So close…

Recently I was reading this article in the NY TImes and to tell the truth it was actually rather accurate in many ways. To give you the gist of it, the author walks the reader through places like Moscow’s Gorky Park and shows how cosmopolitanism and modernity still thrives in the midst of an increasingly authoritarian state. Granted, this kind of thing is only in Moscow, and largely localized in its center, but as someone who has lived in and traveled extensively in Europe and who has been in Russia since 2006, I have to say that some areas of Moscow look completely transformed, and in a positive way. In fact I was actually in Gorky Park the day before writing this and I was impressed to see how it has changed over the years.

I’ve written in the past about how Russia’s dictatorship defies our traditional understanding of dictatorships. While the state does still seem to be moving in the direction of a more traditional dictatorship, it still cannot completely control the people. They cannot stop the hipster fashions, girls getting tattoos, people taking an interest in foreign languages, dancing or yoga. Russia’s nowhere near the point of revolution barring some unforeseen cataclysm, but the cat is already out of the bag, meaning that Putin and his cronies cannot hope to save their hides by restoring the authoritarian measures of the USSR as some people needlessly fear. Too many people have tasted the advantages of “the West.” Sure they can try a full crackdown, but that will mark the beginning of the end.

I was happy to see a more nuanced, realistic picture of Putin’s dictatorship, but unfortunately the author seems to have fallen for a bit of the regime’s propaganda as well. Check out this passage:

But the rich are not the only beneficiaries. Russians are substantially better off since President Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in 2000. The average salary has roughly tripled, after inflation, and poverty has declined sharply, bringing a feeling of stability and well-being that was lacking in the 1990s. More Russians can now plan life in advance (Where will I go on vacation this year?) instead of snatching it a day at a time (What will I eat for dinner tomorrow?).

Oh dear. That looks familiar. Let’s pick this apart, starting with the idea that ordinary people benefited just like the rich under Putin’s management. The first question to ask is why they benefited. The answer is that the rich were growing so fat and happy that they were content to let some of it spill over to the populace. Putin took a chaotic struggle between competing thieves and introduced order to it. With stable source to steal from, the Wild 90’s style raiding and violence mostly died out…mostly. At the same time, Russia still has very poor protection for private property, which is a problem they never managed to solve.

Now let’s look at that third sentence. First of all the tense is wrong. Present prefect would imply all these things are still true, when in fact that worm has already started to turn. Saying “Russians can now plan…” also implies this is still true. When it comes to the issue of salaries and living standards, so many are quick to attribute all this to Putin, when in fact a lot of it has to do with high oil prices, more dependency on Russian gas at the time, Russian integration into the global economy, Western investment, Russian entrepreneurship, and so on. Yes, Putin has to get some credit for working to create enough stability to attract Western investors, some of whom had literally been ran out of Russia in the 90’s. But that is just one underlying factor.

While Russian standards of living are still better than the worst parts of the 90’s, that is certainly where they seem to be headed at the moment. As for vacations, the crisis and the ruble collapse have forced Russians to stay home rather than go abroad as they did just a few years ago. More chilling is the increase in Russian poverty as pensions and salaries shrink due to inflation. Oh is this just biased Western doomsaying? Perhaps you prefer to hear the same thing from Russia InsiderRussia Insider, Carl!

This goes back to one of the most annoying things about the Putin myth, that he “saved” Russia. Putin was hand-picked by an oligarch and served under Yeltsin. He is a product of that previous regime. And while yes, he did actually do some necessary things early in his career, so what? It’s 2015. If we look at Gorky Park and remark how great it is that young Russians can enjoy free concerts, play sports, or create flash mobs, if we can compare this to New York, London, or some European city, then the question remains- why do we still need Putin to have any of this? Did the US or UK need a 15-year president for life to create any of the things that Russia, or at least Moscow, can somewhat reliably imitate? Do the Russian people need religion and xenophobic, morally bankrupt ideology rammed down their throat if they’re able to enjoy modern urban culture without degenerating into chaos? Of course they do not. Just as the atheist can say that all the legitimate positive aspects of religion such as charity and community building can be provided via secular means, so too can Russia have a vibrant, cosmopolitan culture without the rotten, corrupt structure that is actually holding back its development.

To understand the full foolishness of this myth, consider the following analogy: One day you are in an accident and bleeding severely. A passerby comes up and using their shirt as a makeshift compress, they manage to stop the bleeding, at least temporarily. But you still might have a concussion and you’re feeling dizzy. You need real medical attention. Unfortunately your good Samaritan won’t contact the paramedics. Eventually, with what seems like your last strength, you ask to contact the paramedics yourself. No dice. Now you ask him to purchase a first aid kid from the nearby pharmacy- you’re prepared to try to treat yourself if need be, if only to get away from this guy and get to a hospital. Nope- can’t do that either. You need him. Don’t you remember how he initially stopped the bleeding with his shirt? What? That shirt wasn’t sterile and the wound needs to be disinfected and properly dressed? How dare you! You don’t appreciate his help? You must be suicidal! You want to die!

This is basically the Putin regime in a nutshell. Once upon a time a corrupt politician from St. Petersburg was chosen by another corrupt politician on the advice of a corrupt oligarch to come to Moscow. That corrupt man then reshuffled things so that old oligarchs were replaced by his friends, and the corruption continued, though in a more stable, predictable way. And the Russian people have to be thankful for this because we have bike paths in Moscow now. Okay.

All that aside, do read that article because it actually is good and it’s the type of journalism outlets like NYT ought to be doing.

