Monthly Archives: December 2015

Year-end Extravaganza

It’s been quite a year. I wanted to do a sort of year-end summary, highlighting some of the most important events and articles of 2015, and make some predictions for 2016. I’m naturally going to be busy on the 31st, so I’m posting this early. It’s long so you can just read part of it and save the rest for later. Without further ado…

State of the Blog

If 2014 is when Russia Without BS actually became, as they say, a thing, 2015 is the year it really took off. This year was the first time I got outside of Russia since September of 2013. I visited Ukraine another three times for a grand total of seven visits, with two visits to the Donetsk oblast. Thanks to Robert Evans of Cracked.com, I was able to witness the reality of war from the front lines. I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the people at Stopfake.org for letting me host one of their episodes and reprinting some of my material from this blog. Russia! Magazine, of course, has always been good to me. Even the folks at RT who contacted me about the blog have been totally courteous and they were good sports.

Of course things haven’t always gone so well here. The podcast thing didn’t pan out, though there’s a good chance of reviving it next year. The Youtube channel is still pretty dormant, but again,there may be some hope for that in the coming year. In fact I’ve been deliberating using vlogging as an easier and more efficient way to cover the news, since these days it seems there are so many stories to cover.

As has always been the case, nearly all the feedback I’ve received has been positive, and those who comment are among the best on the internet. Specific thanks to you who comment here. There were times this year when things were hard and I was close to throwing in the towel. But the support of my readers, even some of my detractors, kept this humble project going in this, the beginning of my tenth year in Russia.

Worst “Western media” article of the Year! 

Yeah I’ll be honest, my selection wasn’t very scientific. I know there were a few choice samples from the usual suspects like Alexander Motyl or Anne Applebaum, but I ended up choosing The Daily Mail for this gem by Andrew Malone.

Want to know a news industry secret? If you want to write a bullshit story, use a headline that is phrased as a question. For example, this one from the story:

“Did Putin plant the holiday jet bomb that killed 224 Russians?”

Uh yeah, let me answer your incredibly poignant question for you: No, he did not.

Oh what’s that? You want a more detailed answer? Alright, let’s start by looking at the rest of that headline:

“Ex-KGB agent claims this dossier proves the Kremlin orchestrated the atrocity to justify waging war on Syria”

First of all, we find in the article that the “dossier” was compiled by the ex-KGB agent himself. But more importantly, the line about Putin needing to “justify waging war on Syria” tells us everything we need to understand that this article is crap.

Putin is not “waging war on Syria,” he is supporting the government faction in a civil war. That difference is kind of important. What’s more important than that is that Putin doesn’t have to justify anything. He still enjoys high approval ratings and even if he didn’t, what would Russians do about it? Elect someone else?  Nobody’s been able to show any evidence of significant opposition to this military campaign. On the contrary, the campaign was ready to go before Putin and his press even announced it, and the viewers at home accepted it.

Of course the most idiotic thing about this claim that Putin needed to justify his war in Syria is that the bombing campaign was already underway at the end of September, whereas the terrorist attack that brought down Metrojet over the Sinai occurred on 31 October. Was Russian support for the campaign waning by then? There’s no sign of that, and again it doesn’t really matter if it was waning.

The coup de grace in this idiotic hypothesis is that Russia continued to deny that a terrorist act caused the crash long after British and American experts suggested that it was. If you need a terrorist attack to justify going to war, first you engineer the attack before the war is supposed to start, and when the attack occurs, you don’t deny that it was a terrorist attack. Standard false flag conspiracy know-how here, folks.

Congratulations, Malone, this means that you actually managed to make an argument less logical than that of the 9/11 Truthers. I never thought I’d see the day.

Some readers might say: “Hey, it’s The Daily Mail, you should expect that.” Yes, I’m aware of their journalistic standards or lack thereof. The problem is that some RT or Russia Insider writer will pick that article up, present it as representative of “the Western mainstream media,” and then smear all “Western” journalists by extension. This is a standard pro-Kremlin foreigner tactic. Pick on some low-hanging fruit and pretend that it represents all “Western media.”

Runner up: David Brooks.

Second runner up: “Gunslingergaitgate.” (See second half of the article.)

 

Frightening moment of the year!

Yeah again I’m going with something recent, though I think it has a strong case. Think of it as an Oscar Bait film that gets released in mid-December.

So it turns out that a man in Tomsk named Vadim Tyumentsev has been sentenced to five years in a labor colony for two Facebook posts. Yeah, you read that correctly. Once again, the excuse is “extremism,” but there was an interesting twist in this case.

At first I had read that the extremism charge was characterized as “inciting hatred against residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.” This initially made me think that he was writing pro-Ukrainian posts which criticized the rebels or those who supported them. That would have been weird indeed because in fact the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are not entirely under separatist control and therefore expressing any hatred against Ukrainians as a group could be considered to be the same thing this guy was charged with.

