Grasping at straws

Seriously guys, you’re starting to look ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for you, and I haven’t even met many of you. I have written again, and again, and again about how the internet army of pro-Kremlin “geopolitical experts/analysts/pastry chefs” continue to cling to the ridiculous idea that all Russia’s steadily increasing economic woes in no way cast doubt on their long-held predictions that Russia would emerge as the world’s second superpower once again, and that the US would either collapse like the Soviet Union or at least find itself on the losing side of an Atlantic alliance versus Russia-led BRICS union of some sort.  Some years ago, when Russia’s growth was massive and foreign capital flowed into the country while high oil prices swelled the state’s budget, these people might have sounded credible. As things began to stagnate after 2009, there was reason for skepticism. Now we can safely say that the the exact opposite of their predictions is unfolding before our very eyes, and yet they are still willing to throw out hypothesis after hypothesis as to how Russia’s fortunes may somehow reverse and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Often mirroring stories in the Kremlin press that find their way into English via RT, Sputnik, or various online “Eurasian” journals, these sad attempts to salvage Russia’s image tend to portray Russia’s recent failures as though they are part of some long game plan. Sure, it looks like Russia’s GDP is continuing to recede toward zero while inflation rises and the currency flounders at 50% of its previous value, but this is all part of Putin’s brilliant ruse! Who are you to say that he’s not simply bringing the economy to the brink of utter ruin on purpose so as to throw off his opponents in the West? Truly he is a master chess player!

Recently I have found an article that somehow exceeds even that level of wishful thinking. In a piece which I can only hope is a satire of RT’s “political analysts,” author Dominic Basulto gives us “10 Russian foreign policy black swan events for 2015.” Why do I hope this article is satire? Have a look at Basulto’s credentials; he’s no dummy. Yet if he’s actually serious about the events he presents in this article, we must seriously rethink the state of higher education and its apparently severe shortcomings.

To the author’s credit, he includes a link to explain what he means by a “black swan event.” Basically it’s an event in history that is unprecedented and unexpected. Basulto prefaces his article with examples of some events in 2014 which where supposedly themselves black swan events or at least very close. Thus the problems begin almost immediately.

One of his examples is the annexation of the Crimea. On the face of it, this does seem to fit the criteria of “unexpected” and “unpredictable,” but it obviously wasn’t unprecedented. There certainly were individuals in high positions of the Russian government who dreamed of annexing the Crimea for years, if not decades after 1991. The Russian navy still maintained its base at Sevastopol. There are some pretty convincing theories that the annexation of the Crimea was planned several years prior to 2014, if only as a hypothetical plan. It’s just that Russian leaders weren’t doing anything to actually realize this plan because no suitable opportunity arose. So while what happened in March of 2014 was definitely unexpected, there was precedent and there was an underlying foundation. I don’t know if the flaw is with Basulto, or with the people who created this black swan event theory, but someone clearly doesn’t understand that while unprecedented and unpredictable things certainly happen in history, there needs to be some kind of underlying foundation that leads to that event, even if it’s not obvious except in hindsight. Because the author doesn’t seem to realize this, his list of events comes off as idle daydreaming.

I do not intend to deal with all of the events he lists, but I’m just going to highlight a few of them so the reader has an idea how outlandish they are.

1. Pressure on the Euro makes pressure on ruble look like child’s play

Here he’s referring to the fallout from a possible Greek exit to the Eurozone, which obviously have a major impact throughout the European Union. There is no reason to believe the euro will feel anything like what the ruble has experienced. The world has faith in countries like Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, to name a few. The EU will continue to conduct massive trade with all of Russia’s vaunted BRICS buddies.

The other thing he fails to take into account is that in many of the European Union countries, there is at least this idea of the public good, whereas in Russia this idea is sketchy at best. Since 2000, Putin and Co. were happy to let whatever wealth they couldn’t appropriate spill over to the people, creating Russia’s new middle class. Now that the flow has dried up considerably, it’s all about Putin and his friends first and foremost. The point is that there never truly was any concept of the public good, i.e. that Russia could be made strong by enabling people to prosper more, by providing better healthcare, infrastructure, and so on. Everybody had to take their cut on every project, because just like in the 90’s it’s all about that BMW, that Mercedes C-class, the expensive mobile phones, and the three-month long vacations in the south of France.

Whatever happens in Europe if the euro does take a significant hit won’t be pretty, but at least Europe is led by politicians whose power is limited both by law and by real opposition parties, who can be replaced, and who are in most cases subject to the rule of law. European citizens are also more than happy to take part in protests instead of attacking anyone who complains, calling them traitors, and demanding everybody shut up in hopes that some “strong leader” will give them stability.  There is little reason to think that the euro’s trials will be as severe as the ruble’s, but even if they are, Europeans won’t take it lying down the way Russians do.

