Vat FAQ

This isn’t a FAQ in the traditional sense, but a handy guide of response to common vatnik arguments which I’ve been dealing with as of late, as well as some of the classics. Some of these arguments are more personalized, based on my own political beliefs, but I’ve tried to make them as general as possible so anyone can use them.

And lest anyone accuse me of killing straw men, keep in mind that these are more or less verbatim arguments I’ve seen, both in Russian and English, from Russians and foreigners, in comments and in articles from pro-Kremlin media. If you have some ultra-specific argument that doesn’t fall under one of these, put it in the comments.

Why don’t you write about the West? You think the West is perfect?  

I write about the West all the time. I’ve been anti-NATO and anti-EU for well over a decade. The thing is, however, that I don’t see how the solution to NATO, the EU, or the existing world order must be a corrupt, kleptocratic dictatorship who happily funds my ideological enemies in Western countries. If we abstract away all the other problems with Russia, at the end of the day Russia vs. NATO is essentially a skinny high school kid facing off against Mike Tyson in his prime- he’s going to lose, along with anyone who bet on him. Essentially Putin is trying to have another Cold War, completely misunderstanding why the USSR, a much more powerful country, was able to carry on under such conditions for so long.

The solutions to the problems of global capitalism are manifold and complex, but they don’t include slavishly supporting Russia’s oligarchical regime. Secondly, if you must live in a capitalist country, a functioning capitalist country, preferably a welfare state with liberal democracy and a high degree of personal freedom is inherently superior to a dysfunctional capitalist state that increasingly restricts basic freedoms and demands political uniformity.

Another reason why I don’t specialize in writing about the West or specifically America, is that I don’t live there. I live in Russia, and in fact I’ve spent most of my adult life here. For most of my life I studied Russian politics and history more closely than that of the US. In the US now there are tens of thousands of people far more connected than me, studying and writing about the American political system. They will almost always be ahead of me when it comes to picking up on a new story. Moreover, they actually live in America, so if they disagreed with my analysis they could ultimately say, “What do you care? You don’t live here.”

So as an analyst of American politics my “market value” as an analyst or expert is low or at least unremarkable. That’s not the case when it comes to Russia. Here, even my lack of formal academic credentials is significantly offset by my wealth of personal experience, contacts, and my language ability. There are plenty of Russian studies majors out there, but you can’t “produce” people with my background.

Put simply, I’m marketable as a Russia expert, not an American political expert and certainly not an EU expert.

But there is corruption in the West too! 

Yes, there is. It is routinely exposed by something called an independent press, which is one way that you find out about it. Russian media and its fans love using Western media sources to expose all kinds of scandals, from NSA spying to police brutality and political backroom deals, all the while forgetting that their source for this information is that same “mainstream media” they immediately dismiss whenever its reporting doesn’t conform to the Kremlin’s narrative.

First of all, this narrative always ignores the question of scale. Russia’s level of corruption has consistently been gauged as rivaling those of developing nations, and more often than not the government seems much more enthusiastic about prosecuting or persecuting those who bring corruption to light rather than the corrupt themselves.

For a comparison, without getting into any details I come from a country in the US where a certain public official is one of the most corrupt, clownish officials you can ever imagine. Luckily the federal government is finally starting to rein him in. The difference with his corruption, however, is that first of all, it rarely affected ordinary citizens. You could easily go days or months without ever considering it. You don’t have to plan around it if you want to start a business. Lastly, if you wanted to take him on over his corruption, he had very little recourse he could take against you- and believe me, he tried.

This is not the case in Russia, where people experience corruption in one way or another on a daily basis. Literally every single adult you meet has at least one story that happened directly to them. Forget about starting a business if you’re not willing to factor in corruption in the process.

Since a lot of vatniks and their Western ilk don’t seem to understand the concept of degree, imagine the following scenario:

You have been caught and convicted of a crime in a strange country. They offer you a choice of punishment. You can either choose to be hit with a bamboo cane one time, or 50 lashes with a bull whip across your back. Both options are corporal punishment, and both will cause pain. Are they the same? No.

Oh so everything in Russia is bad then? 

No, the problem with Russia isn’t that “everything is bad.” There are dozens of countries all over the world which are far worse off than Russia on a number of issues, and I’m not simply talking about failed states or countries with ongoing civil conflicts. The main problem with Russia is that its standards of living and development fall far short of what the country’s wealth ought to deliver, and after 15 years at that.

Obviously Russia is a big territory and after the experiences of the 1990’s one shouldn’t expect every major Russian city to resemble London or Oslo. On the other hand, it shouldn’t have numerous areas experiencing third world or near third world conditions. There shouldn’t be places that look like post-apocalyptic war zones just outside of Moscow, or in Moscow for that matter.

Eerie scene of an abandoned playground in Ukraine's embattled Donbas region? Nope, just Moscow, near Shchukinskaya metro.

Eerie scene of an abandoned playground in Ukraine’s embattled Donbas region? Nope, just Moscow, near Shchukinskaya metro.

A country with Russia’s massive wealth should have a decent postal service. It’s army should have had socks before the middle of 2013. Moreover, Russia has produced dozens of innovative entrepreneurs, some of whose inventions managed to rival or even beat Western products. Take VK.com, for example.