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60 thoughts on “So close…

  1. Strykr9

    I think this is related to how modern autocracies function. Successful authoritarian states like China, Singapore, as well as Arab countries like the UAE have made it a point to basically allow the citizenry to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t challenge the power of the central govt. Therefore even if the political freedoms are literally nonexistent, the people will not rise up against the govt. due to economic prosperity, upward social mobility, and high standards of living(or at least improving standards of living in China’s case). However in Russia’s case, where economic conditions and standards of living are in decline, it will be curious to know how the Putin regime plans to stay in power.

    Reply
  2. Josh Cohen (@jkc_in_dc)

    Very good points. Rising oil prices really did have a lot to do with increase in prosperity, and attributing the higher standard of living with the Putin regime is contributing correlation (Putin in power as standard of living rose) with causation.

    Reply
    1. Strykr9

      Yeah but that doesn’t really matter to the citizenry. Even if increases in living standards have nothing to do with govt. policies, they will be attributed to the govt.

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        That’s certainly the case in the US. Remember Obama and gas prices a few years back? Because the president of the US controls gas prices.

      2. Strykr9

        Yeah but Obama gets so much flak from the loony right wing so its no wonder people are more likely to use the drop in oil prices as a possible accomplishments as it appeals to the masses unlike reports of higher US GDP growth, increase in living standards etc…

  3. Mao Cheng Ji

    Your (and others of your ilk) obsession with Putin is bizarre.

    Anyway, there is no doubts whatsoever that an average Russian citizen is immensely better off today (this very second) than in the year 2000. And not just by the income numbers (I know, for you the income defines everything), but by every socioeconomic statistic (crimes, homicide, abortions, what have you). Yes, perhaps the average person will only travel abroad for holidays once this year (whereas it would be 2 times a few years ago), but the assertion is still true, and this is not likely to change for as long as western subversion is successfully thwarted.

    Yes, high oil prices didn’t hurt, but there is absolutely no doubt that Yeltsin’s bandits-oligarchs would’ve siphoned all of that out, and more, had they were given a chance.

    Which brings me to my last point. The current political system in Russia (call it ‘Putinism’ if you want) is not only better any Russian (currently feasible) alternative I can imagine, it is, in fact, better than most of the western political systems I know. It has a huge advantage: the oligarchs are removed from political power and from controlling the media.

    Personally, I don’t like either state or oligarchy in control, but if I had to choose, I’d take the state. The state is at least somewhat accountable. The Russians, a vast majority of them, understand that much. You don’t.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      “Your (and others of your ilk) obsession with Putin is bizarre.”

      Oh really? Are we the ones who put his fucking picture everywhere for years? Are we the ones who FORCED Putin to run around wearing uniforms and engaging in all kinds of ridiculous photo ops? Did we come up with the slogan “If not Putin, then who?” Did we force him to come back for a third term?

      Nope.

      Putin wants all the power and credit with none of the responsibility- that always goes to the West or Yeltsin, the guy who picked Putin and was responsible for his career.

      “Anyway, there is no doubts whatsoever that an average Russian citizen is immensely better off today (this very second) than in the year 2000.”

      1. Because Putin waved his magic want and made it so, right?

      2. Yes, that was the case, after a default. Now Russia’s heading back in that direction. But unlike in 2000, they won’t have high oil prices to look forward to, or massive foreign investment. Plus their internal system of politics is rotted to the core and is almost beyond recovery because of what Putin’s regime did to civil society.

      “And not just by the income numbers (I know, for you the income defines everything), but by every socioeconomic statistic (crimes, homicide, abortions, what have you).”

      Actually Russia’s homicide rate is almost double that of the US in spite of a near-total gun ban. Plus Russia only managed to reverse its abortion stats last year. Prior to that it had an abortion rate far higher than the rest of the industrialized world.

      ” Yes, perhaps the average person will only travel abroad for holidays once this year (whereas it would be 2 times a few years ago), but the assertion is still true, and this is not likely to change for as long as western subversion is successfully thwarted.”

      Ah yes, Western subversion. When something good happens in Russia, it’s Putin’s work. When something bad happens, it’s Western subversion.

      “Yes, high oil prices didn’t hurt, but there is absolutely no doubt that Yeltsin’s bandits-oligarchs would’ve siphoned all of that out, and more, had they were given a chance.”

      And that’s precisely why Putin’s oligarchs did. Your point? At least if that previous scenario had continued, Russians could have used their freedom of civil society to organize and create political movements to eventually establish rule of law.

      “Which brings me to my last point. The current political system in Russia (call it ‘Putinism’ if you want) is not only better any Russian (currently feasible) alternative I can imagine, it is, in fact, better than most of the western political systems I know.”

      Then either you have very little knowledge of political systems, or you know nothing of “Putinism.”

      If this system is so superior, explain why after 15 years a country so rich with natural resources has an economy weaker than that of Italy. Explain why so many people are willing to flee the country even today. Explain why this country hasn’t produced a single capable leader in 15 years of Putin’s allegedly wise leadership.

      In short- where are the RESULTS?

      “It has a huge advantage: the oligarchs are removed from political power and from controlling the media. ”

      Nope. The oligarchs exercise political power through their relationship with Putin, or their own foundations. Some of them own media outlets as well. Lifenews, for example, is owned by a pro-Putin oligarch.

      “Personally, I don’t like either state or oligarchy in control, but if I had to choose, I’d take the state. The state is at least somewhat accountable.”

      This state is not accountable at all. This is why it does so many things that Russians strongly disapprove of. Do not confuse Putin’s approval ratings with genuine support or support for all his policies.

      “The Russians, a vast majority of them, understand that much. You don’t.”

      I don’t think it’s clear to you what Russians understand, and your premise is false because this state isn’t accountable at all.

      Reply
      1. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Putin wants all the power”

        My point exactly: your obsession is bizarre. Or maybe it’s deliberate: ignore all the the context, talk about a person. Incidentally, you have no idea what “Putin wants”, and neither do I, and it’s mostly irrelevant.

