There’s still plenty of time before my flight, and wouldn’t you know it- I saw something that I just had to address. I guess there’s a shortage of op-ed writers submitting to The Moscow Times as of late, because they’ve been running a lot of columns by Russian comedian Pyotr Romanov. If you’re not familiar with Romanov’s work, I tackled several of his pieces in the past. Here’s one, here’s another, and here’s a satirical piece I did based on his work. Turns out just like fellow comedian Louis C.K., Romanov has new material all the time.
Surprise, surprise, the piece is about “the new Cold War!” That term certainly hasn’t been used to death. First I will summarize- Guess what! There’s a new Cold War! Romanov says it’s really bad, and the West needs to deal with it. And as always, dealing with it means basically letting Putin do whatever he wants.
The thing I find so hilarious about Romanov is that he keeps invoking this Cold War meme, totally forgetting that his side lost the Cold War, and that was a conflict where the Soviet Union had a far stronger foundation economically, demographically, and ideologically. The fact that this is coming from a guy named Romanov is pretty hilarious as well. Remember what happened the last time a Romanov went to war with some Western powers just to prove how great Russia was? It didn’t end well.
“The Russian people will endure ANY hardship! They have pickles from their gardens! PICKLES!”
For readers with heart conditions or who are pregnant, I present you with some of Romanov’s highlights of hilarity.
“And, blindly ignoring the harm that Russian counter-sanctions have already wrought on the economies of Italy and many other European countries, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni spoke in the subjunctive mood to suggest that a new Cold War would be “an absolute disaster.”
This might be a good time to point out that the economy of Italy is actually slightly stronger than that of Russia. That’s without vast reserves of oil, gas, and other natural riches. Living standards are much higher as well. Italy’s main problem is unemployment, which isn’t really related to the hilarious “counter-sanctions,” and when you look at Russia’s minimum and average wages you can clearly see why Russia’s high employment rate isn’t the wonder they’d like you to think it is.
The funny thing about Romanov is how he constantly insists that Western sanctions, aimed at major pillars of the Russian economy and banking system, are useless, while sanctions on foodstuffs from countries which are no longer primarily agricultural are supposed to be devastating. Sure, farmers grumble. That’s what businessmen do. The richest people in America scream about things like food stamps and minimum wage- but does that mean these expenditures are ruining the economy? No, silly libertarians- they aren’t.
An expression in both English and Russian says that if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. All the signs of a new Cold War have long been present and a simple glance out the window at the nasty political weather should convince anyone of that fact.
Well there are a few major factors that are missing. For example, during the Cold War, the US and the USSR were both major military and economic superpowers that maintained a rough parity in many cases. Russia is not such a power and has no hope of attaining that parity with the US, not to mention the enlarged NATO alliance. Russia’s CSTO and “Eurasian Economic Union” are not actual alternatives or equivalents with their Western counterparts, NATO and the EU.
Are you starting to see why it’s so hilarious that people like Romanov relish this idea of a new Cold War, as much as they claim they don’t? They’re likening this to a “war” they lost, when they had a position many times more advantageous than they do now. Imagine it- You train till you’re at your peak condition. You go into the ring with an evenly matched fighter who is as conditioned as you are, who in fact has a light advantage. You lose. So then what do you do? You spend the next year and a half sitting on your sofa eating cookie dough straight out of the tube while smoking three packs a day. Now when you’re considered morbidly obese and just a few pounds away from the point where you’d need an electric scooter to get around- you demand a rematch. Imagine Ivan Drago doing that after he lost in Rocky IV.
The point is that Russia, at the behest of Putin, is deliberately marching into this new Cold War they apparently want (based on polls), because as we know anything less is bending over for the West, and there is absolutely no sign whatsoever to suggest that they have any chance at winning.
