Lowering the bar

So in my last post I linked to an article by a professor Paul Robinson at the University of Ottawa. He apparently took issue with a previous entry of mine and wrote a response. He was also kind enough to tell me so once it was published. Now as I wrote in the above-linked rebuttal, the main problem I had with the response was the fact that he seemed to miss the point of the article right in the thesis: It wasn’t so much about “whataboutery,” as in: “Annexation of Crimea? What about Iraq?!” It was about people who don’t even put that much effort into making a logically fallacious argument. For example, they read something about censorship in Russia and their response is simply: “Sounds like America!”

Now in case you’re wondering, this isn’t going to be round 2 with the professor. See I check my site stats and I saw that his article had been republished on the hilariously bad Russia Insider. Why bother pointing this out? Well whereas Robinson’s article is articulate and coherent, Insider just can’t resist  lowering the bar. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen. You’ll see an article on the blog of some more articulate albeit pro-Kremlin writer, and then you see the RI version and it looks as though it were written by teenagers. Their outrage at an RFERL piece about Stephen Cohen was a perfect example of this.

One interesting thing about RI is that they seem to be interested in the ADHD demographic, because they preface the piece with some talking points. But first I have to start with the headline:

‘Whataboutism’ Provokes Anger Because It Bursts the Bubble of Western Moral Superiority”

Let it be known that the headline itself is false. Now part of this is on Paul, and in the first link to my response I explain why. If whataboutism provokes any anger, it’s probably because it’s the only tactic these people ever use, and they use it so repeatedly and with such predictability that I can almost make them say what I want. Russian aggression in Ukraine? Iraq! Libya! Dilapidation and decay in Russia? Detroit! It’s like a goddamned phrasebook.

Now as for bursting the bubble of “Western Moral Superiority,” it seems the author of the headline forgets that whataboutism is just another term for a logical fallacy- “tu quoque” or “you too.” Actually depending on the situation it can also be a red herring, which is annoying to anyone in any discussion because the comparison isn’t even accurate. But more importantly, logically fallacious arguments really can’t take down any sense of anyone’s moral superiority. Reasoned arguments are better for that. Anyway, on to those talking points:

-Westerner who point fingers at Russia believe Russia has no right to do the same because it is morally inferior

Yes, that’s directly copied and pasted as-is if you haven’t clicked over to the link. This is confusing to me because I’m not sure if that “Westerner” is supposed to refer to me and they left the “s” off of “point,” or if it was supposed to be Westerners, plural. If it is me, I’m guessing they didn’t read the link that Robinson provided in his article, because I never made such an argument.

There are pundits out there who will simply dismiss arguments as whataboutism, even when they might actually be valid, but I’ve never seen any of them making this specific claim. If you happen to be doing something bad, you’re morally inferior on that topic.

Let me give a quick example. The Magnitsky Case was a travesty, but the Magnitsky Act was highly questionable as it punished people without an investigation and it was extremely selective. The act was supposed to be aimed at regimes with human rights violations, but we all know how ridiculously problematic that is, and to the best of my knowledge it has thus far only been applied to Russia. So long as that was the case, Russia held the moral high ground at least on that one issue. Then of course Russia had to prove that it could “answer” those sanctions, because goddammit nobody keeps a Russian official from his Western bank accounts and property! Their answer- punish Russian orphans, particularly the disabled. Moral high ground: blown.

In any case, those pundits who dismiss any comparisons in discussions about Russia, no matter how apt, rarely appear angry to me. That’s the luxury of just dismissing arguments, though it makes you look like a colossal asshole in the process. Sometimes these people may be committing a logical fallacy themselves- most likely special pleading.

-Nothing angers a westerner more than the temerity of Russians who disregard this and ask awkward questions about western policies

I know of no evidence for this statement. If anyone gets pissed it’s at the constant repetition of this often red herring tactic, and its selective use by those who use it.

Here I should also probably point out that Russia Insider’s authors are themselves Westerners, however long they might have lived in Russia. In any case, I’m all for asking awkward questions about Western policies. Here’s one off the top of my head:  “Why do Western countries lament over the actions of Russia today while they used to happily accepted billions in dirty money from Russian state officials and businessmen, all the while investing in Putin’s Russia to the point of even selling him military technology?”  Awk-ward!!!

Now you think that these talking points were good enough to let the reader get the gist and move on to the article, but no.

Kudos to author for his concise insight but he does not go far enough:

I knew it! Robinson’s failure to toe the party line 100% is no accident! Could he be a crypto-neocon? You can’t prove he isn’t!

West spreads far more mayhem, misery and death around the world than Russia does

This statement is totally unsubstantiated and can easily be turned on its head. For example, RI is on this thing called the internet, commonly accessed by these things called PCs. Who invented all these things? Have the internet and the PC, not to mention the smartphone, not revolutionized the entire world and raised living standards everywhere? You know what? Screw the technology for a second. Read this man’s story some time. He’s known as “The man who saved a billion lives.” These are just two examples, associated with the United States alone. That’s not even counting the whole “West,” and then we’d have to include Japan and Korea as well.

The point here is that we can decide to focus only on the bad or we can be more realistic and acknowledge the fact that by almost every indicator, humankind lives better today than it ever has. Keep in mind that there are people who think that Russia is inherently bound up with dictatorship, a “slave mentality,” corruption, and theft. Incidentally many of those people happen to be Russians but that’s beside the point. The point is- dialectics, mah boy!
Russians pointing a finger at the west are much more often onto something than westerners raising an issue with Russia.

If you’re hoping for the author to substantiate this, you’re shit out of luck. It’s basically just saying this is right and that’s wrong, which when you think about it isn’t that far removed from those Western pundits who smack any comparison down with the word whataboutism.

I think I know what happened here- the person who published this wasn’t able to construct a coherent article, so they tacked on their own unsubstantiated, highly questionable assertions to the top and then said Robinson didn’t go far enough.  I want the reader to think long and hard about that next time you hear the Team Kremlin crowd talking about how the “Western media” is in lockstep (check the comments of the first link in this article if you want to see that argument get torn to shreds with real examples).

The intro they tacked on is amusing as well:

A much needed article. It may come as a surprise to you but this is actually a thing. For years now western Russia commentators have claimed Russian critique of the west in reponse to western critique of Russia is invalid – unworthy of any consideration – and should be dismissed out of hand.

Is it a “thing?” I hadn’t heard the term used in discourse on Russia until at least 2014, when the whataboutist arguments started flying fast and furious. They say “for years now,” but I and many others can tell you that this country was very different as little as two years ago.

The key thing in this for me is where they say “western commentators have claimed…” First of all, I’m surprised to find that I’m now somehow representative of “western commentators.” For one thing, I’ve been living in Russia all this time and the closest connection I have to the “Western media” beyond some friends and acquaintances I met this year was the time I was featured in a debate against Ed Lucas on Sky. 500 Neocon points awarded!

Second, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone actually claim what they say they do. There are certainly people who dismiss specific attempts and don’t consider them, but not such a blanket statement. As I said before, actual whataboutist arguments are inherently fallacious from a logical point of view, so right there is a justification for dismissing them. But on the other hand I have seen people engage with such arguments and explain why the comparison is improper. I personally do this all the time. I’m actually trying to teach people about these things.

The piece de resistance is a photo of a US soldier, probably in Iraq, and…get ready for it…a whataboutist caption!

“Like that time Russia blew up the Middle East”

AAAAAWWWWWW SNAP!  

They totally burned me there! See I was totally in favor of US military intervention in the Middle East because I know that America is always the good guys and they have to go killed the evil terrorist bad guys in those Arab countries!

Oh wait…Hang on a second. That’s all bullshit. In the real world, I was against that war in Iraq from the start. I attended three separate demonstrations and even did some counter-recruitment work. I was also opposed to military involvement in Libya and Syria. Say what you will, but I think there were better options and what we have there now is kind of the worst of both worlds.

I’m getting something else too…Yes…I remember now! I’m not a representative of the US government, nor have I ever been. I haven’t even worked for any level of American government since 2002! I can reasonably call myself a hardcore “dissident” since 1999, even earlier to be honest.

Do you realize what this means?! It means that I can say whatever I goddamned well please about Russia’s actions in Ukraine because I never endorsed aggressive actions like the Iraq War and was in fact dead set opposed to them in word and deed.

And suppose I wasn’t even American? What do these geniuses say when a Russian voices criticism of their government’s actions? “Hey Sergei, don’t you know America invaded Iraq?” I know full well that this kind of thing actually takes place, but it’s even more idiotic because there’s even less of a reason to assume the person in question would endorse actions like those of Bush.

If you want to have some real fun with that little Middle East barb, read on.

