Monthly Archives: March 2014

Shameful Joy

If there’s one consolation in all this Crimean annexation business it’s this: Ever since 1991, many nationalist regimes in former Soviet republics declared all Soviet laws, in fact their own Soviet republics, null and void.  Nationalists like those of the Svoboda Party in Ukraine, for example, consider the Ukrainian SSR as an illegitimate “occupation.”  Curiously, they consider the non-existent, Nazi-occupied “state” declared by OUN collaborationists in 1941 to be a legitimate incarnation of the Ukrainian state, but I digress.

The thing with the Crimean annexation, just like the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is that Crimea’s existence within the Ukrainian SSR, just like the latter two’s former existence as Autonomous SSR’s within the Georgian SSR, was all based on Soviet law.  It was that “illegitimate foreign occupation” which united all of Ukrainian land, not merely the Crimea either.  After WWII, the Soviets also ran a program of ethnic exchanges to ensure that Poles would be a majority in Poland and Ukrainians in Western Ukraine. Were it not for a few key policies, Western Ukraine might still have a large Polish population today, one which would far sooner be annexed to their mother country rather than endure a regime in Kyiv which glorifies, or at best tolerates the glorification of Stepan Bandera and the UPA.

I have to admit that I do get some entertainment, or in this case solace, out of watching nationalist morons demanding that other nations respect the laws of “illegal occupations,” the same laws they declared null and void so many years ago.

Theatre

A lot of people seem to get upset, or unusually skeptical when I tell them that the rhetoric between Russia and the West, particularly America, is largely theatre.  I’m not going to say there isn’t any real political tensions between the two sides, but most of that tension is specifically designed to preserve the regime in Moscow. Its credibility hinges on the idea that Russia is surrounded by enemies who intend to carve it up, and that the only defense they have against this is a strong leader and an authoritarian society. If US administrations since 2000 had lavished Putin’s government with praise over all the benefits he brought America, both for the “war on terror” and the private sector, the farce would have been long over by now.

Obviously the recent targeted sanctions against Russia’s politicians might seem to contradict this theory, but the truth is that all the complications surrounding the question of sanctions proves a number of points which is inconvenient to all sides involved. Firstly, it shows how intertwined Russia is with the Western powers economically.  Just as America relied on dictators during the Cold War, both the US and EU have been constantly whining about human rights in Russia while buying its products and investing money in its markets.  This cuts both ways, because Team Russia fans who like to imagine Russia as some kind of bulwark against the “globalist New World Order” must confront the fact that what success Putin and Medvedev have had is basically tied to their success in integrating Russia into that globalized “NWO” they hate so much.  In fact if this were not the case, the West could level sanctions against Russia all day and they wouldn’t face any negative consequences.

Some suggest that the fact Russia has annexed the Crimea proves that it actually is taking a stand. Hardly. By taking Crimea just before Ukraine has a presidential election in May, Putin has hobbled the opposition to the junta in Kyiv.  It’s unlikely that the Party of Regions or the Communist Party of Ukraine, the two parties which kept nationalism in check in elections, will be able to mount a strong campaign in May.  That may explain why they are pushing for federalism and more autonomy in their affairs in the South and East of the country. They know they will lose in the elections for the central government, therefore they are pushing to have more local control. Maybe they would have had more of a chance if somebody hadn’t taken about 1.5 loyal anti-Kyiv voters out of the electorate.

What this goes to show is that aside from all his posturing, Putin pretty much realized he was beaten in Ukraine.  To him the writing was on the wall, and nothing can be done to make a majority of Ukrainians support Russia on their own, since that would require actually doing something different in terms of propaganda, economic policy, and politics.  As humiliating a loss as it seemed, he saw a way he could snatch something in return. An easy opportunity unlikely to provoke consequences, yet just daring enough to make it look like Russia has truly “risen from its knees.”  So he snatched Crimea because he could, and he knew he would get away with it.  He’s taken his ball and he’s going home.