The bottom line is that Russia, or at least much of its Western regions at least, ought to be rivaling states like Germany, Austria, or Finland in terms of living standards and development, not simply being better than countries like Egypt, Turkey, or Pakistan. You’re supposed to aim high.

Democracy is a sham! Look at the two-party system in the US for example! 

Indeed, the American system is one of the most undemocratic in the world, but only when compared to other functioning liberal democracies. As problematic as American democracy is, however, it has proved incredibly stable in many respects. Even after three years of the bloodiest war in American history, Abraham Lincoln ran for reelection. He did this in spite of the fact that the election of 1864 was essentially a vote on continuing the war that had already claimed so many. The election proceeded as usual and in spite of the fact that he was running against the general who claimed credit for the “victory” at Antietam, and in spite of the bloodshed at battles such as Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and Cold Harbor, in spite of the destruction of New York in 1863’s Draft Riots, Lincoln still managed to trounce his opponent McClellan.

Russia, by contrast, has never had a free or fair election and no two have ever been exactly alike. Clearly the solution to what happened in Florida in 2000 isn’t to be found in the Russian system.

Sure, I hate the fact that the 2016 campaign could come down to Hillary and Jeb Bush. On the other hand, I already know the maximum amount of time either of those clowns will be in office- 8 years. See, I was anti-Bush and I’m no fan of Obama, but I’d choose 8 years of Bush or Obama rather than give either of them the option of serving indefinitely. That little detail makes all the difference in the world.

By contrast, Russians and Russia supporters cannot tell you when or how Putin will leave because they honestly have no idea. He already changed the rules to come back in 2012, and he can just as easily change them again in 2018.

But if not Putin, who else? 

If Putin is such a great leader and has done so much good for the country, that country ought to be able to produce a crop of capable potential leaders. It’s one thing if you’re the one leader in the right place at the right time so as to get the nation through a particular crisis. But if after 15 years of increasingly consolidating your own power and authority the county you ruled over still cannot readily replace you, you’ve seriously screwed up.

If Putin is the only man who can lead Russia, the country is royally screwed sooner or later. He’s not immortal, and he can always slip in the shower or severely injure himself during one of his photo ops. Will he still be the only man who can rule Russia when he’s in a coma?

You Westerners made us react in Ukraine! We warned you!

Actually no you didn’t. At no time before 2014 did Russia raise the issue of returning Crimea to Russia as “historical justice.” Russia, including Putin, recognized the territorial integrity of Ukraine up to that point. In other words, if the annexation of Crimea was “historical justice,” that means that had Maidan turned out differently, or had it not happened at all, Putin would have happily allowed this grave “injustice” to continue, leaving those poor persecuted Russian speakers stranded in that prison of nations that is Ukraine. You can basically say the same thing about federalization.

Secondly, Russia doesn’t have the right to “warn” other countries about what they can or cannot do or what sort of foreign policies they may have. Russian leaders love to crow about their “independent foreign policy,” but heaven forbid a neighboring country’s foreign policy doesn’t line up with their wishes, in which case that country’s government is obviously a whore of the United States and the people are slaves to their American masters. That it might be more advantageous to align with the most successful countries in the world instead of a notoriously corrupt dictatorship whose economy is comparable to Italy at best never occurs to them.

And what exactly did Russia do in response to its “warnings” about meddling in Ukraine, where it apparently has the right to meddle? Okay, annexation of the Crimea- everyone acknowledges that. But according to the Kremlin Russia isn’t a party to the current conflict in Ukraine. In other words Russia isn’t doing anything.

So which is it? Is Russia doing something in Ukraine or not?

But NATO is expanding to Russia’s borders! 

NATO has shared land borders with Russia since 2004, when the Baltic countries joined. In terms of sea borders, it’s been the case for much longer. During most of Putin’s tenure Russia worked closely with NATO and the US on a number of issues, including joint exercises and logistical support for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, something that benefits Russia in several concrete ways. During this time, the US was continually removing its forces from Europe, and apart from exercises it never stationed any garrison in the new NATO members that border Russia. In fact, even as late as January of this year they were still closing bases. What brought them back was Putin’s little military adventure in Ukraine.

One would think that if Kremlin fans are right, and Russia is strong now but was weaker then, the anti-NATO rhetoric should have been much louder years ago. Yet curiously, it was not. It was always there, fueled by public resentment and the inferiority complex that pervades throughout Russian society, but it was nowhere near the hysterics we’ve seen in the past year or so. I’m sure that has nothing to do with increasing economic difficulties beginning in 2009, though. It’s probably just a coincidence.

The fact is that the West wasn’t doing anything actually harmful to Russia or its people during that whole time. Russians were traveling abroad, working abroad, buying property abroad, saving money in Western banks, buying imported Western products in huge numbers, etc. Some of the best jobs for Russian citizens were and still are to be found in multinational corporations with offices in Russia. Even sanctions apparently aren’t keeping some large Western corporations, including American companies, from trading and making deals with Russian counterparts. Russia’s presence in the G8, WTO, and BRICS was all largely the effect of attracting massive amounts of investment, largely from the evil West.

