Monthly Archives: July 2014

Express train to fantasy land

A common response to any criticism of Putin’s policies as of late is that Putin’s popularity has increased significantly and most people are supporting the government in its stance on Ukraine. Indeed this is true, but this is a serious problem. It shows that most of the population hasn’t been educated in political or economic reality and as such lives in a fantasy world. For people at the top of Russian society, this isn’t a problem. When the chickens come home to roost they’ll be wiring money outside the country and boarding private planes with briefcases full of money. Ordinary people will be fucked, however.

Any Americans out there remember life in the year following 9-11? Remember Bush’s rhetoric about how toppling Saddam Hussein would protect us from more terrorism? Remember the argument “better to fight them in Baghdad than Boston?” Idiocy, I know. Fear and shock made some of those arguments plausible to many Americans in the aftermath of 9-11, but eventually a large portion of the population, and possibly the majority after a number of years, returned to their senses. It was clear that a “war on terror” could not be waged, and invading countries in the hopes of finding and eliminating more terrorists simply wasn’t feasible.

This kind of realization hasn’t really happened in Russia. The population which supports Putin or the government now fervently believes that rebuilding the Russian empire will be good for them personally, despite the fact that we already have evidence that the annexation of the Crimea is actually harming Russians economically through tax increases and the loss of a certain portion of people’s pensions. Whereas other countries measure success in the development of their infrastructure, industry, exporting domestically-manufactured goods, etc., Russia is still living in a fantasy world where greatness means conquering other countries.

The main problem with this fantasy is that when people buy into it, they ignore all the problems in their society, including those that actually affect them or will affect them in the near future. For nearly eight years America was fixated on this war going on in Iraq while people were losing their homes and the infrastructure was crumbling. In the case of Russia, rampant corruption and far worse problems with infrastructure are ignored in favor of the mental masturbatory festival which is playing out in Eastern Ukraine right now. This is what I’m talking about when I say the problems of the 90’s were never really dealt with, and now they are almost totally ignored.

The disaster cannot be postponed forever. The clever way Russia managed to hide its state debt by shifting the burden to the regions isn’t going to work out much longer. Economic downturns which were predicted by the finance ministry even before any sanctions were levied will begin to mount. The emptiness of the government’s chest-beating and its impotence in the military/economic sphere will become apparent. The empire the government promised the people will eventually be revealed as a paper tiger. Then what? People get angry; that’s what.

Almost got it

I regret to inform the readership that due to a family tragedy, posts here will be less frequent as my whole life is up in the air at the moment. Still, I feel that this blog must continue in its original mission and while I won’t be going into deep details on today’s piece, I will contribute some commentary because while I think it has some serious flaws, it also contains some important truths.

The piece is by Andrew O’Hehir of Salon, and is entitled “Strange Bedfellows.”  First the good. O’Hehir touches upon something that has been annoying me in recent months, and that is the knee-jerk tendency for leftists to take a very naive stance on international conflicts based on a very misguided notion of “anti-imperialism.”  Basically the way this works is any country the US or Europe rails against must be worthy of our support. This goes beyond simple anti-war activism, especially because in many of these conflicts war has been on the table.

The idea in the case of Ukraine is that because Europe and the US supported Euromaidan and Russia is against it, Russia must be standing in the way of some horrible Euro-American plan for world domination. Therefore supporting Russia and the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, no matter how reactionary they may be or how little they differ from Maidan’s radical nationalists, is a categorical imperative for leftists the world over. To many people this sounds perfectly logical on its face, but dig into it just a little deeper and you see how absurd it actually is.  Allow me to enumerate the ways.

-The influence of the EU and the US will not diminish if Ukraine isn’t wholly controlled by a friendly government. This happened before from 2005-2010.  The idea that the Crimea being in Russian hands or Eastern Ukraine being outside of Kyiv’s orbit will somehow weaken the US or the EU is simply laughable. If anything it will be to their advantage. NATO will use this as justification for its continued existence. Smaller neighbors of Russia will openly call for NATO bases on their territory. The defense industry will flourish.

-Russia was essentially trying to do the same thing the EU was doing to Ukraine, i.e. trying to secure a favorable free trade agreement. This dispels any myth that Russia had Ukraine’s best interests at heart.

-Something like Maidan didn’t need the support of the West to develop. Corruption in Ukraine had reached a breaking point. The violent overthrow seems unnecessary, given that Ukraine has had free and fair elections in the past and Yanukovych wouldn’t dare try to rig the early elections he proposed. Nonetheless, he made his bed. If the US or EU could really affect revolution anywhere they want by paying people, there are literally dozens of governments they could have overthrown a long time ago via that method.

-Russia is not an obstacle to imperialism. It has its own imperial designs and much of the hostility we’ve seen lately is in response to constant snubbing from the West in the past. Had the West not acted this way, it is very likely that Russia would happily reprise its role as a gendarme of Europe, providing conscripts for various NATO missions in the area. More importantly, Russia is a weak country militarily, economically, and socially. This is because rather than continue trying to solve the problems of the 90’s, Russia’s new oligarchs under Putin decided to steal more money instead of investing it in Russia’s future. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and all that’s left is this patriotic bullshit which only brings short-term gains. Because the problems of the 90’s were never solved, they will return with a vengeance sooner or later. So even if you are convinced that there needs to be some military power opposed to the US, Russia just isn’t it. Sorry.

I could go on. I could point out, for example, how in Syria the government was defending itself against a foreign-backed militant movement as opposed to attacking or annexing part of another country, but I think it should be clear by now.