The problem with this is that it only puts off the inevitable for a limited amount of time. Annexing the Crimea will have to be paid for out of Russia’s budget. Ordinary Russians will have to pay for the luxurious summer homes and elite resorts which will no doubt be built along the coast of the peninsula. Meanwhile Russia has written a check its military simply cannot cash.  However unfair it might seem that some countries can get away with bullying their way around the world with military force and economic arm twisting, that’s the world we live in, and it’s the world Russia’s leaders chose to be a part of. What that means is that if you’re going to play the role of a superpower aggressor, you need the military and the economic foundation to back that up.  The US has it, China has it, but Russia doesn’t have it, not by a long shot.

 

Rumors

I figured it would come to this some day. I was warned.  It seems I finally have a bone to pick with Julia Ioffe of New Republic, and it is something which is concretely within the purview of Russia without Bullshit.  The offending article is here.

Basically my criticism of this article is that like a lot of Western press on Russia, it makes Russia’s liberals out to be the main force of opposition and the only hope for Russia. As I’ve stated many times before, the opposition in Russia in extremely broad and includes many elements which are much worse than the ruling clique in the Kremlin. In a recent New York Times article, the Western-dubbed “leader” of the opposition, Alexei Navalny, implored Western leaders not to fall for the idea that Putin is necessary to keep dark, nationalist forces in check.  Rather amusing coming from an individual who refuses to apologize for his repeated involvement with the nationalist “Russian March” held on 4 November. The problem I’m getting at here is that when you talk about Russia’s liberals as though they alone represent the opposition, it’s quite dishonest.  Many self-proclaimed Russian “liberals” also hold views which Western liberals might find abhorrent.  Like most post-Soviet political ideology, theirs is a hodge-podge of various ideas from the West, many of them not fully understood. The result is something like a knock-off you might find in a Beijing electronics market.

The thing that really prompted this was the sensationalism. Before quoting the offending passage, I’ll give the reader the gist of the article in case you didn’t read the whole thing.  Basically she’s saying that Russian liberals are worried that the sanctions leveled by the US and Europe will lead to a tougher crackdown on Russia’s opposition, or at least the liberals, the only part of the opposition she seems to care about.  Well I think that is entirely possible to a degree.  I was hoping that after 2011, Putin would react to Western criticism by liberalizing the country in terms of free speech  and right to assembly. What happened was the opposite. This shows that the state has something to fear, and it must feel terribly vulnerable if it is so terrified of a movement as nebulous, disorganized, and incoherent as Russia’s fledgling opposition movement is.  How strong can a state be if it finds Pussy Riot to be a threat?

That being said, there have recently been some protests against the actions in the Crimea, and from the photos I saw I was shocked. It seemed as if the massive police presence was either not there or far more low-key than at any protest I have seen.  Even for celebrations and marches led by KPRF(“Communist” Party), one would typically encounter a police cordon controlling the entire march route and any squares where said march was set to begin and end. You cannot simply cross the line to join the march or the celebration.  At the protest rally of 10 December 2011, the cordon actually began from the nearest metro station, meaning it took forever to actually get to the site of the protest.  All this means is that the situation with civil rights in Russia fluctuates radically, and while crackdowns happen, one should not go overboard and make the country out to be some kind of Orwellian dystopia.  In other words, like this:

It’s not that the crackdown is coming. The crackdown is already here, and the opposition—or what’s left of it—has been grunting under its weight for the last two years. But now, it’s about to get really, really bad. At least that’s the fear. There’s talk of closed borders and exit visas, arrests, unemployment because of political beliefs: You know, the kinds of things you do with traitors in Russia.

I’m surprised that Ioffe doesn’t seem to understand the power of rumors in Russian society. Late last year, the state suddenly yanked the licences of a couple banks, supposedly due to their involvement with money laundering.  It would have been nicer if they could have maybe isolated the offending accounts and given depositors more warning dropping this bombshell on them, but as I remember the ordinary customers were promptly taken care of after the fact.  In the following weeks, a few more banks were closed.  This gave birth to a rumor that after the Olympic games in Sochi ended, Putin was going to start yanking the licenses of dozens of banks.  Clearly this has not yet happened.  That’s the way it goes here. Government does something bad, and people start imagining worse.  Now Ioffe acknowledges that all these things about closed borders and arrests are simply “fear”, but to me it sounds more like taking these ordinary rumors and running with them to the point of panic-mongering. This is strengthened by the way she implies that these are “kinds of things you do with traitors in Russia,” as if this is already par for the course.