You can argue all you like about how much time the regime has left and how rapidly the economy is deteriorating, but it’s going down one way or another. Those things that were supposed to bring hope proved to be fleeting, and in some ways the Russian economy has performed even worse than the predictions earlier this year. This is why some of the most desperate Team Russia expats have had to resort to the saddest sort of mental gymnastics and wishful thinking, such as hoping for “black swan events.”
The real sad part here is that Russia’s only option is to draw down, and yet there’s virtually no way to do that without losing face now. This is what happens when the only way you can prop up your corrupt dictatorship is by running around with your chest all puffed out and practically demanding that NATO responds to your antics. The Russian government could have avoided all this easily if they’d just worked harder to establish rule of law and root out corruption. Hell, they could have just given Medvedev one more term and that might have changed outcomes radically. Medvedev serving a second term as president would, at the very least, help prop up the illusion that Russia isn’t a dictatorship. If Putin wanted to return after that so he could be president for life, he still would have bought himself four years of plausible deniability.
Enough of that though, there’s more fun ahead!
Russia and the West are locked in a war of information and propaganda. Mutual sanctions are in place. Both sides have dramatically increased the number of military exercises. In a return to the past, Russia demonstrates its latest military hardware during Victory Day celebrations and the West strengthens its eastern borders with heavy military equipment.
Again Romanov implies parity where it doesn’t exist. Russia is the one that started this information war crap. The “West’s” media is largely privately owned, and even where it isn’t, it operates on different principles. Do I have to compare Dan Rather’s firing with the “Crucified Boy of Slovyansk” again? Increasing the military exercises is also correct, but NATO’s exercises came months after Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, their pseudo-insurgency in the Donbas, and their constant snap drills and exercises in the Baltic and other regions.
As for Russia’s latest military hardware on display for Victory Day…well…
Also, note how Romanov points out NATO’s strengthening of the eastern borders while totally ignoring the question as to why those heavy NATO forces weren’t stationed there before. We’re constantly told how everything Putin does anywhere is justified by hostile “NATO encirclement,” and yet the hard facts show this just wasn’t the case until Putin decided to play tough guy. Even then, the US army is still cutting its force by 40,000 personnel in the next two years, and they continue to close bases in Europe.
Hell, just look what those “war mongering neo-cons” told their “junta” allies to do when faced with the Russian invasion of the Crimea. Russophobes, the lot of ’em!
The two sides will likely use nuclear blackmail in the current Cold War, although it is almost certain tensions will not escalate to the point of an actual nuclear exchange. However, that “almost” carries considerable danger. As history shows, the risk of human and technical error increases whenever the situation markedly deteriorates. It is therefore unwise to bury our heads in the sand and deny the obvious fact that the current state of affairs is both very serious and dangerous. It is better to confront that truth than to indulge in illusions.
Oh shit! Nukes! Russia’s “n-word!”
I’ve already talked about the question of which side keeps talking about using nuclear weapon. Romanov is using a Russian concern troll tactic that some have called “dismay.” Here they act like some impartial third party that is observing both sides, and they imply that failing to please Russia’s leadership could lead to nuclear war.
Those who are unwilling to admit the existence of a renewed Cold War argue that the two sides have no irreconcilable ideological differences as the West and the socialist camp did in the past. That is true. However, the free market and democracy are at different stages of development in Russia and the West, and that alone creates a great deal of tension. The primary danger now is rooted in the distant past.
You know this argument about not being at the same stage of development in terms of capitalism and democracy might have had merit as little as three years ago, but it doesn’t now. Readers know I’m not a fan of the free market dogma that dominates the world these days, but the fact is that Russia had plenty of time and plenty of resources to develop in both these spheres. In fact they could have had something much better- a robust welfare state where the vast natural wealth of the country went to the people and not a handful of oligarchs and their friends. Putin and his pals didn’t want that though.
In spite of all this, looking at Western investment and the role it played in creating the stronger Russia of the past decade or so, it’s clear that this disparity in development wasn’t as much of an obstacle as Romanov would have us believe.