So apart from sexpats, who are catered to and embraced by Russia’s government, what actual harm was the West doing to Russia? The only thing I can think of is tolerating the Kremlin’s corruption and happily being party to Russian money-laundering and the hording of ill-gotten assets. In that sense, the West was an accessory to the robbery of the Russian people. Yet it’s only the West that gets the hate in Russia, and it’s not for either of those reasons.

But what about Iraq?! Libya?! Yugoslavia?! The Boxer Rebelllion?! 

Silly vatnik, you’re not really upset about those things. You’re just upset that Russia can’t project it’s military power like that. That’s why you don’t care about Russian bases in Armenia, Transnistria, Sevastopol, etc. That’s why you’re fine with Russian involvement in Ukraine or making “jokes” about invading the Baltic countries, Finland, Germany, etc.

See this is elementary logic right here- if your answer to condemnations of Russia’s military actions is “What about (Insert US military intervention here),” it means you’re implicitly justifying the latter actions. Either you’re against military intervention in other countries under false or questionable pretenses, or you’re not. In fact, one argument that many anti-war/militarism protesters in many Western countries often use is: “How would our media or government be talking about this campaign if it were Russia?” In other words, we do not like this attitude of “It’s okay if we’re doing it.” This concept is seemingly non-existent in Russia, based on my experience.

On a personal level, if you bring up Iraq or Libya or wherever, I’ll flat out condemn those just as readily as I do Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. I don’t represent the US government, and was opposed to all of those actions. I do not rule out the idea that the US can be on the morally right side of a war- the Civil War and WWII are perfect examples of that.

If you pull your “what about Iraq” nonsense with me I’m just going to tell you that both that and Russia’s behavior are morally wrong, for the same reasons.

But all your dissent and protests didn’t stop those wars!

It stopped some countries from getting involved, or in some cases convinced them to pull out due to the war’s lack of popularity- Iraq is a perfect example of this. What is more, even in the US the war’s unpopularity led to major political changes, starting with the victory of the Democrats in Congress back in 2006 and in the White House in 2008 and 2012.

Still no change you say? Well if we ignore Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba late last year, let us look at the reaction of the administration to the Syrian crisis back in August-September of 2013.

Here you had an actual chemical weapons attack that the administration had immediately pinned on the Syrian government. Does anybody have a doubt what the president’s next move would be if this happened on Bush’s watch? You know, the actual neoconservative administration that saw military intervention as the go-to answer for everything? Of course part of the administration’s hesitance to get involved had to do with intelligence telling them that radical forces were likely to benefit from a US military intervention against the Syrian government, but another major factor was the bipartisan rejection of the idea by the public. People were simply tired of military interventions; even conservatives went back into isolationism.

So public opinion and protests do have an effect, even if it’s not immediate. It’s part of the reason the US didn’t engage Syria in 2013, and instead worked out an agreement suggested by a then far more rational Vladimir Putin. It’s also why the US isn’t getting more involved in the fight against the Islamic State, in both Iraq and other territories like Libya. It’s also the reason why columns of “captured Ukrainian tanks” haven’t been plastered by 30mm DU rounds just outside Russia’s borders. So be thankful that many Americans have strong opinions that run contrary to the wishes of their government.

We have independent media and civil society in Russia too! 

Yes, and your government constantly harasses them, labels them “foreign agents,” etc.

The world cannot stand a unipolar world! There must be a multipolar world! 

Well, there kind of is. The US is no longer the sole hegemon it briefly was during the 90’s and early 2000’s. Thank Bush’s incompetence for that. I’m hesitant to say who the other poles are, because I think it’s more accurate to say that power has become more diffused. We seem to be seeing a lot of these smaller, regional powers or groups of nations that are pursuing their own interests. If Russia is trying to go back to the old game of great powers dividing up the world, it’s not only too late, but it’s incapable of becoming that other pole. China is probably the best contender and it’s not going to share power with Russia.

Perhaps more importantly, the goal of a multipolar world is not desirable. Obviously one country exercising hegemony over the whole world is undesirable, but that idea is not very realistic outside of the minds of vatnik “geopolitical experts” who imagine that any country not in Russia’s orbit must be a slave to the United States. In some ways the Cold War was rather stable, but on the other hand it was marked by an arms race and near-constant proxy wars, often with sides changing patrons along the way (Somalia and Vietnam are good examples).

The most desirable world is a world without poles- as in without great powers, not without Polish people. Russia’s ideological leaders want the world to go back to the 19th century, where they can rule over their own sphere of influence as an empire. For the rest of the world, it’s better that we no longer live under that system. We don’t need more spheres of influence, gunboat diplomacy, or geopolitical games.

The West doesn’t care about human rights, freedom, or democracy! They only care about their geopolitical interests!

This is a typical example of vatnik projection. It starts like this: Vatnik declares that all media lies, and that his country is in an “information war.” This then excuses lying as “fighting” that war. In the same vein, geopolitical theory, which dominates Russia’s political thought, says that countries don’t actually have any ideals, only geopolitical interests. While there is a kernel of truth to that concept, geopolitical theory totally misunderstands the nature of those interests. In this case, the geopolitical expert projects his own ideology onto the rest of the world and assumes other people are lying when they express concern for human rights.

