Monthly Archives: October 2015

Dissenting opinion

While I have written a few preliminary thoughts on Putin’s new Syrian adventure, I’ve been way behind. I had meant to write something more substantial before my most recent trip to Ukraine, but I was literally swamped with Syria opinions and information. Having seen a sufficient amount, I’m willing to weigh in on this.

There seems to be an opinion as of late that people who support Ukraine should suddenly become supporters of the enigmatic “Free Syrian Army” and condemn Putin’s actions in Syria just as we did those in Ukraine. I’m sorry, but I’m not ready to tread down that path yet. It’s not that I support Putin’s actions- they’re unbelievably idiotic and naive. It’s not that I support Assad either. But I see major problems with come of the most vocal critics of the Kremlin’s policy here.

For me, peace in Ukraine and Ukrainian territorial integrity are paramount. Thanks to the Kremlin’s latest idiotic gambit, Ukraine has the former and the latter is far more within reach than it was before. All the evidence coming from the rebels these days suggests that they have been more or less cut off, the Minsk agreement will be fulfilled, and Ukraine will regain control of the border. It can still go either way, but as long as all these things are fulfilled, Ukraine will buy some major breathing room to sort out its internal political and economic problems. The Crimea can wait.

Now as for Syria, let’s be honest and admit that there’s enough blame to go around for this, starting with Assad and the West. When I see US officials and some of the main cheerleaders going after Russia for its most recent dick thrust into a hornet’s nest, I can’t help but notice that none of them seem to have solutions. Here are a few of the arguments I’ve been hearing, and my response to them:

-Russia is hitting the Free Syrian Army/Moderate rebels! Not ISIS! 

I think it’s clear to anyone with common sense and the ability to count that Russia wasn’t going to make a big impact against ISIS. Their main goal is to prop up the regime, and the regime’s main enemy right now consists of other groups. On the up side, much of the opposition in that region consists of Al Nusra and similar Islamist groups.

The problem is that when it comes to “moderate rebels,” concrete details even from their backers seem to be severely lacking. As far as I’ve been able to determine, the Russian idea that the Free Syrian Army is non-existent or that its members all deserted to Al Nusra and ISIS may not be entirely true, but the truth is that the hunt for moderate rebels and the fortunes of the FSA have been less than stellar, facts which have been routinely reported by Western news sources. Check out this one from the supposedly “Russophobic” Daily Beast from 2013, which puts a damper on the prospects for the FSA and suggests US airstrikes would only help ISIS and Al Qaeda, an opinion shared at the time even by some officials at the Pentagon.

-Propping up the Assad regime will mean more refugees!

Well yes, it will, but so will the fall of the regime. There’s no way out of this that doesn’t involve more refugees. And face it, this is one of those situations where the ball was in Team West’s court, and they screwed it up thanks to wishful thinking and indecision. Sure, Putin continued supporting a dictator, but it isn’t whataboutery to point out that supporting dictatorships isn’t the best line of attack when you’re the US government. And speaking of whataboutery…

-Russia airstrikes are killing civilians! 

Of course they are. Airstrikes do this. Artillery does this. This was the same thing I told separatist supporters when they screamed about civilian casualties (only those in rebel territory, of course), just before I reminded them who started the war itself.

Is it a good idea to go after Russia on the topic of civilian casualties from airstrikes? Well not if you’re the US government, that’s for sure. Just look what happened in  Kunduz, Afghanistan, a few days after the hysterical responses to Putin’s little adventure and the feigned concern over civilian casualties, AKA “collateral damage” when killed by NATO countries or their allies. And in a fashion that would make the Russian Ministry of Defense and RT proud, the US officials have repeatedly changed their story about what happened that day.

See if they’d kept their mouth shut about this, they could have used the Kunduz bombing as a lesson, “See! This is why you have to be careful with air strikes.” It wouldn’t be that effective, but it’s better than immediately screaming about civilian casualties and then causing some.

Add to this the fact that Russian airstrikes have apparently hit at least some ISIS positions, and you can see why it doesn’t make sense to get all upset about this and pretend like this is the next Ukraine. For one thing, say whatever you want about Assad, but his regime is still the legally recognized government, which invited the Russian presence, in stark contrast to the invasion and aggression in Ukraine. I’ll be pissed if Russian bombs fall on the Kurds, but that is unlikely. I wanted them out of Ukraine, and this helps get them out.

Another factor to consider is the strain this is putting on Russia economically and militarily. Right now their commitment is small, but it’s more than the commitment the US once had in a small country called South Vietnam. The point is, that these things can escalate out of control really quickly. Already Russia’s two airspace violations against anti-Assad Turkey has prompted Turkish president Erdogan to threaten the possibility of shutting down the Turk Stream pipeline project, a project which was far from agreed upon and which was meant to replace the canceled South Stream pipeline project. Turkey may be prepared to go even further in the future if Russian pilots don’t pay attention. Supposedly yesterday, Assad’s forces launched a ground offensive with the help of Russian support, yet earlier this morning another offensive was reported, suggesting that the first one was unsuccessful. Whatever the case,the Russian presence encourages offensive action, which in turn leads to more casualties as warfare tends to favor defense.