This kind of sensationalism is dangerous, if only because long after people read it, the only thing they may remember is that Russia is a place where they have exit visas, closed borders, etc.  It’s kind of like how comedian Charlie Brooker got the idea that Putin literally kills journalists.  This does not build understanding and only plays into the hands of Kremlin hacks who scream “bias” every time the Western media criticizes Russia.

 

Why I hate the Western Team Russia Fanatics: A parable

The loudest Team Russia fanatics are typically not Russian. They are usually American or British expats, but some of them don’t live in Russia and indeed many never have set foot in the country.  Yet they all take it upon themselves to lecture Russians about their alleged patriotic duties.  I realize some people may not understand the roots of the hatred I have for these people. The simplistic explanation is that from the time I visited Russia in 1999 to the time I moved back, I was one of these people and I was an insufferable little shit.  My only redeeming quality was that when I learned through personal experience that Putin’s Russia wasn’t in fact the bastion of morality, stability, pride, and strength I thought it had become, I realized  I needed to change my views to fit reality instead of vice versa.  Like John Maynard Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”  By contrast, many of those Team Russia fans who actually live here have spent more time here than myself, and despite being able to see the same country they purposely ignore reality. Accepting every day reality in Russia doesn’t mean you need to become some kind of Euro-liberal parroting the line of some Soros-funded legal tax evasion schemes NGOs.

Yet to truly understand why I rage at these people would require a lot of lengthy explanation and anecdotes. That’s why I decided to compress all that experience into a special parable which will help the reader understand. Imagine the following.

You’re an American citizen, born and raised in the US. As is natural for any civic minded person, you see problems in your town, your state, and your country.  You are concerned about those problems not only because they affect you, but because they affect the society you live in.  Indeed many of the problems you see may not affect you at all, at least not directly. Nevertheless you speak about those problems and maybe even engage in activism because you understand that they will not fix themselves.

You’re very dissatisfied with the political leadership. You find one party utterly repugnant, while the other basically caves into the former’s wishes on virtually every issue. You feel that American democracy is a joke.  You get to choose between two parties and yet the results for you at least are essentially the same.  Is this “representation?”  How representative can it be when every decision seems to benefit the richest minority of Americans while the working class gets nothing but the occasional lip-service from the Democrats?

You’re also concerned about issues like privacy and militarism. It has always infuriated you that the government pleads poverty when it comes to social welfare programs, education, health care, or debt relief, but somehow they always managed to find tens of billions of dollars for aircraft carriers and drones, or to fund the overthrow of some foreign government.  If it’s about spying on Americans, the government will spare no expense.  You know from personal experience that other countries do things very differently, and you have seen a lot of ideas you wish were more popular in America.  You don’t want to turn America into France, Norway, Sweden, or Denmark, but you can see how a lot of the ways they do things could be incredibly beneficial were they implemented in the United States.

You’re outspoken about all these issues, both on the internet and in real life activism.  You criticize America not because you hate it, but because you realize that you are a part of this country, and the country is made up of people. It is not some abstract concept represented by a flag.  This to you is a form of patriotism. But then you meet Ivan.

Ivan is a expat from Russia.  He had a decent life in Moscow, which he could return to at almost any time if he preferred, but he likes living in America much more. He feels that he has some kind of deep spiritual connection with America and what is more, he’s got a job working for some NGO that is partially funded by the US government.  He loves everything about America.

Ivan says you are wrong to criticize your government. It was wrong for you to oppose the bombing of Serbia in 1999; America had to save the lives of those Kosovar Albanians at all cost, even if civilians, including many Albanians themselves, died in the process.  You were wrong to criticize Bush’s war on Iraq.  Saddam Hussein was a threat that needed to be removed, and America had to bring democracy and freedom to the Iraqi people.  You shouldn’t complain about the wasteful spending in Afghanistan either. Those people need freedom.  What about when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008? It’s exactly the same as all those American military interventions you’re talking about. Your criticism is anti-American.

