Monthly Archives: September 2015

Supplement: Whose point of view?

Just one more thought about the topic of the previous post to this one. That post was all about the idea of RT and similar media supposedly being no different from dozens of private and publicly-funded “Western” media outlets, and how it is merely providing the “Russian” POV. Of course the fact that those other outlets don’t necessarily say anything about getting the American, Canadian, British, etc. POV across is obvious, but recently I just remembered something that exposes this lie at yet another level.

First, people say RT is Kremlin propaganda because, surprise, surprise, it’s editorial line always happens to be in line with that of the Kremlin, particularly since late 2013, with virtually no opposing views. Now if the defense of this is “We’re just getting the Russian POV across,” then they are implying that the Kremlin POV is the “Russian POV,” something I’ve challenged before. But let’s run with that for a second- if they’re right, and the Kremlin POV is the Russian POV, then we have to ask how well they get that across. And that’s where we have a problem.

Check out this post from January of this year. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Putin and the foreign ministry extended deep condolences to Francois Hollande and the French people. They used this as an occasion to stress the need for cooperation between Russia and the West against terrorism, and in spite of what anyone thinks about Russia’s recent involvement in Syria, real cooperation on this matter is necessary. Putin and Lavrov were not alone, however. Margarita Simonyan, head of RT, also tweeted a message of unity against international terrorism in the wake of the massacre.

And then, within about 48 hours, RT proceeded to publish a totally baseless conspiracy theory penned by one Pepe Escobar on its site, which posited that the massacre was a “false flag” (because when is it not?) carried out by American secret agents. This story was also pushed by some other pro-Kremlin outlets, but the main one was Lifenews, which is technically private and falls outside of Simonyan’s mandate.

So then, even if we accept that the Kremlin’s position is the Russian position RT basically undermined “the Russian POV.” And even though that premise isn’t true, in a way they undermined Russia by publishing this hateful, totally unfounded bullshit on a state-run outlet. I can’t say for sure off the top of my head, but I believe I was made aware of that story the very same day that I went to the French embassy to watch Russians laying flowers and lighting candles in solidarity with the French nation. I’m not French and I have no connection to France, but when I saw that story on RT I was genuinely pissed.

It’s just one small example of how the Russian propaganda machine is basically lies piled upon other lies, and it simply…doesn’t…work. If Putin and company are going to piss away so much money on this, at least they ought to get value for other peoples’ money. Hell, all they had to do was leave things in the foreign language media pretty much the way they were around say, 2012. You had one job. One…job.

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On Information War – Yet Again

Unfortunately I’ve been swamped with work lately and I’m once again on my way to Ukraine, so I’ve had to either delay or outright drop a few post ideas I’ve had in the past couple weeks. Since I’ll be busy during that time as well (those Russian-speaking children don’t crucify themselves!), I decided to get in one more post before leaving.

This is kind of an old topic but a necessary one. I was recently “inspired” to revisit this topic by a Western Kremlin fan’s comments, but his comments basically follow the same script as other Western Putinophiles. In other words, this could have come from any of them.

I’m actually going to tackle this in two parts. The first part starts like this: Express an opinion contrary to the Kremlin line and the American or otherwise Western Putin fan hits you with “Stop watching CNN/Fox news!” More bullshit follows. Now speaking for myself, I’ve been living in Russia for over nine years now. Add half a year in Prague to that and it’s nearly a decade outside of the US. When it comes to Fox, apart from the fact that I rarely had cable TV throughout my entire life, I was diametrically opposed to everything Fox represented by 2000. There are some people who also oppose Fox’s message yet who will watch it for entertainment or research- I’m not one of those people. I can’t stand it. As for CNN, see what I said about cable TV. Typically the only time I would see CNN was if I was in a waiting room somewhere.

The fact that Team Kremlin uses networks like CNN or Fox as their go-to examples of “anti-Russian” propaganda just shows how ridiculously out of touch these people are. When I think about the sources of good information on Russia, my list looks something like this:

Meduza, RBK, Vedomosti, The Guardian, VICE, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Moscow Times, to name a few. In addition to that, I also will even comb sources like Sputnik or RT if only to get their spin on something.

What do you not see in that list? CNN or Fox.

Getting to the second part of this equation, I’ve seen some Kremlin fans try to claim that RT is no different from CNN or Fox. Well okay, sure. CNN and Fox are shit, so RT is shit. I’ll buy that. But the problem is that it’s not an entirely accurate analogy. For one thing, RT’s defenders claim it’s not propaganda, but merely reflecting the Russian point of view. Firstly, it reflects the Kremlin’s POV. Second, if we were to look at Fox or CNN, would we see a statement about how their mission is to “reflect the American point of view?” Of course not. Here’s the mission statement of the state-funded BBC; do you see anything in here about promoting the “British perspective?” Going back to the American media, Fox doesn’t even claim to be a conservative news outlet even though they obviously are. They claim to be an objective and unbiased news organization. In fact, they claim that a little too much. It’s almost as if they are, in fact, not unbiased or something.

There’s another component to this, that being never-ending use of the term “information war.” Nowadays we see some Western pundits and officials using that term, but it’s very important to keep in mind that this term was first used by the Russian side, mainly as a justification for ignoring any concept of objectivity and giving only the “Russian POV.” The term has been used by lower level pundits like Tim Kirby, as well as top Russian media figures such as Kiselyov and Simonyan. I’ve yet to see the heads of news organizations like the BBC, Al Jazeera, etc. declare that they are in an information war with Russia. I haven’t heard CNN or Fox News officials making such declarations as well. I suspect that Fox sees itself as locked in an information war against the domestic American “liberal media,” a fact which should raise a few eyebrows when thinking about comparisons.

So bottom line, RT is not just the Russian Fox News or CNN. For one thing, neither of those companies are state-owned. What is more, Fox, at least during a Democratic administration, is constantly attacking the US government and government in general, to the point of openly supporting the Tea Party movement. But even if we ignore that and make that inaccurate comparison, all that would mean is that RT is as shitty and ineffective as CNN, and as biased as Fox News.