So let Putin piss away more money and play superpower before running his country into the ground. He can’t really project his power far enough to be a threat, and for the time being his attention is directed away from those countries that are threatened by Russia. And hey, if a few hundred ISIS, Al Nusra, or similar fundamentalist militants die in the process, all the better. At most, they’ll just buy Assad a little time and then get the hell out before the place collapses. After that, everyone will have a whole new problem on their hands.

In the mean time the West needs to learn to stop these knee-jerk responses to everything Putin does. He and his base are basically like that teenage class clown in high school. They do things because they know it will get a rise out of the West, and in turn getting a rise out of the West is interpreted, quite wrongly, as “standing up to the West.” The best response is something like, “Well I don’t know what impact he expects to make with roughly 34 ground attack aircraft, his economy’s still going to shit, and we’re not going to remove the sanctions until he gets out of Ukraine, but okay, I guess. We’re not going to stand in his way here.” Then just throw up the hands and ask for the next question. And hey, don’t take my word for it. Here’s Galeotti’s recommendation.

So go on and raise a one-sided fuss about Syria if you want to, but don’t blame me for not jumping on your bandwagon. That’s just not my part of the world. There’s enough mess to clean up in Ukraine.


Gun fatigue

Today’s post isn’t about Russia, but as a responsible ex-gun owner I felt I have to comment on recent events in America. Hopefully this will satisfy some of those “WHY COME YOU NEVER WRITE ABOUT THE WEST?!” folks.

I found out about the recent shooting in Oregon only because a friend here in Russia asked me about it on Facebook. I can’t really say much about the details because honestly I no longer pay much attention to these stories anymore. It’s just something that happens again and again, with the same results every time.

I remember a few days after the Aurora, Colorado cinema shooting I went to see a film in Moscow. The news of the Aurora shooting was fresh in my mind. The lights in the theater began to dim, and I thought about how great it is that I can just relax and enjoy a film without ever considering that a mad man armed with a military-style weapon might burst in and start killing people. In my entire time in Moscow, I have walked down streets late at night, visited 24-hour shops, and never once felt that I might risk walking into a robbery in progress and getting shot. What a luxury.

Nowadays I can barely stand to look at the coverage of mass shootings. I know each one will be followed by a tsunami of idiocy from “gun people,” “ammosexuals” as some people call them. These days it’s much worse, because many mass shootings are now accompanied by conspiracy theories which only compound the flagrant disrespect to the victims and their families. And of course, thanks to social media, a legion of gun folks has to invade every discussion and talk about what they would have done.

Usually I try to write with a more flowing style and avoid creating listicles, but when it comes to something like this I’m so goddamned tired that by now I’m ready to chuck all prose out the window. Here are my short and fast thoughts about the danger of mass gun violence in America.

-One marvels at the way many of the same people who insist we can’t do anything to control the proliferation of firearms, claiming “criminals will always get guns,” tend to be the very same people who want tight if not total control over abortion or if not that, immigration. I never hear them say things like: “I’m opposed to abortion, but criminals will get them anyway so I guess we can’t regulate it.” Ditto or illegal immigration. No, when it comes to those issues, not only is “big government” the solution, but it’s also perfectly competent to do something about it.

You could take it further. Take any law at all. Drinking age? Teenage drinkers will always get alcohol. Drugs? Kids will always get drugs. So naturally the answer in these situations must also be: do absolutely nothing.

And that’s just the point. There are a lot of ways to regulate guns and ammunition, ways which don’t necessarily involve confiscation, which could actually help. Will they eliminate gun violence entirely, so long as so many privately owned guns exist? Probably not. But what is the harm in reducing gun violence? We can’t stop kids from drinking but we still require cashiers to card under 35 because the fact is that this does make it really difficult to get alcohol when you’re underage. Trust me on that.

-These people also tend to be the same ones telling us how we should respect policemen for doing such a “dangerous” job. First of all, being a cop is nowhere near the top dangerous job in America. But when cops die in the line of duty, what is it that kills them? Oh right- guns.

Of course that’s not the only contradiction these people hold. They also tell us that guns are necessary to defend ourselves from a police-state, and yet at the same time they tell us to give cops our utmost, reverent respect. How is that supposed to work, exactly? Please let me know when we’re allowed to start shooting at cops en masse. I don’t have time to follow this twisted logic.

-No, I do not give a shit about “what you would do” in this situation with your concealed carry weapon. I’ll tell you what you’d most likely do- run the hell away (good choice) or freeze and either get pulled out of danger or get shot.

Do I really need to point out how many shooting sprees happen without some civilian hero coming to the rescue? Even this one involved a trained veteran with a concealed firearm who, quite correctly, made the decision not to engage the shooter. He had an advantage; he at least had the chance to snap out of whatever he was doing and rationally weigh his options. You may not be so lucky. In fact, count on it.

You see, just yesterday, back in 1993, 18 US servicemen were killed in the line of duty executing a raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. These men were mostly Rangers and Delta Force, essentially some of the best trained warriors in the world at that time. They knew they were going on a raid, that had rules of engagement, and in spite of that, some of them still didn’t make it home. Granted, they were facing hundreds of militia from all directions, but it’s not meant to be a perfect analogy.