While I don’t like the author’s obvious liberal slant when describing the topic of the article, I do think he certainly hits upon an issue which real leftists need to deal with. Basically, we need a movement which puts forth our own ideas rather than just taking the side of whoever the US seems to be vilifying at the moment. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reject lazy, black and white narratives in the Western press, for example, but what it does mean is that we have to stop countering them solely with the products of what we consider to be the “anti-Western press.” In other words, claims should be judged on their merit alone, and not because they came from a source which is supposedly the polar opposite of our “mainstream media.”

The idea that unqualified “anti-imperialism” actually weakens imperialism is highly dubious. If anything we could do more to weaken imperialism by organizing in our own countries and advancing the left’s cause at home. Obviously this is a very extreme example, but nothing would do more to destroy American imperialism than a socialist revolution in the United States. Far-fetched as that scenario might seem, the logic is unassailable. Of course the left is going to have a hard time doing that if so much time is spent on rallies in favor of various foreign countries, especially when they have no effect on American policies towards them.

I could go on and on about this topic but I have to get to the bad side of the article now. As is typically the case, the author cannot move beyond the Cold War paradigm, and that means that Putin is continually compared to Stalin, with one exception near the end.  While the author does mention Russian imperialism and “tsarism,” this is continually mixed with references to Stalinism and Stalinism is blamed for Putin’s nationalist ideology.

I don’t know about the author’s credentials when it comes to Russia but I’m hoping he can be excused for his ignorance by the possibility that he has never spent any serious amount of time here.  I’m saying that because I honestly don’t understand how many “imperial tricolors”(black yellow white), portraits of tsars, religious icons, anti-Soviet pronouncements from people like Patriarch Kirill, and open references to the Russian empire from Putin himself are necessary to wake people up to the fact that we are not dealing with a neo-Soviet Union but rather a neo-Russian imperialist worldview, and that is actually much worse. Putin himself noted in an interview that the Russian Empire was bigger than the USSR.

When we look at nationalism in Ukraine, we see a myth, often supported by the West, whereby the “real” Ukrainian state was founded in 1917 and then later occupied by the USSR. This idea that modern Soviet Socialist Republics were heirs to “real” national states founded after 1917 was and is quite popular. But what of the Russian Federation? What was its “legitimate” state, overthrown by the dastardly Bolsheviks? That would of course be the Russian Empire. And even Russians who publicly decry the smashing of Lenin statues in Ukraine will often express hatred of Lenin for breaking up “their” empire.  And most important of all, throughout the entire Cold War and even afterwards the idea that the revolution and subsequent USSR was totally illegitimate has been supported by Western intellectuals and authors.

This is a problem because the Russian Empire was an autocratic, absolutist monarchy which was, contrary to the revisionist history popular in Russia today, most unhealthy for Russian people. But of course the neo-liberal establishment fears Communism more than anything, therefore Putin’s antics must be compared to those of Stalin and the imperial designs he supposedly has must involve restoring the USSR. Nothing could be further from the truth. The state appropriates the history and trappings of the USSR mainly because it has no accomplishments to speak of and therefore is compelled to bastardize those of a much greater society. There are too many people who were raised in the USSR to accept a full repudiation of it, but as older people and especially WWII veterans die off expect to see a political shift towards demonization of the USSR and perhaps even a rehabilitation of “Russian patriots” like the collaborator general Andrei Vlassov.

Russian Nazi collaborators. Hmmm....That flag looks familiar. If there's one thing that can be said in defense of modern Ukraine, it's that the flag they use is actually different than those used by collaborators in WWII(which was flipped vertically).

Russian Nazi collaborators. Hmmm….That flag looks familiar. If there’s one thing that can be said in defense of modern Ukraine, it’s that the flag they use is actually different than those used by collaborators in WWII(which was flipped vertically).

This is a problem also because say what you want about the USSR, at the very least it stood for ideas like equality, social justice, internationalism, etc. Remember that the Bolshevik revolution was in one way a massive uprising of armed workers standing up and refusing to fight a war against other workers in spite of nationality. In that sense it was a shining moment for the Russian people.  That is something totally ignored and even derided in Russia today. Modern-day Russia promotes racism, xenophobia, and scapegoating. It’s economics are by no means neo-liberal, but the effect is basically the same. In fact Russia’s wealth inequality far eclipses that of nations which do espouse neo-liberal economics like the United States.  So yeah, the USSR fell far short of its lofty, progressive goals, but can we really not think of a few other nations which set positive goals yet falls far short of them? While results are of course much more important than intentions, at least the Soviet Union was conceived in the hopes of building a better world. And to be fair, the reception it received from the get-go wasn’t exactly conducive to an open, democratic, society which could develop on its own path.

I’m afraid that the inability to get beyond the Cold War narrative will continue to dog any meaningful opposition movement in Russia. The Western intellectuals they imitate aren’t teaching them how important the question of social justice and economics are, and thus millions of Russian workers feel ignored by what is seen as a small coterie of Moscow-based elitists who just want more opportunities for themselves. Also this unhelpful narrative perpetuates that ever-so-annoying habit of boiling all of Russian politics down to one guy, in this case Putin. Whatever his past sins, Putin did make overtures to the West for many years and was constantly rebuffed or ignored. He may have actually felt isolated quite some time ago, and thus sought council from some delusional pseudo-intellectuals like those he apparently gets his information from today.  The cold hard fact is that for the moment, Putin is the guy. If Russia is to transition to a freer, more democratic society, he’s the one man that can facilitate that change. That is why he needs to be offered a way out and there needs to be a real dialog between these sides.

Obviously journalists don’t make policy, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if the conmen who currently hold Putin’s ear aren’t showing him translated articles like this and saying, “See? They’ll never leave you alone! You can’t negotiate with them.” Accuse me of Putin apologetics if you will, but I for the time being have to live here,  and that means I’m subject to his policies. I don’t think the author, Mr. O’Hehir, can say the same.

