Monthly Archives: October 2013

Oh shit, here it comes again.

Anyone remember that “reset” button Obama talked about back in 2009? Remember when Romney’s campaign team went ape-shit over Obama being caught telling Dmitry Medvedev that he could be more “flexible” after the election?  Do you?  Well now this is happening:

http://news.yahoo.com/russia-angrily-rejects-us-spying-accusations-124106928.html

Yup, another espionage accusation, this time coming from the US.  I don’t have much to say about this except a comment on this excerpt:

Zaytsev’s case comes amid friction in U.S.-Russian ties, which have been strained over differences on Syria, Moscow’s decision to give refuge to former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden and the Kremlin’s crackdown on the opposition and rights activists.

First off the bat one should eliminate the bit about the “crackdown on the opposition and rights activists” part.  Washington feigned concern but ultimately doesn’t care.  In fact much of the opposition seems to have fallen in line with the Kremlin thanks to the actions of the US in the past year, and that brings me to the second point.  Nowhere in the list of reasons for poor relations between the two countries do we see any mention of the Magnitsky Act, a ridiculous law which basically punishes people without trial or even investigation, and more importantly is entirely selective in the sense that it is aimed at Russia and not countries friendly to the US despite far worse human rights violations on an almost daily basis.  There is also the issue of the US blundering ahead with the “missile defense” shield, a ridiculous plan which costs untold billions and which is designed to counter a threat which does not currently exist.

Of course Russia’s reactions to many of these moves have not been positive, and some like the outright adoption ban for US citizens are absolutely monstrous.  That being said, here we can see a very basic cause of hostility between Russia and the West, and we also see why understanding hasn’t flourished between the two nationalities in the past twenty years.  Western media sources are happy to cite Russia’s reactionary moves without mentioning what they were in reaction to.  You can see this going back to 1999 with the bombing of Serbia.  The truth is that regardless of what they might say in public or on the internet, most people in Russia today, and probably even more so back then, do not truly, deeply, care about Serbs.  I doubt many could even say anything about Serbs other than that they are Orthodox by religion and that they were attacked by NATO.  But what I think deep down many people did care about, and I’m basing this on my own reaction as well, was NATO’s sheer arrogance. Here was an organization which was supposedly created for defense against the USSR(even though NATO was formed in 1949 while its equivalent, the Warsaw Pact, formed only in 1955), and yet for some unknown reason it not only lived on after the “end of the Cold War” but it actually expanded.  In 1999, that very same “defensive” organization basically told the world, Russia included, that it would decide who was right in a civil conflict and if the “wrong” side disagreed it would use overwhelming military force to punish them.  Now if you’re a Gen X-er like me and you remember the years immediately after the collapse of the USSR, you surely remember all the celebration surrounding the end of the Cold War, and the popular idea that now the United States and Russia would be “friends.”  So popular was the idea of US/Russian friendship that it actually appeared in the blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  But before the decade was out the US and NATO began to engage in a series of distinctly unfriendly actions.

The obliviousness of both American politicians and Western journalists to this context is quite infuriating, so much so that when responding to certain statements or comments I end up sounding like I’m on Team Russia.  What choice do I have? I can’t just sit by while some politician or idiot journalist launches a salvo against Russia’s “human rights abuses” while utterly ignoring those of their own country and allies.  Regardless of what side it’s coming from, the attitude of “It doesn’t count if we do it,” is something I cannot tolerate.  It’s one of the things I left America to escape, only to find it alive and well here.

The point is that the United States has a lot of choices and luxuries that Putin simply doesn’t have.  Obama can choose to save the US taxpayers hundreds of billions and cancel the missile defense shield.  He could have saved a handsome sum and possibly secured American lives by not lending support and legitimacy to Salafist terrorists in Syria.  He could have not made such a fuss over Snowden, as it was not Russia’s fault he ended up there.  American corporations are making good money in Russia but they’d probably make a lot more if Obama and the State Department stopped prodding Russia with sticks.