The point is that when you encounter an active shooter, it will not be in a warzone where armed confrontation is the daily norm. You are not serving in the armed forces with a mandate to kill if necessary. You’re buying ice cream for the kids’ birthday party and trying to remember if any of their friends are allergic to anything. You’re wondering if you were supposed to pick up the dry-cleaning or if your spouse said they would do that. You’re thinking about a million other things that have nothing to do with being in a gun fight when suddenly POP! What was that? A backfire? POP! POP! Those are gunshots! Where are they coming from? Now people are screaming and running in every direction. You have no idea if the cops are already responding. If they are, you could be mistaken for the shooter. How many shooters are there? Could they have body armor? The shooter almost certainly outguns you- he planned this shit. Now that your head is filled with all these questions as your brain wakes up to the fact that you are now a part of tonight’s top local news story, are you sure you’re going to pull out your Glock and be a hero? Are you sure you’re going hit only the target and not any innocent bystanders? Trained police miss most of the time.

As you can see, it’s not exactly going the way it does in your head when you write your Monday-morning quarterback strategies on your favorite gun forum. That’s how extreme situations are- extreme. You don’t experience them every day, so when they happen it’s really hard to predict what you’ll do. Things like the normalcy bias work against us, preventing us from acting even if we could do something. Remember those open carry morons who were running every day errands while strapped with Kalashnikovs and AR’s? What would you do if you’re that “good guy with a gun” in a restaurant and an overweight, white, neckbearded man walks in with an assault rifle dangling from a tactical sling? This could be your chance! Draw down on him? But wait, if you do, you’re now a threat to him, and he has the right to open fire on you. He’s going for his weapon, now you have to put him down. If you keep your weapon holstered, he might actually be a spree-shooter.

Violence is often shocking because of the normalcy bias and the awkwardness that precedes it. We live in societies where people aren’t supposed to do violence against one another and we’re expected to behave in a calm rational manner most of the time. When someone appears to be getting upset, it might not be clear what they’re really feeling and thinking. Take a look at this brilliant martial arts video, for example:

When the “victim” understands he’s part of a demonstration, it’s easy to apply a knife disarm (my best recommendation when a knife is involved- fucking run). But then the instructor disarms the victim by seeming to change moods. His victim, and maybe a few of the bystanders seem to be wondering “Is he serious? He was joking just a second ago.” Then BAM! He attacks. The victim has no chance. Again, go back to our scenario with the man open carrying a gun into a store or restaurant. As soon as you brandish that weapon against him, he now has a decent self-defense case himself. Someone has to commit, and they’d better be right. They’d also better be on target too.

-Please, stop talking about how your guns secure your liberty. Once again, most of you people tend to be the same folks who are telling us we should do what police tell us to do and respect them for their dangerous job. True, privately held firearms would be problematic for the US government if they ever decided to go full-on dictatorship for any reason (which is un-fucking-likely), but if you think you’re going to take on the US military by going Guevara in the woods you’d better start reading up on the combat capabilities of Reaper drones. What is more, if you really believe that the government is going to do this, you should be preparing right now. Go off the grid, don’t go on Youtube. Believe me, anything less and they’ll be all over you. Put up or shut up.

Just one more favor, by the way, stop bringing up the Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising to justify why we should have no reasonable restrictions on guns at all. It’s just downright offensive, not only to Jews, but to anyone of basic intelligence. The fact is that lots of populations in Europe had far more firepower than the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and this did not stop them from getting slaughtered en masse at various times by the Werhmacht or Axis anti-partisan units. You are not in a war. You are not persecuted.

I realize this post might not come off as articulate as usual but what can I say? I’m getting sick of this shit. I survived an uneventful time in the army only to be robbed at gunpoint by two young gentlemen who appeared to be no older than 19 on my third day of work at a Circle K. I drove a pickup truck across state lines all the time and managed to avoid getting in an accident, including one time when I nearly hit a couple cows walking across Route 66. I’ve lived abroad most of my adult life, spending time in a front line town in Ukraine that got shelled every day, including while my colleagues and I were there. The country I’m living in is getting more insane and unstable by the week. And in spite of surviving all of this, I can’t help but feel concerned about finally being able to accomplish my goals and build a sound life in the US and then one day losing it all because I happened to be in the wrong shopping mall. Or the wrong gym. Or the wrong restaurant. Or the wrong fucking movie theater. If not me, it could be my wife, our future kid, or someone else close to me. So much can be lost in an instant because of some total fuckwad who’s upset because girls don’t like him or he blames black people, Jews, liberals, or anyone but himself for his own failures in life.

I want some kind of competent restrictions for gun ownership. I’m willing to undergo mental health screening. I’m willing to demonstrate my proficiency with firearms and their safe handling- I’ve basically done so several times in my life. So how about you, self-proclaimed “responsible gun owners?” Are you sure you know how to handle those things properly? Why wouldn’t you want to be certified?