Oh do you think countries like Norway don’t have problems? Ivan’s been to Norway. A family member has an apartment there in fact.  Norway definitely has problems. Don’t like that Human Development Index or GINI index fool you. It may appear that they have the highest living standards in the world, but there are terrible things in Norway. A Norwegian maniac killed dozens of people one time. They have high taxes.  Norway is due to collapse any day now, just like those other “socialist” states in Scandinavia.

Ivan says you shouldn’t complain about the American system of government. It’s much better than all those other systems out there, even those ones with multiple parties and proportional representation.  America’s two party system is superior. You should support whatever administration is in power, and the government as a whole, because if the two party system ever changed, America would become an unmanageable mess like India with its myriad of political parties and candidates.  America needs a system based on two strong parties, otherwise it will collapse into chaos.

He’s always telling you how superior the American mentality is to that of his own nation, Russia.  It’s odd because you were never terribly concerned about the Russians and their alleged values or beliefs, but Ivan assures you that Russia is terrible in a cultural sense, and the American mentality is far superior.  You’re not sure what he means by “the American mentality,” as you are well aware of the broad diversity of views in America and how many people scorn the idea of conforming to some kind of “national ideal” or ideology, but don’t worry. Ivan knows that America needs a national idea, and he will tell you what it is.  Whatever pundits or intellectuals Ivan personally agrees with are the bearers of the correct American ideology.  Follow them or you are a self-hating American.

Speaking of which Ivan notices you don’t like American pop music. What’s wrong with you? It’s much better than Russian pop music. Why are you always complaining about Hollywood films lately? Everyone knows that Hollywood’s films are superior to all others.  You probably just don’t appreciate the deep spiritual aspects of those superhero films, perhaps because you have lost touch with your American roots by spending time abroad.  And why do you have an interest in the history of the Crusades, Great Britain, or WWII in the Soviet Union? Is American history not good enough for a cosmopolitan world traveler such as yourself?  Your heroes need to be George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other American historical figures, not stupid foreigners like Richard I or Marshal Rokossovsky.

Ivan’s actual “American idea” changes depending what pundits he happens to be listening to, but whatever he likes at the moment you should too.  You need to stop complaining about problems in your country. Other countries have problems too, ergo your complaints are baseless.  If things aren’t working out for you in America, it’s your own fault. This is the greatest country in the world. Well okay yeah maybe it has some disadvantages in a few areas, such as health benefits, labor rights, and infrastructure, but surely whoever is president will solve those problems.

Ivan runs a blog where he writes about how great America is to other Russians, and he assures them that what makes America great is this American idea he is constantly talking about.  Over time, other Russians with the means move to America, not to live and settle down, but just to hang out and party.  They love to talk about how horrible the Russian government is, but they silence you and question your patriotism if you complain about the situation in America, the place where you happen to live.  All you know is that Ivan is pretty fucking annoying.

Okay story time is over.  If you’re an avid consumer of RT or maybe  Voice of Russia, this should sound awfully familiar to you by now.  It’s nothing but the mirror image of people like Tim Kirby or any number of other Team Russia partisans I’ve met over the years.  In fact, in Russia people like Ivan actually exist, largely in the political opposition movement, though they aren’t nearly as widespread as the Kremlin would like you to believe. In fact I suspect many of them have become fair-weather patriots in response to the past year’s populist offensive and the Crimean annexation. Whatever the case, they do exist, I have met them, and they are rather annoying.  It’s annoying when you know the reality of your country first hand, and you meet some Russian who might not have even visited the US, who lectures you on how great it is.  In reality, most Russians who think the situation is better in America do not have such an entirely uncritical, or naive view of the USA; the ability to travel has given them a more realistic understanding of the country. But occasionally you do run into these people and it is still irritating.

Having laid all this out, I hope the reader can empathize with Russians who, while strongly disagreeing with their government, don’t in fact hate their country and don’t think the answer to Putin is offering up the entire country to the United States on a silver platter.  These people confront Russian reality every day of their lives, and they have confronted it far longer than most Team Russia pundits. What is more, they are Russian citizens who can’t just hop on a plane and head back to their first world economic powerhouse of a country if things go belly-up over here.  Their relationship to their state, society, and the rest of the world is far different from that of an American with a highly paid position at RT or in some company’s foreign branch.