Interestingly enough, however, it turns out that he was criticizing Ukrainian refugees who had been resettled in Tomsk, allegedly calling for violent actions against them and for them to be deported. Mr. Tyumentsev’s attitude towards Ukrainian refugees is actually quite common among vatniks, many of whom show nothing but disdain for the poor “brotherly people” who were supposedly forced to flee to Russia to escape Ukrainian nationalism-fueled genocide. Much like the case with Westerners, Russia only has a use for Ukrainians who act as propagandists or objects of propaganda. Tyumentsev also criticized Russian intervention in Ukraine, but not because he was a supporter of Ukraine or Ukrainian territorial integrity. It’s just that his hatred for Ukrainians, including those who fled to Russia’s side, was such that he didn’t think it was worth spilling Russian blood for the sake of people in the Donbas.

Of course the other charge against Tyumentsev was a call to “overthrow the authorities.” However, when we examine this call it turns out he was urging people to go to a protest against a hike in bus fares. Keep in mind this is in Tomsk. Not too revolutionary there.

Make no mistake, Tyumentsev’s sentence is ridiculously excessive, especially in light of the fact that it was due to a couple Facebook posts. This case really illustrates something that Russian people had better get used to very soon. Tyumentsev doesn’t appear to be an opposition supporter. His disdain for Ukrainian refugees makes it almost certain that he had no love for the Ukrainian government or Ukraine’s territorial integrity. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he was opposed to Putin either. What happened was the bus fares went up, he didn’t like it, and he criticized the authorities he believed to be responsible while urging people to protest their actions. This fits well within the usual, tolerable “Good tsar vs. bad boyars” narrative. And in spite of all that, he got 5 years for a couple of Facebook posts.

These days many Russians ignore cases like these because they always assume that the defendant must be a guilty traitor. But all it takes to become a traitor these days is to voice your disagreement with a policy, and policies can change on a dime in Russia. Judging by his disdain for Ukrainians, it’s very likely that Mr. Tyumentsev initially supported his government’s actions in Ukraine like a good Russian “patriot.” Then one day he became a traitor. That’s how easy it is now.

If I can point out one more thing about this “extremism” law in Russia, it’s always interesting to note that the only people who ever get charged with “inciting hatred against nationalities” are people who are opposed to the government’s policies. Pro-government people post all kinds of heinous material demonizing Jews, Ukrainians, Americans, Europeans, Turks, etc. without getting charged with extremism or inciting ethnic hatred. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence though.

Don’t Question at all moment of the year! 

Hey you know how every time the US gets accused of killing civilians with drones or in airstrikes, the official spokespeople will try to spin the stories by using terms like collateral damage or human shields? Well that’s not good enough for the Russian Ministry of Defense, which claims they have never hit civilians in Syria with their airstrikes. Note the RT headline:

“Russian warplanes never hit civilian targets in Syria – Air Force chief”

Maybe I’m being nitpicky here, but wouldn’t it be a bit more honest if it said “Russian Air Force chief?” Or perhaps “Russian air force chief claims no civilians have been killed in airstrikes?” Since people often tend to skim headlines it’s often important that we know who is making this claim. So what’s the lead say?

“The head of the Russian Air and Space Forces denied reports that Russian warplanes had hit civilian targets during its two-month counter-terrorism campaign in Syria. The allegations were previously voiced by some rights groups.”

Okay that’s a little better, but “counter-terrorism” campaign? These are people who get upset at the Ukrainian term “Anti-Terrorism Operation” because it allegedly labels all Donbas residents “terrorists”(HINT: It doesn’t). Of course when it comes to the Russian military, every bullet, bomb, or fragment always hits a terrorist or a fascist. Then there’s that line “some rights groups.” While the article does later mention one of the groups, Amnesty International, this would have been a good place to name them.

To be fair, it’s almost a proper objective article, except when they start playing devil’s advocate against Amnesty. The funny thing is that when it comes to the evidence that RT is suddenly so concerned about, a lot of Amnesty’s evidence is no different from the evidence pro-Kremlin people have provided when it comes to civilian deaths due to Ukrainian shelling in the Donbas. Namely, there are videos and photos of people killed by shelling and ruined civilian targets (yes, there are genuine examples). But when Amnesty relies on basically the same sort of evidence from Syria, we’re supposed to believe that either the video is somehow faked, the people were actually killed by ISIS or Syrian rebels, or everyone in the video is actually a terrorist pretending to be a civilian after surviving an airstrike.

Incidentally, Amnesty has a report on war crimes in Ukraine and says that both sides have been guilty of indiscriminate shelling of residential areas. This statement can be divided into two parts. The part that implicates Ukrainians shelling separatist civilians is 100% genuine and accurate, while the part about separatists shelling civilians on the other side, nearly all of whom were formerly residents of the separatist territories before the Ukrainian army rolled back their borders, this is nothing but Amnesty International carrying out its direct orders from Langley. This is entirely plausible.

They also tried to slip in another unsubstantiated claim here:

“Allegations of civilians being killed by the strikes surfaced even before the operation actually started.”

Interesting that they don’t give us a link so we can learn who made this claim, but even if someone did it in no way disproves any allegations about civilian casualties due to airstrikes. First of all, airstrikes are going to have civilian casualties, period. If the US can monitor someone for literally days at a time with a drone and then still managed to kill innocent bystanders using Hellfire missiles with an 8kg warhead, you’d better believe that running hundreds of sorties dropping bombs on cities like Aleppo or Homs will cause civilian casualties.