I want more restrictions because while I’ll freely admit that I would still enjoy popping off rounds from a Kalashnikov, I want to make sure that’s the only thing weapons like that are used for in the States. I’m not “afraid” of guns. I’ve handled firearms since nine, “owned” them since 16. I’ve fired everything from a .22 rifle to the M2 Browning .50 cal heavy machine gun. But like I said, I was robbed by a punk armed with a Ruger just five minutes before closing. I’ve lost two friends to suicide with firearms. I don’t claim to know exactly what kind of restrictions or legislation can reduce this violence, but it’s time to start discussing what can be done and what needs to be done. I’m willing to accept a little “infringement” in the form of less convenience when it comes to shooting cans of starter fluid with a Romanian AK if it means fewer Sandy Hooks or Roseburgs. The dead have no rights.


I’ll just leave this here.

The State and Revolution

Just read this interesting article about Putin’s view of the state and movements for democratic reform. It’s long so I’ll give you the gist. It basically traces Putin’s view about state authority and legitimacy back to his experience in the DDR in 1989. As you might have guessed, Putin’s personal outlook is authoritarian, with disdain for grassroots political movements and struggles on the grounds that they allegedly lead to “chaos” and a lack of “stability.” This certainly fits in with the Russian media narrative, and it is actually quite a popular idea in Russia.

This is not without good reason. Russia, like many former Soviet Republics and some former Soviet client states, did indeed experience a long, painful period of chaos in the wake of the old system’s collapse. The problem is that people like Putin and his fellow travelers seem to have got things backwards. In their mind, the overthrow of a corrupt or moribund state leads to chaos and anarchy, when in fact corrupt, moribund states tend to foster their own downfall in the form of revolutions. What is more, the more repressive that state is, the more likely you are to see violence in connection with that revolution. As for the results of that revolution, these can be determined by a number of factors, but once again, repressive states that don’t allow a “market for ideas” can lead to very bad ideas coming out on top if the people promoting them have better resources and the will to fight.

I’ve said this plenty of times before and I know it’s tough for many radicals in the West to hear, but one reason why America has Occupy and Ukraine has Maidan is because for all its faults, the American system “works” very well. What I mean is that it gives people a wide range of freedom to express even some of the most heinous ideas, it is liberal when it comes to protests and demonstrations, and even the two-party system gives people a chance to feel like they’re changing something.

Naturally this is when my fellow leftist radicals charge in and say, “BUT ELECTIONS DON’T REALLY CHANGE ANYTHING!” First of all, that’s debatable. Second, it really doesn’t matter. By the end of the Bush administration there was a huge radical anti-war movement and tons of dissent. Then along came Obama, and suddenly debates break out all down the line. Would Obama really offer change? Could people afford not to vote for Obama and risk a McCain presidency?

It worked- we radicals laughed and said “I told you so” to our voting friends when they were disappointed by Obama, but it doesn’t matter- it did the trick. People thought this was a way to change things and they did that instead of going out into the streets with molotov cocktails. Even the Tea Party and their candidates gave angry white yahoos the hope that they could change things via the ballot box instead of the bullet, though to be fair I think most of those “revolutionaries” never had the guts to start something anyway.

Getting back to the topic of Putin’s views towards revolution, I think one tragic aspect is the fact that Putin has increasingly made his fears into a self-fulfilling prophesy, and this was completely avoidable. All he had to do was simply leave office for good in 2012. That’s it. I was talking to a highly experienced expat today about this very topic and we both agreed that had Putin done that, his legacy would be something totally different. Yes, his record would be marred with controversy, but it would probably be no worse than that of George W. Bush. It would actually be better, because Putin did inherent a massive mess and even critical analysts point out that someone else in his position back in 2000 probably would not have been able to deviate much from the path Putin took.

Pondering this more after my conversation today, I thought back to political discussions during my early years in this country and I acknowledge that political discourse became far more Putin-centric in recent years. In the early days, Russians openly complained about the incompetence and corruption of the government, but it wasn’t always “Putin, Putin, Putin.” Critiques were more systemic- the United Russia party, the bureaucrats, etc. Putin was in the picture but he usually wasn’t central to these discussions or complaints. Putin’s cult of personality was sort of a joke- something to slap on tacky souvenirs at Izmailovsky market. I know I didn’t really see Russia’s problems as beginning and ending with Putin either. To me Putin was an over-hyped politician who plastered over the problems of the 90’s without doing anything about their underlying causes.

Then Putin came back, a signal that Russia’s future was now unpredictable- when would he leave and how? Add to this an increasingly aggressive propaganda campaign and a revamping of his personality cult, and you can see why so much revolves around Putin these days. And again, he has nobody to blame but himself. His men said there’s nobody but Putin, and then set out to make that a reality. In the process, they have destroyed genuine civil society so that when he does inevitably go, one way or another, people will have serious trouble organizing themselves to create a functioning state that serves the public. They’ll be easy pickings for nationalist demagogues, oligarch-sponsored fronts, and yes, perhaps even groups whose primary purpose is to advance American or other foreign business interests rather than those of ordinary people.