The truth is that the Russian regime is not strong, it is weak. This is why it needed to lock up three stupid performance artists for so long. This is why it supplicates in the face of racist rioters who attack police, and does not search for connections between the ensuing property damage and people who might have organized it for their own benefit.  This is why the government bans or at least proposes bans for any speech it finds offensive.  It all shows signs of weakness. Now while these things cannot be justified, we do need to understand why they get such support and garner little opposition.  If the US and NATO, having a clear advantage, continuing prodding and provoking Russia, political liberalization is simply not going to happen.  The regime will clam up and make more appeals to nationalism and patriotism.  It really is this simple. I realize that many political scientists and pundits may say otherwise, but you also have to keep in mind that many of these people are the same idiots who lend to support to infantile notions such as the Democratic Peace Theory.  So you know, take it with a grain of salt.

Of course there always is another side of the coin: Perhaps the reason why the US doesn’t reach out to improve relations with Russia is because the ruling regimes of both countries do not wish such a reconciliation.

 

 

 

 

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A Glance at a Western Russophile

Explaining the phenomenon of the Western Russophile, more accurately described as a Team Russia fanatic, is a long and complicated process.  While these individuals often sound the same, almost word-for-word, their motives are not always identical.  There also tends to be a divide between Team Russia fans who live in Russia, those who have only visited, and those who have never set foot in the country.  Yes, that’s right, many Team Russia fanatics have never even been to Russia.  There tends to be a rule-of-thumb which states that the less experience one actually has in Russia, the less likely they are to join Team Russia.  If they are actually living here and spouting Team Russia’s bullshit then they either have nice cushy position or they are just plain delusional.  Anyway, I’d like to share this comment I found, completely at random, which illustrates the typical Team Russia cheerleader mentality.  It was on a Moscow Times story about the Kremlin.

“What the h#ck…!?!?!?! Have you been to the Kremlin…? It is the most Magical, Inspirational, Holy, Reverent, Mysterious, Beautiful, Wonderful, Historical place on Earth I have ever been. It’s about how Russia got to where they are today. Historically, America has nothing on Russia…”

Now first off, let me get some preliminaries out of the way. If you haven’t visited the Kremlin yet, don’t start booking your tickets after reading that individual’s description.  Sure it’s impressive and it’s a must see for your first trip to Moscow, but this gentleman went far overboard. Let me also say that I was myself a Team Russia fanatic for several years after first visiting the country as a teenager.  Those days ended before I even relocated to Russia, when I was 23.  Russia was my first real trip outside the country and my first trip to the “Old World”, so I too was impressed to see churches in the Kremlin which were built centuries before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic.  But even as an ultra-passionate Russophile I never took it that far.  And that’s just it; most of my Team Russia phase took place in my late teens. Two years after I reached the legal drinking age, when I actually moved to Russia to live and not merely to visit, my Team Russia phase ended with a crash.  I think I could understand a young person who falls in love with a country from a short visit, perhaps all the way to the age of 25. But when you have someone in their 30’s or even worse, middle-aged just slobbering over anything remotely Russian it’s really time to stop and take a personal inventory.  

It’s wholly understandable that young people, even in their early twenties, may feel alienated and upset about their own country and culture.  Some of their complaints may not be justified, but sometimes they are.  People from all around the world feel this way about their own countries. There is after all the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  On the other hand, if you hit your thirties and you’re still angsty, bitter, and alienated at your own country and society, perhaps the problem is you.  If you really think your outrage at your own society is justified, you really ought to be taking a stand and doing something about it rather than running away to Team Russia, whether figuratively or literally, and trying to live vicariously through another people you most likely don’t understand.  It’s also worth noting that most of these types, if they do move to Russia, only find friends among hardcore nationalists who are only too happy to have an American who constantly complains about America around.  That’s all you’re good for to them.  Ordinary Russians just don’t seem to be too interested in listening to foreigners talk about Russia all the time, and dictate what their national identity should encompass. 

And that’s just the thing; American and other foreign-born Team Russia fans deny Russians the very right that they claim for themselves.  They claim to be fed up and tired of their own country’s culture, but many of them actually claim they are still true patriots of some sort.  Yet the Russian who takes an interest in foreign cultures and dreams of living abroad is, according to these types, a traitor who is full of self-hatred. Most Russian people don’t like a foreigner dictating these terms to them. 

