This entry has a bit of a long into so please, bear with me.
Ever since I started this blog I have understood that most people who read it are probably going to judge it harshly based on the firs article they see. If it’s an attack on the Kremlin’s propaganda, the internationally “savvy” Westerners will cheer and the Russophiles will burst forth with buttrage. If I attack the Western media coverage on Russia, the opposite scenario will occur.
Lately it may seem that I’ve had a streak of critical articles about Russia, so much so that it might give readers the wrong idea. First, when I criticize Russia I don’t do it from ignorance like so many other Westerners and “journalists.” Nor do I do it out of spite or malice. When you see a country you care about crumbling and occasionally tearing itself apart, you must speak the truth. All these American and British “Russophiles” who flock to Russia to assuage their own identity crises may loudly proclaim their love of “Russia”, but in reality they are telling sweet lies rather than bitter truths. More importantly, they do not love but rather fetishize Russia, so their advice and claims are doubly poisonous. I compare such people to heroin dealers. They stroke the Russian ego while the body decays.
The other reason I might seem hard on Russia is that I of course live here and I thus I feel like I’m a rock assailed on all sides with the Kremlin’s recent populist offensive. Essentially I feel like I did back when I lived in the US during the presidency of George W. Bush. You couldn’t throw a rock or post a comment without running into a blubbering, flag-waving “patriot” calling you a “traitor” for questioning the president and practically accusing you of beheading good Christian marines in Iraq. Some people, perhaps due to their age or simply not being American may fail to fully appreciate what that era was like. Since the election of Obama, the massive, ear-shatteringly loud right wing media machine gave Americans permission to be angry or mistrustful of the government, which was precisely the authorization needed by the otherwise obedient members of the Tea Party movement. The “rebels” didn’t change; it’s just that now you can publicly talk about how you disapprove of the NSA’s domestic espionage and you’re less likely to be labeled a traitor. When, and I’m sorry but it is when and not if, when a Republican eventually takes the White House, the “we came unarmed this time” rebel forces will happily step back in line and insist that you do as well.
Living in Russia, I don’t encounter those types of Americans on a regular basis anymore. What I do encounter is Team Russia bullshit, on an almost daily basis. So if that’s what I encounter nearly every day, is it any wonder that I’m going to tackle it a bit more often?
But if you’ve been waiting for me to thrash some genuinely idiotic pro-Western bullshit for some time now, today is your day. This piece of of shit showed up on my news feed today. In this Reuters piece, the author gives us pure Georgian propaganda regarding Russia’s alleged “occupation” of Abkhazia, a country which asserts its independence though it is unrecognized by most of the world.
Now admitting that most countries do not recognize the independence of Abkhazia may seem to cinch the issue in favor of Georgia, well not quite. Time for a history lesson. Georgia, within the Soviet Union, was an SSR, i.e. Soviet Socialist Republic. These are sometimes referred to as “union republics.” Because the Communists were obsessed with the idea of self-determination and protection of national minorities, certain ethnic enclaves were sometimes designated as ASSRs, or Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics. The Tatar SSR, nowadays Tatarstan, is a good example of an ASSR which demonstrates why ASSRs existed in the first place. Union republics were those which, on paper at least, were to have the full right of self-determination up to secession from the union. As Stalin reasoned, the Volga Tatar territory fell far short of any international border and thus could not practically leave the union entirely. Even today, if we took modern Tatarstan and Bashkortostan and joined them together, you’d have to annex a lot of Russian or non-Tatar, non-Bashkort land just to end up with a territory touching the nearest international border with Kazakhstan. Thus it was that ASSRs were created.
Here’s why it is a problem for Georgia. In 1990, Georgia’s local government unilaterally nullified all previous treaties with the Soviet Union, and then seceded in the spring of the following year. Soon after their Soviet-based constitution was replaced by a pre-USSR constitution. The Abkhazians and South Ossetians justifiably feared that their autonomy would be stripped away. Long story short, war ensued, shit continues to this day.
Now the reason why that history is essential to the issue is that on this matter the Georgians want to have their cake and eat it too. In 1990 they basically declared Soviet law and treaty null and void, in the name of their own self-determination. The idea that Soviet law was never really legitimate or binding is one which is shared throughout the West. Yet the basis for Abkhazia and South Ossetia being within the borders of Georgia is in fact Soviet law. In other words, if it was fine and just for Georgians to negate the law in the name of self-determination, it was perfectly fine for Abkhazians and Ossetians to make the same claims for themselves. The fact that Russia supported this autonomy and that it does so not for the most virtuous reasons is really irrelevant. Either self-determination and independence are legitimate, or they are not.