It’s important to realize that Putin wanted that. He made it this way. He was so afraid of revolution that he deliberately constructed a system where by meaningful change, perhaps even change that Putin would personally like to see, can only come about by revolution. He allowed his cult of personality to grow in such a way that he’s essentially painting a target on his head, taking on all the responsibility for whatever happens in his country. One day the things most Russians cheer as “victories” will rightly be recognized as the nails in the nation’s coffin, and who will they be pointing their fingers at? It could have been Medvedev. It could have been someone completely different. Now it will inevitably be Putin.

All he had to do was walk away, and he probably would have been a hero, if not one with some serious stains on his record. Instead he chose a path to hell, and he’s dragging the country down with him.

No, Putin has not “won.”

As you might expect, I’ve been getting a lot of different opinions about Russia in Syria lately. One reader asked me to talk about the topic of American conservatives who are anti-Putin but who are now berating Obama for being “weak” compared to the Russian leader. It is said by some, though not all conservative, that Putin has “won” or “outplayed” Obama. I can’t say I’ve encountered a lot of these opinions, but they are bullshit for several reasons.

Let me start with the conservatives who both hate Putin while simultaneously whacking it to his picture in private. First of all, if you find Putin to be “tough,” “imposing,” “decisive,” etc., you are terribly ignorant about Russia and Putin. Apart from his Judo black belt, Putin is a small man with a soft voice whose wife left him and whose daughters prefer to spend most of their time outside of his country. Oh what’s that? You saw a photo of Putin riding a horse bare-chested? That’s your idea of tough? It’s pretty simple- mount horse, remove shirt, have person take a photo. Photos of him shooting guns? Big deal. I used to have a photo of myself in the field with my M249 slung over my shoulder. It looked badass but at the time I weighed around 181lb, which meant I was incredibly skinny, and it was long before I got into martial arts myself. The point is, it’s easy to look tough when you’re posing the photo. Incidentally, the opposite is also true:

Conservatives, meet your hero. Are you MAN enough to drink tea with your best friend after having a workout session together? ARE YOU?

Conservatives, meet your hero. Are you MAN enough to drink tea with your best friend after having a workout session together? ARE YOU?

Putin is also not a master strategist or a decisive leader. From the best information we have, Putin tends to give very vague orders or delegate to people he most likely does not fully trust, quite justifiably in fact. His actions are reactive, and however much they might look like victories on the surface, he has bought them at costs Russia cannot afford. Add to this the peculiarities of his dictatorial system, which has no known system of succession and which has destroyed civil society and the independent press, and what it all adds up to is something I’ve been saying for some time now- Putin has mortally wounded Russia.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s deal with the conservative argument once and for all. What would you have Obama do? Airstrikes? He’s been doing that, and hitting more ISIS positions than Russia is. Invasion? Again? Really? Remember what happened the last time you tried that?

How conservatives see the Syrian crisis

Conservatives need to understand it has long been time for them to stop talking on matters like this. These are the same idiots who thought it would be a brilliant idea to invade Afghanistan without a plan, and then go and invade Iraq in a move which severely undermined American credibility on the world stage. Yes, conservatives, you did that. Yes, your nose will be rubbed in it until you learn.

I cannot stress how harmful the “Global War on Terror,” and specifically its Iraq component was for the US. In fact, it was a great boon to Putin. He and his cronies had to be watching the invasion on their TV screens and thinking two things: 1. I wish we could do that. 2. We’re going to cash this in some day when we need it. They are trying to realize the first, and they have been doing the second for years now.

Add to this the disastrous conservative economic policies which disenfranchise large swaths of the American population, and which also led to massive investment in Russia while dirty Russian money flowed into Western banks and luxury condos. “Let the market decide,” they said, and the market decided in favor of Russia.

What you have here is a legacy of horrible policies at home and abroad which lead to widespread cynicism, and the Kremlin loves cynicism. In the case of Iraq, lies ended up killing tens of thousands of people and we all know that the horror show that is ISIS began with a US-led invasion in 2003. The effects of the Iraq War on Americans and American society were so profound that I and other people I know have personally seen people who were once 100% in favor of the war make a 180 degree turn. Even a conservative family member started badmouth the Bush administration. Relatively speaking, the cost in American lives was low, but there were thousands more who were wounded and maimed, and then you’ve got even more who suffer from mental scars and PTSD. There are those who might have made it through without a scratch, but whose family lives fell apart due to long deployments and other expenses. 

I could go on and on about the horrible effects of the Bush administration’s policies, but one of the key results here is that The American population isn’t enthusiastic about backing Ukraine or liberating Syria because for far too long, US government officials, presidents from both parties, and pundits have tried to turn every potential conflict into WWII, complete with a simple black and white narrative. In other words, they cried “Hitler” instead of wolf, and when real wolves started to show their fangs, ordinary citizens are either automatically skeptical, or simply apathetic.

Some of us will never shake these feelings. Speaking personally I have actively researched the prospect of joining up with the YPG to fight ISIS and I’m more than willing to fight for a cause if it is just and in good faith, but whenever I hear some Republican talking about going to war the first thought that comes to my mind is, “Go on, pick up a weapon.” I know I’m not alone in thinking this either. Millions of other Americans here about how “We have to stop Putin, ISIS, or Assad,” knowing full well that “we” actually means “you.”