Another thing one notices about the Team Russia fanatic is the constant groveling and sycophantic slobbering.  Any news story which concerns a social problem in Russia is met with a wave of comments to the effect of “HEY THIS HAPPENS IN AMERICA TOO!”  Most people aren’t stupid enough to suggest that the problem in the US is actually worse than it is in Russia, but apparently the fact that both Russia and the US have homeless people is supposed to negate the Russian problem entirely.  It’s still a point against America, of course.  This is because Team Russia fanatics have assimilated a definition of “patriotism” which is quite popular in Russia, especially supporters of the regime.  Ignoring all the criticisms I have about “loving one’s country,” there are different forms of patriotism and some are better than others.  The best is when people look at their nation, see all kinds of problems, and then set about to better their nation by dedicating their lives to solving those problems.  If you look at other nations and see they are ahead of you in one way or another, you examine your own society to identify and solve its issues, and often in the process you critically analyze traditions and cultural norms with the realization that some of them are actually holding the nation back.  This is what the Bolsheviks did, and modern Russia was truly build on a socialist foundation.  Ataturk did this with the Turkish Republic.  The Meiji restoration and the rebuilding of Japan after WWII were other examples of this phenomenon. 

Russian patriotism, or more accurately Team Russia patriotism, is something quite different.  Here you simply deny problems, or act like they are negated if the same problem exists anywhere else, particularly the United States.  American Team Russia fanatics will sometimes go so far as to claim that Russia is better to live in than the States, but this is clearly ridiculous.  There are advantages to living in Russia but nearly none of them have anything to do with Russia itself or the culture.  More importantly, we could come up with all kinds of criticisms of the United States, but then we also have to account for countries like Sweden, Austria, Norway, Denmark, etc. which have standards of living which are considerably better than the United States and far above those in Russia. The irony is that as they grovel for approval which only comes from a rather small sub-set of Russians, American Team Russia fans are once again doing exactly what they condemn when Russians do it.  That is to say that if they speak about a real, genuine problem in the United States, they will attack any Russian who speaks about real problems in Russia as a liberal traitor or someone with a self-hatred problem.  Remember, Russians, you are to are only allowed to build your identity according to the decrees of the Church, small obscure political organizations with ties to the Kremlin, and of course, American expats or even those who have never visited Russia. They get to dictate your culture to you.  

I cannot repeat this enough; I hate the groveling.  If you don’t like the way things are going in America then take a fucking stand and change things instead of running away to Russia and becoming someone’s dancing American monkey.  There are good reasons to live in Russia and living in Russia doesn’t require you to take an oath of allegiance to Vladimir Putin.  In fact not doing so means you’ll find more friends among Russians of all political stripes. 

One more thing, American Team Russia fans, stop making it seem like everything in Russia is so wonderful and magical.  Yeah I did that myself once, because I was fucking sixteen.  What’s your excuse now?  

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“OMG THIS RUSSIAN ALCO-ENERGY DRINK IS SO EFFERVESCENT, SO WONDERFUL, SO MAGICAL! FAR SUPERIOR TO AMERICAN ALCO-ENERGY DRINKS! I’M SURE THIS BEVERAGE IS LOADED WITH ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS FROM THE PRISTINE RUSSIAN STEPPES!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

They just noticed!

Lately a news story has been making the rounds which suggests that the famous Captain Obvious must have recently retired from his military career to take up a career in journalism.  The story cites a study by Credit Suisse which tells us….wait for it…waaaaait foooooor iiiiiit…Russia has alarming wealth inequality.  I realize that the story is linked to the findings of the most recent Credit Suisse annual report, but truth be told massive wealth inequality in Russia has pretty much been the norm since 1991.

Given that these reports are annual, it’s hard to believe that the situation changed dramatically in the space of a year. As far as I’m concerned, the most startling fact revealed in the story is the finding that 35% of Russia’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of about 110 people.  Immediately the Team Russia fanatic will squeal, “But America also has terrible wealth inequality too!”  At this point it is easy to point out why this “argument” fails, like so many other “America also blah blah…” responses.  The Occupy movement acquainted many Americans with the fact that 1% of America controls 40% of the country’s wealth.  That’s bad for America, but 1% of America’s current population is over 3 million people.  Based on Russia’s population of about 142 million, we find that about 0.00008%(rounded up) control 35% of the nation’s wealth.