        “Actually Russia’s homicide rate is almost double that of the US in spite of a near-total gun ban”

        Whataboutism much? Why don’t you reply to what I said?

        “When something bad happens, it’s Western subversion.”

        Sometimes it is.

        “And that’s precisely why [sic] Putin’s oligarchs did. ”

        Well, here’s what wikipedia says. If you have the facts demonstrating the opposite, maybe you need to correct it:
        “Gazprom’s situation changed abruptly in June 2000, when Vladimir Putin became the President of Russia. Putin launched a campaign to rein in the oligarchs. Per his policy of the so-called national champions, he strengthened state control in strategic companies.[11] He launched an attack against what he saw as mismanagement and personal pilfering of state assets. After coming to power, Putin immediately fired Chernomyrdin from his position as the chairman of the company’s board and used the stock owned by the state to vote out Vyakhirev.”

        “explain why after 15 years a country so rich with natural resources has an economy weaker than that of Italy”

        Italy has nothing to do with it; you need to compare with Russia of year 2000 AD. And BTW: whataboutism much?

        “a single capable leader ” – I don’t believe in leaders.

        “Explain why so many people are willing to flee the country even today. ” – what the hell does it even mean? Russia is the the second biggest destination of immigrants in the world.

        “In short- where are the RESULTS?”

        I already gave you the RESULTS: every socioeconomic statistic dramatically improved, as compared to 2000.

        “This state is not accountable at all.”

        Tsk, tsk, tsk. I live in the west and I know exactly how you feel. Except that in Russia I see political debates all over the place, all kinds of ideologies affecting the politics (well, except for the western-liberal: it’s highly unpopular, for obvious reasons); while in the west – alas, nothing. Just the Washington Obkom and the ministry of truth. Bummer.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “My point exactly: your obsession is bizarre. Or maybe it’s deliberate: ignore all the the context, talk about a person. Incidentally, you have no idea what “Putin wants”, and neither do I, and it’s mostly irrelevant.”

        Obviously you’re confused again. You claim people like me are obsessed with Putin. Putin deliberately constructed a political system where the highest authority revolves around him and his personality. He fostered a cult of personality around himself.

        Now people who take issue with that are “obsessed with Putin?” We’re not the ones selling or wearing Putin t-shirts, in case you haven’t heard.

        “Whataboutism much? Why don’t you reply to what I said? ”

        This is not whataboutism. You claimed he’d reduced crime. I pointed out how Russia’s murder rate actually managed to top that of the US, which is unusually higher than other industrialized countries. See in most industrialized countries with a total gun ban or something like it, you see very low homicide ratings. The US, for obvious reasons, beats all of them except one.

        “Russia is the the second biggest destination of immigrants in the world. ”

        Mostly from former Soviet republics. Meanwhile the educated Russian population still continues to emigrate insofar as they can.

        ” already gave you the RESULTS: every socioeconomic statistic dramatically improved, as compared to 2000.”

        Yes, and now it is going in the opposite direction, and Russia has no defense against it thanks to President fishlips’ system. See lots of other countries have seen dramatic rises in living standards since 2000, but they didn’t need a 15 year dictator and an incredibly corrupt system to achieve that. Anything Putin actually did that improved things, could have been done just as well if not better by a normal democratic leader. Incidentally that could have been Putin, but he chose another path.

        “Tsk, tsk, tsk. I live in the west and I know exactly how you feel. ”

        Oh you mean the West where two states, thanks to grass roots movements, decriminalized marijuana, a major precedent-setting reversal in the destructive war on drugs that is bound to have major socio-economic effects wherever it is implemented?

        Or how about the time when the Republican party found itself out on its ass for their idiotic war, and out of the White House for at least 8 years simply because they could no longer woo the electorate by just repeating “terrorists” all the time?

        Or how about the way Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, or how gay marriage became legal?

        How about the fact that the government is now basically forced to let certain parts of the Patriot Act, which are connected to some of the things Snowden revealed?

        Does the system work as well as it should? No. But how is the solution a corrupt form of government that restricts free speech, tries to enforce an ideology on the populace, and steals from them without giving them anything close to a fair election?

        See the rule is simple: If you want to criticize Western democracy, you need to propose a BETTER alternative, not a worse one.

        “Except that in Russia I see political debates all over the place, all kinds of ideologies affecting the politics (well, except for the western-liberal: it’s highly unpopular, for obvious reasons); ”

        It’s also continually harassed by the state and the state run media. Gee, I wonder why it’s not more popular.

        As for all those other ideologies you speak of, they all have the same essence, none of them genuinely pose any threat to the power system as it is.

        As for your claims about the Western media, we’ve already established that your grasp of reality in respect to this is tenuous at best. But indulge us, tell us what the “Ministry of Truth” is in the West.

      3. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Putin deliberately constructed a political system where the highest authority revolves around him and his personality. ”

        You see: writing this kind of BS is what it meas to be obsessed with Putin. All the context, all rational analysis is missing here, and instead we are supposed to attribute everything to someone’s will.

        This is often a deliberate strategy, as it was used on mentally weak people to justify the Iraq war, for example (Saddam this! Saddam that!). Personifying the official enemy in some ‘super-evil’ individual.

        I’m not really interested in this sort of conversation, we are too far apart in how we see the universe.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “You see: writing this kind of BS is what it meas to be obsessed with Putin. All the context, all rational analysis is missing here, and instead we are supposed to attribute everything to someone’s will.”

        Nonsense. This is the reality of Russia. If you are not aware of this, you simply don’t know what life is like here.