Second, it’s not hard to see how civilian casualties could be incorrectly attributed to Russian airstrikes before they actually began. The regime, which is backed by Russia, uses Russian-made equipment. There had been rumors and info about Russian air power in the region prior to the government’s official recognition. If the regime bombed a particular area harder than usual one day, it’s entirely plausible that some people might assume it was the Russians. Nice try, though.

Oh and one more thing:

“Amnesty’s report was based on witness accounts and footage and pictures published online, but the group didn’t sent its own investigators to Syria.”

That should read: “…didn’t send its own investigators to Syria.”

No charge.

UPDATE: About two hours after publishing this post, I found a link to a Foreign Policy article which shows that some US officials are apparently trying their hand at doubling down on collateral damage claims. Note that this “Western press” piece, which is definitely “Western mainstream media” because the publication conflicts with the Kremlin’s narrative of events, is challenging the ridiculous claims coming from the Pentagon on the topic of civilian casualties.

Free market capitalism- Putin’s best friend

Yeah it’s not an “of the year” section, but this is something definitely worth reading. It’s about PR firms in the US which lobby on behalf of human rights abusing countries. No surprise, Russia is among them. Yet while Russia takes plenty of heat from Washington, another, even more notorious human rights abuser and probable state sponsor of terrorism still gets DC’s approval on regular basis, and that of course is Saudi Arabia.

Another reason to read this article is to learn more about the law on which Russia’s foreign agent law is supposedly based. Yes, indeed the US has a foreign agent law, but don’t let the whataboutery fool you. For one thing, the US law is rarely enforced even when it is clear that an organization is lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. Secondly, that’s just it- an organization has to be lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, not merely receiving some funding from a foreign government.

For example, suppose the British government gives a grant to an American NGO that helps American citizens learn about their constitutional rights, particularly in regards to dealing with police. This could certainly be seen as “political activity,” but it is certainly not lobbying on behalf of Her Majesty’s government.

In Russia, by contrast, it doesn’t take much to get put on the foreign agent list, even for something as innocuous as a scientific foundation. And of course when a group is put on the list, they are presumed guilty until they prove they are innocent.

Getting back to the issue of PR, I’ve long maintained that Putin’s Russia, like many other authoritarian or at least less savory regimes, is a product of triumphal free market capitalism. Russia’s human rights record could be largely ignored when Western capitalists were making money hand over fist by investing in Russia. And by the same token, Western banks and realtors were only too happy to take Russian money, much of it stolen, laundering it via their banks or via property.

And taking that into consideration, who can criticize Russian media like RT or Sputnik when Western PR firms have shown themselves to be more than willing to be Kremlin propagandists for the right price? It’s all about the bottom line, isn’t it?

Fake news images of the year!

A short but good one. If you thought Russia and Ukraine are the only source of faked photographs and news stories, think again.

Paywall article of the year!

Luckily a reader gifted me access to this article on Western journalists in Ukraine by Keith Gessen. There are a number of things I liked about this article.

First of all it’s interesting to note how, according to the author, many of the pro-Kremlin “journalists” had no background knowledge of Russia or Ukraine. They ended up in either country due to some coincidence or some assignment. This actually happens on both sides, to the point where it seems that a journalist, whether legit or not, might have become pro-Kremlin or pro-Maidan based on things like geography, i.e. where they happened to be during certain events, or personal contacts.

What he says about Graham Phillips’ origin story confirms a lot of suspicions that I and other observers had about him and his personality. Supposedly part of his disdain for Maidan was due to the presence of nationalists, but for a man so ignorant of Ukrainian and Russian history and who was basically a typical sexpat, this is doubtful. His girlfriend dumping him and siding with Maidan probably had more to do with it. A lot of women took part in Maidan and they were protesting against a corrupt government in a movement for which “dignity” was an important theme. This is very frightening to sexpats, whether they are in Russia or Ukraine. They know that significant improvements in living standards can lead to an increase in self-esteem, which in turn can lead to more and more women telling them to piss off, just like the women in their home countries.

This is why, for example, you often hear sexpats or wannabe sexpats complaining about certain Eastern European women becoming “Westernized” and thus “spoiled.” What’s really happened is that in many Eastern European counties, including Russia to some extent, improvements in living standards have given women far better options. No doubt when Russia does hit 1991 all over again, someone like Phillips will find himself in paradise. It’s amazing that his Russian handlers still haven’t figured that out. Wait. Scratch that. I’m not amazed at all.

Before moving on I just want to point out that I am in no way suggesting that journalists or activists who are pro-Ukrainian or pro-Russian opposition are upstanding moral warriors who cannot possibly be sexpats. Believe me, they’re out there. I think part of the reason you meet these people who express profound love and concern for another nationality in the abstract while treating its women so poorly is because some of these people have a sort of colonialist, paternal mindset, but that’s a topic for another article.

Gessen mentions that the correspondents from Moscow were very different, very interested in Russia and highly educated on the subject. This may be true, but the sad fact is that highly educated on Russia and ignorant of Ukraine are not mutually exclusive. This is why you have such professional Russian correspondents who can’t take a side on topics like Stepan Bandera. Regardless of whether they are pro-Kremlin or pro-Ukraine, there are a lot of people who are using that name far too readily when they only just heard it for the first time in late 2013 if not 2014. In my case I had an advantage- an obsession with obscure WWII collaborationist formations and organizations from my late teens to my early 20’s. The money spent on rare, often out of print books was well worth it. This was coupled with a strong personal interest in Russia and the Soviet Union that literally stretched back to my early childhood.