It’s no surprise that countries like the US and its allies will jump all over one nation’s human rights violations, no matter how small, while simultaneously ignoring much worse, often more frequent violations by friendly states. On the other hand, when we look at US foreign policy today, we cannot pretend that the government is as willing to turn a blind eye to murder and tyranny as it was during the Cold War. Look at the treatment of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, for example. He was an instrumental ally in the War on Terror, but after the Andijan massacre of 2005 the US and the West ended up backing away from the Karimov regime.

While Vladimir Putin believes the internet is a CIA project designed in the 80’s and 90’s to bring down his resurgent Russian regime, Western leaders understand that the information age spells the end for those times when the US could easily topple a government and replace it with a friendly military-run regime. Imagine how the world would look today if we had the internet and social networks in the 50’s. What would the public response to the Vietnam War have been had Vice existed in those days?

Western leaders at least understand that they need to appear to care about human rights, which is a lot better than a regime which says human rights are bullshit from the get-go. What is more, as bad as the foreign policies of Western nations can be, most people in the world look at the freedom they provide their own citizens and thus sympathize with them. If you live in a country with a corrupt government, which greater power are you going to side with? The country that allows its citizens to run around on their private land with souped up AK’s and AR-15’s, training for the day they must fight their “oppressive government?” Or are you going to trust the government that says human rights and ideals don’t matter, only geopolitical interests of great powers, and which treats its own people like cattle and whose allies tend to be similarly corrupt nations with presidents for life?

It’s entirely logical to suppose that a lot of the world sides with the US out of the hope, however naive, that the freedoms and living standards in that country will, at least in part, come to exist in their own country.

All in all, there are indeed universal violations of human rights going on every day, even in the most liberal democratic countries. This is largely due to the contradiction between our economic system and the very concept of human rights. But the solution to this lies in finding a way to remove this contradiction, not declaring the very concept itself to be bullshit and demanding that nobody criticize Russia’s government.

You hate Putin because he made Russia strong and raised her from her knees! You loved Russia when it was weak, in the 90’s! 

This is an easy one- Putin hasn’t made Russia strong. I learned this before I even flew to Moscow in 2006. The mentality of the 90’s, that which largely made the 90’s what they were, was never eliminated. It’s still there, lying beneath the surface. Thanks to Putin’s recent policy shift, the country is heading back to 90’s-like conditions, and when it reaches that point all those bad habits will come back in full force because they were never dealt with. Specifically I’m referring to atomization, lack of trust, authoritarianism, and overwhelming consumerism.

It is true that the US and West treated Russia differently in the 90’s, and they were certainly guilty of tolerating excesses from Yeltsin which far exceeded anything Putin had done until last year. The problem is, however, that you cannot sever Yeltsin from Putin, nor can you sever Putin from the corruption of the 90’s.

Of course this brings up an interesting question. If the 90’s were so bad, but Putin improved things, then maybe the 90’s weren’t so bad after all, seeing as how they produced this supposedly great leader who rectified the horrors of that decade. If that isn’t the case, then we must agree that Putin defenders shouldn’t be allowed to constantly trot out the 90’s whenever you bring up some failure of his government.

As for whether the West really “liked” Russia weak, this is just another example of the inferiority complex that is promoted in Russia by the media and intellectuals. In reality, the West basically neglected Russia, much to its own peril. In any case, clearly nobody made any serious effort to stop Putin’s rise to power or check Russia’s rapid growth in the middle of the last decade. If the West was responsible for the downfall of the USSR and the weakness and humiliation of the 90’s, why didn’t they finish the job when they could have easily done so?

Perhaps the most important thing to point out is that the West would most benefit from a Russia that is actually strong, as in with high living standards, a large middle class, etc. This means more tourism and most of all, more consumers for Western products. Eventually it would mean Russian investment as well. The multinational corporations that hold so much sway over Western governments have absolutely no interest in seeing Russia turned into a fragmented, lawless wasteland mired in poverty. That population wouldn’t be able to afford to buy their products and services. On the other side of the coin, Russia isn’t really a viable competitor for those same corporations.

So even from a capitalist, “Western” point of view, there is a major incentive for a strong, prosperous Russia- the opposite of what Putin and his propagandists claim.

The West hates Russia because it stands in the way of its New World Order! 

Hang on a second, is it the US that is establishing global control, or the West? Aren’t all those other countries just Western puppets? Whatever the case, how exactly does Russia stand in the way of the US/Western NWO? By buying shitloads of Western products? By buying US Treasury Bonds? By the elite sending their kids to New York and London?

Even when Putin has criticized US or European actions on the world stage, he has rarely gotten involved or even attempted to do anything about it. If NATO really wanted to do something anywhere in the world, there is little Putin’s Russia could ever do about it, and both sides know this. What is more, major NATO members France and Germany said no to America’s invasion of Iraq and this didn’t lead to sanctions, or coups.

Russia has to oppose the West because of what happened to Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, etc! 

So you’re saying that Russia, after 15 years of Putin and high oil prices, is essentially as weak as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya? Why do you support this guy again?