        I’m the first person to complain about people boiling everything that happens in Russia(or the USSR) down to one person, but the fact is that the system is essentially based on him. He’s not even completely in control of that, but that’s not really a positive thing.

        And once again, you’re more than happy to attribute economic successes to Putin, but what about his failures? Oh that’s all Western subversion, right? Subversion like investing billions in the Russian market and opening companies there which tend to provide the best jobs in Russia.

        “This is often a deliberate strategy, as it was used on mentally weak people to justify the Iraq war, for example (Saddam this! Saddam that!). Personifying the official enemy in some ‘super-evil’ individual”

        I’m not sure what Iraq War lead up you were watching, but the key idea that sold the war were claims of WMDs and the rather ridiculous idea that Saddam would hand them over to terrorists(who incidentally hated him).

        Nobody is saying Putin is “super-evil.” What is true is that he is delusional, something that was very clear from his responses in 2014’s December press conference. He seriously answered one question by claiming there were no “palaces” in Russia. Then at one point he went on rambling about bears eating berries in the forest and how someone wanted to put a chain on the bear.

      5. Mao Cheng Ji

        “It’s also continually harassed by the state and the state run media. ”

        It’s exactly the opposite: the state and the state run media really do go out of their way to provide west-liberal opposition as much freedom to express themselves as it’s humanly possible. Exactly because it’s so unpopular, and has no chance to become popular. The west-liberal opposition takes way too much press and TV time, much more than it deserves. Its members have way too much influence and attention. They should be sitting in a pub in London somewhere remembering their glorious Yeltsin days.

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Uh no, it’s actually not. I’m sorry but that statement is easily debunked by anyone living in Russia. The only time they get media play is when they’re being labeled traitors or agents of the State Department.

        Liberal oppositionists have been arrested for the flimsiest reasons, beaten, tortured, poisoned, and as in the case with Nemstov, shot.

      7. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Uh no, it’s actually not. I’m sorry but that statement is easily debunked by anyone living in Russia. The only time they get media play is when they’re being labeled traitors or agents of the State Department. ”

        I see them on every TV show, often acting as if they are traitors or agents of the State Department.

        “Liberal oppositionists have been arrested for the flimsiest reasons, beaten, tortured, poisoned, and as in the case with Nemstov, shot. ”

        Obviously, we don’t want people to be poisoned, etc. But if you behave like an arrogant attention-seeking tone-deaf asshole, statistically speaking something unpleasant is likely to happen to you.

        Look at me: I sit quietly in my little apartment, use a pseudonym, and try not to insult anyone. I’m relatively safe (though who knows). But if I start coming out to the streets of Budapest every day, saying loudly various unpopular things – like I dunno, that Mr Orban is a fascist dictator and his supporters are crazy persons – sooner or later, I imagine, I’ll manage to get punched in the face.

        And that would be of course unfortunate, but entirely predictable.

      8. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “I see them on every TV show, often acting as if they are traitors or agents of the State Department. ”

        MAXIMUM QUESTION BEGGING! We’ve already determined in the past that your grasp on the reality of media is tenuous. You’re the one that claimed the Western media lies because they write things like “Ukrainian authorities said,” and when asked for proof you basically debunked yourself.

        “Obviously, we don’t want people to be poisoned, etc. But if you behave like an arrogant attention-seeking tone-deaf asshole, statistically speaking something unpleasant is likely to happen to you. ”

        Then explain why Dugin or Kurginyan, or ANYONE toting the Kremlin line never seems to fear getting slapped with “Extremism” charges or being assaulted by unknown assailants. Dugin is probably the closest in the sense that he was fired from his post, but the university denies this and it was most likely because he overstepped a line. That’s how the system works.

        “But if I start coming out to the streets of Budapest every day, saying loudly various unpopular things – like I dunno, that Mr Orban is a fascist dictator and his supporters are crazy persons – sooner or later, I imagine, I’ll manage to get punched in the face.
        And that would be of course unfortunate, but entirely predictable.”

        Well in a functioning state, the police protect your right to free speech. What is more, while few Russians identify as liberals, many Russians are concerned with the things these liberals talk about, like corruption and lack of rule of law, or austerity.

        Lastly, it isn’t just liberals who are persecuted. Actual Marxists and Anarchists are as well.

      9. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Then explain why Dugin or Kurginyan, or ANYONE toting the Kremlin line never seems to fear getting slapped with “Extremism” charges or being assaulted by unknown assailants. ”

        Right, Dugin was fired from a very good post the moscow state university, and really for nothing, if you research and listen to what he said. He was misrepresented, scandalized, and ousted by liberals. This doesn’t fit your narrative. You don’t know which line is “the Kremlin line”. I don’t think “the Kremlin line” exists at all. Like I said, their government is non-ideological and pragmatic. The line changes with the circumstances.

      10. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Dugin wasn’t fired by “liberals.” The fact is there are a lot of Russians who aren’t liberal but aren’t exactly thrilled about the someone talking about killing Ukrainians wholesale. The people aren’t completely broken.

        In any case, this is irrelevant because the actual cause of his firing is disputed. Dugin held rallies to get people to push for an open Russian invasion of the Donbas, something that is a problem for the Kremlin. Most likely Dugin stepped over the line.

        Dugin is just one of numerous “bad guy” characters in Russian politics. These are the radicals who make bombastic statements, which Putin or Peskov dismiss, sometimes publicly. The message is always the same- “I may be bad, but if I’m gone look who will take power!”

        ” The line changes with the circumstances.”

        Yeah that’s not a good thing.

      11. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Dugin wasn’t fired by “liberals.” ”

        Sure he was. All the usual suspects. the standard MO: misrepresent, demonize, and attack.