Of course, ideological, political, economic and many other factors are important because they either propel the country forward or else hinder its development. But from the standpoint of world history over the centuries, the most important consideration is the place that Peter the Great staked out for Russia during his reign.
Of course he has to invoke Peter the Great. But seriously, pay attention here.
It is that position that primarily defines Russia’s potential even today — and not the tsarist autocracy, the Soviet State Plan or the free market under President Vladimir Putin. And because the “Russian bear” has not changed its stomping grounds over the past decade, shrunk to the size of a gopher or agreed to become the lapdog of the West as happened under former President Boris Yeltsin — and even went so far as to criticize the West beginning with Putin’s famous speech in Munich in 2007 — distrust toward Russia has only grown.
Okay there’s only one way to deal with this idiotic paragraph:
Russia did change its stomping grounds (very appropriate term when it comes to Russia these days), in case Romanov hadn’t noticed.
Nobody in the West wants Russia to shrink to the size of a gopher. This and everything that would go along with this would be devastating from an economic point of view, and demographic as well, if the current refugee crisis in Europe tells us anything.
Nobody wanted Russia to become a “lapdog.” Romanov characterizes Russia under Yeltsin in this manner because like all vatniks, he is unable to fathom a relationship that isn’t one of dominant vs. dominated. If Russia isn’t in conflict with the West, it must be a lapdog. It’s worth noting that Russia’s footholds in the Crimea, Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia were all secured under Yeltsin’s “lapdog” regime.
Lastly, Putin’s criticism in 2007 is rather laughable when you consider how much money the West was pouring into his country, raising its living standards. Oh wait! I forgot! That was all just Putin, waving his magic wand! In any case, Putin and his pals were more than happy to store their wealth, and even their children, in the decadent, Russophobic West.
Okay, we made it through that abomination of an argument. Let’s move on; we’re almost done.
Of course, some might argue that Western politicians’ fears are greatly exaggerated because Russia is already burdened with many of its own problems: negative demographics, pervasive corruption and “sovereign democracy” that only slows its development. However, history provides some basis for the West’s “uneasy suspicions.”
After all, Russia has frequently upset the expectations of the West. For example, back in the time of the Peter the Great, who could have imagined that backward Muscovy would become a great world power in a single generation? And who in the West believed that the Soviet experiment could take uneducated masses armed only with wooden shovels and achieve wide-scale industrialization in such a short time?
I’m sorry but this is starting to get embarrassing. Much like the aforementioned “black swan event” arguments, Romanov is forced to resort to the idea that Russia might pull some surprise out of its ass at the last moment, all because some things like that supposedly happened in the past, and therefore they could happen again. Do I really need to point out what’s wrong with this, from a historical perspective? Yes. Yes I do.
In the case of Peter the Great, he benefited from several factors in the late 17th century. You’ve got the exhaustion of Sweden, the aftermath of the Thirty Years War prior to that. The peak and beginning of decline for the Ottoman Empire after Vienna in 1683. You’ve got everything that happened in the steppe during the Cossack rebellion, including Poland suffering some key defeats.
Probably the biggest factor was the fact that in those days, Europe was full of warring states, empires, and principalities like those that made up what is now Germany. Constant wars and their effects created exhaustion which could be taken advantage of. This is not the case in Europe today. Most of Europe is united in a military and economic alliance. What part isn’t- would easily side with that if it came down to NATO vs. Russia.
As for the Soviet success in industrialization, Romanov of course attributes it all to Russia and Moscow, ignoring the role played by non-Russian Soviet republics. More importantly, the USSR was granted a bit of breathing space by the general weakness of Europe and especially Eastern Europe at the time. Even then, the wars or constant threat of wars had a heavy influence on the USSR, stoking paranoia and spurring a policy of rapid industrialization at all costs, with lethal results. Of course all of this is irrelevant because the USSR collapsed.