Moreover, Team Russia talking heads really ought to consider that maybe people born and raised in Russia have no reason to be as obsessed with everything Russian as they do.  Put simply, if you grew up in Russia, Russian stuff is familiar to you. Team Russia wants to deny Russians the rights that they claim for themselves, that is the right to be interested in other cultures and countries, and possibly to move to those countries if they find it better for any reason. I myself have many advantages living in Russia, but I would never tell anyone else that this is the best place for them to move.  It takes a strong will, a lot of patience, and the willingness to put up with a lot of bullshit in order to make it here. If you are willing to put in the time, it can be rewarding, but it’s not only not for everybody, I would say it’s not for most. That’s not a slight towards Russia, but rather I am sick of insincere Westerners moving here and magically transforming themselves into Russian “patriots,” especially those whose behavior reveals how little they actually care about Russian people.

Lastly, Westerners who babble on about “the Russian soul” or a Russian national idea are basically fetishizing and dehumanizing Russians. For one thing, Russia is a multi-ethnic country. Always has been, always will be.  Second, it is seriously patronizing and condescending to imagine other people as being subject to some mystical soul that controls their mentality. Most of these people I’m talking about would get offended if someone said they don’t properly represent the American idea, whatever that is, but yet they are happy to lecture Russians about their alleged national soul, their collective mentality, and all the orientalist, colonial bullshit that goes along with that.  This image of the simple, traditional, spiritual Russian is not far removed from the stereotypical idea of the “Noble Savage” or the wise East Asian monk who speaks in Zen-like riddles.  It dehumanizes Russians as individuals an places them among the nesting dolls, the vodka, and the ushanka hats hawked by souvenir sellers on Old Arbat.

If you’re a Team Russia fan reading this, know that the Russian people don’t exist for your personal spiritual quest for an identity. It doesn’t mean you have to accept whatever they say. All claims must stand and fall on their own merit. But don’t come here and decide that Putin = Russia and then proceed to act like the personal experiences of Russians are irrelevant, or that they need to be “good Russians” by standing up and waving the flag. If you’re allowed to be a dissenter from America or wherever you come from, so are they. Don’t be like Ivan.


Getting Personal with a little Nostalgia

Recently reading Sergei Markov’s delusional, bizarro-world article really got my blood up. What is more is that on my social networks I’ve had to purge several people, none of them actually Russians, for their idiotic Team Russia antics.  I tried to reason with them, but sparring with them intellectually is essentially like punching an infant in the face repeatedly with brass knuckles. You already know their arguments before they make them: “Putin saved Russia from disaster! But America does that too! Without United Russia, the West will take over Russia and carve it up!”  What I riles me more than any of these pathetic canned arguments, the kind of thing that makes my blood boil when I read Markovesque ranting, is the pathetic patriotic defense these people always resort to.  If you disagree, you’re anti-Russian. That’s a phrase that brings back memories, and that’s why I decided to do a little personal history to explain why I can’t stand this sort of politics.

babypunch

“But there’s corruption in Amer-” SMACK! “I’M NOT HERE TO DEFEND AMERICA!”

Nostalgia is the big rage on the internet these days, so let me take you back. No, we’re not going back to the 90’s, so beloved by millennials. We’re going to roughly 2002 to 2005, give or take.  It was not the beginning of my “political awakening” or my Russophilia; from the age of 17 I had already been writing pro-Russian rants similar to that of Markov or various opinion writers at RT. But with the run-up to the Iraq war, my activism crossed from the realm of the internet into the real world.

To be sure I was slow to act. When the government started talking about attacking Iraq, I couldn’t believe they’d actually do it. I figured they were frustrated about not getting Bin Laden, and they wanted to do some sabre-rattling as Clinton had done before.  One thing I knew at the time was that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime was secular and non-sectarian, whereas Bin Laden was a radical Wahhabist, diametrically opposed to Baathism.  Surely people in the Bush administration, the Pentagon, and the State Department had to be well aware of this fact. They couldn’t possibly believe that attacking, invading, and ultimately conquering Iraq would somehow advance their war against Al-Qaida.  But as the propaganda continued to billow forth from every news outlet, I gradually came to the realization that irrational as it was, they were serious.  This was going to happen, and this was bullshit.