Now before commenting on this matter further I must go on a brief digression about another version of this story I encountered, which came from the AP.  This blog is supposed to highlight incompetent reporting on Russia, after all.  The article is here and it contains this interesting line:

The fall of Communism saw Russia’s most prized assets sold off to a small circle of businessmen later known as oligarchs. President Vladimir Putin allowed them to keep their wealth in exchange for their political loyalty.

Hmmm… It seems like something is missing here.  It’s as if they skipped nearly a decade of Russian history so that someone not familiar with the topic might logically come to the conclusion that Putin is somehow connected to the rise of the oligarchs.  In fact the name Yeltsin does not appear anywhere in the article. The truth is that Putin did not create Russia’s oligarchs, but he also did not drive them out as Team Russia fanatics would like you to believe. In reality Putin owes his position not only to Yeltsin but Boris Berezovsky, who advised the former to choose Putin for the post of prime minister.  Berezovsky was one of Russia’s worst oligarchs, but after falling out of favor with Putin he fled to the UK and suddenly developed a deep concern with “democracy” in Russia.  Putin indeed allow certain oligarchs to stay in power for “loyalty” as the article states, but the poor construction of this sentence leaves out all sorts of vital information and leads the unaware reader to believe that Putin is possibly responsible for the rise of oligarchs.  In the case of poor journalism like this always remember who benefits- Putin.  Stories like this are scooped up by Team Russia fans who then use them as proof that there is an “information war” against Russia, even though the real explanation has more to do with laziness.

Returning to the topic of the article, I’m going to be carefully noting any reactions to this “revelation.”  Some are easy to predict, while others aren’t. Team Russia will no doubt respond with denial and inaccurate comparisons with America, but that’s pretty much their response to anything.  I think this is going to be especially problematic for Russia’s liberals, since they have a long history of not showing adequate concern about wealth inequality.  What is more, they have often thrown in their lot with people like jailed oligarch Khodorkovsky and more recently presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, also an unbelievably rich individual if not an oligarch in his own right.  Exchanging Putin for the 90’s is not an attractive campaign promise.  Typical liberal criticism on Russia from within and without the country tends to imply that with more “democracy” Russia’s economic problems would be solved, but they don’t seem to have a rational explanation as to why this would happen. First, if we imagine that all corruption in Russian elections disappears, realizing this liberal dream would mean that a liberal party would have to come to power both in the Duma and the office of the president.  What party would that possibly be?  If past Duma elections had been fair, KPRF would most likely be controlling the country. I doubt this would lead to any restoration of socialism but it sure wouldn’t lead to the economic liberalization(read: privatization) that non-Russian pundits and some Russian liberals seem to think would help the country.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s imagine that somehow the liberal opposition miraculously wins and then all those buzzwords like civil society and rule of law magically appear.  How is this supposed to deal with the problem of wealth inequality, something which many mainstream economists don’t consider to be a problem?  Supposedly Russia would benefit from a more business-friendly environment in which corruption is subdued so that foreign investment isn’t limited to all but the largest corporations, which can handle all the bribes and pitfalls of doing business in Russia.  At the same time, this is supposed to make it easier for Russian entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and thus diversify the Russian economy rather than keeping it centered around natural resources.  And as we all know, entrepreneurship solves everything.  The problem I see with this plan is that attracting capital means remaking Russia to fit the needs of investors, something that has nothing to do with fighting wealth inequality. In fact the policies which make a country attractive to investors often lead to wealth inequality, which is something that few investors care about.  More importantly, if capital flows into Russia, it can just as easily flow out.  Russia might experience a boom for some time but in capitalism nothing lasts forever.

All over the world more and more people are waking up to the fact that capitalism is inherently flawed and cannot be fixed.  Bourgeois ideology tells us that changing a country’s government is significant while leaving out the question of changing the system that government serves.  This is largely the reason why liberal opposition in and outside of Russia sees no problem with lining up behind figures like Khodorkovsky. Rhetoric about “civil society” and “democracy” trumps questions of class and substance.  Even if Russians could easily change their government, nobody is offering them a realistic way to change the system.