Do you actually believe that the US, with NATO, plans to invade Russia? For what, exactly? What is there to gain that is worth so much blood and treasure as such an invasion would require? Keep in mind this country spent approximately $3 trillion just to kill Osama bin Laden. 

Can anyone in their right mind imagine any US official or military expert saying something like:

“I know that we stretched our military to the logistical breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing miserably at creating order in both of those small countries and possibly screwing our economy at the same time, but I’m sure that invading and conquering Russia is a totally viable prospect!”

Not going to happen.

Ah! Okay, there won’t be a military invasion, but a color revolution! 

Really? Then why does it matter if NATO countries border Russia or not? What NATO country borders Kyrgyzstan? Why didn’t these color revolutions work in Belarus? Was Lukashenko too smart? If that’s the case, why is the West supposedly still plotting color revolutions in Russia? But then Maidan was supposed to be a color revolution too. Is Belarus just stronger than Ukraine?

Yes, Russia is corrupt, but that’s not Putin’s fault! It’s the oligarchs and bureaucrats!

I thought Putin was a great leader who saved Russia from the oligarchs and corrupt officials of the 90’s. He has presided over this country for 15 years with no real opposition. If he can’t do anything about this, he is incompetent. If he is responsible for it, he’s a corrupt dictator. Either is bad.

No you don’t understand! Our constitution was written by the Americans! We are occupied by the United States on an ideological level! (Thesis of NOD- National Liberation Movement, a government-sponsored political organization)

Really? Then Putin is incompetent and he hasn’t raised Russia from her knees.

It’s not Putin, it’s Medvedev! 

Who picked Medvedev and still employs him? Right.

I’m not a Putin supporter! I have many criticisms of Putin! 

Oh let me guess- he’s not hard enough, he tolerates too much dissent and Western media, he needs to crack down harder, he should send the army to take Kyiv, he’s too friendly with the West, he hasn’t closed the border, etc., etc.

Yeah, criticism that justifies the regime becoming more authoritarian if it needs to. Sounds legit.

Just imagine if my only criticism of Obama was that he needs to spy on Americans more, or that he should actually enact that total gun ban the conspiracy nuts are always screaming about. Imagine my criticism of Bush was that he didn’t invade enough countries.

You don’t understand Russia! You cannot possibly understand the deep mystery of the Russian soul! 

Silly vatnik/Westerner trying to become Russian- Russia is not terribly enigmatic, particularly once you live there and can understand the language.

Besides, what would you say if you were ranting about the evils of America and someone told you that you just don’t understand the American spirit? This is magical thinking, plain and simple.

We don’t need your material goods! We have traditional, spiritual values! 

Yup, so does Papua New Guinea and the Central African Republic. Sweetheart, we’ve tried this before, remember? 1917? 1991? Oh yes, I know, those were all due to traitors and conspiracies, but in the real world Russians aren’t that different from most other people. One important difference between 1991 and now is that the cat is already out of the bag. Most Soviet citizens in the 80’s had no knowledge of the outside world, or at least no firsthand knowledge. That simply isn’t the case now. Russians travel and they have the internet- no wonder Putin fears that “CIA project.”

The government and media cannot conceal how increasingly backward the country is becoming thanks to its conflict with the West.

BUT TEH GAAAAYS! SODOMY! PERVERTS! 

Ah yes, the last refuge of the vatnik. First of all, the cult of Putin is about as blatantly homoerotic as this song. I can’t believe you haven’t noticed that by now. Look at this picture:

IMAG0802

Moving on, here’s a little rubric for you to consider. Most of the world’s leading economies, with the highest living standards in the world, are tolerant of LGBT people or getting more tolerant. The most intolerant, “traditional” countries, tend to be the poorest. Which world would you like to join? If the only “virtue” you can think of is that your country treats LGBT people poorly, I’m sorry but you’re screwed.

You’ll see! One day the West will perish because of its decadence! Russia is rising while the West is collapsing! 

Well no, no it’s not. Pretty much every indicator says otherwise. At no time in this century has Russia managed to rival the US, Germany, France, UK, etc. in terms of standards of living. Meanwhile, Russia’s economy is contracting, something that was expected long before the sanctions. And which country is the only one expected to have positive GDP growth this year? That’s right, Uncle Sam.

People were theorizing that Russia would save degenerating European society over 100 years ago, and guess which country collapsed? The Russian Empire. Now we’re hearing the same thing again, with no reason to believe this time will be any different.

YOU’RE JUST A RUSSOPHOBE WHO HATES RUSSIA!

No, men like Vladimir Putin and his friends hate Russia. They think that Russians are stupid cattle who cannot learn to manage the affairs of their own country and need a strong, father-like leader to force them to act properly. They have no interest in giving Russians actual reasons to be patriotic on their own, but instead would rather force them to be patriotic.

They’d rather spend thousands, perhaps millions of dollars to stifle discussion about relatively simple social or infrastructure problems throughout the country than spend that money on fixing the problems. Rather than do something about cancer patients killing themselves to escape the pain they are unable to get treatment for, they’d rather just censor news stories about the subject. Rather than let Americans and other Westerners adopt disabled Russian children, the government prefers them to languish away in dilapidated orphanages.