        “Dugin held rallies to get people to push for an open Russian invasion of the Donbas, something that is a problem for the Kremlin. ”

        My point exactly: he isn’t a Kremlin puppet. Nothing like that, at all.

        “Yeah that’s not a good thing”

        Well, I think it most certainly is. Being a slave to ideology is not a good thing, for a ruling party. Okay for opposition, maybe.

      12. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Sure he was. All the usual suspects. the standard MO: misrepresent, demonize, and attack.”

        Present evidence for your claim.

        “My point exactly: he isn’t a Kremlin puppet. Nothing like that, at all.”

        You do realize his Eurasian Youth Movement had been active in pro-Russian activities in the Donbas before all this happened, right?

        The purpose of the rallies was simple- give Putin justification for using the Russian army in Ukraine. When it became inconvenient to do so, Dugin was dropped.

        “Well, I think it most certainly is. Being a slave to ideology is not a good thing, for a ruling party. ”

        Ah but they do have an ideology- continue stealing from their people, living a life of Western luxury, and not being held accountable for their crimes.

      13. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Present evidence for your claim.”

        Google “kill kill kill” and you’ll see all the evidence you need. In fact, you yourself typed something about “killing Ukrainians” which is a clear misrepresentation of what happened in that video.

        “The purpose of the rallies was simple- give Putin justification for using the Russian army in Ukraine. When it became inconvenient to do so, Dugin was dropped.”

        This is ridiculous nonsense, all the assumptions are completely backwards. Where’s your “concrete evidence” of anything at all? Why don’t you start with finding that “army in Ukraine”? If it was there, the bloody disaster would’ve been over long time ago. And why did they give senator Inhofe fake photographs? How’s that for concrete evidence?

        “Ah but they do have an ideology- continue stealing from their people, living a life of Western luxury, and not being held accountable for their crimes. ”

        There are only 88 billionaires in Russia. Most, I’m sure, became rich back in the Yeltsin times. There are 617 billionaires in the US. Why don’t you look for thievery where it actually happens? You know, the global financial elite, the bunkers, the hedge-fund managers.

      14. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Google “kill kill kill” and you’ll see all the evidence you need. In fact, you yourself typed something about “killing Ukrainians” which is a clear misrepresentation of what happened in that video.”

        Just watched it. He said kill, kill, kill, and that any further discussion is impossible.

        In any case there’s still no proof that the petition was the reason he was fired, and the university denies it. There’s also no proof that this was because of “liberals.” It’s funny how they’re unpopular when you need them to be, but then suddenly powerful at other times.

        “This is ridiculous nonsense, all the assumptions are completely backwards. Where’s your “concrete evidence” of anything at all? Why don’t you start with finding that “army in Ukraine”? If it was there, the bloody disaster would’ve been over long time ago.”

        Good job missing the point. Dugin led calls for an OPEN invasion of Ukraine.

        As for the fact that Russia is supporting and sustaining the rebellion with volunteers, arms, and even at times active duty soldiers and their tanks and vehicles- this is beyond debate. Basic military common sense proves the logistical part, and plenty of other evidence has been found, whether in the form of live captured soldiers or Simon Ostrovsky’s groundbreaking work.

        “There are only 88 billionaires in Russia. Most, I’m sure, became rich back in the Yeltsin times. ”

        And they’re all good friends of Putin, which is why they’re billionaires.

        “There are 617 billionaires in the US. Why don’t you look for thievery where it actually happens? ”

        The US is a far richer country with over 314 million people. Also, the US doesn’t have billionaires whose fortunes were based on siphoning money off of state-run enterprises and loyalty to the president.

        “Why don’t you look for thievery where it actually happens? ”

        So there’s no thievery in Russia but in the US.

        “You know, the global financial elite, the bunkers, the hedge-fund managers.”

        What these people engage in is certainly a form of capitalist exploitation, but it isn’t the actual thievery practiced by Russia’s billionaires. I don’t see how we solve the former problems by pretending Russia’s corrupt elite is somehow better. We only need to look at the results in their country and see that it’s worse.

        And that’s where we see the truth of your whataboutery. Your whole message is “Why don’t you stop talking about this because this other bad thing happens.”

        No. That’s how we make the world worse. The moral choice is to call out corruption and tyranny WHEREVER we see it. Just because we acknowledge that Russia’s elite class is more corrupt and cynical than the Western elite, doesn’t mean we can’t also condemn the latter and fight against their influence as well. After all, the Russian elite owes much of its existence to Western money as well. Russia is essentially the Frankenstein monster of neo-liberal capitalism. That’s why the Western countries have no idea how to deal with the mess they’ve created.

      15. Jim Kovpak Post author

        And if Putin or the government are so popular, why the increasing restrictions on free speech from Roskomnadzor and similar bodies?

        We’re always told how unpopular these agents of the State Department are, and yet at the same time the threat of a government overthrow is always brought up to justify every new crackdown.

      16. Mao Cheng Ji

        “I pointed out how Russia’s murder rate actually managed to top that of the US, which is unusually higher than other industrialized countries. ”

        So this is okay, while stating that something is actually worse in the US would count as despicable whataboutitsm? But not when it’s better in the US – then it’s a perfectly reasonable argument? Got it.

      17. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I am merely giving you a reference point for your claim about crime. It isn’t whataboutism. The level of homicide in the US is still ridiculous compared to other similar industrialized nations and even some developing ones.

      18. Callum Carmichael

        Mao, are you saying Russia’s media never did this?
        http://www.rt.com/news/193956-putin-celebrates-birthday-russia/
        http://www.rt.com/news/putin-amphorae-dive-archeology/

        Did Washington say this?
        http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/no-putin-no-russia-says-kremlin-deputy-chief-of-staff/509981.html

        Did Jim pay for this to be commissioned?
        http://www.rt.com/news/259429-putin-roman-emperor-bust/

        Perhaps the Canadian Council for the Arts paid somebody to write this song?