One of my criticisms of the article is where the author goes off on a tangent about “Western expansion.” This term is often used by the pro-Kremlin media and its fellow travelers, and yes, I was guilty of buying into this worldview myself for many years if not most of my adult life. Calling it expansion implies that dozens of countries have no agency and shouldn’t be allowed to make their own decisions about international agreements, foreign policy, and alliances with other countries. The Kremlin, steeped in its 19th century Great Power politics, believes that Western meddling is fine, so long as they consult Moscow first and get their okay when inviting countries to join the NATO, the EU, or even just to sign a trade deal with the latter.

That being said, maybe people wouldn’t so easily fall for this narrative if Western countries had been more open and honest about it in the past. For example, all these years Russia has been screaming about NATO encirclement and aggressive moves towards their border? During that time the US was actively reducing personnel and closing bases. They’re still doing that today in spite of everything that’s happened since 2014. It was this year when they discussed bringing armored units back into Europe. Russian media naturally seizes on such moves while ignoring the question as to where these armored units were before. Right now some politicians in Poland and the Baltic countries are calling for permanent NATO bases in their countries. Again, where were these permanent garrisons and American forces before?

Much of the information about defense cutbacks and troop reductions tends to be the stuff of defense journals or short columns far removed from the front pages of the newspaper. By generally ignoring this issue, even when Russian leaders brought it up, the Western press essentially ceded to the Russian narrative. The discourse on NATO expansion was theirs to dominate.

This brings me to another good point Gessen brings up. Kremlin media has consistently portrayed Maidan as an American-organized coup. This is ultimately untrue, but to use Gessen’s phrasing, there were other not untrue stories about Maidan which the “Western” media largely ignored. Take the topic of American and European involvement in Ukrainian politics. The Russian side says they organized everything and controlled the protests till Yanukovych  gave up. What did the “Western” side have to say about the US and EU role in Maidan? Well not much, as it is. So because the other side remained largely silent, the side that was willing to talk about this topic came to dominate that narrative. It would have been better for Maidan-sympathetic journalists to actually investigate the extent and nature of foreign intervention in Maidan, if only so they would be able to counter the conspiracy theories and lies coming from the other side.

Ironically this scenario reminds me of the way far right Ukrainian nationalists came to own the history of Bandera, the OUN, and the UPA, so that they could force it on the rest of Ukraine. The Soviets preferred to remain silent and suppress that history, while the nationalist emigres were free to write this obscure history on their own. Though the Soviets certainly spread false information about the OUN and UPA, they also suppressed the truth as well. Thus when the nationalist narrative returned to Ukraine, its proponents had the advantage of dominating the discourse.

Perhaps in this case more Western journalists, instead of simply dismissing Russian claims, should instead listen to them, and then test them through investigation. While the Kremlin’s media and political technologists are certainly more than willing to fabricate a story out of thin air, many of their narratives are simply based on a distortion of facts. By investigating these questions Western journalists can dispel the idea that they are deliberately covering up inconvenient facts.

Stupid Ukrainian government move of the year!

This one is hard for me to decide. I hate the decommunization law the most, if only because it is so far-reaching, more deeply entrenched, and basically a very Duma-like attempt to legislate history while pandering to right-wing nationalists who still refused to stop screaming “ZRADA!” and generally causing mayhem in the rear.

On the other hand, one of the laws which is arguably more destructive in the short term, and which affects me personally, is the flight and airspace ban on Russian airlines. I expected the reaction to this would be so loud that ex-Chechen guerrilla leader/Turkish ISIS recruiter Yatsenyuk would be forced to relent. So far it looks like I was wrong.

Oh well, at least this happened to him:

yats.jpg

In order to prevent a scene like this from ever happening again, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is to be fitted with special folding carrying handles for ease of transport.

Analysis of the Year!

Here we have a tie between this Carnegie Report, and this cautionary article about the pitfalls of Russia analysis. I like the first because it kind of vindicates some predictions I’ve made. When you’re not an academic with a Phd, it really helps the old self esteem to see that people with more conventional credentials and who do this sort of analysis as a profession seem to be coming to similar conclusions.

I like the second article because it is a good warning to those Paul Goble-like Russia watchers who keep predicting the regime’s immanent collapse. That and I like any analysis that points out the continuity and commonality between the regime of Yeltsin and that of Putin, his handpicked heir.

That’s not to say I don’t have my criticisms. For one thing, a lot of it consists of: “You say this bad thing is going to happen, but something like this happened before and Russia didn’t collapse from that.” It also makes what I consider poor comparisons with Pakistan and especially North Korea in terms of the regime’s ability to hold onto power.

I think one of the biggest problems in Russia analysis is that everyone opens up the history textbooks without taking a dialectical approach. What I mean is that they seem to assume that Russia is bound by historical precedents, and that if such a precedent exists then we must assume this can happen again. By this logic, Putin’s regime could last as long as the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union endured for such a long time in spite of far worse conditions such as those brought on by WWII.