 

 

Down the rabbit hole

So recent events in Ukraine had given me some hope that perhaps Putin would be snap back to reality and realize that he needs to stop the support for an insurgency that has no worthy cause and is getting people killed in the name of defending those same people from a threat which obviously didn’t exist. I mean he could do that. Or I should say could have done that. There was always the other option, that is to say descending deeper and deeper into Fantasy Land.  Guess which option he took.

"So then I told Obama that I am Tsar of all Russians and the new Russian Empire will not suffer the insults of upstart nations! Have some tea. HAVE SOME!"

“So then I told Obama that I am Tsar of all Russians and the new Russian Empire will not suffer the insults of upstart nations! Have some tea. HAVE SOME!”

Yeah, that’s the general direction. More superpower posturing and jingoistic bullshit instead of rational thinking and attempts at reconciliation and solving the conflict. Here are the highlights.

Putin also called on Western powers not to meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs and said steps were needed to strengthen the country’s military capabilities because of moves by NATO and to protect the economy from “external threats”.

Ah yes, don’t meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs. He actually said this while it’s obvious to the entire world that Russia is meddling in the domestic affairs of Ukraine, and arguably several other countries. Strengthening military capabilities is a waste of time and money because NATO includes the strongest military powers on Earth, and Russia cannot afford to even approach parity with the US without totally ripping its social system apart in the process. Even then you can’t buy better soldiers; once you impoverish millions of Russian citizens the poor young men you conscript for their one year of service are going to be worse off than those they conscript today. The mental plague that seems to have taken over the Kremlin and which still apparently has the ear of the once rational Putin is itching for this fight and yet they should count their lucky stars every day that it never happens.

As for protecting the economy from external threats well, the economy is the best weapon any country has these days. Russia obviously made some progress, which is why EU countries have dithered on sanctions until recently. But the fact is that sanctions are still a viable option because Russia hasn’t become enough of an economic player to be indispensable. Gas and oil just aren’t enough to protect Russia, and competition in the natural gas market is rising. It would have been nice had the leadership, from 2012, embarked upon a thorough campaign of development and encouragement for new start-ups and industries instead of passing laws in the name of “family values” and posturing against the US.

See the reason the US has so much influence in the world is that it is still a top tier economic power. Even if that has declined somewhat in recent years, the perception that the US is the horse to bet on is very strong.  Ditto for the EU. I’ve always resented the EU but I can totally agree with the perception that if Ukraine, via an association agreement, managed to achieve standards of living on par with what I saw in Poland, it would be better off than it has been for the past twenty years. That’s better than what Russia was offering.  Russia’s response to Maidan was first “Fuck you for not appreciating all we have done for you,” followed by, “Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!”

In closing on this point, for the past few years many in the Russian government and media have been basically attacking and demonizing nations all over the world and then they are shocked to find that the populace of these countries aren’t to quick to sympathize with Russia, even when they are in the right. America went through eight years of similar paranoia under George W. Bush, but the difference is almost immediately there was a huge backlash against the “America, fuck yeah!” attitude, to the point where it’s basically a joke for I would dare say most of the population.

Getting back to the article…

“We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough,” Putin said at the start of a meeting with defense and security chiefs.

This could be chalked up to poor translation but it raises a few questions.  First, were they not called upon to do this weeks ago? Second, they say the “will” do everything within their power, but then they claim that is not nearly enough? “Will” implies future, as in you haven’t actually done anything yet. So yeah, if all you did is say you will do something and you haven’t thus far, then you’re not doing nearly enough. You’re not doing anything at all. Obviously the whole world could tell if they are doing something once you start hearing reports of Russian border guards arresting people crossing the border illegally or with arms. Self-proclaimed DNR leader Borodai is a Russian businessman with property in Moscow which could easily be seized by the Russian government, in theory. When that happens people will come around to believing Russia’s claim to be doing something about this.

But the next quote is the one that makes me fear for the president’s sanity.

 “Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: ‘Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia and we will not impose sanctions against you,” Putin said. “This is a strange and unacceptable logic.”

Nobody is “destroying part of the population.” The people who are not just historically but presently close to Russia, in the sense that they are Russian citizens from Russia, are currently holding the local population hostage under the pretext of protecting them from a threat that wasn’t there initially, but is now thanks to their actions. Even then, there have been no credible reports of any atrocities or mass murder in areas which have been re-taken by the government forces. I still think that the Ukrainian government needs to be pressured to disarm and possibly arrest members of para-military units like the “Azov battalion,” which are extremely dangerous and which violate international laws regarding mercenaries, but thus far Russian claims of “punitive” units are clearly bullshit.  Nobody is trying to destroy these people, and nobody is discriminating against them. The original, local Donbass rebels were demanding federalization and more local control, something that the Ukrainian government may have offered during the cease-fire, but of course by then it was too late because Borodai and Co. were already in the midst of another independence, then annexation two-step.

And what about strange and unacceptable logic? Well remember how in that quote he implies that Russia is preventing the Ukrainian government from destroying these people with close historical ties to Russia?  Well…

He did not, however, directly address the question of whether Russia has been arming the rebels – he has denied such accusations before.

Indeed, he has denied arming the rebels. In other words, the people of Donbass are supposedly being systematically wiped out, and Russia is definitely not doing anything about that. Brilliant!

These are not the kinds of things you want to hear from the guy in charge your country. I realize that some self-righteous types might see me as apologetic toward Putin at times but I have a very good reason for this. I live in this country and I need it to be successful or at least not devolve into an early 90’s, gigantic Bosnia-on-crack nightmare for the next three to four years while I plan my family’s escape. I depend on Putin being rational and level-headed, above the various clowns and nutbags in the Russian government. If not Putin, than the adorable Medvedev. These are the only people in Russian politics who, until very recently, were in touch with reality. An authoritarian leader in an effectively one-party state can actually make positive changes and eventually that state can thereafter evolve into a modern liberal democracy, assuming they are rational and forward-thinking. On the other hand, more often than not the dictator gets paranoid and obsesses over “fifth columns” and internal enemies. Everything that could be used to actually combat opposition by improving living standards and opportunities is sacrificed for the sake of remaining in power, and in the end it just doesn’t work. We’ve seen this plenty of times. The Shah of Iran, Mobutu, Yanukovych.