        No, I think you’ll find that Russia’s media has been creating a cult of personality around the short little ex-KGB personnel officer.

      19. Mao Cheng Ji

        “deputy chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin took to the stage to tell international analysts and Russia-watchers that “there is no Russia today if there is no Putin.””

        I’d like to see the full quote, but in any case: are you seriously saying an American deputy chief of staff has never said something like this about his boss’ boss? Have you ever read the things they say (and have been saying for decades) about Reagan? Kennedy? What’s so special about this particular PR incident?

      20. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “I’d like to see the full quote, but in any case: are you seriously saying an American deputy chief of staff has never said something like this about his boss’ boss?”

        Nope, I don’t believe any has. That’s not how America works.

        “Have you ever read the things they say (and have been saying for decades) about Reagan? Kennedy? ”

        It is conservatives who talk this way about Reagan, and they’ve been doing it increasingly since the late 90’s or early 2000’s. As for Kennedy, getting shot in the head helped his legacy, but we still criticize him for lots of reasons.

        And it’s not just one “PR” incident. It’s been a constant theme since 2012 at the latest.

      21. Mao Cheng Ji

        “No, I think you’ll find that Russia’s media has been creating a cult of personality around the short little ex-KGB personnel officer.”

        What I do find is streams of personal hatred (including here), and some minor and sometimes misguided attempts to balance them out. Quite a natural phenomenon.

      22. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The thing is that you don’t have to live with the consequences of his rule. You are obviously, and maybe justifiably dissatisfied with the situation in your home country, but the problems of Russia are obviously far from you so they don’t matter. People here don’t have that luxury. I live here, so I talk about what happens here. And even then I still find time to express political opinions about the US.

      23. Mao Cheng Ji

        “You are obviously, and maybe justifiably dissatisfied with the situation in your home country”

        The thing is, I am not dissatisfied. I simply observe.

        To be dissatisfied, I would have to have a better alternative in mind, and I don’t.

        In Russia, the only alternative is Yeltsinism, and Putinism wins big, huge.

        And in Hungary it’s either super-corrupt ‘socialists’ (the same group, western liberals), or the far-right. Socialists have no chance, so right now this is just a question of Orban surviving. Which means moving far enough to the right to chip enough support away from Jobbik. It is what it is.

      24. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “The thing is, I am not dissatisfied. I simply observe.
        To be dissatisfied, I would have to have a better alternative in mind, and I don’t. ”

        Well we’ve established with concrete evidence that your “observations” are wrong. Do we have to go over your Western meida lies observations again?

        And if you don’t have a better alternative in mind, then why do you bother stumping for Putin?

        “In Russia, the only alternative is Yeltsinism, and Putinism wins big, huge. ”

        Nope, that’s a false dichotomy. Yeltsinism gave us Putinism. If Putinism leads back to that(and the evidence says it is), that’s on Putin and his cronies.

        Also this is funny because what you just said shows that the “Putin or else” sentiment is obviously believed by you.

      25. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Well we’ve established with concrete evidence that your “observations” are wrong. ”

        Well, obviously we’re two opinionated people here. “We” have not establishing anything. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any evidence from you at all, let alone any “concrete evidence”.

        “Nope, that’s a false dichotomy. ”

        That’s the only actual dichotomy that exists. Pragmatists and the pro-western liberals. Maybe the Communists, if you count the USSR – I imagine a lot of people would like that. We haven’t seen president Dugin yet, so we can only guess how that would work out. But I’m pretty sure the liberals won’t like it.

      26. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Well, obviously we’re two opinionated people here. ”

        You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts

        “We” have not establishing anything. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any evidence from you at all, let alone any “concrete evidence”.

        You were asked to provide evidence of Western media lying on par with Russian media. You gave your interpretation, which was laughable. You told me to Google something that would supposedly prove your case, and the only thing that even came close was a British tabloid. Numerous other articles from major media outlets on the same subject totally destroyed your claim.

        If you continue to lie, you will be banned.

        “That’s the only actual dichotomy that exists. Pragmatists and the pro-western liberals. Maybe the Communists, if you count the USSR – I imagine a lot of people would like that. ”

        No, it’s a false dichotomy. At least it was in the past. If Putin has truly fucked Russian politics for good, that’s another strike against him.

        “We haven’t seen president Dugin yet, so we can only guess how that would work out. But I’m pretty sure the liberals won’t like it.”

        Oh no, liberals would love president Dugin because as soon as he finds out he’s allowed to be president he’d shit himself and probably have a heart attack. None of these people seriously think they’ll ever be leaders of Russia. They know their roles.

        A perfect example of this, and an awakening for me, was the KPRF in 2011. As we both know, they are the 2nd most powerful party. The rallies started as a call for fair Duma elections. If the elections were fair, it stands to reason that the KPRF would have been the party to benefit. In fact, I’ve always found more KRPF voters than United Russia voters. I don’t think I’ve ever met one of those.

        Anyway, KPRF should have been leading the protest movement, and yet they weren’t. Instead, they let these lesser known, unpopular liberals take the forefront.

        Why would you do that when it’s your party that stands to win?

        Simple- they’re not allowed to truly oppose the system.

      27. Mao Cheng Ji

        “You’re outright lying if you try to tell me that this kind of sentiment is popular in any Western country.”

        This is not a common sentiment, this is something a third-level political official said.

        As for the general hysteria, check the US of A, circa 2001-2007: you’re either with us or against us. I remember it well. People lost jobs, talk shows, academic tenure, for saying unpopular things. Freedom fries. Free speech zones.