The bottom line here is that conservatives basically need to shut the fuck up about this topic, because they weren’t just part of the problem, they were the problem, and they still are. You want to stop Putin? Start doing something for working people in America so they believe in their society again. Start acting like you have values instead of talking about them. Maybe stop promoting ignorance, stupidity, and racism too, while you’re at it. You see, however much you hate Obama, he’s going to be gone for good in January of 2017. Maybe you could have a Republican president if you put up a candidate whose entire platform isn’t characterized as: “Fuck Mexicans and poor people.”

Oh and speaking of Obama leaving in 2017, here’s another tip. You guys are so fond of saying “love it or leave it,” except when you’re screaming about how America was ruined by Commies because retail shops say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” so here’s my corollary to that- If you love it, live under it. You still think Putin’s this great visionary leader? Take a flight to Moscow and hand in your US passport, assuming you can negotiate the labyrinth of infernal bureaucracy to get temporary residency, and see the results of his decisive style of rule and his brilliant gambits. Don’t like the socialized medicine and state intervention in the market? Hey why not organize a Tea Party rally in Moscow? Let me know how that works out.

So that it for the conservatives. For other people out there who are terribly concerned about Russia’s moves in Syria, don’t be. There’s no good way out of this. The US screwed things up early on and now Russia’s taking over the screw-up role. Let them have it. These military operations are extremely expensive, and the line in Ukraine is peaceful for now. Also, Putin’s plans at the UNGA have essentially flopped. People predicted that this was an attempt for Russia to take the lead, reconcile with the West, and get everyone to forget about Ukraine while they’re all bombing ISIS. That clearly hasn’t happened- the Western countries, however hypocritical some of their criticism may be, have not hopped on board Putin’s bandwagon and they continue to criticize his actions. So yeah, mission failed.

A Confederacy of Dunces

Remember Russia’s international neo-fascist shindig back in March? Well once again the Kremlin gathered a bunch of clueless foreigners and threw them a big party to make them feel relevant and important. This time, however, it was a conference of separatists from around the world. Strangely, no representative from Chechnya, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Crimea, Buryatia, or any other Russian region or federal subject was represented at the conference.

Here are a few highlights:

Held in a government-owned luxury hotel, the conference was organized by the Russian Antiglobalist Movement, which is supported in part by the government.

“Government-owned luxury hotel” and the “Antiglobalist Movement.” Don’t see the contradiction there? How much of the luxury in that hotel is produced outside of Russia’s borders? Russia’s astroturf “antiglobalist” movements and ideologues are absolutely hilarious, because without globalization, Putin’s Russia as we know it wouldn’t exist. The power Russia had stored up in the 2000’s came largely from foreign investment, as well as high oil prices, oil which incidentally, was sold, globally. Even today, Russia’s government still seeks investment and believe it or not, they still get it, even from Western countries. None of that really reverses the staggering capital flight Russia has suffered as of late, but even the fact that this is so harmful to Russia demonstrates how Putin did not turn Russia into some kind of self-sufficient hermit kingdom. I mean they were importing as much as 40% of their food, for fuck’s sake, and that’s with all the arable land the biggest country in the whole fucking world has. Oh yeah, Putin also struck a masterful blow at “globalism” when he joined this thing called the WTO- you know, the same organization that “antiglobalists” always protest any time it has a conference?

If it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse there, realize that I’m only trying to demonstrate how ignorant these guests are. Here they’re putting all their hopes in this country they clearly know nothing about, because had they bothered to read the business section of their newspaper from time to time, they might realize that Russia is very integrated into the dreaded “global economy,” and its government has to some extent actively sought that, whether by trying to attract investment and hosting international trade summits or just stealing their people’s money so they can buy real estate in London or Italian luxury sports cars.

Next a rather hilarious point:

Omali Yeshitela, who is based in Florida and represents the pan-African Uhuru Movement, demanded that the international community recognize “the right of African people to armed self-defense against American imperialism.” The movement seeks the economic and political liberation of blacks worldwide.

Omali, my friend, if you’re black, Russia’s the last place you want to go to find friends. I’ll just say it’s a good thing this conference took place in Moscow and not St. Petersburg, which has long been thought to possess a larger skinhead population. The truth is that contrary to some sensationalist foreign media reports, Russian streets were never patrolled by neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, but there definitely is a huge supply of racism and virtually no sympathy or sensitivity to anyone who is black or African. Thank the Russian media for that, with their race-baiting stories about how Europe is being taken over by Arabs and Africans.

More fun ahead:

Sean Carlin, a former member of the Irish National Liberation Army (a post-IRA militant group), said he was glad that Russia, after a post-Cold War hiatus, was again taking the lead in countering the U.S. “Russia is trying to reestablish links with left-wing and separatist movements it used to maintain in the past, because you can see what the West is doing in the Middle East and southeast Europe” (he means Ukraine).

Sad to see someone with that lineage fall for Kremlin bullshit. Russia isn’t really courting left-wing movements for anything beyond propaganda value. While I’m sure anyone who went to this conference got some free swag courtesy of the Russian taxpayer, the real concrete support from Russia goes to far right groups, as the Kremlin’s own ideology, insofar as it has something resembling an ideology, is far-right authoritarian, in fact, fascist by definition.