Leaders that live in the real world have a different manner of speaking. They talk about concrete improvements and accomplishments which can be verified statistically or by simple observation. Irrational and unsuccessful leaders talk about regaining historical glory, being surrounded by enemies, and the need to be powerful again. Does the Norwegian government talk about making another bid for the crown of England, avenging the death of Harald Hardrada in his failed attempt? Do the Dutch talk about the need to rebuild their lost mercantile empire? Do British leaders talk about solving their austerity problems by reconquering lost imperial possessions and threatening Scotland with utter destruction should it choose to leave the United Kingdom? Does any American politician say that all our woes could be solved if we just recovered the Philippines? Even George W. Bush had to characterize the invasion of Iraq as a defensive action against a mortal and imminent threat, and everyone remembers how the administration and its supporters swore up and down it had nothing to do with oil.  The idea of an American politician talking publicly about seizing a country to get more oil, as though global politics is basically a game of Starcraft, is something for the realm of satire.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, please come back to us in the real world. Things look bad now and you probably harbor a lot of justified resentment from the way Western leaders treated you in the past. But someone’s got to run this country in the real world, not the fantasy Russian empire that exists only in the minds of some of your intelligentsia. You are ill-advised, my friend. These sycophants are not helping you, and their fairy tales will wreck this country. Step back from the edge, please.

 

 

Stop the flow

It’s so in vogue to label Russians and other Eastern Europeans as homophobic without questioning how it got that way. It’s just assumed that these people are more traditional and to blame the Soviet regime which isolated these countries from the scientific and psychological community when it developed on the topic of human sexuality. That’s a very palatable explanation for certain Westerners because it allows them to feel morally superior without considering what role their countries played in creating this state of affairs.

It is no secret that Russia’s “traditional values” lobby has deep ties to American fundamentalist Christian organizations. Thanks to the massive torrent cultists Christian missionaries who flooded into Russia and Eastern Europe after the fall of the “socialist” regime, one cannot claim that these reactionary sentiments rose entirely on their own. Indeed, post-Soviet Russia was a haven of many right-wing ideologies, often copied from the West and inspired by the Cold War idea that Communism had “ruined” Russia, but it seems to me the organic, local attitude towards LGBT people was one of apathy, not hatred.

It is indeed odd that evangelical Christians flock to places like Russia to peddle their nonsense, given the fact that many of these people subscribe to an end-times prophesy which dictates that Russia will attack Israel and then be destroyed by God in the process. Not to mention the fact that these are typically “Bah-bul believin’ churches” which no doubt hold Russian Orthodoxy as being on par with Roman Catholicism, i.e. heretical blasphemy for the hell-bound.

This recent article from Americans United for Separation of Church and State documents a recent influx of hucksters into Ukraine. They’re lecturing Ukrainians on the founding values that made America great, which no doubt entails free trade, low government regulation, low taxes, no social services, and of course, lots and lots of Jay-zus.

The article says that these people are free to travel and we can’t stop them. I disagree. I think there are ways to stop them, seeing that some countries have restrictions about people who are known for preaching hatred or people who are identified as cult leaders or members. Perhaps the US government can’t do anything about it, but the Ukrainian government can do something if pressured. And they are under a bit of pressure now, aren’t they?

It is regrettable that Eastern Europe’s political spectrum is nearly all right-wing, but we have to remember that our enlightened Western nations turned their countries into a dumping ground for every conman, nutcase, cultist, and crank. When our societies rejected these people we should have figured they might take their bullshit on the road so we could either warn other countries about them or organize to meet them there so they would not be unopposed.

 

 

 

The Russian Empire is restored

By the time you see this, the news of the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over Eastern Ukraine has already become common knowledge. Of course immediately both sides in this pointless, absurd conflict between two brands of fascists started attempting to “prove” their opponents culpable, using the typical piss-on-your-leg-and-tell-you-it’s-raining technique which I recently wrote about. Only a fool could possibly believe that this tragedy, almost certainly an accident regardless of who was responsible, wouldn’t be seized upon to score political points but the opposing gangs of thugs who hold sway in Russia and Ukraine.

One of the issues this recent incident raises is the real prospect of serious consequences for Russia and Putin in the international sphere, including the threat of more sweeping sanctions. The truth is that even if the rebels aren’t found guilty, this tragedy happened because of the war and the war continues because the rebels clearly continue to get support, both moral and material, from Russia. I don’t believe that the Kremlin is actively orchestrating the rebellion, but it’s certainly turning a blind eye to people in Russia who are supporting it.  Part of me even suspects that this was the plan from the beginning- a perfect opportunity for Putin to offload some militant, potentially threatening groups onto another country and then shut the door behind them, locking them out. It’s almost like a Mariel boatlift.  I’m not saying this is the theory but it’s certainly a possibility given the way the rebels have at times contradicted the Kremlin and how they started complaining about being abandoned by the Kremlin.  Now, regardless of who shot down the plane Putin may find himself in a situation where he can no longer wash his hands of the rebels and instead actively support their suppression and the elimination of their support network within Russia. And that’s going to be a bit of a problem.