What this analysis fails to take into account is all the changes that have happened since then, and how no scenario is an exact copy of the one before it. When it comes to enduring hardship, Putin has one major disadvantage compared to the Tsarist and Soviet regimes- his people have too much information and experience, and he cannot shove this genie back into the bottle. This is to say that too many Russians either know how people live in the rest of the world, or they can easily find out what they are missing. This is why the Kremlin’s media works so hard to paint the rest of the world, particularly the West, as degenerate and evil. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t a good substitute for a populace that is overwhelming ignorant of the outside world.

Now, however bad things get, Russians will be keenly aware that people in the West and other liberal democracies live better than them. Sure, the media will keep telling them that those countries are on the point of collapse, but as they somehow trudge on while the situation in Russia becomes ever worse, skepticism and eventually anger will rise. After all, who wants to believe that a bunch of limp-wristed Western degenerates are living it up while Russians suffer?

I could go on, but the basic point I’m making here is that instead of trying to find historical examples to determine the probability of something happening, we should ask ourselves what changed since those historical events. What is different?

Predictions for 2016

First of all, any of you Goble fans expecting a regime collapse or massive protest movement are likely to be disappointed. It’s not that things are going to turn around for the Kremlin in 2016. I’ve seen some analysis that predicts modest improvements but the general trend is downward. The issue is, however, that the downward slide isn’t steep enough to cause mass unrest, at least in my opinion.

IMAG1234

STAUNTON- Is this malfunctioning TV in a Moscow underground passage a sign that Putin’s regime will get the blue screen of death in 2016? A random Russian academic nobody’s ever heard of says, “Yes, definitely.”

I just don’t see the widespread discontent, at least not discontent that is attributed to the system, including Putin, and not phantoms like Obama or the 6th or 7th columns. Lots of people in many countries protest about economic issues without connecting those issues to the government and the system as a whole. I think this is the case with the kind of economically-driven protests in Russia at the moment.

For people to get revolutionary, they need to consciously connect their economic woes with their system, and they have to believe in change. Russians generally don’t have this faith in themselves, no doubt in part because they don’t have faith in the official opposition parties and they have consistently endured years of propaganda telling them that change and democracy will lead to instability like in the 90’s. Back in 2011-2012, many protesters knew what they were against, but the discourse on what to replace the “managed democracy” with was, in my experience, paltry.

Far more effective than jingoistic propaganda is the idea of the “Russian mentality,” which says that Russians are inherently too backward, savage, and corrupt to have a functioning democratic system like that of the US or some other developed liberal democracy. Any movement to change the system will have to defeat this myth, and not the patriotic rhetoric in order to succeed. I just don’t see that on the horizon anywhere.

What I also don’t see is widespread generalized suffering where it counts. Sure, millions of Russian families are rapidly sinking into poverty according to the state’s own figures, but I suspect that the first to go underwater are mostly those who are far from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Sure the truckers are upset because of the Platon road tax system, but Russia is a very atomized society where it’s all too easy for non-truckers to say: “It’s not my problem.”

Suppose more non-trucker citizens risk dissent and support the truck drivers until by some miracle, Putin relents and cancels the system. Then what? The truckers got what they wanted and will probably go back to praising Putin, but what’s in it for all those non-truckers who supported them? Nothing. If some new law negatively affects their business or profession in a negative way, will the truckers come to their aid? This is the problem I can see with these isolated causes. In the case of Maidan, you had a lot of people who were either really disappointed by the prospect of Yanukovych possibly calling off the Eurointegration deal he had initially conceived, the heavy-handed authoritarian tactics he resorted to in response to the initial protest, out of control corruption, or a combination of any of those. The causes were general and complimentary. You don’t have that in Russia.

Now naturally you could have those general causes if things get worse economically. But if there is a possibility of some recovery and the downward trend is gradual rather than sharp, where will those grievances come from? I can’t say for sure but I wouldn’t  rule out the possibility of what I’ll dub “quickeners.” These are unforeseen events or consequences which can influence than downward trend and speed it up. The initial cause may be completely out of the Kremlin’s control, such as a wave of natural disasters. On the other hand it could be another knee-jerk response of the Kremlin to some event it couldn’t foresee.

Keep in mind that a quickener is not the same as a black swan event. It’s not something that has never happened before but could theoretically happen. Some of them might be very predictable, but they just haven’t happened yet. For example, Turkey could close the Bosphorus around the same time a Syrian rebel counteroffensive rolls back the Syrian army and besieges a Russian base. Residents in the separatist areas of the Donbas could run out of patience with the lawless regime and rise up against the local governments, possibly with arms. Kadyrov could commit some new outrage against the FSB that they won’t let slide no matter what Putin tells them. Returning volunteers from the Donbas could start a terror campaign against the government that “betrayed” them at the same time the FSB is bogged down in the search for ISIS-sympathetic jihadis.

In short, think of it as Murphy’s Law, where each thing that goes wrong can accelerate the country on its path towards 1991 Version 2.0. It’s hard to say exactly when that new 1991 will come, but I really don’t see 2016 as being the year. Whenever it happens, however, I would call on all those who actually care to pitch in and make sure the mistakes of the original 1991, which left Russia languishing in poverty, crime, and humiliation and left it ripe for demagogues like Putin and his crew, are never repeated. Letting Russia down in another moment of vulnerability like that will only bring more problems to the country and the region.