See the thing about whataboutism is that if you’re doing a wrong thing right, you want to make sure that the thing your opponent does is exclusive to them. The classic example of Soviet whataboutism was: “They lynch negroes in the South.” There was a good reason for choosing that topic. For one thing, the USSR had America dead to rights on the topic of racism for many decades and American Cold War propagandists knew this. More importantly, however, whatever you think the USSR was doing, they sure as hell weren’t lynching any black folks or burning crosses.

Now on the other hand, if someone accuses you of theft and then you point out the time they stole from the same place, you’re still both guilty of theft. So you want to make sure your logically fallacious accusation can’t be leveled back at you.

So how does this have anything to do with the Middle East? Well several things, really:

-When the USSR was powerful, it did intervene and get involved in other countries far from its borders. This is not a moral judgement but intended to make a point- that is to say that history tells us that when Russia was strong enough to throw its weight around on the world scale, it did. Moreover, when we look at how readily the Kremlin moved to invade and punish its “brother people”(the same people, according to Putin) in Ukraine, we’d have to be naive indeed to believe that Russia, were it to have the kind of power to project force the way the US does, wouldn’t use that power. This is something we can also infer from the utter lack of any substantial opposition or criticism of the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. By contrast, in Western countries serious talk of war inevitably leads to protests and anti-war organizations.

-Russia was a supporter of the “War on Terror” and it was also a member of US CENTCOM from 2001, shortly after 9/11. Putin’s government has supported the NATO mission in Afghanistan and it also shared intelligence with the US regarding terrorism. Are we really to believe that Russia wouldn’t have got involved in some way if it were stronger at the time?

-The Iraq War presented Putin with the best of both worlds: he got to criticize US imperialism but at the same time benefit from rising oil prices that helped make Russia what it was in the glory years. But guess what- Russia still benefits from the Iraq War today. Iraqi Kurdistan is often called “the other Iraq” due to its meteoric success post-invasion compared to the bloody quagmire that characterized the other parts of the country. This region had de facto autonomy since 1991 but Saddam had isolated the area economically and obviously it wasn’t the most attractive place for investment given the fact that it was still officially part of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. After the invasion, the Kurds took control and the place has boomed. And guess who’s there. That’s right: Russia’s Gazprom. Nice of the US, UK, and Poland to do the heavy lifting while Russia comes in and gets a cut, don’t you think?

-Most of the weapons we see in Middle East conflicts are Soviet or Russian designed. Keep in mind that many of these weapons and their ammunition can be license built copies, but arms trafficking and Russian organized crime go hand in hand. To what extent is anyone’s guess.

-The US supports brutal dictatorships like Saudi Arabia. Russia supports Assad. Personally I’m more hostile to the Saudi regime, but it’s still backing a dictatorship, and this is basically a thought experiment.

I could go on but the point here is that Russia’s hands are not clean in the Middle East, and just by listening to Russian discourse on Ukraine and other former Soviet republics it isn’t too far fetched to imagine how Russia would act if it actually possessed the ability to project its force around the world. Why else do you think they were so interested in those Mistral carriers, and why are they still trying to update their navy? Blue water navies are imperialist tools. It’s also more disturbing that in Russia you don’t have the kind of political diversity of opinion and media that the West has. As I said before, the West is full of people who hear their government sabre-rattling and then immediately oppose it due to ideology or principle. Western politicians have to worry about elections and their own media. Bush managed to get the media on board in 2002, but by 2004 the administration had become a joke.

Let me make the above perfectly clear- I’m not saying any of those points above somehow mitigate the US’ actions in the Middle East. But if you want to play the “you’re not so clean yourself” game, Russia’s a fair target.

I really don’t know why people find it so hard to understand how idiotic these arguments are. If they aren’t a red herring that has nothing to do with the topic, they’re basically moot from the get go. Using some inspiration from my good friend, I’ve sort of developed a game-theory-like way to understand this.

When we are confronted with the immoral deeds of governments, any governments, we can take essentially two positions:

1. Call out immoral actions of all sides as best as possible. This doesn’t mean every side is equal, and we can consider mitigating circumstances, but essentially we try to stand for some kind of principle or standard.

2. We can point out that some other country also does bad things every time someone points out the bad deeds of a particular country. Since this could basically go in circles, the only real way to end this is for both sides to shut up.

Obviously there are other options in some cases, such as reasonably proving that two cases are actually different, but beyond that these are the two main approaches in our game.

So then we’re left with the question as to which approach makes the world a better place, and which makes it worse- Option 1 or Option 2? As a corollary to this, which system is better- one where human rights are enshrined yet the system often falls short of its professed values, or one where human rights are a priori dismissed as a ploy used by conspiratorial national rivals and thus dismissed using whataboutist arguments any time a human rights issue is raised?

I think it’s clear that the first option in both situations is desirable. Many of America’s fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, were absurdly hypocritical when they penned the Constitution. Here they were proclaiming equality and liberty while some of them, many in fact, owned human beings as property. But because they had proclaimed these ideas and enshrined them in a founding document, people were able to use those words again and again throughout US history to call the system into account when it failed to deliver on its promises. Here we see Lincoln invoking this in one of his debates with Douglas:

“I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a negro, why may not another man say it does not mean another man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get this statute book in which we find it and tear it out.

Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man—this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position, discarding our standard that we have left us. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”

Pointing out the gap between ideals and reality would be revisited again and again in the struggle for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights,  in the case of the latter up to this very year. See the nice thing about aiming high with lofty values is that when the system fails to achieve them, people who are seeking justice already have a moral advantage right out of the gate. The document says equal rights, these people aren’t treated equally- burden of proof is on the system to justify that.

The other path is that of ultra-cynicism. “Yes, so we are corrupt. But look at what your mortgage lenders did in 2008! Who are you to lecture us! Leave us alone!” Assuming the other party actually did so, then both parties would just go on being corrupt in their own ways, to varying degrees if not more so because nobody ever calls it out. Of course that’s usually not how it works, and thus it’s just distraction and red herrings over and over gain.

On the topic of human rights in this system, well they’re just a propaganda trope used by the enemy. No need to worry about how well our society respects them. If someone does call us out, we’ll just find some bad thing in their present or past and throw that in their face.

This path makes the world a worse place. It’s bad for America, it’s bad for Russia, it’s bad for everyone. And you can look at the comments on articles like this and all you’ll see is this echo chamber of people explaining how terrible the West is and how morally superior Russia is even if they’ve never lived there, but they don’t do anything. They just sit online reading bullshit and complaining about how terrible their governments are while doing jack shit to change it.

Rest assured that the people in charge of Russia’s foreign language media aren’t interested in seeing any of those problems in the West go away. What would they do without them? In fact they were truly sincere about highlighting this hypocrisy of the West, they’d essentially be screwing themselves because theoretically they might inspire enough people to go out and create a movement for change. Then they would have significantly improved the lives of Westerners at the expense of the Russian people, whose money pays their salaries. Of course the people who run Russia’s foreign language media aren’t concerned about that. They believe that it’s an effective strategy to distract and confuse foreign audiences, and so they keep pairing more intelligent guests and opinions with conspiratorial bullshit and ridiculous comparisons.

Yeah, this is a bit of a long one I know. So I’ll sum it up short and sweet- The invasion of Iraq? Horrible. Criminal. Unprovoked aggression. So is the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas war. And for the exact same reasons. Principles. Get some.

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99 thoughts on “Lowering the bar

  1. Callum Carmichael

    Fun fact: when the Soviet Union started offering scholarships to black students, mostly African, they in fact did have a serious problem with lynching of a sort.

    There were numerous incidents where Muscovites beat up the black students, usually for dating Russian women, and these students did get murdered at the rate of one every couple years or so. They didn’t actually lynch them, but they did sometimes stab them or beat them half to death and leave them on the ring road in January.

    So even that bit of whataboutism was hypocritical.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I’m pretty sure those incidents were a feature of the post-war USSR, when pretty much every original ideal of socialism had been abandoned.

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        My Russian teacher studied in the USSR around the 70’s or 80’s and he talked a little about this kind of racism. Anti-racism and other culture policies were from the beginning “soft line” policies of the party, meaning they weren’t rigorously enforced. This was probably one of the biggest mistakes they ever made on pretty much every count- nationalities policy, women’s rights, etc. It’s what allowed reactionaries to roll back or eliminate almost every progressive ideal of the system as the hard line policies(focused on industrialization, defense) took center stage.