A couple weeks ago there were staged rallies in Moscow where people “demanded” that Putin invade Ukraine to “protect” the people of the Donbass. It should be noted that while yes, the Ukrainian military is guilty of killing civilians in Donbass, they are after all carrying out a military operation in the Donbass only because an armed movement decided to seize a large portion of territory from the central government. They aren’t shelling Kharkiv or Odessa. Getting back to those rallies, some might have looked at these protests, which featured speakers such as the fascist Alexander Dugin, representatives of Russia’s phony opposition parties, and of course plenty of merchants hawking all the latest Donetsk People’s Republic and Novorossiya merchandise, and reasonably concluded that these have been orchestrated by the Kremlin to precipitate an actual invasion. In other words, Putin could claim to be responding to popular will. I wasn’t about to rule out that possibility, but too much time has passed with too much inactivity on the Kremlin’s part, suggesting that these rallies were genuine.

Herein lies the problem for Putin. The elements to which he’s been pandering in 2013 were actually expecting him to create this strong Russian empire. Yes, these people are incredibly dumb, but it’s not beyond their mental capacity to figure out that the sanctions are the reason why Putin’s not sending tanks to Kyiv, and most of them can figure out why those sanctions are so adverse to Russia’s ruling class. These people send their kids to study abroad in the West, they buy Western products, and despite all their claims to the contrary, one way or another they invest their money in the West. Yanukovych hopped a plane to Russia, but were any of Russia’s leaders forced to leave in a similar manner they’d be on a plane to France, Italy, Cyprus, or some other European country.  Those with imperial dreams are capable of recognizing this fact and feeling betrayed as a result. It’s also certainly not the last time. Putin was initially beloved by Russia’s nationalists of every variety, but then fell out of favor with them as he failed to create the kind of state and society these people wanted. This is why nationalists were a major faction in the opposition protests of 2011-2013.

Putin’s abandonment of the DNR and LNR was no doubt disappointing, but if he is forced to actively suppress the rebels’ support network he will be insulting the very same demographic he relied on in 2013. Contrary to what you read in the media, Putin doesn’t actually believe in any of that “neo-Soviet”, “revive the Russian empire” bullshit.  Putin believes in preserving his own position and not having to take a Pahlavi-style trip to the airport some day. In the interest of preserving that power, he foolishly played to certain demographics which are not fully in tune with reality, and which couldn’t really offer anything of value in the long term.  He saved himself in 2012 by gambling away the future. Now he may be forced into a situation where he must openly act against that constituency’s wishes. Hopefully, they will just unleash their torrents of buttrage on Vkontakte and other forums, but there’s always a danger that after having seen how much trouble a handful of armed men caused in Ukraine, some of these elements might resort to armed terrorism against the government and other targets in Russia.  And a government war on terrorists who are not Muslim Caucasians but rather “Christian” Russians will be a hard sell.

Hopefully it doesn’t come too that. Hopefully Putin realizes that he went all in with a segment of Russian society that really has nothing positive to offer and that he mistakenly took the advice of some political con-men who aren’t in touch with reality. I fervently hope he will reject these delusional advisers and discard fantasy’s like “Russia’s historical mission” and replace it with “actually improving the lives of Russia’s citizens” and “making sure Russia’s state officials don’t steal so much.”

For all those who might be disappointed at the failure to restore the Russian empire I say do not worry. You actually live in a new Russian empire, much like the old one! There is a massive gap between a small, wealthy elite and the vast majority of people. Just like the Russian empire! Your leaders make decisions you disagree with and there is nothing you can do because you have no franchise in the political system. Just like the Russian empire! So go easy on the president. It’s not like you have a choice. Once again, just like the Russian empire! True, Putin’s obviously not going to recover all that lost territory, but maybe, just for you, he’ll find a way to return the country to 20% literacy with abysmal infant mortality to boot.

Okay so Putin hasn't managed to make Russia 80% illiterate or raise mortality back to the imperial standard of having a roughly 50% chance of reaching the age of five, but he's definitely got the massive wealth inequality and lack of political power down pat.  What more do you people want?!

Okay so Putin hasn’t managed to make Russia 80% illiterate or raise mortality back to the imperial standard of having a roughly 50% chance of reaching the age of five, but he’s definitely got the massive wealth inequality and lack of political power down pat. What more do you people want?!

BE THE PUNDIT!

Have you ever wanted to be a media pundit? If so, I fervently want to destroy everything you have ever loved in a flaming pyre right before your eyes before slowly cutting your…

 

Have you ever wanted to become a media pundit? Would you like to sound like an expert on the situation between Russia and Ukraine without actually knowing anything about either of these countries or their current conflict? NOW YOU CAN!

Simply copy and paste these paragraphs into comments sections or Facebook discussion and prepare to be respected as a politically astute, well informed expert on Russian issues. Try memorizing one and regurgitating it at your next social function when the topic of Russia or Ukraine comes up. With convincing delivery and a hint at the prospect of cocaine back at your apartment, you might manage to seduce a Russian studies undergrad!*

1. On the nature of Putin and the hierarchy of power in Russia

What you need to realize is that the power structure in Russia is a delicate balancing act with Putin at the top of the pyramid, the siloviki in the middle, and players like Navalny and Pussy Riot on the fringes, near the corners. Those fringe elements frighten those in the middle layer, who in turn pass their concerns up to Putin at the top. Putin plays the  role of an arbiter in a neo-Stalinist system where individuals possessing sufficient blat are able to air their grievances and seek redress from the leader.  Until the fringe elements can negotiate the layers of Russia’s system and find themselves among the siloviki, you’re unlikely to see any substantial change in the next few years.  It all comes down to whether or not Putin is a gambler or a cautious chess player, but who can possibly read him? Time will tell.

What tawdry, superficial discourse on Russia would be complete without me? Play your cards right, and you might just nail that Russian major.

What tawdry, superficial discourse on Russia would be complete without me?