So Mr. Carlin thinks that Ireland has a right to self-determination but Ukraine (and people in Russian federal subjects) don’t? I never was good at Gaelic, but let me just say Ghough Fiocbh hYourselfhbhgh.*

Next we have a clear case of projection:

Fyodor Biryukov, a top official in Rodina (Motherland), a far-right Russian party, spoke at the conference. He compared the U.S. government to a “gang of vampires sucking blood from its own people and the rest of the world.” The audience burst into applause when he said, “We need to pierce American vampires with an aspen stake.”

If you’re looking for that gang of vampires sucking blood from their own people, head out to Rublevka. Oh no wait, you won’t, because those vampires pay your meal ticket.

Biryukov says he sees no contradiction in reaching out to the extreme opposites of the political spectrum: “We should welcome everyone who opposes Washington. The division into right and left is obsolete.”

Not a particularly good strategy there, Fyodor. But I quote this because I want leftist activists to read it and ask themselves if they are prepared to become friends with fascists like those of Golden Dawn or Jobbik, all to help out the Kremlin, which values self-preservation above all things.

He also says he doesn’t mind inviting separatists, despite Russia’s own problems in Chechnya, where militants fought two bloody wars with the Russians in an effort to win independence. “Separatism is just a tool, like a handgun. It’s only important who holds it,” says Biryukov.

Translation- It’s okay when we do it.

Tell me, leftist, how is this any different from the US government? At least that government lets you protest pretty much whenever you want. What is more, in Russia this entire conference, were it to feature people calling for independence for Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, etc., a return of the Crimea to Ukraine, or even just greater federal autonomy in the Russian Federation, would be entirely illegal. That’s right, these Hawaiian and Puerto Rican separatists have full rights to hold conferences in their home country and they’re allowed to publish as much material as they want. In Russia, all of this is illegal as per a law passed, interestingly enough, after they sponsored the separatist movement in Ukraine.

If you’re a separatist and a die-hard supporter of self-determination, how do you justify that? Your people deserve self-determination but it’s wrong for some other people to do the same, because a government gave you a free press junket? There’s the H-word again.

What I find to be the funniest thing about this and other conferences is how utterly clueless many of these people are. They don’t seem to perceive how they’re being played by a government that is happy to jail people for expressing the kind of opinions they have. Sure, while most of these people come from obscure, laughably unpopular movements, others represent more influential parties. Still, if their lack of critical thinking is this glaring, then the size of their parties or organizations may not matter.

The other laughable aspect is Russian ideologues and government officials holding these conferences and seriously believing that they’re performing some kind of brilliant gambit against the West. While they hand out free shit to cranks and losers, the government is still pissing away more and more money, now in Syria, while of course everyone down the line siphons off his cut of the revenue. When the unstable structure does inevitably implode, these conference attendees won’t be there to save them.

*Yes, I could have gone with “póg mo thóin,” but for some reason that has a plastic paddy connotation for me, largely because in America it is constantly used by plastic paddies.

Imperial Hubris

Nobody should be surprised that Putin has decided to go full-on neocon. It didn’t take me much time in Russia to realize that Putin’s alleged opposition to the arrogance and military bullying of the Bush regime wasn’t really based on any concern for national sovereignty, something undeniable by 2014, nor was it based on any principled opposition to imperialism and militarism. Putin and his fans, fair-weather or otherwise, were angry that the US was able to engage in such treachery while they were not. We have seen how any criticism of militarism, war, or imperialism flies right out the window when it’s happening under the tricolor.

Back in the days of the Iraq insurgency, many of us who opposed it believed it would lead to some sort of collapse- the empire would stretch itself too thin, sacrificing living standards on the home front to sustain a never-ending war. I remember people predicting that Bush would invade Iran after reelection in 2004. Some predictions were even more alarmist, saying that Bush would launch an invasion of Iran in 2004 so that he could call off the elections. Yeah, that was a negatory on both of those predictions, but there is some truth to the idea that the wars cost America big time not simply in money, but in living standards.

Of course America had a lot longer to fall, and while there are grave concerns facing American workers today, on paper at least, the economy is growing. Not so in Russia. At no time has Russia’s post-Soviet economy seriously rivaled that of the US, nor of most European countries. Even some former Soviet republics and Eastern Bloc nations can boast higher living standards than Russia or at least most Russians,and inflows of Russian immigrants testify to that. Even if things are roughly the same on an economic level, the greater degree of freedom seems to seal the deal.

This is why Putin’s latest military adventure is so insane. Russian military spending is out of control and what gains it can possibly obtain cannot possibly make up for this. The inferiority complex and obsession over the idea of being a superpower are increasingly driving the little president to punch above his weight, particularly as the Russian economy continues to decline, reversing what gains Putin could (somewhat spuriously) claim in the mid-2000’s. While it appears that the Kremlin is putting its war in Ukraine on hold for the moment, it will still have to pay to prop up its pseudo-states in the Donbas, just as it pays to prop up Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.