      2. Antoine Sans

        Hey,

        I read a great study on the topic recently that I have not been able to find. However; I found another paper on the topic, I’ve only read the first few pages but it’s pretty interesting so far : https://www.google.fr/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CGEQFjAIahUKEwjqsdTMlIDHAhWH0xQKHYVkAj8&url=https%3A%2F%2Fscholarworks.iu.edu%2Fjournals%2Findex.php%2Faeer%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F166%2F259&ei=0q64VeqAJYenU4XJifgD&usg=AFQjCNH2uEp4SM-gv28x8YJqDEtxnv5PPg&sig2=Z9eHh-fahTRXAIxegKI_hw&bvm=bv.98717601,d.d24

        Here’s another one I have not read yet : http://web.grinnell.edu/courses/rus/f05/rus251-01/Scanned_RUS_251/USSR_Black_Africa.pdf

      3. Callum Carmichael

        Looks like Antoine beat me to it, but it came up in a post-grad course on Cold War culture.

        Here’s one of the readings that seems publically available: http://dh.oxfordjournals.org/content/38/2/271.abstract

        It’s also interesting that the African students were able to hold a protest against their poor treatment, and that they received an audience or two in the Kremlin. The official response was a strange mix between the sort of belittling “there’s no problem, it’s your fault” crap the current leadership likes so much, and some belated but apparently genuine attempts to solve the problem.

  2. Mao Cheng Ji

    “So I’ll sum it up short and sweet- The invasion of Iraq? Horrible. Criminal. Unprovoked aggression.”

    So, go stick it to them, stick it to them hard, and god bless you, brother. What a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your undeniable moral superiority.

    Badmouthing someone else’s country, especially the one where you’re a guest – not so much, I’m afraid.

    I was an immigrant once, in the US. Long time ago. I remember being in a park, talking to my daughter’s girlfriend mother, as our kids were playing. Very friendly talk. She was complaining about not being able to afford medical care. I said: ‘it’s a shame that this country doesn’t have free medical care.’ Immediately her disposition changed, she turned to me a said: ‘in that case, what the hell are you doing here?’.

    And she was right. I still was a guest there, and should’ve kept my criticisms to myself. And those who find your dubious outrage at Crimea reunification (as far as I can tell, a very happy event for a vast majority of everyone involved) unseemly, they are right too.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Still mad that I wrecked your fantasy about the media huh?

      “So, go stick it to them, stick it to them hard, and god bless you, brother. What a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your undeniable moral superiority. ”

      See I think this really cuts to the heart of the issue. At first you say “Why does the US condemn Russia when the US did X!” That implies that you’re saying the US did something immoral. But since you equate the two, now there is no moral superiority. The US is bad, Russia is bad, let’s all just continue being bad and not try to improve anything. That is the mentality that suits the Kremlin, because it is a small coterie of parasites that want to continue living insanely luxurious lives at the expense of their own people, with wealth siphoned from the country’s resources, all the while enjoying all those Western comforts while telling the ordinary people that they must do without.

      “Badmouthing someone else’s country, especially the one where you’re a guest – not so much, I’m afraid.”

      I am not a “guest.” I live here. I and my family who are from here personally experience the effects of the government and its policies. If you went to a country where female genital mutilation was the norm, would you say that’s fine because you’re a guest?

      “And she was right. I still was a guest there, and should’ve kept my criticisms to myself. ”

      No, that woman was full of shit and objectively wrong. The US should have free healthcare, period. It’s not a matter of opinion but fact- looking at the life stats for countries which have well-funded single payer healthcare systems and comparing them to the US.

      “Why do you hate America?” or “Love it or leave it” are debate-ending techniques used by people who cannot form a coherent argument.

      The problem with the Crimean annexation(they ain’t so happy now, by the way) is that it is aggression of a larger country against a smaller country with no justifiable pretext. Just like Iraq in this sense.

      I mean you can of course argue that any aggression by great powers is not objectively immoral, but then you’re forced to explain how this is a better world to live in.

      Russia’s political ideologues seem to believe this, but the problem is that as reader Asehpe has pointed out, they make this a priori assumption that human rights and values are just propaganda ploys, and thus they’re covered when they decide to ignore these things.

      A similar thing plays out in the media, they(like in Kiselyov’s speech upon opening Sputnik News) decide that the “Western media”(anyone who reports what they don’t like) is waging an information war against them, and they lie and fabricate stories in the process. Ergo, the Russian media sees no problem with fabricating stories and lying. They’ll say “Your side does it too!” But that’s the thing, it really doesn’t. At least not to the same extent and not for the same reason. So this is why you get a Russian media that most of the world just can’t take seriously. If they didn’t just decide that there’s no such thing as objective truth, they’d actually form more coherent arguments, discover REAL stories that fall by the wayside because of bias, and maybe actually convince some people that they have a point.

      Reply
      1. Mao Cheng Ji

        “That implies that you’re saying the US did something immoral.”

        Not at all. I’m not into moral superiority, or judging states and social institutions as if they were human beings. Societies evolve, exist, and function by their own laws.

        “is that it is aggression of a larger country against a smaller country”

        The people of Crimea had wanted to become independent from Kiev as much as possible; preferably to secede and join Russia. They had referendums in 1991 and 1993, demanding greater autonomy, but it was ignored. (Same story with Zakarpattia, by the way). This time, they took advantage of the coup in Kiev and finally succeeded. Nobody died, and most of everybody affected is very-very happy. Hurray!

        I’m happy for them, and you should be too.

        Instead, you, for some reason, choose to employ BS rhetoric and crude demagoguery – and to feel outraged. Where there is absolutely no reason to be. Unless you are a brutish ukro-nationalist, which you don’t sound like you are. It’s hard for me to come up with an innocent explanation for this. Are you trying to get Michael Bohm’s or Shaun Walker’s job?

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Not at all. I’m not into moral superiority, or judging states and social institutions as if they were human beings. Societies evolve, exist, and function by their own laws.”

        I’m not a big fan of using moral superiority as an argument either, but you invoked the term.

        That being said, some actions can be reasonably called moral. On the international stage, military aggression is typically seen as immoral. You know how Russia loves invoking the Great Patriotic War in spite of the fact that the Russian Federation is essentially the negation of the USSR and shares none of its values with almost all of its flaws? Well that victory was due to the Germans’ military aggression against the USSR, and they were punished by the world for it.

        Of course the Germans had their stated reasons for the invasion- claiming that the USSR was poised to attack them. Sound familiar?

        “The people of Crimea had wanted to become independent from Kiev as much as possible; preferably to secede and join Russia. They had referendums in 1991 and 1993, demanding greater autonomy, but it was ignored. ”

        Not really. Their referendum secured autonomy but they didn’t want independence or to join Russia. The referendum in 2014 was carried out in extreme haste, with the help of the Russian military and armed men, and with no time to campaign or debate while dissidents were harassed and in a couple situations, disappeared. There was also no status quo option.

        In any case, it doesn’t matter what a majority of people decide- it has to be determine within a constitutional law. If you want to see how a referendum SHOULD work, look at the Scottish independence vote. It was planned at least a year in advance. There was plenty of time to debate. The options were clear- Yes meant they would get full independence by 2018 IIRC, and no meant they’d remain part of the United Kingdom, with some additional autonomy which was previously negotiated. In other words, there’ change or status quo.

        This didn’t happen in the Crimea. The options were join Russia or become fully independent as per the 1992 constitution, which of course was not viable.

        I think the key terms you’re looking for there are “logic” and “facts,” along with some kind of consistency.

        The reason you have such a hard time understanding this is you obviously have bought into the Russian false dichotomy of “you’re with us or against us.” I have no stake in the games of Russia or NATO.

        I don’t see what your beef is with Shaun Walker, but I guess it has to do with him not properly toeing the Kremlin line. As for Bohm, I’ll actually agree to a point. Bohm, at least from my reading of the Moscow TImes, seemed to deliberately pick a side.

      1. Mao Cheng Ji

        “In any case, it doesn’t matter what a majority of people decide- it has to be determine within a constitutional law.”

        How consistent and logical – to scream ‘aggression!’ because of a (dubious) technicality in the case of Crimea – with 90% wanting to join the RF, peaceful transition and no causalities – while glamorizing the Kiev’s coup, with a few thousand violently overthrowing the legitimately elected government, leading to terror, an endless civil war, and tens of thousands of deaths.

        “I don’t see what your beef is with Shaun Walker”

        No beef. The guy is doing his job. You could do it too.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        It’s aggression because it was a military operation that led to, and carried out the referendum. Referendums are supposed to take place within the laws of the country where they are held, and there should be ample time to lay out the various options and campaigning so people can freely debate their choice. That is simply not what happened in the Crimea. Quite the opposite.

        It’s funny how you call Maidan a coup even though no NATO military soldiers or military personnel of any kind were involved in Yanukovych’s flight. But Russian soldiers coming in and taking control of the capital’s parliament building and rounding up potential dissidents is just fine. If anything, Russia is the one that had a coup- this is often how coups work. There’s military intervention and control, followed by a phony election that legalizes it.