2. On the conflict in Ukraine

Well you have to realize that this is a conflict which goes back for hundreds of years, and is therefore terribly complex as it is multi-faceted and synergistic. It will not be solved any time soon. The issue is that Ukraine has been traditionally divided into the Ukrainian West and the Russian-speaking East. The Western Ukrainians, who are in fact the real Ukrainians, see their destiny in Europe, whereas those in the East see it as being with Russia in Putin’s Neo-USSR.  Oh and by the way, only call it “Ukraine” and not “the Ukraine.” Using the is really offensive to Ukrainians.  Did I mention how old and complex this conflict is? It’s extremely complex and explaining it would involve a long, detailed lecture on its history which stretches back for centuries.

The roots of the conflict between Moscow and Ukraine are deep indeed. Here we see how it all began at the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE.

The roots of the conflict between Moscow and Ukraine are deep indeed. Here we see how it all began at the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE.

3. On economic issues in Russia

The real question is whether Russia as a BRIC country will be able to weather the prospect of drastically lowered oil prices while simultaneously facing competition in its natural gas sector. If not, your’e going to see more silent austerity in the long-run followed by a tanking ruble which might not be possible to stabilize by dumping dollars and instituting a new payment system whereby China purchases its oil in Russian currency. With Russia’s resource-based, economy still not having been properly diversified to any appreciable degree, we’re probably going to see serious trouble on the horizon very soon.

 

4. On human rights in Russia

It’s no secret that dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia and government complicity simply can’t be ruled out. Quite the opposite, these deaths must be laid at the feet of Putin, a long with all the other human rights violations which began in Russia since May 2000.  Prior to his rise to power, Russia was a budding democracy with great potential. Now corruption and repression have become the norm under the neo-Tsarist, neo-Stalinist, neo-Communist, ultra-nationalist regime. Any attempt to suggest that this state of affairs might be “more nuanced” or who tries to bring up things like context or analogies is clearly nothing more than a shill for the Kremlin regime and an apologist for their bloody atrocities. As a member of Amnesty International, this is something I simply cannot tolerate and you shouldn’t either. FREE PUSSY RIOT!

The next time Putin steals the election from Pussy Riot will be the last! #humanrightsinrussia #supereasyactivism #spreadingawarenessisagreatsubstituteforactuallydoingshitintheworld #itsureiseasiertojoinsolidaritycampaignsforpeopleinothercountriesinsteadofdoingsomethingtohelpmycommunity #ilovebeingmorallysuperiortopeopleandremindingthemeverychanceiget

The next time Putin steals the election from Pussy Riot will be the last! #humanrightsinrussia #supereasyactivism
#spreadingawarenessisagreatsubstituteforactuallydoingshitintheworld #itsureiseasiertojoinsolidaritycampaignsforpeopleinothercountriesinsteadofdoingsomethingtohelpmycommunity  #ilovebeingmorallysuperiortopeopleandremindigthemeverychanceiget

5. On living in Russia as a foreigner(actually living in Russia not required)

As the song goes, Moscow never sleeps. On Friday night, whether at Propaganda or Krizis, the room is always packed. Young ladies are dressed to kill and their smiles are more than enough to charm an unassuming Westerner like me to his death. But you have to remind yourself. This is Putin’s Russia. That beautiful, svelte Slav with the golden locks of hair like a Ukrainian wheat field and eyes bluer than the waters of the Volga could be a honey trap, looking to seduce me. After I’m passed out after a wild night of passion, she’ll go through my things and try to determine if I really am just an English teacher. I don’t want her to suspect that I’m a spy, so I buy her six drinks. When she asks for a seventh I refuse and she suddenly walks off and starts talking to some drunk Russian guy. Point for me. Looks like I just narrowly missed a night of interrogation in a small room in the Lubyanka! Now at this point I begin to wonder where I can get a nice tall glass of kvas and some blini with a nice, wholesome girl who doesn’t work for the FSB. I really love kvas. I must be truly Russian.

 

 

*Probably not though.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, this is still a thing

BBC brings us a story about a Swedish skinhead fighting for a Ukrainian para-military formation known for its nationalist composition.  No surprise there, considering that the leader of the battalion is also the leader of the National Socia- Oops! I mean Social National Assembly.  But when asked to elaborate by the BBC, he claimed it wasn’t a Neo-Nazi organization, but rather:

“The Social National Assembly is not a neo-Nazi organisation,” he said.

“It is a party of Ukrainian patriots who are giving their lives while the rich Europeans are only talking about supporting Ukraine.”

Usually I make this comment on the topic of Russian fascists, but here you can see that the mentality is 100% identical on the other side. To wit, when someone points out the fascist nature of an organization, someone will make the claim that they are “not fascists, but patriots!” Because fascists weren’t patriots, remember? They hated patriotism and always talked about how much their respective countries sucked.

Fascists? Oh my GOD! You must be listening to Putin's state run media! These are just German patriots trying to defend their country and liberate Ukraine from the Communists, who are the REAL fascists!

Fascists? Oh my GOD! You must be listening to Putin’s state run media! These are just German patriots trying to defend their country and liberate Ukraine from the Communists, who are the REAL fascists!

I’ve seen Maidan supporters claiming to be liberals or non-nationalists making similarly-worded defenses for groups like Praviy Sektor and Svoboda.  It ranges from flat out support to something along the lines of “I’m not a nationalist, but groups like Praviy Sektor and Svoboda are just patriots fighting for Ukraine!”  Yeah, I’m not racist or anything, but groups like the KKK are just fighting for America.  Brilliant fucking logic there, dipshit. Ukraine’s in good hands with Maidan supporters at the helm!

So is the Social National Assembly fascist? Well let’s take a look at some of their stated goals according to the BBC article.

“to prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital”

“to punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man”

This, according to experts, is a typical neo-Nazi narrative.

Uh yeah, no shit, “experts.” This is more overtly Nazi than most Eastern European nationalist organizations, especially those in Russia.  So how is it that organizations which put out shit like this can claim they aren’t fascist, neo-Nazi, or whatever?