As for the information war, as I’ve pointed out again and again, this is the invention of the Russian side. It didn’t have to be this way- there actually used to be examples of objective Russian media, including state-run outlets. These were discarded in favor of the information war, with all that entails, including fabricated stories, false experts, and the like. The Kremlin’s “political technologists” consciously made this decision and now they’re mad when some people call them out for propaganda.

Of course how objective the Kremlin media could be is a difficult question post-2014. Could RT reporters have shown that Russian troops were indeed in the Crimea before they were supposed to be (inside sources tell me everyone there knew that was the case from the beginning), as well as the Donbas? Naturally the “Russian POV” could have maybe devoted more time to stories about radical Ukrainian nationalism and Ukraine’s very real problems with corruption during Maidan, but would Kremlin-run media also be allowed to engage with a diverse cross-section of the Maidan movement, which was in fact not really anti-Russian and not necessarily all about “joining Europe,” the latter being a myth which was propagated by both “Western” and Russian media? I find that hard to believe.

While “Western” media sources tend to end up toeing the government line out of a desire to preserve access to official sources, the Russian state-owned press is apparently expected to give the Kremlin’s Russian POV. This doesn’t mean that they have to cover up domestic topics like corruption or economic woes, but on foreign policy there doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room.

So basically what we have here is:

-Russian media declaring information war, and then getting mad when the media they have declared information war on acknowledge and use the term information war.

-Russian media being compared to outlets like CNN and Fox News, and then getting mad when people point out how bad or biased that is.

-Russian state-run media openly claiming to be propagating the Russian POV and then getting mad when people understandably label it propaganda.

-Russian media heads openly claim objective reporting is a myth, then get mad when they’re accused of bias. (Total objectivity is impossible, and probably not desirable, but the idea is that you try to get as close as possible and use evidence to do so).

If the shoe fits, wear it. If the Russian media is capable of being just as objective as the hivemind collective known as “the Western” or “mainstream” media, then let them do so. Let’s see some experts, actual experts, challenging the claims that Maidan was a US-organized coup, carried out by neo-Nazis. Let’s see interviews with people on both sides of the Ukrainian war, just as those supposedly “mainstream” outlets (including state-funded outlets like BBC and VOA) have done dozens of times, letting the fighters and civilians speak for themselves. Let’s see them actually question or challenge Putin’s public claims for a change. If they refuse to do this, then they should give a good reason for doing so. Claiming they’re giving the Russian POV doesn’t cut it, and if they claim to be doing that, then they are admitting that they aren’t doing what those other, non-Russian networks are doing.

If they refuse to respond to the allegation, they have no right to scream about being labeled propaganda. If they truly are independent enough to publish such material, let them prove it. Nobody’s seriously going to expect them to censor cheerleaders like Sleboda, Kirby, or Bridge. And from what I know, there are plenty of people who work in both Russian domestic and foreign-language media who do subscribe to the “other” side of the “Russian” POV, and who would probably be happy to provide a “second opinion” as RT likes to call it. Just try not to label them traitors and State Department agents in the process.

So the ball is in Team Kremlin’s court. If you declare information war, say you’re representing only the “Russian POV,” and claim that objectivity doesn’t exist, get used to being labeled a propaganda outlet.

Taming of the Putin

I’m not an avid reader of Kyiv Post, but this recent article by their editor Brian Bonner really struck a chord with me. Bonner is writing about Charlie Rose’s interview with Putin prior to today’s speech at the UN General Assembly, and spoilers- it wasn’t good. One refreshing thing about this article is that Bonner isn’t a total dick to Rose. He begins with some “digressions” which soften the blow, for example.

What I’m interested in is his thesis that Rose didn’t know how to treat Putin. When you read the questions, you see exactly that. What does it mean to say Rose and other Western journalists don’t know how to treat him? Bonner has his own opinion, but in my own view it’s essentially a matter of Western journalists buying into Putin’s mystique and then asking questions which essentially perpetuate that myth. Take a look at this one, for example:

“Rose: “Maybe you’re an interesting character. They see these images of you — bare-chested on a horse — and say there is a man who carefully cultivates his image of strength.”

This and other ego-stroking questions by Rose reminded my of this article by Will Wright in Russia! Magazine, where he talks about Western acceptance of the Putin mythos. What’s interesting about this article is that the author is talking about the way Putin is portrayed in entertainment media, specifically the TV series House of Cards. Of course Putin himself isn’t portrayed- rather we get a fictional Russian president who is nonetheless obviously based on Putin. This connection is reinforced by Kevin Spacey’s personal connection to Pussy Riot, who made a guest appearance in the series. The point here is that we have a portrayal of Putin, albeit in fictional form, by some people who could realistically be described as anti-Putin, and yet even they manage to inadvertently feed into the image of Putin as a stone-cold, ex-KGB spy, and most of all, a masculine, calculating strategist.

Another major cock up on Rose’s part was this question:

Rose: “You’re much talked about in America.”

Putin: “Maybe they have nothing else to do.”

Rose: “Maybe they’re a curious people.”

Um no, he isn’t “much talked about in America.” One thing that many Russian “insta-patriots” simply cannot stand is that the average American not only doesn’t think about Putin, but they do not even think about Russia. As I’ve said before- if this were otherwise, my email and message inboxes should be overflowing with questions about what’s going on over here from concerned family members and friends. After all, Russia is often featured in international news these days, yet I literally go months at a time without getting so much as a single question about what’s going on here from outside the country.

This is the sort of thing both Putin and his followers crave. They’d like to believe that they’re in the middle of a two-way fight, and that the average American is once again worrying about being nuked by Russia as they were during the Cold War. They relish this idea because they are unable to conceive of any way Russia could truly become great, and in the case of Putin, there is no way Russia could accomplish that while still preserving his kleptocratic system. Hence the bizarre fetish with imagining that Americans obsess over Russia as much as Russians do about America.

One other funny point about this is that many Russians love to make fun of Americans’ ignorance about the world, never considering that this ignorance is largely the product of not giving a damn. If I were to ask random Americans on the street some basic questions about Russia, most Russians would probably laugh at their answers or lack thereof (and possibly justifiably so). Yet does it make sense to believe that these same people who can’t name the capital of Russia or its president are also simultaneously discussing Putin and very concerned about the superpower aspirations of Russia? Of course not. Most of them don’t know because they don’t care, and they don’t care because there’s no reason to care.