        “with a few thousand violently overthrowing the legitimately elected government, leading to terror, an endless civil war, and tens of thousands of deaths. ”

        What the hell are you talking about? The government was not “violently overthrown.” There were riots and guilt on both sides and Yanukovych simply ran away. Again, this isn’t Santiago 1973. An incompetent president and his incompetent allies were ousted because of a clusterfuck they created.

        Endless civil war? You realize the Russian-sponsored uprising happened AFTER the Crimean annexation right? In April.

        Also there have been about 6,000 deaths in this Russian sponsored, financed, and supported war. If it weren’t for them, these disturbances would never have turned into an armed insurgency and Ukraine could focus all its efforts on cleaning its own house.

        Also, 298 innocent people would still be alive today.

      3. Callum Carmichael

        I wouldn’t call 20,000 Russian troops seizing control of the peninsula and forcing the Crimean Parliament to hold the referendum a “technicality”.

        And how do you know 90% wanted to join Russia? Why would you trust the referendum results? The voting was not observed by any independent monitors, so there was nothing stopping the organizers from stuffing yes votes into the ballot boxes. That certainly happens in normal Russian elections: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/9124044/Alleged-ballot-box-stuffing-filmed-at-Russian-polling-station.html

        I suppose we should just take this guy’s word for it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Aksyonov#Alleged_links_to_organized_crime

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The unhappy people I was referring to recently are local authorities in the Crimea. They’re getting a crash course in the reality of being a Russian Federal subject.

    2. Estragon

      “Badmouthing someone else’s country” – frankly, who cares? People can “badmouth” all they want, it doesn’t hurt anyone.

      And I do want to find out from “guests” about their thoughts and experiences. Hearing such feedback is useful.

      The woman you talked to was not right, she was overly prickly and sensitive. That kind of attitude makes it impossible to improve things.

      Reply
      1. Mao Cheng Ji

        “And I do want to find out from “guests” about their thoughts and experiences. Hearing such feedback is useful.”

        Not when it presented in the “what about” form, apparently. In that case – it’s infuriating…

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I’ve written two very long articles just recently detailing whataboutism from almost every angle(not to mention the numerous other articles I’ve talked about it in). Often times it is amusing, not infuriating. It gets annoying when that’s all the other side has, and especially when the assertions themselves are inaccurate or the other country is literally involved in the same thing in some way.

        Personally I learned much about America I never would have considered had I not listened to immigrants. My Russian teacher, though not Russian, was an immigrant. Many of my friends were immigrants from Russia or the former Yugoslavia. Listening to them, plus actually traveling to Russia when I was a teenager, gave me an international perspective and broke whatever “my country right or wrong” sentiments I had. I am certainly grateful for that.

        Now if only more Russians could break that sentiment, especially considering how their regime does not act in the interests of the country.

  3. Mao Cheng Ji

    “considering how their regime does not act in the interests of the country”

    90% of them disagree with your sentiment, so either they are all stupid inferior creatures, or you’re missing something. Something rather important.

    Reply
  4. Mao Cheng Ji

    “I wouldn’t call 20,000 Russian troops seizing control of the peninsula and forcing the Crimean Parliament to hold the referendum a “technicality”.”

    Didn’t I read you earlier being (more or less) happy about ‘pro-maidan activists’ (i.e.: neonazi thugs) restoring and maintaining order in Kharkov and Odessa? But this is where you draw the line, obviously: Russian troops maintaining order is unacceptable. Well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

    “And how do you know 90% wanted to join Russia? Why would you trust the referendum results?”

    Overwhelming evidence. Opinion polls, personal contacts, etc.

    Interesting fact: are you aware that about 80% of the Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimea (people from all over Ukraine) had chosen to stay there and become Russian citizens?

    http://investigator.org.ua/news/150490/

    How does THIS fit your narrative?

    Reply
    1. Callum Carmichael

      “Didn’t I read you earlier being (more or less) happy about ‘pro-maidan activists’ (i.e.: neonazi thugs) restoring and maintaining order in Kharkov and Odessa?”

      Nope. Don’t lie to me about what I said. I remember being pretty clear that the violence in Odessa shouldn’t have happened. It’s also an invalid comparison, since there was no foreign intervention in Odessa. The pro-Russian rioters also shot first, and there was street fighting for some time. Maidan activists were, for the millionth time, predominantly not neo-nazis.

      Why would that statistic be surprising? Many of the soldiers stationed in Crimea were from there, IIRC. Opinion polls are also hardly “overwhelming evidence” when conducted on a population under military occupation. Especially ones you don’t think to cite.

      I’ll say this once more: Aggression against other countries is wrong. Especially when this aggression is a transparently cynical attempt to paralyse that country.

      Reply
      1. Shalcker

        Do you actually have results of investigation on who those “shot first”-ers in Odessa were? Because i seem to remember quite clearly that the ones at pro-Russian camp were completely different people, and not one could be traced from those who shot to those who died there…

        On another point, do you think opinion polls are completely invalidated for eternity once there was armed interventions at some point? Even now, when there are no armed men on the street? :/
        Because poll results didn’t really change much between now and then, even those done by Western institutions. Science seems to be fairly robust in this particular case.
        Here is the article that has a few of them linked, both old and relatively recent for comparison.
        http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2015/03/20/one-year-after-russia-annexed-crimea-locals-prefer-moscow-to-kiev/

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        What matters is the law. I never doubted that Crimean Russians wanted to live in Russia- but you have to remember that this was because they lived in a country run by corrupt, incompetent people they actually supported, plus they got to watch that Russian media telling them that life was so wonderful in Russia.

        The problem is that this was an act of aggression, very much like the Anschluss or the seizure of Czechoslovakia. Prior to that point, the people in the Crimea weren’t mounting any serious effort to join Russia. Russia had never raised the issue in the UN or anywhere else.

        It was an opportunistic land grab so that Putin could make it seem Russia is relevant and powerful.

        Here’s a source on that investigation info.

        http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1426094295

      3. Callum Carmichael

        Poll results don’t become invalid in armed conflicts but they must be taken with a grain of salt. Mao called them “overwhelming evidence” and I very much disagree. Please stop lying to me about what I said.

        And please stop trying to distract from the issue. Invading and snatching bits of other countries is wrong. Ukraine also doing bad things doesn’t absolve Russia of its crimes.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Exactly. Suppose things had gone differently- Yanukovych stayed to take part in the 22 Feb agreement, then elections in May, and his constituency comes out in force and he or the Party of Regions wins.

        Suddenly a curious thing happens. In L’viv men wearing American ACU uniforms with American gear and weapons but with no insignia and wearing masks seize the local government buildings. A referendum is hastily organized. Some people suspected of not supporting Galician independence disappear. One is found dead with signs of torture. No campaigning against the yes vote is allowed.

        What would be the response then?

      5. Shalcker

        And please stop trying to distract from the issue. Invading and snatching bits of other countries is wrong. Ukraine also doing bad things doesn’t absolve Russia of its crimes.
        Why are you trying to invalidate poll results then?

        Public opinions CAN be in favor of armed intervention and secession; that’s independent from wherever those successions are “wrong” or “illegal”.

        Still, if you go “democracy first” approach, and poll results are true, then we can logically assume that this particular secession is not “wrong” (since it follows public opinion in the area, and results of it are positive for this particular area – clear truimph of democracy even if somewhat rushed) yet it still can be considered “illegal”.

        Much weaker position but the only logically consistent.

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Meh…

        “Why are you trying to invalidate poll results then?”

        You know the Nazis had good poll results too. Were they right?

        “Public opinions CAN be in favor of armed intervention and secession; that’s independent from wherever those successions are “wrong” or “illegal”.”

        That’s not what we’re disputing. It is wrong and illegal, regardless of how the people voted. Also post annexation, I don’t see why they’d publicly voice other opinions. Now they’re in Russia, where they’re already starting to learn that you don’t get choices anymore when it comes to political ideas.

        “Still, if you go “democracy first” approach,”

        You guys always misunderstand democracy. It only works within the framework of some kind of law. Otherwise it’s just mob rule.

        I’d at least buy this argument if there had actually been a movement for Crimean unification with Russia going back several years, with vocal protests and what not. But that’s not what happened. A military invasion and a real coup is what occurred.

  5. Asehpe

    Ji, any indepedent source for your numbers?… Also, what about the 20% who didn’t? Weren’t they persecuted, slandered, accused of ‘treason’, and so on and so forth? 🙂

    I remember Crimea. It’s where I went with my wife for our second медовый месяц. Great memories of Yalta, climbing the Ai Petre, cruising the streets in Semfiropol… And indeed a lot of people who were unhappy with Ukraine, including my mother-in-law, a staunch Putin supporter who used to light candles asking god (in whom she, by the way, didn’t believe — growing up in Soviet created these amusing inconsistencies.,,) to protect him from ‘Western assassins’, and my brother-in-law, who worked in transportation and was all the time complaining about ‘украинизация’.