One thing you need to understand about Eastern Europe, and particularly Russia and the Former Soviet Union, is that fascism isn’t really about ideology. It’s not a set of beliefs about the state, society, etc. Fascists are people opposed to you or “your” country. That is all. This is why you have Russians spouting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and who talk about the superiority of the “white race”(of which they weren’t considered a part for most of the concept’s existence) and yet still demand international solidarity for their “struggle against fascism.” This is why Ukrainian liberals can defend their own nationalists while screaming about the same behavior among the Donbass militias. It’s why Russian “leftists” can ignore cossacks with White Guard insignia who openly speak of creating a Russian, Orthodox empire, while jumping on a story like this about a Swedish skinhead fighting for the Ukrainian government.  Both sides adhere to a primitive, moronic worldview which tells them that only the fascist associations of their opponents matter, and that this somehow negates or cancels out their own.  If a Ukrainian can show us that a particular volunteer in Eastern Ukraine has an SS tattoo, this somehow invalidates the hundreds if not thousands of photos showing Ukrainian nationalists.  Yes, they actually think that way, and they are the same.  

I cannot stress that last point enough. Some people, even those with experience in Russia, foolishly buy into the notion that most Maidan supporters are actually more liberal, tolerant, and intelligent than the Russians who support separatism and who are currently railing against the Maidan movement. Nothing is further from the truth.  These people are the same in terms of mentality and their complete lack of capacity for critical thinking. Their mind can only conceive of political struggle as a sort of football match between their national team and a rival’s team. This may be occasionally peppered with meaningless bullshit jargon like “civil society” and other buzzwords gleaned from various NGOs. But make no mistake, the politically savvy, tolerant, liberal, intellectual Kievian hipster is a myth made up for Western consumption.  What these people say when they don’t think anyone is watching totally destroys that image.  In reality, these people are no different from the “Novorossiya” imperialists across the border in Russia.

Both Maidan fanatics and Russian imperialists are more than happy to lie to outside observers in a sociopathic manner, pissing on your leg while telling you it’s raining. That’s why the Social National Assembly’s leader told the BBC reporter that it’s not a neo-Nazi organization. He was not at all concerned that the reporter could easily check the claim via the internet, because in Ukraine as in Russia, saying things makes them true, even if you don’t believe what you’re saying. In recent times I’ve seen dozens of Russian “Communists” and anti-government Ukrainian “leftists” pull the exact same thing every time I showed them indisputable evidence of fascist, imperialist, and pro-capitalist behavior on the part of the “governments” of the unrecognized republics in the Donbass.

In a nutshell, if you want to understand Russo-Ukrainian lying techniques, you need to watch this clip where Louis CK explains how his daughter “hides” when playing hide & seek.

That’s what it’s like. They tell you they’re fighting fascists, and then you ask them why they are associating with fascists, and they tell you “They’re not fascists! They are patriots fighting for their country!” And at this point you want to scream at your monitor, “YOU KNOW I CAN READ RUSSIAN AND UKRAINIAN RIGHT? YOU KNOW I HAVE A VKONTAKTE ACCOUNT AND I CAN SEE WHAT YOUR SIDE IS SAYING? YOU KNOW I CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU WROTE TO THAT OTHER GUY IN THE CONVERSATION RIGHT THERE?!”  

Alright enough of that. I just wanted to highlight something the BBC reporter felt compelled to include in his article.

Ukraine is a democratic state, which held a democratic election in May, where the far right and nationalist parties got hardly any votes. These views are not popular with the electorate.

This line of bullshit has been peddled by Maidan apologists since the elections in May, as if the loss of Crimea and an uprising in the East had nothing to do with the way people voted. Some have even taken results of the European elections, in which European nationalist parties apparently made significant gains, to support the equally idiotic claim that Europe is more right-wing than Ukraine.  Really? Remind me what Maidan was about again? Oh right- joining Europe.

Aside from those obvious logical problems, whether or not Ukraine is a “democratic” state is irrelevant here. Yanukovych was a democratically elected president. He got overthrown, largely thanks to the actions of those totally unpopular nationalist thugs. That means that if these nationalists should grow tired of Ukraine’s “democratic” regime, they have every reason to believe that they can easily replace that government via force, and Tim Snyder’s Diverse Rainbow Coalition of peaceful protesters can’t do shit about it. History proves again and again that small, organized groups willing to fight can decide major political matters in spite of their size.

Lastly, and most importantly, I dispute the claim that the ideas held by groups like the Social National Assembly are not popular in Ukraine, at least among the pro-Maidan side. See, when I saw Maidan succeed, my reaction was very different from that of the Russians. Rather than thinking, “Oh no they’re going to brutally slaughter all the Russian speakers,” I was thinking more along the lines of “Shit, now they will control the schools, the universities, the ministry of education, the media, etc.”  What do I mean by control? Well you see, while many Maidan supporters reject the ideology of nationalist groups, they share certain core concepts. Among these are the following-

-The only legitimate Ukrainian state in the 20th century was that which was declared in 1917. The Ukrainian SSR was an illegal occupation. Communism and fascism are the same.

-The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the UPA(Ukrainian Insurgent Army) were patriots who fought to liberate Ukraine. They fought against the Soviets and the Germans.

-All of Ukraine’s problems are due to Russia and Communists. The reason why things went to shit in 1991 was because the nationalist leaders were really former Communists who were secretly still Communists. The Orange Revolution of 2004 was supposed to deal with this but wouldn’t you know, it turns out that was led by former Communists too.  After a few more years of utter failure from Poroshenko, we’ll soon be hearing about how Maidan’s leaders, who promised to sweep away all the vestiges of the USSR, were actually all Communists.