Getting back to the overall theme of this post, what exactly went wrong with Rose? Well when it comes to lobbing softball questions, I think the US domestic media, particularly TV, has to eat the blame for this one. One of the things I found surprising when I moved abroad and started watching British TV is that interviewers didn’t just challenge their guests, they seemed to be challenging them for the sake of challenging them. It’s as if it was just expected- you’re a journalist, your job is to grill your guest and put them on the spot. By contrast, it seemed to me that American TV interviewers were much more inclined to be polite and lob softball questions, possibly out of a fear of losing access and or being accused of “ambushing” a particular figure. For example, Sarah Palin was supposedly “ambushed” by Katie Couric, when the latter asked her about the publications she reads to stay informed.

The other problem, somewhat alluded to above, is that Western journalists who aren’t long-time Russia correspondents/watchers are prone to falling for Putin’s facade (or any foreign leader’s facade, for that matter). It would probably help immensely if only reporters who specialized in a certain region conducted major interviews like this.

If the media doesn’t wake up to these facts, they’re going to get played again and again just as Putin played Rose.

Show your work

A while back I published an article about “expat privilege.” While I didn’t dig into it so much in that article, one of the greatest privileges an expat has, though one that is somewhat invisible, is the ability to basically ignore a lot of annoying shit. What do I mean? Are you reading this in the US? What’s dominating your news cycle? What can’t you stop hearing about, and won’t stop hearing about until next November? Yup, election coverage, and even worse- the Republican primaries.

Yes, obviously I get a lot of news from the US, via Twitter and Facebook. But what I’m getting is nothing like what you’re probably experiencing in the States. I’m dancing around a lawn sprinkler while you get blasted with a fire hose. Now keeping in mind that I am mercifully spared from feeling the full force of the GOP primary shit-circus, you can forgive me for not being 100% on the ball when it comes to the issues being discussed. So is it just me or does it seem like 90% of the Republican contest seems to revolve around who can be the biggest dick to immigrants, illegal or otherwise? I mean it really does seem as though the Republicans, having lost on gay marriage and going to war at the drop of a hat, have decided to shuffle off every single issue under the sun except immigration. Oh…And Muslims of course. I mean look at this shit:

How could anyone watch that exchange and not demand a coast-to-coast minute of silence, not out of mourning but pure shame?

I don’t want to digress to the topic of Muslims in America, but on that topic I’ll say this: If you think there are Muslim terrorist training camps in America, you pay my airfare and expenses, plus a modest fee, and we’ll go to one of these camps. That’s right. You say they exist, and they’ve obviously got you scared shitless, so being the hardcore badass that I am, I’ll personally escort you, unarmed, to these locations so you can rest assured that ISIS is not building a secret army in America. Call me the James Randi of political bullshit in that case.

Let me get back to this immigrant thing, though. When it comes to anti-immigrant rhetoric I’ve heard it all. Hell, I’m by no means innocent of subscribing to that bullshit myself. But there’s something I just don’t understand.

You see, there’s plenty of research disproving common claims such as how illegal immigrants steal jobs or how they’re committing more crimes or that they’re some how sucking the country’s coffers dry. The evidence against these claims is pretty much overwhelming, to the point where the only way one can continue to object to it is by alleging a massive conspiracy to falsify all of it. But let’s just ignore all that for a moment.

Even if you ignore all that evidence and believe some or all of the illegal immigration rhetoric, is there no point at which you start asking yourself what precisely these immigrants are doing to you? Let me rephrase that. Say you’re an employed, middle class white person, possibly a homeowner. Do you ever start to wonder about the ways, if any, your life is affected by these immigrants, legal or otherwise?

Obviously the first arguments such people would bring up would be stealing jobs, but even if that were true, their job clearly wasn’t stolen. I’ve never met someone who admitted they’d lost their job to an illegal immigrant. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but as comedian Doug Stanhope once pointed out in a routine- you’ve got to be pretty unqualified to be replaced by an illegal immigrant in any job that isn’t ditch digging.

With job stealing out of the way, that will leave the alleged tax burden. Okay then, get out your tax info and a calculator and show me how much money you personally are losing out on thanks to illegal immigrants. Oh, you don’t know? Well do some research then. Typically those programs which are available to illegal immigrants are also available to the US population as well, so it’s not like the illegal immigrants are getting some kind of benefit set aside for them.

Even if you start talking about things like crime, aside from the fact that both legal and illegal immigrants offend on a far lower rate than that of the native population, you have to concede that a crime committed by an immigrant is not somehow worse than one committed by a citizen. Assault, rape, and murder are just as bad regardless of who commits them, and we also know that these crimes all tend to take place among people who know each other.

So the point here is that while the topic of immigrants always seems to rapidly rile people up, it’s really kind of abstract. I mean if you’re going to get extremely angry about something, you should be able to actually explain how this thing is affecting you. It doesn’t necessarily need to be blatantly obvious too. Whenever you hear politicians wringing their hands and telling you “there’s just not enough money,” you can always cast an eye towards the Pentagon and find millions, if not billions of dollars that are being pissed away.

I’ve talked in the past before about how some Americans just seem to be perpetually angry, often about stuff that isn’t even happening. They never seem to be relieved when you tell them the thing they’re constantly angry about isn’t really a thing at all. But fine, if you want to be angry, shouldn’t you at least be able to explain why?

Think of all the people killed or maimed in car accidents in America. The second most common cause of accidents is excessive speed, number three is drunk driving. Incidentally number one is “distracted driving,” but that’s rather vague so I’ll stick with two and three. Why don’t you see more people screaming about speeding and demanding more speed cameras? There’s a case where it’s laughably easy to explain why you’re upset about speeding- they cause accidents, including fatal ones. Drunk driving is even worse, though it isn’t as common a cause as speeding. Yet where is the politician talking about this issue?