    Now… my mother-in-law thinks Putin has ‘маниа величества’, perhaps because he’s so short… gone are the candles, and she is now pro-NATO — she, who used to be afraid of NATO as if it were the work of the devil she didn’t believe in! She now thinks Ukraine should join it, and the EU, as quickly as possible, because ‘русские стали сумасшедшими, пока это так, никто не знает что будет’ — and she is herself Russian! As for my brother-in-law, every time he calls from Crimea he says it’s a pleasure to be able to размовляти украïнскою мовою’ and comments on how he pretends in public to support the occupation regime (‘Крым наш! То есть, их! То есть, у русских! То есть, у нас!’ D’oh!…) while privately reminiscing over how much better things were under Ukrainian law.

    That’s what Russia managed to do: make people who loved it begin to hate it. As that woman said in her You-Tube Video, “никогда мы не будем братьями…’ And that is probably true. And all of this, just because of Putin’s desire to have a quick victory, even at the cost of spitting in Ukraine’s face.

    Because, you see, the funny thing is that none of this was at all necessary. You say 90% of the Crimeans wanted either independence or to join Russia? My Crimean in-laws would beg to differ; but, just for the sake of the argument, let’s assume this was true. You see, with a huge majority in favor of leaving Ukraine, all Putin would have to do is put pressure on Ukraine to do a legal referendum. It would take years, Putin would need the help of the EU — but it would be for a good cause, the Europeans would support it, Crimeans could help by protesting “en masse” all over the peninsula… and voilà, there would be a referendum, and one with Russian observers (as well as European/OSCE ones). If done according to Ukrainian law, the referendum would have to be country-wide, and the Crimeans would probably lose; but their situation would have been acknowledged internationally, the Ukrainian government would look bad, pressure would be put on them… and then, more and more autonomy, a second referendum based on the Scottish one (after all, Crimea was already an Autonomous Republic under Ukrainian law, so the legal basis could probably be built relatively easily). And this referendum would be won by your beloved pro-Russian Crimean majority. And presto: Crimea is independent! And then Crimea joins Russia! And the whole world claps their hands and congratulates Russia and Crimea on a peaceful, democratic solution.

    But noooo…. Putin had to solve it all in a couple of months. It’s not worth waiting for five years… Twenty-three since the break-up of the Soviet Union is OK, but five years now? That would be tooo much. Better invade, occupy, and throw the legal authorities out. And then start a new war and kill 6,000 people just to look ‘strong’.

    Indeed. Mr Ji, I see you like your narrative — and you will accuse me of liking mine. So maybe it’s better if we just agree to disagree, and let history run its course? Whatever will happen to these lands doesn’t depend on me, or on you. Dong ma? 🙂

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      “all the time complaining about ‘украинизация’.”

      The irony of this is that the last leader that imposed Ukrainization on the country was Stalin. Neither side wants to credit him with that.

      Reply
  6. Mao Cheng Ji

    “Many of the soldiers stationed in Crimea were from there, IIRC.”

    I have lived in 4 different countries. This last one doesn’t have an army to speak of, but in the rest (especially in Switzerland), and every other story I ever heard, conscripts and volunteers are always sent as far from their homes as possible. I don’t know why Ukraine would be an exception.

    But we’re in luck: my lady-friend is Ukrainian. I’ll see her this weekend, and I’ll try to remember to ask and then to report.

    “Opinion polls are also hardly “overwhelming evidence” when conducted on a population under military occupation. Especially ones you don’t think to cite.”

    Takes one second to google, but okay:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2015/03/20/one-year-after-russia-annexed-crimea-locals-prefer-moscow-to-kiev/

    “In February 2015, a poll by German polling firm GfK revealed that attitudes have not changed. When asked “Do you endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea?”, a total of 82% of the respondents answered “yes, definitely,” and another 11% answered “yes, for the most part.” ”

    “I’ll say this once more: Aggression against other countries is wrong.”

    You need to talk about secession, not aggression. Is secession wrong? A secession of a province – when its population overwhelmingly wants to secede – in the context of a coup in the central government – is it obviously wrong?

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      “You need to talk about secession, not aggression. Is secession wrong? A secession of a province – when its population overwhelmingly wants to secede – in the context of a coup in the central government – is it obviously wrong?”

      Again, it’s against the law, and it was organized with the help of a foreign military. Yes- It’s wrong. It’s wrong for the same reason Hitler was wrong when he annexed Austria.

      Reply
    2. Callum Carmichael

      Sending your army to forcibly take control of part (or all) of another country is aggression. See Jim`s hypothetical example of the US annexing Lviv. Even if the population of Lviv were thrilled to become the 51st state (and they probably would), it would still be aggression.

      Reply
      1. Shalcker

        So, what you are saying is that secession is right, aggression is wrong here?

        Umm, if i may repeat what Jim said about Ukrainian actons: Was there any other way for Russians to act there? I mean, really? They have seen coup in Kiev, neither EU or US willing to follow any prior agreements and giving free pass to radicals, and they had to react fast to prevent situation in region where their troops are stationed from spiraling out of control as it happened in Georgia in 2008 with attack on Russian peacekeepers.
        Here it could be similar provocation against stationed Russian troops if they would remain passive. So they had to be proactive here to prevent any possibility of escalation.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Umm, if i may repeat what Jim said about Ukrainian actons: Was there any other way for Russians to act there? I mean, really? They have seen coup in Kiev, neither EU or US willing to follow any prior agreements and giving free pass to radicals, ”

        And yet none of that happened, they were in no danger, and the Russian military started operating on the peninsula, so no.

        There wasn’t a coup in Kyiv, Russia advised against the signing of the 21 February agreement, and Yanukovych chose to run away(possibly because he was told to or lied to by the Russian government) rather than see to it that the agreement was fulfilled.

        Also weren’t you the one who claimed that nationalists occupying a building left after being called by US officials? Now you’re saying that they were giving them a free hand? If anything the US and EU should have gotten more involved and spoke out against the nationalists in the coalition from the beginning- but it would still be labeled a neo-Nazi coup anyway.

      3. Shalcker

        And secession just happened to be cheapest way to make this security permanent, since Kiev refused to cooperate.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Cooperate with what? Annexation?

        Oh by the way, is there some conscious reason why you continually avoid answering my question about how the Russian government would respond to the same thing happening in Ufa or Kazan.

        We need only to look at Grozny- hell, we can look at MOSCOW to see how the Russian government responds to this sort of thing. Tanks first.

      5. Callum Carmichael

        There is no evidence of any particular threat to Russian speakers in Ukraine, particularly prior to the Russian invasion. There was also no coup; Yanukovych fled of his own accord. You are free to disagree about the coup point, but please recognize that it is logically fallacious to try to use a premise I say is untrue to try to prove a point to me. It’s called begging the question. We’ve been over this.

        In any case, the situation is not comparable to georgia at all. In Georgia, Saakashvili launched a military operation before the Russian army showed up. In Ukraine, there was no military operation in the East until after Russian invaded Crimea and started a war in the East.

        “So, what you are saying is that secession is right, aggression is wrong here?”

        Stop fucking lying to me about what I said. If the referendum had been organized according to the Ukrainian constitution, or even if Russia had persuaded Kyiv to change the constitution’s rules on secession concerning autonomous regions, it would have been fine.

        Instead, Russia invaded the pininsula and held the referendum under military occupation . I don’t give a fuck if it was “cheaper” for Russia to do it that way; Russias interests do not trump Ukrainian sovereignty. Russia signed a very important treaty promising specifically that it would never violate Ukrainian territorial integrity. Russia is acting in open violation of both international law and its own prior diplomatic committments.

      6. Shalcker

        Did you actually read what I wrote, or you defer back to your propaganda instantly by keywords?

        No, i’m proposing that threat to Russian speakers had little to do with it, even if it was convenient reason. Threat to Russian military stationed in Crimea that would require full-spectrum response is the one being avoided here. WW3-like scenario, full-blown war with Ukraine, not this creeping semi-deniable action like in Donbass.

        How do you suppose this threat could be avoided without actually using very same military in subduing and controlling Ukrainian forces – that could technically get order to attack Russians at any point? Kiev was extremely confrontational, and their new appointments to heads of military and interior were both members of Svoboda…

      7. Jim Kovpak Post author

        There was no such threat. The Ukrainian army had no orders. This kind of excuse could be used to justify all kinds of land grabs, which of course Russia would scream about if it were the US doing it.

        Remember the threat of WMDs?

      8. Shalcker

        And it was done exactly to prevent anything close to Georgian conflict happening. It’s called “learning from experience”, US plans generally have little variance.

      9. Jim Kovpak Post author

        There was absolutely no evidence that this was going to happen.