To conclude the topic of predictions I should say that if you’re a Russia watcher, you always have to be monitoring yourself for wishful thinking. If you’re a Putin-lover, you might want to consider how readily you seize upon any predictions about economic recovery. If you’re pro-Ukraine or pro-Russian opposition, you might want to be a bit more skeptical about whatever protest movement is being billed as the next Maidan. Either way, you’re only going to set yourself up for disappointment, as reality has a way of defying people’s wishes.

 

Now 2016 is almost upon us. Why are you still watching Russia? Escape while you still have many years ahead of you! Save yourself!

Seriously though,

Happy New Year

weirdman

It’s party time! Drink up!

 

 

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Let’s play a game

So I originally had this idea to design a simple test for comparing the so-called “Mainstream media” to the Russian media. I was going to leave it for Monday, but as it turns out a frustrated fellow who described himself as an “American vatnik” and who was sadly alone on Christmas started flooding my email box with long incoherent rants about how I’m a pro-American Soros/State Department-funded “MSM” shill and so on and so forth. Seeing as how every source he provided was from a Russian state-run site or one that depends on them like Russia Insider, I decided I should release my little game early.

It works like this: The UK started bombing ISIS targets in Syria after a vote authorizing the move in parliament. In the run up to this move, there were protests and debates, not only between opposing parties but even within the Labour party itself. The Stop the War Coalition played a visible role.

Just like with Iraq, or any war for that matter, opposition can have different motives. Some people are just pacifists on principle, others think the goals are wrong, while still others might support military action but are concerned that the plan as such could lead to unintended consequences. Here are some pieces from the mainstream media containing arguments against British involvement and airstrikes on ISIS:

NBC talks to former ISIS hostage who called airstrikes a “trap.”

Here’s one about opposition to the measure.

Here’s another Guardian article criticizing Cameron’s claims about airstrikes.

Here’s one showing both sides of the debate.

One from Bloomberg warning against a lack of a coherent strategy.

Here’s the BBC showing both sides of the debate in parliament.

Here’s the Guardian with the “It’s a trap” former hostage. 

Here’s the Independent on the same topic. 

Huffpo on Stephen Fry’s statement against the airstrikes.

Lastly, here’s one from The Daily Mail that actually starts by quoting Assad. If you only read the headline, you could possibly come away with a pro-Assad message.

Now before we play our little game, first a word on how I gathered those links. I had been seeing articles like this from the time the debate started, but I wasn’t following it very closely. When I started writing this article, I fired up some Google tabs and just searched for key words on the topic to find these and many other links in a few minutes. Anyone can do this.

Now it’s time…

The challenge: Go on RT.com, Sputnik, RT’s Youtube channel, or Russia Insider and find an article that opposes Putin’s campaign in Syria. The conditions are as follows…

  • It must have been published before this post, but it can be any time going back to the point where the Russian government acknowledged its campaign in Syria.
  • It must oppose or criticize the Russian president’s decision. It doesn’t matter whether it considers it a mistake or just downright stupid. It just can’t be some concern troll opposition like: “Putin’s decision is pretty great, but he really should send at least a couple divisions and push all the way to Raqqa.”
  • The motivation for the opposition isn’t important. It could be doubts as to the efficacy and wisdom of such a move, particularly in light of Russia’s socio-economic situation at the time. It could be concern for possible civilian casualties or terrorist retaliation against Russia (which has happened). It could even be concern that the dastardly Western media will use this as a way to frame glorious Russia for killing civilians. It doesn’t matter so long as it criticizes the campaign and voices genuine opposition.

If you find a story that you think fits, just post the link in the comments to this entry, along with any explanations you might want to add.

I’m not going to flat out say you won’t find any; I’m genuinely curious and this is about my own research as well. It’s just that I am highly skeptical that you’ll be able to find such an article seeing as how ever since this campaign started the Russian media and its lackeys have done nothing but cheer, as they always do. And this is crucial seeing as how the Russian state media doesn’t operate like the so-called “MSM,” which is really just a term for any media outlet, large or small, which fails to repeat the official position of the Russian government at any given time.

Not convinced that the term “MSM” is bullshit? Check out RT’s “Ultimate Guide to the Mainstream Media.” Let’s see, there’s France, US, Germany, UK, Australia… Hey wait a minute! Something’s missing! Where’s Russia? Does Russia not have a mainstream media? Of course Russia does have a mainstream media, a very rigidly controlled mainstream media which works closely with the presidential administration for its talking points. RT is simply the foreign language mouthpiece of that Russian mainstream media, yet they’d like you to think that they’re some kind of alternative. Meanwhile, Vice is “mainstream” media because they committed the sin of destroying Russia’s claims about the “civil war” in Ukraine.  Also I can’t help but point out the irony of them trying to make the “MSM” more transparent, given that RT is one of the most opaque organs in the Russian state. Only recently have they even started to release partial data on spending because the Ministry of Finance apparently wants to know where all this money is going.