The thing that really worries me about this decline in critical thinking and political discourse is that I fear the rise of a sort of vatnik mentality in the US. While the vatnik is content to live in shit so long as he is able to believe that Americans and other Westerners fear his country, I think we have all seen plenty of signs that there is a rising category of Americans who are happy to vote for politicians that continually decrease American living standards, all out of fear that somewhere, somehow, there’s a foreigner who overstayed his visa and who is living it up on government money. They’re wholly unconcerned as to whether this person even exists. The very idea is enough for them to slavishly follow anyone who talks about what he’ll supposedly do about this non-existent state of affairs.

America’s institutions and law will, at least for the foreseeable future, prevent the country from turning into something like Putin’s Russia. But only a fool would think these things can last forever without the vigilance and responsibility of the public. With the right conditions, a growing number of Americans can be duped into demanding the destruction of those laws and institutions. If they protect illegal immigrants, “terrorists,” “criminals,” or unwed mothers, their may be calls for their appeal, or at least wink-wink agreements between public officials and law enforcement to simply ignore such rules.

America’s position in the world in terms of development and freedom is by no means enshrined in stone. So chuckle at Trump and his fanboys at your own risk.

Choking

(Be sure to read the updates at the bottom of this post. -Kovpak)

When it comes to politics and the moral high ground, all Ukraine has to do is basically hold onto the ball and run out the clock. Yes, there are economic problems, yes, there’s the threat to its territorial integrity, but the fact is that Russia’s ambitions have largely backfired and Russia is still assuming a rather large cost to prop up its pseudo-states in the Donbas. World sympathy is with Ukraine, almost uncritically so. Just hold onto the ball and run down the clock.

GODDAMMIT! 

Earlier this year it was the ridiculous “decommunization” and “independence fighters” law that Poroshenko signed after being warned against doing so by a long list of Ukrainian and foreign history scholars. This time they’ve banned a long list of people from entering the country, with several BBC journalists among them. Two Spanish journalists on the list are actually still missing in Syria, possibly in the hands of ISIS. Nice move.

This kind of phenomenon makes you wonder who’s responsible for this. Who’s the mastermind? Who says: “Okay we’ve basically got the entire world sympathetic to us, so that means we can occasionally pass really idiotic laws and regulations every few months or so.”

Now I have looked at the list and a lot of the names on there are people you’d expect. You’ve got Russian state TV people, you’ve got Dmitriy Kiselyov himself. That’s the problem though- now those “journalists” are equated with the BBC and other legitimate media outlets who don’t invent stories about non-existent little girls getting killed by artillery or boys being crucified on billboards.

Once again, it’s that type of thing you’d expect Russia to do, and yet just as Russia hasn’t punished anyone for publishing critical material against the allied coalition in WWII (as per a law discussed in 2013), Russia also hasn’t gone after BBC or VOA- this in spite of the Kremlin’s belief that they are locked in an “information war” with the UK and US. So in other words, once again, Ukraine’s government, in what feels like an instant, manages to exceed Russian levels of hostility toward free speech and free press. Once again the law is passed with lightning speed and virtually no discussion, whereas reforms, anti-corruption measures, and even military reforms aimed at better supplying Ukraine’s soldiers at the front drag on.

For fuck’s sake, Ukrainian government- all you have to do is nothing. These fuck ups take deliberate effort. With the previous incident, all they had to do was tell Yuri Shukhevych and Volodymyr Viatrovych to shut up and sit down. With this all they had to do was maybe read the goddamned list a little more carefully. Maybe just stop…doing…things.

UPDATE: There’s been some talk that the Ukrainian government may be revising the list in response to the reaction. Let’s hope for the best.

UPDATE II: It looks like the BBC reporters will be removed from the list. It looks like this is going to turn out to be like that law the Rada tried to pass after Maidan, which was quickly repealed. The sentiment is still valid though- HOLD THE BALL AND RUN OUT THE CLOCK.

Classic Bullshit

Ready to see a thorough examination of one of the Kremlin media’s favorite bullshit tactics, along with a perfect example of how the “anti-fascist” Russian media outlets promote xenophobia and racism? Look no further than this hilariously bad article on, you guessed it, Sputnik, entitled “Refugee Influx May Force European Exodus to Siberia.”

First let’s start with the title. “Refugee influx may force European exodus to Siberia” is like saying “An asteroid may hit the Earth.” Actually the probability of the latter is slightly higher. Lots of media outlets can be weasel-ish with modal verbs like may, but this is insane. As you will soon see, this is the equivalent of hearing a homeless guy at the bus stop tell you the Illuminati is beaming messages into his head, and then publishing a story with the headline “World may be controlled by Illuminati via Thought Manipulation.”

So what is Sputnik’s source on this shocking info? Well it turns out to be “the Polish media.” Well, okay, not all of the Polish media. In fact it turns out to be a “Polish news website” called Obserwator Polityczny (Political Observer). Looking at the website, it is a bit spartan, with very little in the way of contact info and it seems like all its articles are written by one author, who writes under the rather curious pseudonym “Krakauer.” Googling the name of the publication brings up numerous Russian site, many of them state run outlets.

As for the slant of the site, my Polish isn’t great but some articles had been translated into Russian (rather odd for a Polish news site), and there is the content cited by Sputnik, which is very telling. Essentially, the site appear to be right-wing, anti-EU and anti-immigrant. Poland has a reputation for right wing politics, but there’s something else about this site that makes it stick out like a sore thumb compared to traditional Polish right-wing politics. It’s not simply that it’s pro-Russian; there are at least some right-wing Poles which have taken the side of Russia in some matters, contrary to the typical tendency. But this is another matter entirely.