Both the news media and entertainment media treats Russian viewers like idiots, and sucks away their tax money for the privilege. Instead of producing better movies, the go-to answer is to limit the showing of foreign films in Russian cinemas.

Whoever runs that system clearly hates Russia and Russians. Whoever defends that system hates Russia and Russians. I don’t care if you wrap yourself head-to-toe in tricolors and St. George ribbons until you look like a colorful mummy and go swimming in a pool of kvas- if you support the government that is responsible for the state of affairs in this country you hold the people of Russia in contempt.

Advertisements

36 thoughts on “Vat FAQ

  1. Sohryu_L

    >What is more, as bad as the foreign policies of Western nations can be, most people in the world look at the freedom they provide their own citizens and thus sympathize with them.

    But then you say Ukraine mustn’t look up to the US/Poland/etc!

    Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        That would be one of the things NOT to look up to.

        Of course in my previous comment I was hinting at Russia. Russia’s elite over the years, even to this day, likes to present itself as part of the European club. They’re cozying up to China but they really don’t want to be seen as “Eastern” due to a weird inferiority complex and 19th century thinking.

        As such, they keep saying: “We’re like you” until someone from the West brings up something like tolerance, rule of law, etc. Then suddenly it’s: “WE’RE NOT DEGENERATE EUROPE!” In fact, they delude themselves into believing that they are the last representatives of “real” Europe, with its “traditional values.”

        The problem I see in Ukraine, though it’s a much smaller problem, is the tolerance for nationalism and holocaust denial in the form of the Bandera cult. YES! I know that most Ukrainians don’t give a fuck about Bandera and aren’t right-wing nationalists, but at the same time there’s a very obvious reluctance on behalf of many people I’ve encountered to condemn this political movement. At best it’s met with whataboutism.

        There’s also a trend of whitewashing the OUN-B as a liberal democratic movement, which I recently saw in an article supposedly busting the “myth” about the slogan Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes.

        I realize why a lot of people don’t think this is a priority, but it’s very important because Ukraine needs more sympathy in Russia. I’m convinced that it could have got it earlier and that it’s going to becoming increasingly easier for Ukraine to garner more support in Russia over the next few years.

        You’ve no doubt heard of these anti-war marches with Ukrainian flags. Given the general attitude since 2014, I was impressed at the numbers that showed up.

        I know a lot of Russians who are well educated in actual history and who don’t approve of their government’s actions, but they’re not about to endorse a government that equates the Red Army and UPA.

      2. Sohryu_L

        >There’s also a trend of whitewashing the OUN-B as a liberal democratic movement, which I recently saw in an article supposedly busting the “myth” about the slogan Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes.

        I like that slogan, if only because it was denied to us. If Ukraine went through that in early 90s, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

        OUN-B was hardly liberal democratic, but I’m not sure they were homophobic, either.

        >I realize why a lot of people don’t think this is a priority, but it’s very important because Ukraine needs more sympathy in Russia.

        No, we do not. Too much lies were said by perfectly reasonable Russians, too much blood was spilled by perfectly unreasonable Russians, but moreover, Ukrainians will probably be very hostile if you say they need ‘more sympathy’ in Russia. It’s just not going to fly.

        >I know a lot of Russians who are well educated in actual history and who don’t approve of their government’s actions, but they’re not about to endorse a government that equates the Red Army and UPA.

        Read my posts. If that is equating then it is a pretty shitty attempt at equating.

        Bending to Russians’ demands is also an easy way not to win any support in Ukraine. In the end, Russians should stop demanding anything from Ukraine; we’re not obliged to them in any way after they robbed us with gas prices, annexed part of our country and started a bloody meatgrinder over a bunch of bullshit, and perfectly reasonable Russians, not fans of Putin or vatniks before 2014, unequivocally supported it. For everyone who did show up at those anti-war marches, there are thousands who did not.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The OUN-B was a by-definition fascist movement, not something to glorify.

        I know it doesn’t seem like this is a big deal, but if it’s such a big deal why is it so hard to do something about? Why is it nobody can say: “Fine, take down the Lenin statues, but also take down the Bandera one in L’viv” without being accused of being pro-Russian, vatnik, etc.

        Also the point of winning support in Russia is basically to do to them what they’ve been doing to you- dividing your society. Otherwise it’s just nationalist vs. nationalist, team vs. team, but they’re team is huge. You can’t win the battle of attrition.

        It’s too bad Communist ideas aren’t more popular there- someone might have read Giap, Mao, Guevara and learned something about how to handle larger, more powerful neighbors.

      4. Sohryu_L

        Because we just approved this law, and we’re not repealing it just to suit your ivory tower idealism.

        Mao advocated partisan struggle. I’m sorry, but Ukrainian nationalists are already fans of a partisan struggle they, as you know, lost. No, thanks, I think we’ll stick with Thatcherism and Reaganomics.

  2. gbd_crwx

    “NATO has shared land borders with Russia since 2004” This is a bit wrong. NATO have had a border with Russia as long as Norway have been a member, and that close to Murmansk

    Reply
      1. gbd_crwx

        Yes, there are hardly any useful roads there, and that’s why the Nazis couldn’t succed in capturing Murmansk, but it is a landborder nonetheless, and if RF could live with NATO prescence there, the Baltics should be OK.