-Wearing a piece of traditional Ukrainian clothing or a traditional hairstyle makes you a true Ukrainian like everyone else. It doesn’t matter if your personal wealth is literally hundreds of times larger than the average Ukrainian worker.

These are ideas which have permeated Ukrainian politics for quite some time and to date I have seen no attempt by Maidan supporters to sever their movement from their nationalist fellow travelers who hold the same ideas.  The only time Maidan supporters even make this attempt is when they get caught red-handed and it’s politically inconvenient, in which case the conversation quickly turns to whataboutism and the “Russo-Ukrainian Fascist Negation Principle,” whereby pointing out fascists in Russia literally makes Ukrainian fascists cease to exist.  With Maidan-linked parties fully in control of most of Ukraine, especially since the Russian imperialists seem happy to cede everything West of the Dnieper to them, they will control the means to disseminate information and subsequent generations of Ukrainian youth will be inundated with the mythology. Government failures can always be blamed on Russia, and Russia seems happy to play the part.

Getting back to the subject of the mythology, Maidan supporters, so vehemently anti-socialist despite the fact that socialism is the very thing Ukraine needs, constantly insist that Ukraine will somehow succeed if only it somehow manages to totally free itself from its Soviet past.  Well not all of its Soviet past of course. They still want the Crimea, the former Novorossiya territory, and I’m sure they don’t want Galicia going back to Poland. I’m sure they also want the road networks, the mines, the schools, the hospitals, and all those things. But aside from all that, Ukraine must emerge from the past and leave that old, backward Soviet legacy in the dustbin of history! And it will do this by fanatically embracing early 20th century nationalism and symbols of a traditional peasantry which lived in near-medieval conditions until lifted out of that poverty by… Uh…er…um…GOD! Yes, it was a miracle!

Dnieper dam. A vestige of  Soviet totalitarian occupation. We must keep it though. Necessary evil.

Dnieper dam. A vestige of Soviet totalitarian occupation. We must keep it though. Necessary evil.

Behold, symbols of the future for New Ukraine!

Behold, symbols of the future for New Ukraine!

The conclusion one should get from this is that like Russia, Ukraine suffers from a disease of “patriots” and ridiculous, ahistorical notions of a mythical past which never existed.  In the case of Maidan, there can be no doubt that the majority of supporters are not in fact radical nationalists and I’m sure many of them are decent people, but it’s clear that many of them still hold on to and propagate certain beliefs and this overall narrative becomes the soil in which more radical nationalism grows. This is very similar to the way Russian schools whitewash the history of the Russian empire and make claims that it was poised to become a world economic leader that could have equaled the US or Germany today had it not been for those damned Bolsheviks.

It’s very hard to explain how this Ukrainian nationalism works to Americans, but the best example I can think of is the Tea Party.  Do you get offended when you hear a Tea Party speaker referring to their movement as “real Americans?” Do you get angry that you might not be considered a “real” American because you don’t support the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation, that abortion should be illegal or highly restricted, that marriage should be legally defined as being between one man and one woman, or simply because you don’t worship the military, bald eagles, NASCAR, or the NFL? Well you see that’s what it’s like being a Ukrainian who doesn’t buy into the national myth of Ukraine. I and others have said it before; this isn’t so much of a struggle between Russians and Ukrainians as it is between groups of Ukrainians who disagree on what Ukraine should be. Many Ukrainians speak Ukrainian and prefer to live in Ukraine if not a European Union affiliated Ukraine. But what they don’t want is to be told that grandpa was wounded twice fighting for an illegal occupation while collaborators who participated in brutal mass killings and ethnic cleansing are Ukraine’s heroes. They don’t want their kids hearing these things in school.  You could often hear this sentiment expressed by people in the Crimea prior to annexation or in the Donbass.  But the thing about Maidan is that you can’t object to this and still support independent Ukraine, oppose Yanukovych, etc. If you don’t buy into the myths, you’re a Russian, you’re a “vatnik.”

As I both feared and predicted, many of those Ukrainians began to identify with Russia, and this is what you’re seeing in Eastern Ukraine now. Both Russian imperialists and Ukrainian nationalists prefer this state of affairs. Ukrainian nationalists and their “liberal” hosts don’t want to accept as Ukrainian those who refuse to buy into their basic national myths. On the other side, Russian nationalists don’t want to tolerate signs or notions of a distinct Ukrainian identity, at least one which isn’t defined and shaped by Moscow. Ukrainian nationalists want to write off the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as an illegal occupation by Moscow, while Russian nationalists want to pretend that the Ukrainian SSR was no more than a part of a Russian empire masked under a red flag, and all socialist Ukraine’s accomplishments were but “gifts” handed down by the generous Russians rather than the product of labor on the part of the Ukrainian SSR’s citizens.

It is clear that for Ukraine to survive and advance, it is not the Soviet legacy which must be totally eliminated but rather the national “myth” that has plagued Ukraine throughout the 20th century up to this day.  Even if one blames Russia for destroying the territorial integrity of Ukraine and seizing its territory in the Crimea, one can’t ignore the fact that nationalists deliberately picked a fight with a far larger country with far greater resources and which is still considered a regional military power. That alone proves these people incompetent and incapable of properly governing Ukraine. Ukraine needs new ideas, and a new, inclusive sense of identity. It needs to reject myth and the love of superficial national symbols wielded by oligarchs who exhort the people to patriotism while robbing them blind and robbing the country of its future. And what about Russia? Yes, what about Russia? When Ukraine has managed to do what I have suggested, Ukraine may truly become an example which Russians can follow.  Kyiv, and not Moscow, may become the center of a new Russian culture that is again progressive, inclusive, and most of all free of the nationalist disease that plagues so much of Eastern Europe.  But until the cancer of football mentality politics and nationalism is fully removed from Ukraine, the country is doomed.