This last bit is what makes me fear that the author is in fact part of the Putin-loving “geopolitical expert” cult, assuming this isn’t parody. You be the judge:

If Russia were able to throw an economic lifeline to Greece or convince other nations of Europe to make noise about an exit from the Euro, it would help to break any sense of cohesion within the EU and possibly threaten the whole system of Euro-Atlantic cooperation.

Russia’s not really in the best shape to be throwing anyone economic lifelines, much less European countries. This is what makes every one of these “What if Russia were to…” articles so laughably pathetic. Russia’s economy is circling the bowl and basically they start asking all these rhetorical questions like “What if it wasn’t?” Sure, things look bad for Russia now, but what if Russia had moon colonies by mid-2015? Then it might dominate the market for rare moon minerals!

2. Instability in Saudi Arabia abruptly reverses the downward spiral in global oil prices

The author advances at least a superficially-plausible hypothesis here, but it’s just lacking one thing- the instability. He might as well say that a meteor could land in Saudi Arabia and cause a rise in oil prices; that would probably be a lot more decisive than “instability.”

 3. Russia finds an unexpected high-profile member for Eurasian integration

But Armenia just signed up at the end of 2014, as did Kyrgyzstan, and there are rumors Azerbaijan might join as well. But think really big – what if Turkey, Iran, India or Egypt decides to join the process of Eurasian integration in 2015?

Um…No. Again, if this isn’t parody, he’s just engaging in the same mental masturbation as all the “Eurasianist” neo-fascist dreamers. Again it’s what if… What if…  Normal experts generally don’t do this. They try to base their predictions on actual trends and concrete evidence. Using the term “black swan event” seems like some kind of trick to distract people; if they do question how likely these predictions are, you can just say that you’re talking about an event which is supposedly by-nature unpredictable and unprecedented. But then again, an alien invasion would also be a black swan event. See how ridiculous it sounds?

6. Project Double Eagle goes into overdrive at the Ufa BRICS Summit

According to Marin Katusa in “The Colder War,” the de-dollarization of the world economy is one of the primary geo-economic goals of the Russian government. In Chapter 11 of his book (“Twilight of the Petrodollar”), Katusa calls de-dollarization “Vladimir Putin’s grand strategy for waging the Colder War and unseating the dollar.” Conspiracy theorists have a sexier name for it: Project Double Eagle.
Anything Moscow can do to weaken the dollar (such as by pricing oil in gold instead of dollars), then, is in Russia’s interests. One place to continue this offensive against the dollar would be at the upcoming BRICS Summit in Ufa.

BINGO! I’ve got Eurasianist BINGO! He brought up abandoning the dollar for trading in local currencies! As I said before, this guy has some background. Has he not noticed that Russian politicians have been talking about this for years, without anybody biting? Also is it a good idea to get your advice from conspiracy theorists, regardless of how sexy their terms are?

Russia and China have already started to make noise about settling energy trades in rubles and yuan, and last year, one of the big announcements at the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza was the creation of a New Development Bank based in Shanghai.

Actually it’s more like Russia has been “making noise” about this for years, and every year they were sure it was just around the corner. Also I’ll see your new bank and raise you one “go fuck yourself” since China is paying in dollars for the gas they recently agreed to buy from Russia. Seems like that would have been a good time to start using local currencies, wouldn’t it?  Please tell me I don’t need to bring up this again.

There have been other signs that Russia is trying to find alternatives to institutions like SWIFT, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and the IMF, so don’t be surprised if Russia makes another splashy announcement on its home turf of Ufa that supports the push toward de-dollarization.

Yeah that “sign” is Visa and Mastercard ending their operations with some banks and European leaders threatening Russia with denying access to SWIFT. What was Russia’s first reaction? “We already have our own electronic payments system! We just need to flip the switch!” A couple days later I learned that the payments system would be ready in four months. Then four became six. After that milestone passed, I read a story that said it would be ready in the early part of 2015. Well here we are, and I doubt we’re going to see any new payments system in the next few months.  I’m surprised that Basulto, with his experience in Russia, has never heard of this phenomenon before. They said the same thing when they heard they wouldn’t get the Mistral ships from France- “We can build our own helicopter carriers!” Great. Why didn’t you just do that?

9. Russia launches a massive counter-terrorism initiative against ISIS

While there have been disturbing signs of potential ISIS involvement in recent terrorist activity in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, Russia has thus far not taken many visible steps to combat ISIS extremism at its source. In other words, we’ve had U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, but Russia has thus far preferred to combat Islamist extremism on home soil by cracking down on known terrorist organizations in the North Caucasus.

This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say there’s a huge flaw with this “black swan” thesis. It’s not that Russia willingly sits by and combats terrorism at home. The issue is that they can’t project their military force around the world like the US. They clearly want that capability though.  Launching a war on terror overseas entails a lot more than simply having a terrorist attack to respond to. You also have to have the military infrastructure and the financial resources to back it up. Russia pretty much admitted last year that its goals for defense spending, while significantly increased from before, were unrealistic.