Before closing and turning you loose over the Russian media to find those examples I asked for, I’d like to point out that this type of mentality shouldn’t seem too alien to any informed Americans. The comparison is obvious- Fox News and the American conservative media industry. Back when Bush was in, talking points would originate in the White House and then they’d be disseminated down the pipeline, usually starting with Fox and filtering to the syndicated AM talk show hosts, the local morning hosts, and so on. It still works more or less the same way minus the White House, of course, and you have to include hundreds of blogs and websites that all drink from the same well.

If you have conservative relatives or co-workers who are hooked on Fox or any part of that media machine, you know what happens if you present any material that contradicts what they’re claiming. “Well yeah, that’s just the liberal media for you.” In fact, I’ve noticed over the years that conservative media has also used the term “mainstream media” and “MSM.” Just like with Russian media, the claim is hilarious because conservative media in the US is extremely well funded by huge corporations like Clear Channel and News Corporation. And yet just like Russia’s state run media giants stuffed with cash, Fox News would like you to think that it’s some small guerrilla operation. Sure.

So that’s all I have to say for now. I’ll let those who are interested get on with the game. Happy Hunting.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas! Your present: Pro-Kremlin Op-ed Template

Recently in the process of writing an article I was overtaken by morbid curiosity and actually started reading some Sputnik articles. Then I became even more masochistic, and I went over to look at RT’s Op-Edge section. I’ve noticed that nearly every story you run across can essentially fit into one of a few categories. You have your stories about what a great leader Putin is, and how the West is unjustly demonizing him. Then you’ve got your stories about how the Western media lies about Russia all the time. Then there are a lot of stories about how the EU is bound to collapse any moment, just like it has been poised to do for at least a decade now according to doomsayers. Lastly, there are stories about how the US has fucked up the Middle East. At least there’s some truth to those, though it’s usually coming from a ridiculously one-sided, hypocritical position.

After subjecting myself to reading a few of these, I decided to make a special template that you can use to make your own pro-Kremlin op-ed piece. Simply fill the gaps with timely details where necessary.

The Western media lies about _____________

Recently the Western media has been crowing hysterically about something Putin or Russia did. Of course they would say that- the Western media always lies about Putin and Russia. Obviously their whole “story” is nothing but information warfare and totally untrue.

We know their claims are untrue because they are contradicted by official statements from the Russian government, which denies them completely. Also, here are some opinions from people we labeled as “political analysts” and other Russian state-owned media which also contradict the claims made by whatever we are arbitrarily dubbing “the Western media.”

Of course if their claims were true, they would still be justified because the US did something like this one time, and that was bad. Putin’s actions are no different than that example, except that it is morally right when Russia does it whereas the US was still morally wrong for doing the same thing.

Also I have to wonder why the Western media even covered this, while not covering this long list of other things that don’t involve Russia. Could it be they have a deliberate agenda to accuse Russia of things she did not do, or if she did them, things that were totally justified?

Here I’m going to pick out the most ridiculous Western commentator I can find, and then I’m going to take his most inflammatory, idiotic comment about Russia or Putin. I’m going to easily debunk this low-hanging fruit, then I’m going to insinuate that his or her opinion represents the entire Western media consensus as a whole, even though a casual Google search would reveal plenty of differing opinions among what I arbitrarily label the Western or mainstream media.

Here’s an example of an article I found in the same “Western media” which supports my point of view. I’m going to focus on this and use this to vindicate my claims, totally oblivious to the fact that if my “information war” claims were true, this kind of diversity of opinion shouldn’t exist in the Western media. I’m also going to ignore the obvious fact that I’m more than happy to cite Western media and believe it so long as it appears to be supporting my point of view.

Now here’s where I explain the reasons why the Western media is constantly lying about Russia. Of course I’ll attribute it to the information war, which certainly exists as dozens of countries and their public and private media are directly manipulated against Russia by the United States. But that’s not the only factor.

The truth is that many Western journalists don’t know much about this subject, unlike me. In order to show my expertise, here are some random historical facts or some things I got verbatim from some Russian “geopolitical analyst,” which incidentally show no special insight into the topic in question, nor do they suggest that I have any more background in the subject than the Western journalists I’m attacking.

Now I’m going to go off on a tangent about some pet cause of mine, and in the process I’m going to praise Putin for his wise leadership compared to my own leaders, whom I can’t stand. I’m going to advance a false dichotomy whereby I label anyone who doesn’t agree with me and my slavish devotion to Putin as a “neocon” or “warmongerer.”

Lastly, here’s an oblivious paragraph where I again decry the mass of organizations I’ve arbitrarily lumped together as the Western media, and then hilariously lecture them on the importance of ethics and independence in journalism. I will bristle at the idea that someone might label me a paid Putin propagandist, simply because I’m paid by the Russian government and I constantly write fawning praise of Vladimir Putin while always taking the Kremlin’s side in any foreign policy dispute.

THE END

 

Logic test: A case study in vatniy behavior

So it’s been like a day since the Ukrainian government declared a special holiday cease fire, not much unlike the one that took place around this time last year. And surprise, surprise, it only took the “separatists” a day to violate it with an attempted offensive in the Mariupol area.

Now I used those words on purpose, because I know that any Kremlin fanboy who reads them is now tearing his hair out and practically screaming: “WHY DO YOU ASSUME THAT THE REBELS BROKE THE CEASEFIRE FIRST?! THEY SAY THE UKRAINIAN ARMY FIRED ON THEM!”