        Russia engaged in military aggression against its weaker neighbor because Putin fears being humiliated and most of all- being held accountable by his people. They were also forced to support their narrative that protesting against corrupt governments always leads to something worse.

      10. Shalcker

        There was no such threat. The Ukrainian army had no orders. This kind of excuse could be used to justify all kinds of land grabs, which of course Russia would scream about if it were the US doing it.
        It’s about “what if” scenario.

        Do you deny that they COULD get such order and some would follow it? Hell, in some interviews at the time they basically begged to get one…

        And if that happened without Russian soldiers at every gate, what would be Russian options exactly?

      11. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Yes and there was a “what if” scenario about Saddam Hussein giving WMDs to non-state actors like terrorist groups.

        There was also no evidence for it and it strained logic to believe that.

      12. Shalcker

        In fact quick search actually gives this:

        “Прошла информация, что могут быть совершены и террористические акты, а радикально настроенные некоторые украинские руководители, в том числе силовых структур, готовы были совершить и какие-то акты, связанные с большими человеческими жертвами”, – сказал Путин в комментарии к фильму “Крым. Путь на Родину” в эфире телеканала “Россия 1”.
        Translation: We had information that there is possibility of terror acts from some of radically aligned Ukrainian people in power, including those at head of police/military ministries, including possibility of acts with large human casualties.

        Exactly the situation i describe. And if you check their speeches at the time it’s easy to see where this concern can come from.

      13. Jim Kovpak Post author

        No reason to believe any of this was actually true, or that this necessitated taking over the peninsula by force and annexing it.

        At most they could have called on the new Ukrainian government to help ensure order in the region and if they had to deploy troops, they could have just left once the situation was fully stable.

        Face it- they annexed it because Putin wanted to, he needed to.

        Military aggression and imperialism, plain and simple.

      14. Callum Carmichael

        “What-if” scenarios with no evidence behind them don’t justify actual military aggression.

        Iraq “could have” been working on Nuclear weapons in 2002. Or they “could have” started working on them in a few years if the US hadn’t invaded. The reason we generally call the Bush administration liars was that there was no evidence that Iraq was actually doing that, or even planning to. But hey, it was a faint possibility and we can’t take chances right?

        We can play this game all day, really. Russia “could be” about to invade the Baltics, so maybe NATO should annex the Leningrad Oblast?

        Russia’s intervention in Donbass in particular actually caused a Georgia-like scenario. There would have been little to no violence without all those “Spetsi” seizing government and police buildings. Incidentally, in 2008 the Georgians did not attempt to ethnically cleanse South Ossetia, as you seem to be implying.

  7. Shalcker

    Cooperate with reigning in radicals, obviously. And assuring Russia that new government will follow prior agreements – at least rhetorically.

    Oh by the way, is there some conscious reason why you continually avoid answering my question about how the Russian government would respond to the same thing happening in Ufa or Kazan.
    You got to expand on scenario here; quite a lot of things need to change before it can happen as “same thing”.

    What is this “same thing” anyway? :/
    Demonstration that actually gets significant following? Remember 2011? Those do get listened to, and at least some of their demands generally get met (like restoration of governor elections in 2011); obviously all while local powers try to undermine them. Even direct removal of governor or mayor is possible in some cases if it will actually help.
    The point is never allowing protest to grow beyond manageable level, something they failed to do in Ukraine under EU and US pressure.
    And that’s also the reason why we’re dismantling bastions of US influence in Russia like USAID and NED.

    Also weren’t you the one who claimed that nationalists occupying a building left after being called by US officials? Now you’re saying that they were giving them a free hand? If anything the US and EU should have gotten more involved and spoke out against the nationalists in the coalition from the beginning- but it would still be labeled a neo-Nazi coup anyway.
    Except they didn’t.

    And that supports possibility that US just wanted “plausible deniability” (it’s all radicals! we had nothing to do with it, honest!) while gaining ability to destabilize situation to the max if they desire to.

    Why would you suspect them of actually wanting to take direct control and in turn getting direct blame? :/

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      “Cooperate with reigning in radicals, obviously. And assuring Russia that new government will follow prior agreements – at least rhetorically.”

      There barely were any radicals. The number of nationalists in Kyiv were in the hundreds at best.

      You’re really reaching for straws here.

      I said what would happen if the SAME thing happened in Kazan or Ufa. Armed men appear and seize government buildings and then they start having a referendum on independence(this is more analogous to Donbas though).

      We both know exactly what the government would do- send in the tanks and armed men. They’ve done it before.

      But Ukraine was just supposed to surrender from the beginning.

      “What is this “same thing” anyway? :/
      Demonstration that actually gets significant following? Remember 2011? Those do get listened to, and at least some of their demands generally get met (like restoration of governor elections in 2011); obviously all while local powers try to undermine them.”

      This is hilarious. What the people really got was more corruption, and more crackdowns on their rights, plus a new president for life.

      You definitely win the gold medal for mental gymnastics there.

      Reply
      1. Shalcker

        Come on. What part of head posts of interior and military belonged to Svoboda do you not understand? You’re the one denying obvious here…

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        So what? Top Russian posts are occupied by right-wing fanatics. Perhaps someone should seize parts of Russia every time Zhirinovsky makes a threatening speech?

      3. Shalcker

        This is hilarious. What the people really got was more corruption, and more crackdowns on their rights, plus a new president for life.
        Some of their demands are met at the time pretty much instantly, and then rolled back gradually as pressure wanes. That’s how it is kept manageable, it has nothing to do with following their wishes for eternity.

        As for tanks and armed men, they have different agencies focused on prevention of such threats. But when they fail, sure, whatever works.

        We don’t even need to look far, remember armed men taking over “House of Press” in Grozny just last december? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Grozny_clashes
        Yeah, something like that. Instantly, no dilly-dallying.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        You know what demands weren’t met? Fair elections- the MAIN demand at those protests.

        “As for tanks and armed men, they have different agencies focused on prevention of such threats. But when they fail, sure, whatever works.
        We don’t even need to look far, remember armed men taking over “House of Press” in Grozny just last december?”

        Yup, it’s okay for RUSSIA to do that- but Ukraine of course not! They should have immediately surrendered so more of their country could be dismantled by an aggressive neighbor.

        And you have the audacity to call Western nations hypocrites.

      5. Callum Carmichael

        Uh… only in the defense ministry, and Tenyukh resigned on 25 March. The interior minister was Arsen Avakov, of the Batkivshchina (and still is unfortunately). Svoboda also had one of two vice PMs and the ministry of agriculture. The reason they occupied these positions is because they got 10% of the vote in 2012 while Yanukovych was in office. In the post-Maidan parliamentary elections, they were practically shut out. So the post-Maidan government ultimately ended up with FEWER fascists that Yanukovych’s did.

        It’s actually widely believed that Svoboda were working for Yanukovych’s political technology department, though it’s hard to say for sure.

      6. Shalcker

        Uh… only in the defense ministry, and Tenyukh resigned on 25 March.

        Did you check their speeches? Did they both sounded moderate and non-threatening? What did they suggest at the time?

        It’s about initial response after all, not what they did past Crimea accession/secession.

      7. Jim Kovpak Post author

        After mass demonstrations the country is concerned about maintaining order. No reason to assume there would be a state campaign of military violence waged.

        Still no evidence.

        What’s funny about this is that you’ve pretty much shown you don’t believe in your own claims when you attempted to answer my hypothetical scenario. You’d technically be find if they did send out the army and start killing people- the only reason you’re not is because it’s not the Russian army doing it.

        It’s just like how the Russian government doesn’t give a shit about those people in the Donbas. If they did, they would have sent more troops there and pulled the same thing. But the sanctions were announced and as we know, Russia’s corrupt leaders love Western money and real estate, so they held off.

        Now the keep this war going and thousands are dead because of it.

      8. Callum Carmichael

        So, being sent to arrest Yanukovych makes you a fascist? That’s a pretty loose definition you have there.

        Incidentally, do you have to keep moving the goalposts? You start by saying that the interim interior minister was Svoboda, which wasn’t true, so then you change it to a narrative about how Avakov is a fascist because he followed the new government’s orders to arrest Yanukovych. I’m interested in what sort of gymnastics you’ll come up with next.

        You might look into Avakov’s protection and promotion of the Azov batallion but… sorry to say… that didn’t start until at least April or May during the ATO, and we’ve already established (or you did) that minesterial positions after Crimea/the Donbass uprising are irrelevant to Russia’s motivations.

    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Oh yeah, points for pulling the old excuse of local officials- as though Putin’s regime isn’t the over-arching problem here. If it’s always local officials, who set up this system? If he’s such a great leader, why does the country have the same problems after all these years?

      At this point he’s either complicit or incompetent, or both.