10. MH17 turns out to be a “false flag” operation after all

And, finally, our most controversial prediction of the year… Last summer,MH17 was the leading headline story for so long, and then, suddenly, all the news about MH17 went dark. Even after the black box for MH17 was recovered, there still has been no definitive proof that a Russian-made Buk missile took down the airliner.

Did I mention this guy is some kind of “expert,” with higher education? Good. I’m pretty sure I mentioned that.  While there is no “definitive” proof, what is known is that the plane suffered catastrophic structural failure, and the pilots were never aware what hit them before the plane broke up. The spread of fragments covers a large area of the plane. Both of these signs suggest a large  SAM, like a Buk, as opposed to an air-to-air missile with a much smaller warhead.

 

While some of the Kremlin’s theories for the shoot down of MH17 – like a Ukrainian missile intended for Putin’s private plane – sound like they’ve been launched in an Internet chat room by conspiracy addicts with way too much time on their hands, it’s still not outside the realm of possibility that 2015 turns up new evidence that Russia (or the Eastern Ukrainian separatists) had no role at all in the shoot down. And just imagine what would happen if the blame, instead, shifted to Ukraine or the West for the tragedy of MH17.

Some of the Kremlin’s theories sound like that? The very fact that Russia seemed to change theories every few weeks tells you who is most likely guilty for this tragic accident. As for his prediction about “new evidence” turning up, yes I can guarantee that it will. The thing is, each new piece of evidence will come from the Russian side, and it will be fake. Their last attempt was an anonymous Ukrainian serviceman who just happened to catch all the relevant details that point to a Ukrainian SU-25 shooting the airliner down. As is typically the case, nobody other than Russian officials has been allowed to question this unnamed “defector,”  and I noticed that the Russian media pretty much stopped talking about him a couple days after the story broke.

There’s one last part I’m going to quote from this article, which tells you what side Basulto is probably on:

And, of course, there’s the blackest of all Black Swans – regime change in Moscow, financed and encouraged by Western Color Revolutionaries, that ends Vladimir Putin’s 15 years in power.

Hmmm…I wonder why that swan would be “the blackest.” Never mind that though. Note how the author implies that any regime change in Russia would have to be finances and encouraged by the West. Russians cannot wake up, look at their surrounding conditions, in fact simply remember what they had been saying for years, and stand up to demand better. To Putin, his hacks, and their foreign friends like the author, people are merely robots. If they do something you don’t like- someone was paying them to do it.  Well here’s a way Putin could insulate himself from that danger- crack down on corruption, redistribute wealth, start fixing infrastructure, liberalize the economy, and reverse the non-stop harassment and censorship of media and independent civic organizations. In fact, start funding those organizations so they have no need to turn to the West. Now there’s the blackest swan.

Realistically, there is no hope of revolution in 2015 barring another major government fuck-up. Without that, it’s also unlikely that we’ll see a full on economic collapse in this year. The central bank still has high reserves, and it is true that the weakening of the ruble and Western sanctions can have small positive effects here and there. The overall trend, however, is down. What seals Russia’s fate isn’t that it has problems, it’s that it has no solution and no way to elect people who do.  This is why these Russophile articles are going to become increasingly desperate as the  year drags on, conditions fail to improve, and everyone keeps buying energy in good old dollars.

When I read these articles, I can’t help but imagining endless parables which illustrate the desperate, pulled-straight-out-of-the-ass scenarios these people are giving us on an increasingly frequent basis. For example, let’s use a horse race. This guy tells you he’s got a sure winner named Catherine’s Lover. The race begins, and the horse isn’t last, but it’s nowhere near the lead. Your “adviser” tells you not to worry- she’ll catch up. She’s had worse and she’s won before, so many years ago.  Now Catherine’s Lover begins to drop even further behind. Still no need to worry, your “friend” tells you nervously. This is all part of her jockey’s brilliant plan. He’s a chess master of the race track! This is his long game gambit! Suddenly Catherine’s Lover jumps the rail, throws her jockey, then inexplicably collapses and catches fire. As the smell of burning horse flesh reaches your nostrils and you stare in utter disbelief, your new friend nudges you and says, “She’s not done for yet! What if she gets a second wind? It could happen! There’s still a lot of race left to go!”  As you leave the stands someone informs you that your helpful adviser in racing matters has been at the track for years, saying the same thing every time.  He never stops.

Basically all of his article could have been summed up in the following manner: “You know all those bad things that are happening to Russia at the moment? Well check this out, dude. What if they suddenly weren’t happening, and instead, good things were happening? It’s totally possible! It’s a black swan event!”

No. Just…no.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Grasping at straws

  1. Pingback: Black duck events to watch for in 2015! | Russia Without BS

  2. Pingback: Encore- The Fall of Romanov | Russia Without BS

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