There are many Eastern European right-wingers who have genuinely Russophobic beliefs, but I’m guessing if you asked them why they side with Russia they’ll give you a sort of “good fences make good neighbors explanation,” i.e. “Our enemy is in Brussels, and if we can take advantage of Russia to aid us in that struggle, so much the better, so long as they don’t interfere in our affairs.” This is why so much of the European right, in spite of its rabid anti-Communism and anti-leftism, sided with the self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” Russia against Ukraine’s openly anti-Communist right wing parties like Svoboda and Praviy Sektor. The latter were associated with a movement that was painted by both sides as a pro-European Union coup or revolution. What is more, it was Ukrainian land at risk, not Hungarian, Greek, or Bulgarian. What you don’t generally hear any of these right-wingers clamoring for, however, is a straight up Russian invasion like in the Crimea. Seriously, let’s unpack this Hitlertastic article:

The huge influx of migrants into Europe might one day force the Europeans to flee their own land, seeking for shelter. The Polish media even suggests they could find refuge in Russia’s Siberia; many already see it as “durable and stable” and secretly wish the “polite people in green uniforms would one day ensure their stability”.

As I alluded to before, “The Polish media” doesn’t suggest shit. A shady website in Russian and Polish made this suggestion. This is also one of the most idiotic ideas ever, quite obviously revealing the Russian nationality of the author. Note the use of the word “stable” to describe Siberia and by extension Russia. “Stability” is a lynch pin of the Russian elite’s narrative. Don’t rock the boat! You’ll lose your stability and fall into chaos! The irony of course is that Russians don’t get stability. Virtually nothing is stable in Russia. Developed Western countries are far more stable in virtually every measurable way, to the point of being downright boring.

Another tell-tale vatnik sign is the fantasy that Europeans secretly wish that Russian “polite people,” i.e. soldiers like those who invaded the Crimea, would some in and bring them that precious “stability.” This “Polish” publication doesn’t give us any quotes, surveys, or examples to back this up. It flat out claims that Europeans “secretly” wish this without explaining how they divined such information.

Having found themselves in the middle of the migrant chaos, many Europeans may one day wish to simply run away from the problem, suggests the Polish news website Obserwator Polityczny.

Once again we see tell-tale signs of vatnost. First there’s the typical xenophobia of the Russian media about immigrants in Europe. More importantly, there’s that word “chaos.” Chaos is juxtaposed to Russian “stability.” In Russia’s domestic media, the world is portrayed as this horribly chaotic mess, while Russia has stability. Well, except for the rising prices, the falling ruble, the falling airplanes, the crumbling roads, banks getting their licenses yanked right and left, massive holes in the budget, foreign policy snap-decisions with terrible consequences, budget cuts, plant closures, riots, acts of terrorism, censorship, etc. And it’s worth pointing out that Russian media, including domestic media, doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of any of those things. Instead what they do is threaten the population with CHAOS! lest they think about actually doing something about those problems, or more specifically, lest they come to the conclusion that Putin’s peculiar system is responsible for their woes, as opposed to the West.

The horror show must go on:

“With the deepening collapse of the West, every year Russia will become the only durable and stable country in an unstable environment,” the website states.”

With all the problems of austerity and the economic crisis in the West, Western standards of living and economic indicators are far above those of Russia, and many of Russia’s economic woes aren’t tied to the sanctions either. And since we’re talking about the West, that includes countries like the United States. So how badly is the US crumbling? Oh…Right…Shit.

Again we have yet another very Russian meme. To be sure, this thing has been trumpeted by all sorts of people, including many uninformed Americans, but regardless of who’s saying it, the bottom line is this- Even if the West were collapsing, it’s doing far better than Russia, and there is nothing, literally nothing, to indicate that Russia is somehow going to rapidly reverse this situation. For comparison, let us look at the example of Soviet industrialization. The Russian empire collapsed, civil war and insurgency raged for years after the fact, and the territory was devastated by famine and disease. One might look at the Soviet success in industrialization while the rest of the capitalist world suffered from the Depression and claim that this is proof that Russia could surprise us today. Sorry but that’s bullshit. The USSR had something up its sleeve that made that possible, a foundation in their centralized planned economy plus revolutionary zeal. Modern day Russia has neither of these things. It has a tiny elite made up of thieving hypocrites who are scared shitless of being held accountable for the crimes against their own citizens.

Lastly on this point, I just need to remind the reader that the collapse of the West, particularly the United States, would be economically devastating for Russia. In any case, if there is some inevitable global crisis that drags the developed world to its death, Russia will most likely perish some time before that moment.

Also, do I even need to point out how there’s a reason all these refugees are flooding toward “crumbling” Europe as opposed to rising Russia and its BFF’s China and India? Weird how they flock to the decaying West and not the BRICS alternative, huh?

“Even today, many people from countries ruled by soft-gender politicians, which are unable to cope with the relatively trivial problem of illegal immigration, look to Russia with admiration and hope.”

“Soft-gender” politicians? Does that mean short politicians with bizarre complexes who stage photo sessions of themselves working out with a male friend and drinking tea with them afterwards? Also if illegal immigration is such a trivial problem, why is it going to lead to an apocalypse that threatens to drive Europeans en masse into Siberia? And who are these Europeans who look to Russia with admiration and hope? Where are the surveys? Quotes? This is even worse than Fox News’ infamous “some people say.”

I might also ask as to who believes Russia has solved the problem of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration in Russia is still a massive problem, exacerbated by corruption. The only thing that has led to a decrease in illegal immigration is the economic downturn, which has convinced some migrants to go elsewhere.

The website is sure that Russian politicians will “not leave their residents and hide under the desk, waiting until circumstances change so that they can go to the cameras again and lie”.

The “website” is sure of that? Than “the website” is a fucking moron. Russian politicians lie constantly. While they aren’t necessarily hiding under any desks, they are typically hiding in New York, London, the South of France, on yachts, in palaces, etc.

It also states that the Russian model of state organization has proved to be “more effective, more efficient and, basically, fully resistant to interference”.

Yeah, I know this is basically bullshit boilerplate, but I have to point out that not only is this laughably false, but the Russian government itself clearly doesn’t believe the last point. It spends tons of money and resources chasing the shadows of the next “Maidan” or “color revolution” within its borders. By contrast, the rapidly “collapsing” US doesn’t give a shit if you want to go on Youtube and talk about “prepping” for the day you have to fight the federal government, holding your tricked out AR-15 and wearing a military-quality tactical chest rig. Who’s more stable again?