        (Actually if I remember right during the cold war USSR had the problem that the more useful harbour (Murmansk) could easily be sealed off from the main shipping wharfs in the Baltics by Closing Öresund and the Belts)

      2. gbd_crwx

        Aha, but then it is maybe a sense of entitlement rather than anything else? The Baltics being Fought over by the Countries bordereing the Baltics (Novgorod/Russia, Poland, Sweden and Denmark) since many hundred years ago compared to Northern Norway which has more or less allways been Norwegian/Sami?

        What is the Russian view on the Baltics?

  3. Armands Bekmanis

    I think you missed that ”We and China will…!!!” pan-Eurasian argument which is a very popular one among vatniks and other Putinistas – some bizzare idea of a situation in which China and Russia together would be an equal allies.

    Superpower has become an intriniscally political word because everyone wants to be one in this day and age where leaders base their nation’s success on charts or accolades. You google the word “superpower” and you see nonsense such as Canada as an “tar sands superpower” or Ghana as a “African Soccer Superpower” or “Poland: A Military Superpower” or “India is a human capital superpower”… things of that nature. And it’s not just rhetorical flair. There are politicans, the world over, pledging platforms to take their – let’s be frank – moderately populated, mostly insignificant economically, politically and militarily nations – an turn them into some kind of _______ superpower.

    The United States is the world’s only superpower, and it isn’t even close and it isn’t close to changing. That bares repeating because that dominance is not just military. It’s not just economic. It’s not just political. It’s not just being top on some selective set of charts (when we’re middle on other selective sets). To be a superpower, you need to be big first, average or above average (or good compared to most of the world) at most things, tops in a very few number of super important things, and control the major leavers of international power. And on top of that you have to have freedom of action internationally.

    No one else has these things. No one else is even close to obtaining these things. Not now, not a decade or two from now.

    The China hype misses the most important fact about superpower-dom – it’s actually only possible for some subset of the human race to be “first among equals” at the assent of the others. The US superpower-dom comes in no small part, from the legitimacy it derives from it’s massive network of alliance and interconnected global relationships that enable it. It’s very beneficial (and not to mention cost effective) for most of the human race, especially the part that calls the US it’s friend, for the US to shoulder the burden of being the guarantor of order (and legitimacy) of the international system. It’s a bi-directional relationship. The US (or any superpower) requires that assent, but there is no global system that is legitimate without it’s participation.

    That Russia was no longer a superpower after the fall of the USSR speaks to have any legitimacy to that title it had was washed away by it’s allies abandoning it as the Cold War ended.

    China and Russia cannot build these relationships because they are mutually exclusive with the United States. And it’s not for lack of trying, but Russia’s long history of trying to peel countries away from the US sphere of influence has had no success despite decades of trying. That is why the EU is so important to the US. Who can stand up to the the West when the US, EU and the US’s Pacific allies most notably Japan, South Korea and Australia, all stand together, as they usually do, in all the major forums of global power? No one. Billion person China, as a matter of population, GDP, military power, isn’t remotely close to equaling that.

    Reply
    1. gbd_crwx

      It’s also missing the point that the old Chinese concept of “mandate of heaven” where the Chinese Emperor got his mandate to rule the world and the rest of worldly rulers being vassals to the emperor.

      China will ally/cooperate with Russia if they think it helps China, but only in that case.

      Reply
    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I mulled over the China argument, but decided to neglect it because it’s not really an argument. It’s just a last resort they pull out when you point out how economically and militarily weak Russia is compared to the US and NATO.

      Reply
      1. Callum Carmichael

        I have to wonder what they expect China to do to help Russia, particularly in the military dimension. The PLA is super scary if you live in Vietnam or Taiwan, but it’s not known for its ability to project its power worldwide.

        Maybe if there was a Russia-NATO conflict over the baltics/Ukraine (ignoring for a second all the problems associated with that idea) China might offer to help Russia in exchange for freedom of movement through Siberia. I wonder how the Russians would feel about that.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I doubt that. What’s more likely is that China’s going to use this cooperation to learn all they can about Russian military technology. When the time comes they will see where they can start making claims. Already they’re apparently preparing deals to lease huge areas of land in Russia to set up enterprises with Chinese workers.

    3. Estragon

      I’ve been hearing “we and China will..!” since about 2006, when the ideology of Eurasianism was starting to take off.

      One of the features of this thinking is premature Schadenfreude. That is, the Western world hasn’t experienced its downfall yet, but you can be sure it will. So let’s start the gloating now!

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The funny thing about this is that China’s power rests with its mutually beneficial relationship with the US. If they start experiencing economic problems of some sort, now they have someone they can take it out on- Russia. That way they won’t put their most beneficial relationship in peril.

  4. Callum Carmichael

    I heard that. I was sort of alluding to the Soviet offer to defend Czechoslovakia in 1938 that would have seen them drive right through Poland. If we’re going to talk about fantasy worlds, they might as well feature poetic justice.

    But yes, seriously, all this talk by Russia of its “alliance” with China is basically like some guy bragging about how much money his loan shark gave him.