      Reply
      1. Shalcker

        So what even if he is?

        As long as he manages to stay in power by carefully choosing which demands should be conceded and which ones can be ignored his public support will remain high, and he will keep getting elected. Don’t need to be genius to do it.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Let me get this straight- You believe that it is good for Russia to be ruled by a corrupt, incompetent dictator perpetually?

      3. Shalcker

        What does “good” has to do with it? :/

        Is that good or bad that temperature outside is exactly what it is? It’s just a medium in which we operate. Some opportunities open (you can swim in rivers and lakes if weather is hot enough), other opportunities close (you cannot skate on those same rivers and lakes).

        And what other options are there exactly other then pipe dreams of “anyone else is better”? :/

        He is not immortal, and he will get replaced eventually. He seems adequate enough; his strategic sense is a bit weak but his tactical prowess is okay (something that seems to fit some description of Merkel too btw).

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “What does “good” has to do with it? :/”

        Wow, what a patriotic response? Yeah he’s running the country into the ground and has no plan as to what happens next, and he’s ensured there will be no functional political system or potential competent leaders, but I’m sure this will work itself out!

        “And what other options are there exactly other then pipe dreams of “anyone else is better”? :/”

        He deliberately created that situation- another strike against him.

        ” He seems adequate enough; his strategic sense is a bit weak”

        Understatement of the year.

        He is at this point either incredibly stupid or delusional, as he’s trying to start a Cold War rivalry while his country has the economy that is weaker than that of Italy and getting worse.

      5. Shalcker

        You seem to underestimate resilience of Russian economy.

        He should be a lot better informed about it. Apocalyptic scenarios are clearly not playing out; obviously rosy predictions of “patriots” do not play out as well.

        Situation at the moment is quite fitting to middle-of-the-road scenario – and in that scenario we return to growth in 2016.

        Even if we don’t (for example, oil crashes hard), reserves should last us until about 2018-2020, by which re-alignment to Asian markets and import substitution will be complete.

        And no, he is not starting “cold war rivalry” (that would require strategic thinking he lacks), he just responds to dangers as he sees them.

        That it looks like “cold war” just means that dangers never really changed that much since then…

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “You seem to underestimate resilience of Russian economy.”

        LOL. We’ve tried this before. They tried it when they had a far more solid economic and ideological base. It didn’t work. Now he’s going to try it with none of that.

        “He should be a lot better informed about it. ”

        He clearly isn’t.

        “Situation at the moment is quite fitting to middle-of-the-road scenario – and in that scenario we return to growth in 2016.”

        Growth from WHAT? Oil prices aren’t coming back. Gas isn’t coming back. The government keeps pissing money away on boondoggle projects and they steal even from that.

        “Even if we don’t (for example, oil crashes hard), reserves should last us until about 2018-2020, by which re-alignment to Asian markets and import substitution will be complete.”

        This is hilarious. Self-delusion is the worst.

        “And no, he is not starting “cold war rivalry” (that would require strategic thinking he lacks), he just responds to dangers as he sees them.
        That it looks like “cold war” just means that dangers never really changed that much since then…”

        The only danger he’s concerned about is that he and his friends will be held accountable for what they put their country through. There is no Russia vs. America. There’s Putin vs. Russia, plain and simple.

  8. Shalcker

    Well, it’s fairly simple.

    What predictions about Russian economic fate do you think are most likely to be true?
    Surely you’re no basing this on your own “gut feeling”?
    Same for oil. And same for state of Russian reserves.

    With latest articles like this
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/28/russia-economy-gdp-idUSL5N10819Y20150728
    reversal of downward trend no longer seems impossible – everyone polled by Reuters as well as Russian official institutions seems to predict decline this year and modest growth next year (less then decline of this year in every case).

    Labour costs that grew ahead of production efficiency curve before Crimea crisis largely corrected themselves, and now as analysts say our labour costs almost equal Chinese.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The problem is confirmation bias. Markets are tricky and we’ve seen oil rebound a few times since 2014. But the general trend is downward, same with gas. Then you’ve got the stealing, the new sanctions(just added today), and incredibly wasteful spending, and it’s basically a death spiral. It won’t collapse over night, but it’s not long now, especially since every crisis just exacerbates things. And when it’s not a crisis, it’s Putin’s idiotic attempts to “answer” back.

      In any case, this isn’t about Russia weathering the storm. This is all about Putin’s self-preservation, which means that when it comes down to him and his elite vs. the people, the latter will lose.

      But I’m sure after the collapse some other con men will arise to convince everyone that the only reason this all happened was because Putin was really a Judeo-Masonic CIA agent and if the people would just give their loyalty to this new “strong leader,” he’ll rebuild Russia into an empire and show the United States what’s what. Because this is all a people should strive for- conflict with the United States!

      Reply
      1. Shalcker

        Well, i don’t see you guarding against very same confirmation bias… how long is that “not too long”, five years? Decade?

        Did you see any actual estimates on how much each sanctioned entity or person is hurt by them? How much new sanctions will add to this? I would be quite interested in this.

        And exactly because of corruption Russians are fairly adept at various “law evasion” schemes; sanctions are just one more law to evade or circumvent.

        Russian “counter-sanctions” work decently for local industry that already produces similar goods – most notable in pork which was “sanctioned” by banning European imports even before whole Crimea thing at start of 2014 and now sees almost no price inflation. Similar thing for chicken.

        In many areas EU was just more convenient, not anywhere close to indispensable.
        And our trade balance with US always was fairly low, and still only grew after sanctions…

        And then, you should look at 2008 crisis on how Putin actually thinks when it comes to “elites vs people”… i think you are underestimating his cunning, and overestimate how much elites actually need compared to numbers consumed by general population. It also had military adventures like war of 8.8.8… really, it’s worth renewing in memory:
        https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BE-%D1%8D%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9_%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%B8%D1%81_%D0%B2_%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D0%B8_%282008%E2%80%942010%29

        Do you think something fundamentally changed since then, and fickle investors will not return to Russian market in search of profits once growth that most economists see as inevitable will happen?

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Well, i don’t see you guarding against very same confirmation bias… how long is that “not too long”, five years? Decade?”

        No, I’ve seen ridiculous predicts of collapse that I think can be dismissed, but there’s basically no real positive predictions for Russia’s economy coming outside of Russia for the most part. That tells you something.

        What is more, I think it’s foolish to take all these ad hoc “answers” about what the government will do by this date or that date at face value. We know they’ve been making promise after promise for years now. These people have no plan. They’re panicking.

        “And then, you should look at 2008 crisis on how Putin actually thinks when it comes to “elites vs people”… i think you are underestimating his cunning, and overestimate how much elites actually need compared to numbers consumed by general population. It also had military adventures like war of 8.8.8…”

        That was a very different Russia in those times. A very different war as well, one which consumed far fewer resources.

        So yes, things have fundamentally changed. Worse still, the Russian government has engaged in a number of actions that will only spur more capital flight.

        To be sure, there is still investment, I’m privy to this information. But as for China, I can tell you this- China will be the indisputable dominant partner in the relationship, or there will be no relationship.

        Out of an idiotic, non-existent rivalry against countries that have no interest in harming Russia and no claim to her land, Putin’s driven the country into the arms of a real potentially hostile power.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        There’s this other issue I forgot to mention. The economic crunch will no doubt cause more stealing, as those who can know they might not be able to in the future and they need to hedge their bets.

        In the glory years, there was so much money the elites could allow it to trickle down(and they were SOOOO grateful for all that Western investment and jobs, of course), but now when it comes to tightening belts, the elite eats first.

      4. Shalcker

        You are again speaking in generalities without any actual numbers…

        The fall of GDP seems to be much lower this time even though capital flight was quite a bit higher – which suggest they did learn something from all those years.

        Quoting FT from 2012:
        Russia’s total capital outflows in 2011 were $84bn as political uncertainty in the fourth quarter caused volumes to rise sharply.
        However, while the year’s outflows are the second largest ever recorded in absolute terms, they are not as significant when measured against overall GDP.
        Outflows averaged 5 per cent of GDP last year, compared to 15 per cent in 2008/2009 and 12-15 per cent in 1998, years which saw the two worst economic crises in Russia’s 20 year post-communist history, according to Ivan Tchakarov of Renaissance Capital.

        As you see capital outflows as a thing were pretty constant over last years, sometimes they were higher, sometimes lower.

        Russian current account surplus still remains positive, and have actually grown over 2014.

        And they do have various plans, short and medium-term – not all of them are successful, but they get implemented, tracked, and adjusted when necessary.

        And as far as “elite support vs people” i disagree. His “elite circle” isn’t that big and can be satisfied in other ways.

        Perhaps you can show which moves exactly do you see in this or previous crises as “betrayal of people”?