The Russians, it elaborates, can sleep peacefully in their beds all the way from Kaliningrad (Russia’s westernmost city) to Magadan (Russia’s easternmost large city on the Pacific), because they are confident that “whoever comes to them with a sword, will perish by the sword”.

Again, more evidence that a Russian originally wrote this, or at least dictated it to some isolated Polish toady. First of all, people in stable nations don’t stay up at night worrying about military invasions. If any significant number of Russian citizens actually fear a Barbarossa-like invasion, it speaks volumes about their critical thinking skills. Or at least it would if we didn’t already know who is responsible for planting this meme- the Russian media.

While all those Russian people may be safe from the threat of invasion, seeing as how nobody plans to invade Russia, rest assured many are losing sleep thanks to layoffs, rising prices, and constantly being told that they’re going to suffer at the hands of a NATO invasion, civil war, terrorism, gays, etc. Meanwhile, how many Germans or French people are seriously questioning whether or not they might be conquered by a foreign invader?

And all the above, it adds, is despite the country having given refuge to millions of people who have fled the war-torn Donbass region into Russia and despite the anti-Russian sanctions.

Sorry but Russia has not given refuge to “millions” of people. The highest estimate is somewhere around 800,000 people. Other estimates say that about 1.5 million people were displaced, with roughly half going to Ukrainian government controlled territory and the other half going to Russia. In any case, rather than taking refuge in Siberia, they have been deliberately resettled in those areas, and as you might expect from a country that treats its own citizens like shit, being a Ukrainian refugee in Russia is no picnic. See when vatniks want to justify arming a rebellion and invading, it’s for the sake of poor, persecuted Russian-speakers, residents of the Russkiy Mir. But when they show up asking for help, they’re suddenly Ukrainians again, and the Russian attitude to them is about as hospitable as it is towards Arab refugees.

Now are you ready to get a heaping helping of Russian anti-fascism?

The migrants who keep coming in from the Middle East and Africa, the website says, are not respecting their laws and customs and even at night behave in a way which most people perceive as a threat.

Xenophobic much? Now you can claim that maybe this was indeed written by a right wing Pole, but why then does Sputnik not call out this racism and xenophobia? After all, isn’t Russia gravely concerned about the rise of Nazism in Europe? Oh wait, that’s right, fascism is fine so long as the fascists don’t call themselves Nazis and openly praise Hitler. That and they support Russian foreign policy goals.

Once again we have a funny contradiction though. In Russia, this should fit under the definition of “extremism,” specifically inciting hatred against other religions or ethnic groups. But when the message is useful for Russian propaganda purposes, it’s just fine.

One interesting thing about this is the selectivity of Russian censorship. For example, if a genuine Russian racist complains online about the “flood” of Tajik, Uzbek, and other Central Asian immigrants, legal or otherwise, they will generally be untouched so long as they don’t also engage in anti-regime politics. He could even spread antisemitism too, for example, by making allegations that Ukraine’s leadership have secret Jewish heritage. Of course this can’t be accompanied by swastikas and praise of Hitler, but it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about Ukraine being run by gay, liberal, Jewish Nazis.
In Hungary, for example, a peaceful night’s rest has become a long-forgotten memory. Residents have taken control of their neighborhoods, patrolling villages and small towns, because the Hungarian government is apparently afraid to intervene, for fear of the derision of the European press and accusations of fascism.

Hmmm… A Polish website says that about Hungary? What’s their source? What residents? The only source I found on this subject was this article on the Hungarian far right, specifically the Jobbik party and some more radical groups. It’s worth noting that the Jobbik party and Viktor Orban are both friendly to the Kremlin and its ideological think tanks and organizations, this in spite of the rabidly anti-Communist ideology which clashes against Russia’s recent monopolization of WWII’s victory over fascism. Hungarian far-right nationalists have also formed a unit in the “armed forces of Novorossiya” in the Donbas.

Lastly, make a separate note that the government, in spite of being considered quite illiberal, is supposedly afraid to “intervene” because of accusations of fascism. This is a common right wing meme- the idea that the evil leftist establishment will use the fascist label to cow any dissent. If ever there was a justified accusation of fascism, it would be that leveled against far-right nationalist militias forming gangs and using violence against people based on their ethnicity.

Again, the Sputnik authors do nothing to criticize this. After all, Russia’s government and media, including Sputnik, seem quite happy to lob accusations of fascism at everyone under the sun, including people who were historically persecuted by fascists. Is the Russian media not disturbed at this xenophobia and racism, in a former Axis country that participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union, no less?

“There are fewer countries in the world where you can lie down to sleep in peace, without fear that a stranger will come to your home at night and cause you harm.”

Take a look at Russian crime statistics some time, not that they’re particularly reliable.

A year ago, the newswire says, ordinary Europeans couldn’t have been foreseen that today they might appreciate being in Crimea’s shoes, and readily greet the appearance of “polite people in green uniforms ensuring stability, peace and security.”

Aaaaand…Where’s the evidence that they appreciate this now? Where’s the clamor to be invaded by Russian soldiers, who incidentally, don’t ensure peace or that precious stability that makes Russians’ mouths water?
The above comes in reference to the term “polite people”, which was used to describe the Russian troops who anonymously maintained order during the unification of the Crimea peninsula with Russia in 2014.

I’m only including this line because of the part about “anonymously maintained order.” They say that because as we all remember, cowardly little Putin initially denied his troops were in the Crimea at all, then later admitted it. Now it’s called “anonymously maintaining order.” In reality, they created disorder in the first place.

But then another question pops up: where will Europe get these peacekeepers from?

Sure, that question just pops up, if you’re a drooling moron. Europe doesn’t need peacekeepers, in the same way the Crimea didn’t need peacekeepers after 22 February 2014. If America had pulled something like this in say, Galicia, Kremlin media would be shitting bricks of rage.

Get ready for some real hilarity now:
In Poland, the website says, most professional soldiers are only on duty until 3:00 p.m. Then, it explains, they put on their civilian clothes and go home, like ordinary workers.

What’s the point of this, you ask? Read on…

It is no different anywhere else in in Europe. Western countries have their armies, which already do not have tanks, because they are too expensive, and during training they have to save on ammunition.