It was speculated that Putin’s plan was to set up the possibility of a “reset” at the recent UNGA gathering, but this is unlikely. Russia most likely isn’t able to really take the fight to ISIS in any decisive way, at least with the resources they have in country now. At best they can prop-up Assad and perhaps prevent a bloody end for him and his family, but this doesn’t really help Putin that much. At best he’ll gain some PR points at home with the vatniks, but Russian history shows that the population does not in fact endure indefinitely for the sake of its leaders. Go back in time to 1920 and ask Nicholas II if you don’t believe me. Oh wait, even if you could travel back in time to that year, you wouldn’t be able to ask Tsar Nicky because he was dead. Not so smart now, are you, time traveler?

Once again the supposedly brilliant strategist who always outfoxes the West has gone and stuck his dick in an anthill for what appear to be, at best, really naive motives. Russia may soon go from steady decline into free fall. That’s what happens when you write checks your army and economy can’t cash.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I hope everyone enjoys the new look this week. Yesterday I was hauling ass down Khreshatik to get to my apartment, and wouldn’t you know- someone put a large WWII exhibit in my way. That’s a surefire way to slow me down. Here are a couple photos I shot with my phone. All text was in Ukrainian only, so I didn’t have time to read all of it.

Soviet partisans including commander Sydir Kovpak.

Soviet partisans including commander Sydir Kovpak.


Hmmm…Something is wrong with this picture. Where to start? The top part is a tally of how many Ukrainians fought for each side in WWII, Allies and Axis. Right off the bat I have a problem with using the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi as a symbol for the Allied Victory. For one, victory over Japan would come months later, after bloody battle of Okinawa, the atomic bombs, and the Soviet Manchurian campaign. Second, just as Ukraine’s government appropriated the poppy, a British symbol of remembrance for the First World War, here too they are appropriating one of America’s symbols, most likely because someone was afraid of the massive explosion of buttrage that would occur if they put a silhouette of the Red Army soldier raising the flag over the Reichstag, you know, the Red Army soldier who happened to be from Kyiv

We can't use a photo of a Ukrainian raising a flag over the Reichstag to represent Ukraine's contribution to victory in WWII!

We can’t use a photo of a Ukrainian raising a flag over the Reichstag to represent Ukraine’s contribution to victory in WWII!

It gets worse though. I’m going to skip the bizarre use of the Vietnamese flag to represent the Red Army here, because there’s something more egregious under it. There we see the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), represented by the Ukrainian state flag, at 100,000. That figure pretty much counts everybody who was ever in the UPA throughout its existence; generally at their most active periods they had somewhere between 20,000-40,000 people.

Let’s ignore the numbers though, the most important thing is how it puts the UPA on the allied side when in fact it never was. Claims that the UPA fought the Germans as much as the Soviets, who were on the allied side like it or not, are simply not substantiated by historical evidence. What is more, the UPA assisted the German war effort in a multitude of ways at different times, and many of its personnel including commanders like Roman Shukhevych previously served in German uniform. For the sake of historical accuracy the UPA should have been represented by their red and black flag and at least put in some third column instead of that of the allied coalition to which they never belonged.

As I said before I only snapped a few photos and didn’t have time to read much of the exhibit, but my overall impression was actually somewhat positive. It acknowledged collaboration and allied contributions, and many of the titles of the boards were phrased as questions, inviting debate. One board about the UPA had Stepan Bandera’s photo next to that of Andriy Melnyk, which I found amusing since they were bitter rivals and Bandera’s men were trying to kill the latter’s followers. That, incidentally, is the real reason Bandera wound up in a concentration camp.

I intend to go back and investigate more. It looked fairly balance but I fear it may suffer from this phenomenon I’ve seen in post-Maidan Ukraine, whereby it’s open season on the Red Army, for which the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians fought, while the OUN, UPA, and even Ukrainian Wehrmacht formations are taboo when it comes to criticism. Lately the mainstream view seems to be that Ukraine gets to claim credit for Soviet accomplishments during the war, while any and all atrocities or negative aspects of the Soviet liberation and everything thereafter are attributed to the dreaded “Moskali.” But the UPA? Oh no they fought for Ukraine! They said they did! No matter that they probably killed more ordinary Ukrainian peasants than Red Army or Wehrmacht soldiers. Forget the campaign of genocide against Poles, forget the pogroms some of their membership took part in or organized, and forget the fact that many of these men assisted the invasion of an army that planned to exterminate, sterilize, or enslave all of Ukraine and resettle it with “Aryan supermen.” The UPA is beyond reproach with some people.

I have one last thing to say for those folks who scream, “They were Ukrainian patriots! They fought for Ukrainian independence!” Fine, let’s go with that. The OUN and UPA claimed they were fighting for an independent Ukraine. You know what? They fucking sucked at it. Here’s some helpful advice that will help you out in real life- your intentions or what you say, in the long run, do not matter. All that matters is what people do, what other people can see or at least experience. Perhaps it’s time some of you start look more at the actual activities of the OUN and UPA, and their results, instead of babbling on about what they supposedly wanted to do, because that’s worth absolutely dick.