    Reply
      1. gbd_crwx

        No need. They will strike at Gayropa at their holiest day (Eurovision) next year with a Spetnaz team, cleverly disguised as Russias bid. That’s why they cleverly lost this years competition, even though they easily had the best song

  5. Strykr9

    Excellent points all around but I have a small quibble with the whole “people like the US because freedoms!” argument. They like the US because they’re successful, powerful and rich period. Im not sure if it’s different in developed countries as I come from a developing one, but people here mainly care about practicality and standard of living. The majority of people don’t really know much about the political situation in the US or what kind of freedoms their citizens are afforded. They respect the US because they know it has the best universities they can possibly send their kids to and the high quality of US brands. This is why autocracies such as Singapore, China and many of the Gulf states have been able to be relatively prosperous. The vast majority of the citizenry simply do not care about politics at all as long as the government gives them a high standard of living and allows them to free trade and travel. Personally I’m an advocate for free speech and a government that is somewhat accountable to its people but this is merely the reality I have observed. Perhaps this is due to a cultural difference.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Well this applies only to arguments about political freedom or human rights. But yeah, I think in general the goodwill toward America comes from the perception of its living standards, even if that’s inaccurate and based on pop culture.

      The fact that American TV shows and movies are everywhere allows everyone to feel that they “know” America in some way, and a lot of those TV shows and movies portray life in America as much better and easier than it really is. Take a look at the houses you see in most sitcoms, for example. Even when the family is supposed to be working class and on the poverty line, they’ll usually have a twin-storied multi-room house.

      Reply
      1. Strykr9

        Oh definitely. A lot of people from my country(Sri Lanka) went to the US and expected to be living in a nice mansion with a pretty wife and an expensive car and got burned badly. Nowadays people are mostly going to a third country with a relatively generous welfare state after getting their vaunted degree from a US university or simply other Asian countries like Singapore, and even Australia as they find life there much easier than in the US>

      2. gbd_crwx

        Bloody foreigners, coming to our country just to use our welfare (except for when your stealing our jobs) 🙂

        But on a more serious note: Why UK or Czech?

  6. Callum Carmichael

    There’s something else I noticed about the “what about Iraq/Libya/Former Yugoslavia” argument that I noticed, particularly in relation to Vatniks trying to use it to show that the US might attack Russia (using squadrons of flying pigs to conduct fighter sweeps, presumably).

    It’s not that they were legal; all of these conflicts were legally problematic at best (one can argue that at least US actions in the former Yugoslavia and in Libya were well-intentioned, but even that doesn’t work for Iraq).

    That thing is background. Yugoslavia was in the middle of a civil war, where all factions had been trying to ethnically cleanse each other for years. The (illegal) US/NATO op in Kosovo, in particular, was part of a pattern of increasingly frustrated Western (particularly American) responses to the developments of the war. For anyone watching the conflict from its beginning to the Kosovo intervention, it shouldn’t have been too surprising.

    This is even more true for Iraq and Libya. Both countries had a long history of clashes with the US, going back to 1991 in the case of Iraq, and back to the 1980s with Libya. Hell, the reason the Iraqi Army was so weak in 2003 was that most of it had been crushed by US/UN forces in 1991. In Libya, Ghaddafi had deliberately fostered the decay of his armed forces because he doubted their loyalty. When the war happened in 2011, this became a self-fulfilling prophesy as much of the Libyan army went over to the rebels.

    In contrast, US and Russian forces have not fought each other openly since the Russian civil war. The string of clashes, diplomatic incidents, and provocations that one usually sees before the US decides to invade somebody hasn’t even started, and probably won’t given how cautious the Americans have been towards Russia.

    This is ignoring Russia’s geographical size and nuclear arsenal.

    Reply
  7. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

    The point about corruption is relevant as well to any argument about Ukraine. Because corruption was very significant to the Maidan.

    I don’t think many people in the West are aware of just how bad Ukrainian corruption was/is. Thousands of people dying due to it in health care for example. Obviously Vatniks wouldn’t be aware either because Russian media isn’t going to report on how corrupt Yanuk’s regime was.

    BTW Jim, I sign up for email updates and it ain’t sending me any. Yes, have checked ‘spam’ and ‘bin’ :[

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Actually while they don’t talk about it much now, I’m pretty sure most Russians were aware that Ukraine was worse off for many years. That’s part of the government’s toolbox. “Sure, things are bad here, but what about those khokhly?” It’s older than most people think.

      Most vats don’t really deny the corruption under Yanukovych or in their own country, as we’ve recently seen. The idea though, is that you should shut up and tolerate it because otherwise the US will rule you somehow. Protests shatters “stability,” the most important thing in the world.

      I think that’s one of the major reasons Putin did what he did to Ukraine. The lesson has always been- protesting makes things worse. Look at Egypt, look at Libya… But while Ukraine wouldn’t have exactly had a cakewalk after Maidan had Yanukovych stayed and the Kremlin not acted, it certainly wasn’t going to devolve into Libya or Syria. That was a problem. Putin couldn’t risk it working, because a successful, function liberal democracy populated by so many ethnic Russians runs directly counter to his state ideology that says Russians are too stupid to handle liberal democracy.

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Don’t know what the deal is with that subscription problem. I recommend following me on Twitter because I always tweet new posts as soon as they are done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s