Are you getting this? This is clearly Russian vatnik fap material. LOOK AT OUR TANKS! OUR POWERFUL ARMY! Note that they don’t mention which Western countries don’t have tanks due their expense. If anything Western countries, including major powers like the US and basketcases like Greece, have too many tanks. Modern war planners are deliberately phasing out tanks because they simply aren’t effective anymore. US military brass have actually asked Congress to stop buying tanks, as they have far more than they can even possibly use or store.

As for ammunition during training- I know from talking with actual Russian army veterans that people who aren’t infantry or combat arms fire about five rounds from a Kalashnikov. By contrast, your average American army recruit will fire several thousand rounds in the three weeks of Basic Rifle Marksmanship in basic training, regardless of their MOS.  They are then required to re-qualify with their duty weapon every six months. Marine rifle marksmanship is even more thorough.

What the authors missed was the fact that like the US, many Western countries have professional armies. That means people volunteer willingly. This is contrasted with the Russian army, which is still largely conscript based and filled with young men who serve only one year. In that time they still face all kinds of abuse and corruption and make something around 2000 rubles a month.

And this might be a cheap shot, but there were some other guys who reviled professional armies as “mercenaries,” writing in their political program: “We demand abolition of the mercenary troops and formation of a national army.” They called themselves “National Socialists.”

Finally we go out on this note:

“The Russians have television, and have Internet access to see what’s going on in Europe”, it states.

They have Russian television, which tells them Europe is full of Arab terrorists (who are actually agents of the CIA) and gay rapists, all of which is just fine because it serves the regime’s narrative. As for internet access, far fewer people have it in Russia than in Western countries. Hmmm…How odd for a country that’s supposedly so much better off than the West.  And of course, the state is constantly working to censor and block the internet more and more, as it is a threat to the elite and Putin himself.

So there you have it, an obscure, suspiciously Russian-sounding site becomes “the Polish media” according to Sputnik, it makes bizarre claims without any evidence, to the point of pontificating about what Europeans “secretly” desire (if we go by Russian TV, the answer would be “more dick”).

This is a classic tactic for Russian propaganda. Cite some random blog or bare-bones news portal and call it “the Western media” or “Western sources.” One common tactic is to cite Global Research in this manner, when those doing the writing know fully well that this conspiracy site is run by 100% pro-Kremlin people. It’s basically a variation on the tactic whereby random bloggers or Youtube users are given titles like “political analyst” by RT.

The other takeaway from this lesson in bullshit is the hypocrisy of the Kremlin’s propaganda. They’re happy to scream: “WHAT ABOUT IRAQ, LIBYA, AFGHANISTAN, SYRIA?!” And yet at the same time, they spread xenophobic propaganda about how immigrants, some from those very same countries, are going to destroy Europe. On that note, the article is obvious race baiting, and as there is no criticism or acknowledgement of this fact, we must conclude that the tone is approving. I’m putting that out there for anyone who considers themselves and anti-racist or progressive leftist, yet still takes Russian media seriously. Remember, this isn’t a private corporation like Fox News. This is state run. What does it say about this crusader for “anti-fascism” when they regurgitate and in some cases, produce right wing, even fascist propaganda?*

Overall, the problem with Sputnik is that it’s a sign that as Russia decided to wage information war in 2013, the quality of its propaganda has gone down considerably, as its foreign language propaganda begins to resemble its domestic propaganda. This is one reason why their information war has, in the course of roughly two years, been nothing but a spectacular failure. Had they cared about truth and quality, they could have built a reputable foreign language media machine that really would become an alternative to the “Western media,” which does indeed have its biases. But in the rigid, top-down system of the Kremlin, objectivity, standards, and self-criticism are seen as disloyalty or defeatism. Thus quality takes a back seat to the message, and the message is diluted by the idiotic strategy of confusion.

*Here is a rather excellent article I read recently on the topic of contradictions in Kremlin propaganda and soft power.

UPDATE: Russian journalist Alexei Kovalev has investigated the Polish site in question and it is openly connected to the Russkiy Mir foundation, e.g. a Russian government think tank. The site’s traffic appears to come virtually exclusively from Russian media sources. Sorry but the link is only in Russian.

Brooks misses Russia…by a mile

So some of you Schadenfreude-prone readers out there will probably be happy to see my response to David Brooks’ bizarro-world word-vomit about Russia. Well you would be happy, if I had one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to provide my commentary here, but that’s just it, commentary.

You see, Brooks’ article about the Russia he “misses” doesn’t really merit a coherent response. There’s no point, no thesis, no argument put forth. If you want to read a response from an academic, who clearly has more patience for this shit than me, I suggest you read this. As for me, this is one of those “not even wrong” moments. In fact, I think if we’re going to speak about a “response” to this, the most appropriate form would be this classic:

What more can I say about this? What bothers me so much about it? Well for starters it’s fetishization. Western people, and let’s face it, better-off white people, have this tendency to fetishize other cultures. There’s the Noble Savage who is one with nature. There’s the trope of the “Magic Negro,” typically an older black man who helps a white man solve a problem with homespun sage advice. East Asian people are believed to be repositories of vast ancient wisdom, if not supernatural powers. While Russians aren’t considered a separate “race” by modern Western social constructs, the truth is that they, like other Eastern Europeans, are often subject to the same kind of fetishization. The most important common thread running through all of these stereotypes is that they are all superficially positive. They are presented as compliments but inside lies an insult.

Brooks’ basically tosses a bunch of stereotypical memes about Russia at us, in an attempt to convince us that he gets Russia on some deeper level. I realize he covered Russia for several years and he has visited the country numerous times, but it seems as though he never did. Anyone could have written what he wrote. Let’s start with this gem:

For more than a century, intellectuals, writers, artists and activists were partly defined by the stances they took toward certain things Russian: Did they see the world like Tolstoy or like Dostoyevsky? Were they inspired by Lenin and/or Trotsky? Were they alarmed by Sputnik, awed by Solzhenitsyn or cheering on Yeltsin or Gorbachev?