      28. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “This is not a common sentiment, this is something a third-level political official said.”

        Nonsense. He occupied a very important place in the presidential administration and is the architect of the government’s new internet policies.

        Also it’s not a common sentiment in the sense that people actually believe it, but it has been more or less a slogan of Putin since 2012.

        “As for the general hysteria, check the US of A, circa 2001-2007: you’re either with us or against us. I remember it well. People lost jobs, talk shows, academic tenure, for saying unpopular things. Freedom fries. Free speech zones.”

        Actually very few people lost their jobs, because there was a massive, growing population of people who were opposed to the war. Clear Channel was a private company, which demonstrates the problems with private media yet at the same time, was unable to bring bogus court cases against The Dixie Chix or have them beat up by anonymous thugs.

        Freedom fries was almost immediately a joke.

        The thing you fail to realize is that Russia is essentially run and dominated by people with the same mentality of a Bush-era conservative, only several times dumber. Take the Duma speaker for example.

        The fucking investigative committee, for another example, talked about investigating the moon landing and actually considered Praviy Sektor to be a possible suspect in Nemtsov’s murder.

      29. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Actually very few people lost their jobs”

        Actually, there are quite a few people we know about, which means that there was probably a whole lot more.

        “which demonstrates the problems with private media”

        My point exactly.

        “Freedom fries was almost immediately a joke.”

        It most certainly wasn’t, it was a campaign. And it seems far stupider thank investigating the moon landing. After all, there is the William Karel’s mockumentary, which is easy to take for a real thing.

        “The thing you fail to realize is that Russia is essentially run and dominated by people with the same mentality of a Bush-era conservative”

        So, now it’s run and dominated by people? I thought it was run and dominated by The Dark Lord Putin personally.

        In any case, accepting the political theater as the real thing is a big mistake, IMO. Both in Russia and the US.

      30. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Actually, there are quite a few people we know about, which means that there was probably a whole lot more. ”

        Nope, we go by actual evidence here.

        “My point exactly.”

        A problem which ISN’T solved by having a state media system like that of Russia. The BBC is a far better example.

        “It most certainly wasn’t, it was a campaign.”

        Um no, it was’t. In fact it originally concerned only the menu in Congress. Keep in mind I was there when all this shit went down.

        “And it seems far stupider thank investigating the moon landing. ”

        No, it is not stupider than the equivalent of the FBI or Justice Department bringing up the moon landing as a response to something about FIFA corruption, which was the context. The investigative committee also launched a case looking into the infamous twerking bees episode. To date, they haven’t really provided any insight into Nemtsov’s murder though. I’d be pretty concerned about people getting gunned down in full view of the Kremlin.

        “So, now it’s run and dominated by people? I thought it was run and dominated by The Dark Lord Putin personally. ”

        I’ve never said that. I’ve actually said the opposite and already pointed this out once. Keep twisting my words and see what happens.

        “In any case, accepting the political theater as the real thing is a big mistake, IMO. Both in Russia and the US.”

        The nice thing is that in the US you don’t have to. If people haven’t changed more problems in the US, it’s largely because they haven’t made enough effort. Half the time their distracted by bullshit conspiracy theories or the idea that they should admire some foreign government that’s far worse instead of organizing to deal with their own country’s problems.

      31. Callum Carmichael

        Of course I can always count on you to lie.

        The specific mentality (and quote) expressed by Volodin was “There is no Russia wwithout Putin”.

        Did anyone in the US government ever say, even in 2001 to 2007, that “There is no America without Bush?” Was that believed by any significant amount of people? No and no.

        You changed the claim. You tried to equate bellicose, paranoid rhetoric with an autocratic cult of personality. They’re not the same. This is lying.

        Want proof that they’re not the same? Bush left power in 2008 when his term ended. Putin changed the Russian constitution to let him rule until 2024.

        And I’m going to pre-emptively warn you against shifting the goal posts again and pretending that somehow the US is still not democratic, in spite of having pluralistic media and regular, competitive elections.

  4. Callum Carmichael

    Mao, what ideologies do you think effect Russian politics? I know you prefer vague generalities over specific information, but please try to give examples that allow a conversation to procede.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Oh that’s simple- You’ve got the monarchists, who favor a strong leader…like Putin. Then you’ve got the Communists, who favor a strong leader…like Putin. You’ve got LDPR, whose leader Zhirinovsky said that elections should be ended and Putin should be made “Supreme Commander.” You’ve got Slavic pagans and nationalists who say they don’t like Putin yet happily fight in his wars.

      Am I leaving anyone out?

      Reply
    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Also Russia’s liberals may have made a lot of grievous errors in their history, but how are they worse than theocrats, racists, and gangsters?

      The whole Russian system of political thought is fucked up because nothing was resolved after the fall of the USSR, and Putin’s system only made the whole thing even more confusing and cynical with the manipulation of Surkov and those like him.

      Reply
    3. Mao Cheng Ji

      “what ideologies do you think effect Russian politics”

      Well, obviously the Communists are the second most powerful party. I’ve been listening to someone named Boris Kagarlitsky, on youtube, he sounds okay. And, on the right, the usual suspects, various kinds of traditionalism, all these Eurasian movements, with Dugin, Kofner, etc.

      The ruling party is pragmatic. No ideology there, will take (presumably) the best ideas from everyone. Including western liberals. Seems like a decent arrangement.

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Well, obviously the Communists are the second most powerful party. I’ve been listening to someone named Boris Kagarlitsky, on youtube, he sounds okay. ”

        And when have we seen the Communists actually oppose the government on anything and win? They totally support the Kremlin’s foreign policy and Putin’s own initiatives. They’re not even Communists, since they make common cause with fascists and even adopt far right-wing ideas while rejecting core Communist ones.