Oh how interesting those times were! I come from a very conservative state, from a conservative family, in fact.  AM talk radio was firmly in the hands of Clear Channel, and half the time our local conservative talk show hosts were worse than the nationally syndicated ones.  You’d listen to them and hear callers claim that they did some kind of contract work in Iraq, and wouldn’t you know, in the course of their job they personally saw what appeared to be chemical weapons containers! Everyone was speculating on the horrible things Iraq was planning to do to us.  What’s this? France refused to support us? COWARDS! Cheese-eating surrender monkeys! Americans are speaking out against war? Traitors! They’re supporting the terrorists!

I took part in three anti-war demonstrations between 2003-2005. My most memorable one was the second, which took place shortly after the invasion had begun.  The local conservative talk-radio station sponsored and organized a pro-war counter-protest. Its turn out was pathetic, but I’ll never forget how they repeatedly called us all traitors and cowards.  I remember getting in a shouting match against a guy with a bullhorn and coming close to shoving the thing down his throat.  Ah, good times. Well not really.

That’s the way it was, in those long gone days. Support your president. Don’t question things. Support the troops. Be patriotic. Dissenters are anti-American, traitors, cowards, scum. Many people who were not necessarily conservative went along with those mantras, at least for a while. It was the Zeitgeist, fueled by fear and shock at September 11th. People were scared, Bin Laden was still at large, nobody had a clue what was going on in Afghanistan, and so they wanted the government to put things right by bombing somebody, anybody.

Do you remember the justifications? The bizarro-world logical gymnastics?  Oh I remember them like it was yesterday.  “We have to stop Saddam because he’s got nuclear weapons.  Maybe not nuclear weapons, but he’s definitely got chemical weapons.  He’ll try to acquire nuclear weapons or chemical weapons so we need to stop him before it’s too late.  He may not use the WMDs himself, but he’ll certainly give them to terrorists who will! You know it doesn’t matter if he has WMDs because he’s killing his own people! Okay well we know he killed his own people in the past! Okay so we invaded and we haven’t found the WMDs yet, but it’s a big country! It doesn’t matter if we find them because this was really about freeing the people of Iraq, but I’m sure those weapons will turn up eventually.  They probably already found the WMDs but the liberal media is covering it up.  Saddam must have smuggled the weapons out of the country, but the liberal media won’t tell you about that. Who cares about WMDs or freedom? The point is our troops are there now and it’s better to fight them in the streets of Baghdad than Boston! Why do you hate America? Why do you hate the troops? They fought for your right to say that, so don’t say that!”  Can you remember that, dear reader?  I certainly do.  Every single argument I’ve written there was actually used, with multiple variants.  This…actually…happened.

From the Buzzfeed article "If you remember this, you had a shitty 2003!"

From the Buzzfeed article “If you remember this, you had a shitty 2003!”

Probably the reason why people don’t seem to remember that today is twofold. The first and most simplistic reason is that since 2009, we’ve had a Democratic president. The Fox News rulebook tells its fans that under a Democratic administration, it is perfectly normal, if not obligatory to scream about everything the president does or doesn’t do.  Second, it seems to be widely believed that a major change swept the nation after Hurricane Katrina. The irrational fear of terrorism had started to fade and the patriotism party ended, leaving many people with a massive hangover. I left in 2006, but I kept in touch with events in the US from Europe, and it seemed to me that there were a lot of people holding their heads and asking, “What the fuck were we doing for the past couple years?” 2006 also saw the election of a Democratic majority in congress, though that was quickly spoiled when they refused to challenge the occupation of Iraq by cutting its funding. Then roughly a year later, the economic crisis loomed on the horizon.  During all that fear-mongering and flag waving, Americans couldn’t see their future being pissed away behind their backs.  The budget surplus from the Clinton-era was long gone. Debt was mounting. Military families were strained by deployments. It was becoming hard to keep making those mortgage payments. “Support the troops. Just support the troops. Don’t question. Don’t be anti-American. Be patriotic…patriotic…patria- FUCK IT! What the fuck is going on here!”  