Many in the West cannot understand this concept. I suspect that this crucial skill of critical thinking is actually wrought out of them while they study political science in Ivy League universities. In their mind it is perfectly normal for the United States to declare pre-emptive war on Iraq while simultaneously warning other nations not to take this as a precedent for themselves. Far closer to the matter at hand, these are the same people who see no problem with the independence of Kosovo, a nation recognized by most Western governments, yet who arbitrarily decide that Abkhazia or South Ossetia shouldn’t be independent. Like the author of the offending article, may of these journalists or “analysts” will cite “international law” as the main reason for the difference. Sorry but I call bullshit. International law is bullshit. When international law stands in the way of powerful nations such as the US, it’s irrelevant and not important. When international law can somehow serve the case being made by the same nation, it’s suddenly important. St. Augustine said that an unjust law is no law at all, and such is the case with “international law.” Until it is applied consistently and thoroughly in all cases, it cannot be considered just law.
I’m not going to thoroughly dissect this shit-heap of an article, but I noted that the author tries to draw a parallel between Abkhazia and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Sorry but that does’t fly, mainly because of the radically different histories of Cyprus on one hand and the USSR on the other. Abkhazians rose up to preserve their autonomy and war broke out when the Georgian government sent several thousand troops to quell the uprising. Someone could declare the uprising illegal but we then have to look at how the Western media has been coddling the rioters in Kiev to see how phony that argument is. Once again we see a clear double standard, governments the West doesn’t like are automatically illegitimate. Their laws don’t matter. If some people want to hurl molotov cocktails and set fire to the capital, so be it, and the police had better not get in their way.
This is the point where we come to the title of this article, where Team Russia fanatics come from. Read that article from Reuters and you will know the answer. It comes not simply from the ridiculous bias in the media, but from the authors’ obliviousness toward their own bias. I have seen representatives of offending media organizations get confronted by claims of bias in person, and the individual in question reacted as though his critics were babbling about micro-chips inserted into their brains and stealing their thoughts. As a bonus, he reacted in this manner while periodically accusing Russia Today of anti-American bias. That is what is so infuriating about such people, the Western journalists and intelligentsia. To them there is no bias, there is no double standard, and if you bring it up they have no idea how your mind ever could have perceived that there is. When they condemn the independence of Abkhazia while supporting that of Kosovo, they see absolutely no inconsistency there. They are on the good side. They speak objective truth. I can honestly say that for me it’s not the presence of double standards or bias which induces so much rage; it’s that oblivious attitude. “Me? Biased? Whatever are you talking about?” That’s a legitimately punchable offense.
It is no surprise to me that I see many Russophiles date their love affair with Russia and their hatred for the West to the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, which incidentally set Kosovo on the road to independence in the first place. It certainly was a catalyst for me. We may have come from many different political backgrounds, but we all watched as powerful Western nations decided to intervene in a civil conflict and determine that one side was right and the other was wrong. The media willingly and deliberately abetted the Western leaders in lying to the world, by not publishing the full truth about the terms offered to Milosevic in Ramboulliet, thus making him look obstinate and bellicose when he turned them down. We watched the supposedly “defensive” NATO pound populated cities with bombs and cruise missiles, all the while explaining away civilian casualties as “collateral damage” or “human shields.” The Bush administration doubled down on this sort of behavior, ushering in a rather brazen era of “do as we Americans say, not as we do.” This kind of behavior makes Americans feel uneasy on a deep level, and many cannot or choose not to suppress their revulsion toward it in the name of patriotism. I was certainly one of those people, and the proximity of the NATO campaign against Serbia to my first visit to Russia put me firmly in Team Russia’s camp. I was, for some years thereafter, a true believer, a Russophile.
So when you wonder whence does the Russophile come, or why he is so sure in his belief about “the information war,” know that he is largely a product not of Putin’s PR machine but the Western media itself. Perhaps a new one is born every time a biased, double-standard-laden editorial piece is published. Whatever the case, it’s worth remembering that Western journalism was engaging in this kind of sensationalism and trafficking in double standards long before RT came into existence. While much of the bias is really more the result of laziness and the need for attention-grabbing headlines as opposed to some kind of US State Department-led “information war,” it is entirely possible to see how an objective observer might perceive it that way. The Western media sowed the wind, now they reap RT and Voice of Russia.