        As for the rest, these are nothing but props of the Kremlin’s “political technologists.” They serve to distract, to garner support from people with different motives, to pre-justify actions taken by the government, and so on. This is why these groups have to pay people to come to their rallies and even then they can barely achieve any numbers.

      2. Mao Cheng Ji

        “And when have we seen the Communists actually oppose the government on anything and win? They totally support the Kremlin’s foreign policy and Putin’s own initiatives. ”

        Communists are the second, but they are the remote second. When GWBush had ~90% popularity in 2001, the opposition was sitting quietly, voting for whatever he told them to vote. That’s the nature of the beast. Nevertheless, they have their ideas, mostly about the taxes and the social safety net, I believe.

        Yes, they are not talking about a revolution right now, but maybe there are good reasons.

        “As for the rest, these are nothing but props of the Kremlin’s “political technologists.” ”

        Well, you’re free to have you conspiracy theories. I watched a lot of Dugin, and he is many things, but you will not convince me that a “prop of the Kremlin’s “political technologists.”” is one of them. Sorry.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        They are not a remote second and they could certainly do more to oppose Putin’s initiatives. Look at what the Tea Party Republicans managed to do in 2013- they shut down the federal government.

        “Well, you’re free to have you conspiracy theories. I watched a lot of Dugin, and he is many things, but you will not convince me that a “prop of the Kremlin’s “political technologists.”” is one of them. Sorry.”

        The fact that the Kremlin creates and manages political organizations is not debatable. You can find plenty of information on this. In fact many times the leaders of these groups are Duma members or other politicians, so it’s not really hidden. NOD(National Liberation Movement) is a perfect example of this.

        Dugin is another matter. There was a time when Dugin was not a Kremlin puppet, whereas Limonov was. But it looks like things changed after the split.

        You have to understand that their ideology doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they support the Kremlin’s policy, attack any real opposition, and always keep people focused on America.

  5. jon

    Kovpak – well that was an hour of your life wasted. Mao is one of the Team Russia regulars on the Guardian. I find them somewhat amusing, in a quaint kind of way (The things they say! Like Mao’s hilarious accusation that you’d employed whatabouism – you couldn’t make it up), but they are not worth debating with unless you are avoiding work.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Whataboutism is a tu quoque fallacy and/or a red herring to boot. I’ve written two whole articles about that recently and I know Mao has seen them.

      Reply
      1. Mao Cheng Ji

        “Whataboutism is a tu quoque fallacy and/or a red herring to boot. I’ve written two whole articles about that recently and I know Mao has seen them. ”

        It could also be an attempt to establish a baseline. Say, what is more stupid: freedom fries or a moon landing investigation? Saying that an attack on Putin is attack on Russia, or saying that questioning the ‘commander in chief’ when troops are deployed abroad is an attack on America and treason?

        So far I see that you like establishing the baseline in some cases, and reject it in some other cases. That’s a big weakness, as far as I’m concerned.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        ” Saying that an attack on Putin is attack on Russia, or saying that questioning the ‘commander in chief’ when troops are deployed abroad is an attack on America and treason? ”

        A stupid congressman saying that they should change the name on the Congressional cafeteria menu is not equivalent to the investigative committee talking about investigating whether the moon landing was a hoax. In fact, they have the least excuse because the Soviet Union has the best proof that the moon landing was real. If it were fake, they would have been all over it in 1969.

        As for your second claim, the “treason” comments were made by various pundits working in private media, not by state officials or people who could use the state against people. The courts are independent in the US.

        Let me also point out that it’s stupid to lay any of that at my feet since I was one of those “treasonous” individuals the whole time.

        “So far I see that you like establishing the baseline in some cases, and reject it in some other cases. ”

        Nope. I already explained why I compared Russian homicide rates to those of the US.

        See the funny thing about this is that you’re fully away you’re unable to make a coherent, ethical argument and so you have to keep dancing around throwing out logical fallacies left and right.

  6. JackT

    I think Russia will start soon disintegrating into smaller entities. Putin got 2-3 years more before Russian government cannot anymore support far away Siberian towns and key local corrupted leaders supporting Putin. They have to start sending troops to try to squash riots and uprisings. Then troops have to be sent to fight other troops refusing orders, jumping to the other side and so it goes.

    Putin plays his stupid geopolitical games when the real weakness is the Russian economy, one trick pony show. He seems to believe he can just order new cuts endlessly to the government budget and keep things running smoothly for him like previously. He will raid all the pension funds and whatever to keep his government afloat but even that money will run out.

    Making things worse Putin made an enemy out of Ukraine, one of the best and key markets for Russian oil and gas. The Baltic states and the rest of EU are also diversifying very furiously. Then the very expensive pipeline projects to China which could be very well unprofitable for decades to come.

    The high price of oil does not help if you do not have any paying customers. Saudi Arabia learned the hard way in 1973 with oil embargo. Ever since they worked hard to be again a reliable oil producer.

    Russia could have been saved if Putin had done the right things to reform the economy and all that but crucial 15 years have been wasted. Now it is too late, the initiative has been lost. A bit like Germans after the battle of Kursk in WWII in 1943.

    It is like a Mafia “family”. When the money flow stops inside that family due to arrests and legal seizures of assets, there goes the loyalty and peace. Then it becomes dog-eat-dog world very soon, fractions of that family fighting for survival, for power and money.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      In general I’m in total agreement, though I think the time frame is a little short. Also I don’t see much support for separatism in Russia. It will probably come first in the form of local officials just ignoring orders from the Kremlin and lining their pockets. This is a good survival strategy for them, because they’re further down the trough and now they really need to squirrel away a nest egg.

      Reply

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