By now the reader must sense the comparison I’m getting at, but there are a few caveats worth mentioning. There are differences, but none of them favor Russia in this case.  We anti-war protesters were called traitors, but nobody suggested we were literally paid to protest by the Iraqi or any other foreign government.  People were able to vote in candidates who at least gave the impression that they would do something about the war.  Most of us never faced any legal repercussions for our demonstrations, and two of the three I attended had very little police presence at all.  But the far more important difference is that America began that plummet from a far higher height than Russia.  Bush squandered international sympathy for the US and spent much of its political capital, but Russia didn’t have much of that to begin with when Putin recently started to try his hand at playing G.W.  This means Russia could face even worse consequences as a result of this international posturing and bullying, all sanctions aside.

It’s important to realize that crisis is inherent in capitalism, and as such, Bush’s policies did not necessarily cause the crisis of 2008. They did, however, contribute to that crisis in a myriad of big and small ways, and what the administration certainly did ensure that the damage would be far greater than what it might have been under other circumstances. In terms of Russia, it is a commonly believed idea that Russia has somehow avoided the worst of the crisis, and that its government hasn’t opposed austerity on its people.  This isn’t entirely true. Capital has been flowing out of Russia. The price of metro tickets has risen from 17rub when I arrived in 2006, to 40rub at present.  Indeed, this is considered cheap compared to most public transport systems in developed nations, but you have to consider the salaries of many people who need the metro. Many of those people also come from outside the city and must also pay for trains or buses as well. All this adds up.  It makes it hard to get angry at those people you see jumping the turn-styles.  $51 billion went into the Olympics, and now more money is going to flow into the Crimea. Military operations are extremely expensive, and Russia has been putting more money into its defense budget(though this is actually highly necessary in Russia’s case).  People who lived through those times I just described should be able to look at events in Russia and see them repeating, only this time the players are in a far worse position than the US was in 2002.

Hopefully this will explain to some readers as to the main reason I cannot stand this phony “patriotism” the government has been promoting lately. Actually they’ve been promoting it long before I even got here, the difference is that in those days most people didn’t buy into it. Only recently has there been a change, and what is most infuriating is that the biggest flag-wavers seem to be Western expats and people who used to be complaining about, if not protesting against the government only a few years ago. Just like the most vocal and “patriotic” Americans, their motives and love for their fellow countrymen is highly suspect and often self-contradictory.  The American “patriot” sees at least about half of the population of America as being lazy, undeserving moochers who are ruining the country, if they haven’t already ruined it.  The Russian patriot sees his or her own people as being too stupid to stand up for their collective interests with father Putin directing them.  The American patriot was thrilled to watch the cruise missiles rain down on Baghdad. The Russian patriot dances with joy at Putin’s speeches against the West, while the infrastructure of his own town crumbles around him.  They’d like to think themselves polar opposites of each other, and yet they are in truth the same.  Equally stupid.

Jingoism led America into a serious crisis, but her economic power alone might be enough to preserve her first world status.  Russia on the other hand is embarking on the same course, but without that safety net, and the consequences will be huge regardless of what the West does or doesn’t do. The Putin fan club credits him for pulling Russia out of the 90’s, but who will they blame if he brings the 90’s back?  Rhetorical question. They’ll blame the US State Department of course.

Short update

In the previous entry, I tackled Sergei Markov’s delusional, condescending rant in Moscow Times, which is usually .  In that piece, Markov insists that the entire Western media through the Ukrainian crisis has been totally biased against Russia. While that is often true(though not because of some kind of anti-Russian conspiracy), I have posted numerous articles from mainstream Western sources which counter the mainstream opinions on Russia. In virtually every entry on Ukraine I’ve made, I’ve usually linked to a story countering the mainstream narratives on the struggle in that country.  I’ve love to see Markov provide some examples of dissenting opinions from Channel One(the main state-run channel) some time.

Recently I found another interesting article, from a former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union comments on the present Russia-USA relationship, with some very interesting historical facts which people like Markov prefer to ignore.  I highly encourage the reader to compare the style, tone, and maturity of this article to that of Markov’s.

The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War.

I’d like to comment further but I am short on time as I write this.  Suffice to say that this idea that the US squandered its chances for a better relationship with Russia was a large factor in why I became a Russophile around 1999. Obviously there are a few points in the piece I could contest, but I don’t think it merits the time.