Where is the guarantee that post-Soviet Russia will not similarly surprise the West? After all, Russians have not only refused to buckle under the weight of Western sanctions, but have rallied around their leader even more enthusiastically.
How does the fact that millions of people, whose only source of information in many cases is state-run media, claim to support their president compare to the USSR industrializing in such a short period? Large segments of the American population think that Obama is a Kenyan socialist Muslim. Is anything terribly surprising about the presence of horribly misinformed people in large numbers? In any case, what would it matter if the majority didn’t express approval towards Putin? They can’t elect someone else and the media would just call them filthy liberal fifth columnists anyway.
Of course the far large issue here is that Romanov apparently forgot that the sanctions were never aimed at getting the Russian people to rise up against their leaders. This was the mistaken idea behind past sanctions regimes, ones like that in Iraq which led to the death of as many as 1.5 million people, mostly elderly and children. By contrast, these are targeted sanctions aimed largely at men who attained great wealth and superior status at the expense of their own people, and the various banks and corporations they head. One major thing they do is prevent access to the West’s markets whether its hiding stolen wealth in banks or obtaining credit.
Think about that for a second. According to people like Romanov, the West needs to wake up and let Russia’s corrupt businessmen continue doing business in the West, continue storing their money their, and continue borrowing from their banks. If not, then they are being aggressive, counter-productive, and attempting to break the Russian people. As if men like Yakunin, Timchenko, or the Rotenberg brothers have anything in common with “the Russian people.”
Nah I get it, Pyotr. You’ve been over this before. Major financial sanctions on Russia’s most important banks and industry are useless, but the food embargo is devastating for countries with far higher living standards than Russia.
Getting back to Romanov’s warning of a surprise, he’s half-right. There’s no guarantee, per se. What there is, however, is a constant, consistent disadvantage on Russia’s side compared to NATO and the US. Economic, military, ideologically- all across the board. There’s basically no indicator whatsoever that we can look at and say, “Well, if Russia sinks all its efforts into this, they might have a chance.” Hell, even if by some miracle the US is knocked out by a meteor, this would also be devastating for Russia, which has invested heavily in US Treasury bonds. Even if they “win,” they lose.
“But BRICS!” the poor Team Russia pundits cry. No, no sweetheart. China’s not your buddy. They’re not running a charity to give Putin a do-over after 15 years of robbing his country and pissing away all its potential.
Get back to me when the ruble is around 45 to the dollar again.
I could end this here, but his finale shouldn’t be missed.
Is it true, as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once conjectured before the United Nations, that only an alien invasion could speed up a rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia?
Or could we somehow manage it ourselves without any meddling by Martians?
First of all, we know Romanov’s solution to all this. Give up the sanctions (which are totally harmless! Even helpful!), recognize the Crimean annexation, and tacitly let Russia exercise influence in various sovereign countries that used to be part of the USSR. Apart from that, the West is to avoid any criticism over human rights in Russia, and look the other way while its leadership robs its people blind as it has done pretty much since 1991. At the same time, the West must also open its banks, universities, borders, and real estate markets to Russia’s wealthy elite, while Western businessmen aren’t assured the same kind of property protection in Russia. Again, this is the only relationship vatniks can imagine. Someone has to take it- dominant and dominated.
But what about that alien invasion? Oh never mind you that! If that were to happen while the current Kremlin regime is in power, you can be sure that the Russian state media will blame the alien invasion on the US, run documentaries about how the invasion is a false-flag and the aliens are actually mutants created in American GMO laboratories for the sole purpose of destroying Russia. Of course the aliens might not take a liking to the Russian propaganda against them, and the space pundits they brought with them will most likely respond with the mantra:
“Koorrr’aaaax fhlagle hogarrrragh blix toxiu n’gah mareepa kaween’aaa habaquinoto sagreepa ‘nyaghan’ha?!”
Which in their language means:
“Who are you humans to judge us? What about global climate change, destruction of habitats, World Wars, religious persecution, and millions of starving children?!”