Gee Dave, did you cram enough Russian names and memes in there? Maybe you could have thrown in a few more? Putin? Matroyshki? Bears?

Starting off by juxtaposing Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky isn’t exactly Hitlerrific, but maybe, just maybe, some of those intellectuals, writers, artists, and activists were defined by their own opinions, perhaps on less popular Russian intellectuals of the past or…gasp! People who weren’t Russian at all. Next you’ve got Lenin and Trotsky. Now if you actually know your revolutionary history, you know that Lenin and Trotsky were in fact bitter opponents most of the time, contrary to what modern Trots would have you believe. However, if we’re juxtaposing different Soviet revolutionary figures here, the correct analogy would be Stalin vs. Trotsky. That should be elementary.

Also: “Awed” by Solzhenitsyn? Long time readers know I’m not a fan, but I acknowledge the consensus that appreciates his writing, horrible political beliefs aside. Yet is “awed’ the right word? Impressed, perhaps?

Moving on, Brooks drops this one on us:

But Russia stood for something that America has never been known for: depth of soul. If America radiated a certain vision of happiness onto the world, Russian heroes radiated a vision of total spiritual commitment.

Fuck you, Dave. You and your souls.

You see what I mean when I say it’s hard to actually respond to this? It’s just gibberish. And speaking of fetishization:

Even as late as the 1990s, one could sit with Russian intellectuals, amid all the political upheaval in those days, and they would talk intensely about the nature of the Russian soul. If it was dark in the kitchen at night, they wouldn’t just say, “Let’s replace the light bulb.” They’d talk for hours about how actually the root problem was the Russian soul. 

I hate to break it to you, but any intellectuals doing this were quite simply idiots. This is what I mean by fetishization. This is one particular trope, though not a common one when it comes to Russia, the image of the pure kitchen intellectual who is deeply philosophical and spiritual to the exclusion of everything else. It is much like the pro-Kremlin image of the endlessly suffering Russian peasant. Fetishizers don’t want Russians who are practical and who actually care about their well-being. They get some gratification out of imagining them at the center of a terrible situation, generally ignoring their own physical plight in favor of pontificating on the true meaning behind the actions of characters in Dostoevsky’s works.

And while we’re on the topic of Russian literature, let me point out another pet peeve that often makes me livid. This is the constant name dropping of Russian authors or their works in an attempt to sound somehow more educated or insightful when it comes to Russia and its history. You know what? Here’s my awesome Russian reading list:

The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Sevastopol Sketches, Demons, Prisoner of the Caucasus

All of those I finished no later than the age of 19, save for the last one, a short story, which I read in Russian. Impressed yet?

Don’t be. Studying a nation’s classic literature is of course helpful to building a broader understanding of the nation as a whole, but if you really want to have worthwhile knowledge and you can’t actually live in the place, non-fiction and academic literature is the way to go. Anybody can get a library card and read two to three times the number of Russian novels I read, and yet still not know anything practical about the country.

Let me make this clear: Reading lots of classic Russian literature does not mean you have special insight into Russia or the Russian character. It means you are literate and you read a lot of novels. You’re not an expert on the UK just because you read the entire Harry Potter series.

Name dropping famous classic authors of a country is the cheapest, most pathetic way to pretend you have interest in that country. For some reason when it’s Russia this kind of thing gets a free pass, but imagine going to say, Greece, and dropping names like Homer and Herodotus.  There’s nothing insightful about this. It’s condescending and annoying. Stop doing this.

Now as I was reading this article, I kept asking myself when we would see a point or argument somewhere. Instead, I got this:

While the rest of the world was going through industrialization and commercialism and embracing the whole bourgeois style of life, there was this counterculture of intense Russian writers, musicians, dancers — romantics who offered a different vocabulary, a different way of thinking and living inside.

Uh? Excuse me? When exactly did this happen? Russia, within the USSR, went through industrialization in the 1930’s. Perhaps he’s talking about the pre-revolutionary era, but how could Brooks possibly “miss” something he couldn’t have possibly experienced? Maybe what he misses is a romanticized, non-existent Russian intellectual. How can anyone tell for sure when reading horseshit.

And it just keeps getting worse:

Russia is a more normal country than it used to be and a better place to live, at least for the young. But when you think of Russia’s cultural impact on the world today, you think of Putin and the oligarchs. Now the country stands for grasping power and ill-gotten money.

I have no idea what he means by “normal” country, and I have no idea what he means when he says better place to live. I can imagine what he means, but the problem is I don’t know what era he’s comparing this to because he’s all over the place. I also don’t know what the crap he’s talking about when he says “now the country stands for grasping power and ill-gotten money,” because that has pretty much been the case since 1991, at least when it comes to ill-gotten money.

There’s something sad about the souvenir stands in St. Petersburg. They’re selling mementos of things Russians are sort of embarrassed by — old Soviet Army hats, Stalinist tchotchkes and coffee mugs with Putin bare-chested and looking ridiculous.

Russians are embarrassed by the Soviet Union? If anything they proudly proclaim it, taking credit for all its accomplishments while denying all its negatives. Indeed, many may be embarrassed by the homoerotic Putin memorabilia, but they’re unlikely to openly admit this to foreigners these days.

In case you’re wondering what’s in the finale, well…

This absence leaves a mark. There used to be many countercultures to the dominant culture of achievement and capitalism and prudent bourgeois manners. Some were bohemian, or religious or martial. But one by one those countercultures are withering, and it is harder for people to see their situations from different and grander vantage points. Russia offered one such counterculture, a different scale of values, but now it, too, is mainly in the past.

You figure that out. I tried but my right hand instinctively rose to the level of my shoulder and began doing the “jerking off” sign. I was only able to stop when I looked away.

And so there you have it. A veteran…journalist, with actual experience in Russia, saying literally nothing about Russia. Kids, Russian studies majors- do not do what Mr. Brooks did.

There is no Russian soul. We are all shaped by the environment around us, but at the end of the day we are all made of chemical elements that exist throughout the universe. We are made of the same stuff the universe is made of, as people like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out numerous times. It doesn’t matter if you’re professing admiration- stereotypes dehumanize and degrade people.