      5. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Did you see the capital outflows in 2014, however? They were record highs, well over $100 billion. This year is expected to be less, but still significant.

        Russia has had “silent austerity” since about 2009, and it’s only going to get worse as many regions are well underwater and in need of a bailout.

        But we can see how the people suffer first in the cuts to healthcare, childcare, and education.

      6. Shalcker

        Btw, same FT article in 2012 said

        In macro economic terms, Russia’s large capital flight is sustainable because it is more than made up for by an oil and gas driven trade surplus. However, most economists predict that between 2013 and 2015 Russia’s balance of payments will turn negative, meaning the country will have to tackle its business climate in earnest to keep investment in Russia.

        …and our balance of payment still remains positive while “investment climate” is shit today.

      7. Shalcker

        It’s about expectation of Western experts as to what exactly will be Russian problem… that proved to be completely off the mark.

        Currently used as scare “lack of investment” can be problem only if we’re talking about decades of stand-off with no alternatives in sight; and there are – like new AIIB.

        Really, West is getting less “indispensable” with every year.

      8. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Not really. See your Asian partners value their relationship with the West more than Russia. If anyone has proven themselves to be less indispensable, it would be Russia in terms of gas and Europe(China as well). Let’s not forget that Russia’s navy was actually hurt when it was discovered that a lot of their engines are built in Ukraine. Nobody bothered to check on that.

      9. Shalcker

        Well, the problem here is that Asian approach (neutrality) is strictly superior to what West does (direct confrontation). You will not get to force upon them “US OR Russia” like it happened with Europe – they’ll use both sides.

        Ukraine is hurt a lot more by breakup of those ties. Russian substitution program proceeds at decent pace, see news like http://rostec.ru/news/4517005 and http://tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/2155754

        And apparently Kiev is still willing to sell to China; if absolutely needed we can buy through them; but most likely we’ll find alternatives.

      10. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Probably not, because none of this shit was really planned and all these other BICS countries need the West more than Russia.

        I read all these glowing reports in the Russian media as well, but then you check back with them a few months or even weeks down the road and things aren’t working out too well. Turkish Stream and the Chinese gas deals are two perfect examples.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      In a way you are very right. But for those who attempt to argue in good faith(though I’m starting to doubt that in some cases), I try to at least address their arguments, at least to show them that there are other opinions beyond “West vs. Russia.” I remember when I was one of these edgy dissidents and it seems like a lot of status quo defenders in Western punditry just dismiss any and all criticisms or inconvenient questions, as if to say: “You’re wrong because- DEMOCRACY!” That was kind of infuriating and it’s the sort of thing that creates RT fanatics.

      Reply
  9. Asehpe

    Besides, frankly, fighting with the lackeys keeps you aware of the main talking points and why they are wrong. It’s not for them — by definition, people like Shalcer above simply cannot change their opinion (it’s beyond the realm of possibilities) –, but, by talking about the actual facts, you keep yourself honed, and you remember what the problems are with the big ‘arguments’ that Kremlimbots present. It’s like sparring: it’s not to win, it’s rather to train, to become stronger and more aware of what you’re saying.

    Shalcer failed to produce any real arguments — he simply produced wrong facts all over the place and pulled interpretations out of his own behind. By countering with actual facts and actual arguments, we improve ourselves; and Shalcer, well, will remain what he is. (I wished I had checked the blog earlier, I could have participated… But well. Such is life.)

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I honestly wish they’d just give up any pretense of morals and admit that they believe “This is right because we’re doing it.”

      Although they didn’t come right out and say that, the Bush administration used to strongly imply that attitude. The result was that they tacitly admitted they were assholes and the world knew it. But Russia keeps up these pretensions of having stronger morals or that it has some kind of positive influence in the world. Of course it COULD, but it doesn’t, thanks to the regime that holds it back.

      Reply
      1. Dan

        Recently I discovered an old thread from 2005 of me arguing with Bush fanatics. Bush followers and Putin lackeys strike me as about the same. The sort of people who are drawn to and suck up to bullies.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Oh I remember those days well. One that stuck with me was the guy who claimed that we were actually at war in 2003, and that the invasion ended it. It was based on some things inspectors had found that violated the ceasefire agreement, yet they were not WMDs of course.

    2. Asehpe

      This fact may be the only shimmer of hope I have that there is still something good in them, even in Kremlinbots like Shalcer. The fact they don’t admit “it’s right because WE are doing it” suggests that they wouldn’t like their country to be doing something wrong, i.e. they do have some sort of understanding of right and wrong. Who knows? Maybe in the future this will blossom into something better.

      I’ve been told that this is only because they’re talking to Western audiences — that, among themselves, they’re quite happy to say “anything we want to do is RIGHT!”, but since they want to “debate” Westerners they can’t admit that, since there would be no argument after that. I hope this is not true…

      Reply
      1. Shalcker

        It’s side feature of “us vs them” moral relativism inherent in all people.

        If your group does something questionable to “them”, it feels right more often then not, and your mind always seeks to find and approve some kind of justification.

        When their group does it to “us”, it’s wrong, and no justification can be accepted.

        Definition of “us” and “them” change – human mind is pretty flexible in this regard – reaction to general situation doesn’t. Just a matter of right framing.

        It only gets murky when it’s “us doing it to us”; and most people are quite indifferent when it’s “them doing it to them”. In some cases Western atomization of society makes people feel like there are no “us” around them too.

        We’re doing it because we felt we can and should. And we still do.

        Objectively not enough changed yet to actually turn this opinion around. And we’re not sitting on our asses waiting until things get worse; we do actively work to make them better despite setbacks.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Once again you assume that all people and nations think alike. Typical geopolitical thought- decided a priori that all nations do the thing you want to do, then start doing it with that justification.

        And Russian atomization beats Western atomization any day in terms of intensity. This is why it’s so easy for so many people here to assume that large grassroots movements must be motivated by money. The idea of community and nation is still not very concrete in Russia.

      3. Shalcker

        What i said has nothing to do with “nations”, and everything to do with people (and blog posts).

        You spend way too much time in Moscow, and think entire Russia is alike. As city of people from all parts of the country who flock there in search for better wages and opportunities it has a lot higher atomization then Russia as a whole.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Oh trust, me, I’ve spent plenty of time outside of Moscow. In some ways that’s where things are worse as local bureaucrats can rule their fiefdoms with less competition.

        If we’re speaking only of social behavior, sure- outside of Moscow is best. But in terms of community? No, I don’t see it.

      5. Shalcker

        For example, my own city (Ekaterinburg) has mayor who was elected exactly because he was head of “grassroot movement” known to people (“Фонд без наркотиков”) despite being 100% opposition figure and pushback from various authorities.

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        A real grassroots movement isn’t a tool of a government where the same guy keeps remaining in power and election rules change all the time.

        Whenever someone points out any real progress in Russia, and it certainly still exists, I ask why then does Russia still need this authoritarian system based on one man? You can clearly have the same things if not better under a normal liberal democracy, and if anything it’s far more stable because people have ways to participate in politics as well as let off steam.

      7. Shalcker

        A real grassroots movement isn’t a tool of a government where the same guy keeps remaining in power and election rules change all the time.

        It’s about making things better – regardless of who is in power. If person in power agrees to throw his weight behind them to solve real problems – why would you refuse? It certainly opens a lot more options; and “perversion of ideals” might take a few years during which a lot of things can be done right.

  10. das_rumpsteak

    Interested in your thoughts on the Magnitsky act and why Russia holds the moral high ground in that instance.The current set of Ukraine-related sanctions are also pretty selective and have been imposed without any sort of trial – do you also oppose them?

    Also, is there a link to your TV debate with Lucas? I’d be interested to see that.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      In the case of Ukrainian sanctions, this is justified because the Russian government is actually behind the crimes happening there, in another country.

      In the case of the Magnitsky Act, it’s about what happened to a foreign citizen and we’re not even sure what happened at all. The act is supposedly aimed at countries that violate certain human rights, but does anyone thing that Saudi Arabians, for example, will have to worry about this act when they abuse the human right of their own citizens? Of course not.

      Moreover, the act passed because it was backed by a super-rich billionaire. Russians die due to corruption and state-linked crime all the time but nobody does anything for them.

      As much as the Magnitsky case was horrible, I think the act was a passive-aggressive measure that is really more suited towards the Kremlin. I might also mention that had the whole Ukrainian thing not gone down, those would be the only sanctions against Russian citizens. Putin would be free to plunder his country while his elite continued to enjoy Europe, the UK, the US, etc. Not to mention all that Western money.

      As for the Sky News thing- I don’t know if they put the stuff on Youtube. The woman who contacted me sent me a video file of the thing. It was actually three people, though I forget the name of the woman- she was an academic.

      Reply

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