Endeavor to be less of a moron

In light of the recent farcical events in Ukraine, the chickenhawks and cowards in the West, and the mindless flag-waving fair weather fans in Russia, I haven’t had much motivation to write.  I started this blog mainly as a cathartic measure, to present an alternative point of view from within Russia which contradicts the bullshit peddled by journalistic con-men whether they present Russia as a menacing, totalitarian dystopia or a land of milk and honey.  Truth be told, the effect of expressing things in writing is not as cathartic as it might seem. Some things you just have to talk about. You need to feel your audience’s presence otherwise it just feels like talking to a machine.  Having said all that, I want to keep the blog up-to-date.  Without further ado, here is my guide to help people sound less moronic when talking about Ukrainian/Crimean issues.  I apologize in advance for the listicle format.

1. You don’t need to support Maidan to oppose what Putin did in the Crimea.

Contrary to popular opinion, there are usually more than two sides to major issues like these. And no, this doesn’t mean you have to take some “middle-of-the-road”, “moderate” side.  I’m what many people would call a political “radical,” but it is precisely because of those radical beliefs that I am dead set against Maidan and the annexation of Crimea.  

2. Yes, fascism played a major role in the Maidan movement and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government.

No, it’s not just “Russian propaganda.” Yes Russian TV exaggerates things. Yes the idea that people in the Crimea were in danger of some kind of violence is bullshit. However, non-idiots understand that reality is not determined by taking whatever the Russian media says and assuming the opposite. The role of Ukrainian nationalism in the Maidan movement is well documented by sources inside and outside of Ukraine, many of which are opposed to both the Russian government and Yanukovich. Recently I read that the new leader of the Kyiv junta, Yatseniuk, is pledging to disarm nationalist militias, though as far as I know to date his government has failed to open any cases against the leaders and membership of such groups, nor have the supposedly non-nationalist elements of Maidan made any formal, open criticism of the nationalist camp. 

3. Both the Kyiv government and the Crimean referendum are invalid, from a principled point of view. 

Both the decision of the Rada which ushered in the new government in Kyiv as well as the ridiculous referendum giving away Crimea took place within a context of either violence or implied violence.

4. Both Putin and the West are hypocrites.

Putin and his fanboys love pointing out Western hypocrisy regarding the recognition or non-recognition of various pseudo-states such as Kosovo or Abkhazia, respectively.  There are a couple of problems with that. For one thing, the Putin fan club has constantly run its collective mouth about “non-intervention” and “national sovereignty” for years now, and in the Crimea they made a 180 on that.  See other people’s hypocrisy doesn’t cancel out your own. The idea is to not do the thing you are condemning the other side for doing.  And speaking of hypocrisy regarding international recognition, does Russia have any plans to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus any time soon? In fact Russia still doesn’t recognize the independence of Transnistria. 

The second problem is that in the case of territories like Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, etc. were all recognized by their supporters as independent countries. Foolish as it may be to pretend that any of these countries can actually exercise any meaningful independence without the approval of their respective patron countries, this is very different from annexation. 

So yeah, the West is full of hypocrites, but so is Russia. At least in other countries you get to change your hypocrites and their hypocritical parties from time to time.  At least they grant their citizens far more opportunities to protest their hypocrisy with far less in terms of repercussions. 

5. This wasn’t a fair referendum.

A minor Crimean politician comes out of nowhere and spearheads a referendum on annexation while Russian troops and pro-Russian(no doubt supported by the government) militias patrol the streets. With virtually no time to organize various sides and actually debate the issue, we are supposed to believe that this was a fair election. There are many reasons why ethnically Russian Ukrainians might not want to be citizens of the Russian Federation. For one thing, however shitty it is, at least in Ukraine you actually see political changes.  This time the fascists won, but the next time could see them swept from the field.  Well perhaps not now, thanks to this annexation.  Now the nationalists in Kyiv will have yet another thing they can pin on Moscow, this time quite justifiably, so as to distract their constituency from their own failure and broken promises. Now their racist ideas about who gets to be Ukrainian and what Ukraine is will be engraved into the mind of young people through the schools and media.  For the Crimea, half of Ukraine was handed to the fascists on a silver platter.