over time I started to learn, through actual research which takes time, money, and effort, that almost every conservative claim, when held up to scientific scrutiny, crumbles. Crime is out of control and our streets are war zones? I was hearing that since my childhood in the late-80’s and early 90’s. Too bad violent crime has been declining during that same period.  Teen pregnancy is through the roof and kids are having kids? Well actually that’s been declining in America for quite some time, and if it weren’t for abstinence-only sex education it would probably lower in accordance with other industrialized countries which teach comprehensive sex ed. The government’s gonna take our guns? Really? When are they going to get around to that? I’ve read the work of people who said this would happen in the 70’s, even the 60’s. What is taking them so long?   Liberals and leftists have their delusions, but they generally aren’t the sort which can be debunked with a simple Google search or a trip to Snopes. That tells you something about which side is closer to reality.

A lot has been said and written about the ignorance of Russians’ regarding society in Europe and the United States. Mark Adomanis and many others including myself have pointed out that Russians seem to live in an alternate reality. That may very well be the case, but they actually have an excuse. Their media is almost entirely controlled by the same people. The main “opposition” parties go along with the government most of the time and the one Russian Duma deputy who dared voice his opposition and vote his conscience has been repeatedly attacked and threatened for doing so. Independent activists and journalists have been assaulted by unknown thugs who are rarely caught. While Russia has some of the most internet and computer savvy people in the world, the percentage of the population with regular internet access is much lower than people realize, and more importantly few of those people can speak English. Understanding English means being able to read news from a variety of different sources, from RT to Al Jazeera or CCTV. One need not depend on the BBC or Voice of America.  In fact, being able to understand fluent English and examine just the US media alone would tell any viewer that there are many competing points of view in America. What tends to happen instead is that pro-Kremlin forces happily cherry-pick and translate blatantly anti-Russian points of view and then present these to the public as representative. The audience rarely has any way of checking these claims for themselves, much less refuting them.

So perhaps before we laugh at them for believing that the two crashed Malaysian airliners were actually the same plane, captured and then shot down by the US to justify anti-Russian policies, we ought to consider how popular idiotic beliefs about the Illuminati, chem trails, and GMOs are in the West, among people on the left and right. Perhaps we ought to examine the question of how so many Americans actually believe that libertarianism is a valid philosophy in spite of the fact that it has failed miserably anywhere its been tried, and to the extent that anything like libertarian policies have been implemented, life was that much worse. Maybe we ought to think about how millions of Americans, though surrounded by, working for, and in some cases owning private businesses, still believe that the United States is teetering on the edge of Soviet socialism.  Maybe we should speak up at the Thanksgiving table when your uncle starts ranting about government handouts in spite of the fact that he receives a pension from his former federal job, plus social security. For all their faults, the Russians have an excuse for their failure to be informed. What is America’s?

THIS IS WHAT AMERICANS ACTUALLY BELIEVE.

THIS IS WHAT AMERICANS ACTUALLY BELIEVE.

The wrong niche?

Thanks to someone posting this take-down of some whiny men’s rights advocate(MRA) on Reddit, the views for this blog reached over 600 in one day. That’s more than the other time someone cross-posted an entry on this blog to Reddit, and that got far more views than the time I was published in The Moscow Times. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I’m writing about the wrong topic.

I’ve often marveled at how little Westerners or English-speakers seem to care about Russia in spite of the near-constant flow of headlines and top stories involving the country in the news. Not even ridiculous, sensationalist headlines about World War III are enough to spur people into flooding my inbox with messages looking for behind the lines information.  Russians hate hearing this, but nobody cares.

In light of the recent traffic spike, I’m seriously wondering if I should change the focus of this blog to self-entitled American neckbeards. If by writing about them I may secure a consistent flow of high traffic, I could finally collect some ad revenue from this blog. Those neckbeards would be my gold mine. A greasy, Dorito-crumb-filled gold mine!

neckbeardmag