Shhhh….Shhhhh… Allow me to explain, because this latest incident provides us with a wonderful lesson about understanding vatnik behavior. To understand it we only need to ask a few questions.

First, which side has a history of offering ceasefires, even unilaterally? This of course was Ukraine, which first announced a unilateral ceasefire starting in the end of June, 2014. During that time, they invited “rebel” representatives for negotiations and offered peace terms that would eventually evolve into the first and second Minsk accords. The opposition did not avail itself of this opportunity. In fact, even in April of 2014 acting president Turchynov offered the rebels full amnesty if they would relinquish control of the buildings they were occupying in Donetsk. They elected war instead.

Second, which side desperately needs peace, and which side is backed by a regional military power that openly refuses to obey international law or admit responsibility for any of its actions? Only very recently has the US approved the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine. By contrast the “rebels” have clearly been receiving arms and ammunition from Russia for quite some time, possible all of this year. What is more, Russia’s regime is arguably more stable and insulated against economic disaster compared to Ukraine, and I relish the idea of any Kremlin hack trying to argue against that point since they’ve been making exactly that claim, albeit with a lot of exaggeration and distortion, almost since the end of Maidan. Bottom line- The Ukrainian side has every incentive to seek peace, whereas the separatist side actually has an incentive to keep the war going so as to ensure Moscow’s continued support, which they still apparently have.

Next I must head off the objection that perhaps Ukraine broke the ceasefire in an attempt to launch some kind of offensive with the belief that ending the war would be the best way to assure that peace they desperately need. I’m sorry but the Ukrainian government and military simply aren’t that stupid. If you look at a detailed history of this war, you’ll see that Russian direct intervention was typically aimed at staving off a total rout of the “rebel” forces when they were pushed back to their starting points. Even if a Ukrainian general thought they had the capability of hammering their way into Donetsk and Luhansk and routing the pseudo-states, they’d have to factor in the very realistic possibility of direct Russian intervention yet again. If something didn’t go according to plan and the offensive got bogged down in the early stages, that plus Russian direct intervention could lead to an even bigger disaster which might see the “rebels” actually advance and take new territory. Also while I admit it is totally anecdotal, I’ve spoken to a lot of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers and I can tell you none of them relish this war or the prospect of fighting at all; on the contrary, they absolutely hate it. So again, Ukraine is the side that needs peace and clearly wants peace, given its political-economic situation and its consistent behavior of offering truces and amnesties since April of 2014.

Getting back to our questions, which side has a habit of making bold threats and then walking them back when it turns out that their actions led to civilian deaths, as with MH17 (preceded by rebels bragging about possessing a Buk and then claims they’d shot down an AN-26 transport), the Volnovakha bus attack, and the shelling of Mariupul in January of this year? In the last case, Zakharchenko was actually in a press conference announcing the new offensive with glee. A bit later news started to trickle in about the killing of civilians in Mariupul and wouldn’t you know? Zakharchenko called off the offensive and as is always typical for the Russian government and its proxies, labeled the attack a “provocation,” thus indirectly accusing Ukraine of deliberately shelling its own territory with rockets.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Good, because there’s a certain cycle to vatnik behavior that is repeated over and over again. It works something like this:

Stage 1 – Justification

It starts with vatniks telling themselves that their enemy does X, ergo they are justified in doing X too. Whether its claiming that “Banderites” are going to oppress them, America is trying to destroy them, or the West is waging an information war against them, nobody ever seems to raise their hand and ask: “Uh…Guys? Is that actually happening? Are we sure this is how things really work? How did this work out the last time we tried this?”

The point of the justification stage is not to convince any outside observers. The vatniks must justify their actions in their own mind, which at least suggests that on some level, they know they are morally wrong.

Stage 2 – Action without thinking followed by gloating

The vatnik is impulsive, and so once they’ve justified an action to themselves they will act without any prior analysis, self-criticism, or devil’s advocate talk. Once they have acting, we get gloating. “KRYM NASH (The Crimea is ours)!” “We told you to stay out of our skies!” “We’re going to save the world from ISIS!”

If the action occurs with very little resistance or criticism, which is rarely the case these days, then all’s well that ends well and the gloating continues. If not…

Stage 3 – Damage control level 1 AKA denial

Uh oh, it looks like the international community isn’t taking kindly to this poorly veiled invasion of a neighboring country! What can we do? Well let’s see… They say we’ve invaded this territory and we have soldiers there, so all we have to do to win is say they’re lying and that we don’t have any soldiers there.

Meanwhile we can use our state funded media to publish poorly fabricated stories about how it’s actually the US and NATO that have military personnel secretly serving in the region.

Stage 4 – Damage control level 2 What about…

Alright, they’re not falling for the denial, what with all their stupid video footage, photographs, eyewitness testimony from our own side, etc. It’s time to get this off our chests!

Yes, maybe we have a hand in this, but who are you to judge us? What about Libya? What about Iraq? What about slavery? What about the Crusades? What about the desolation of Carthage?

You have all these bloody episodes in your history, we know because you actually discuss them all the time, and yet you’d judge us for doing the same thing? Of course it’s not exactly the same. After all, it’s perfectly fine when we do it. But still. He who is without sin!

Stage 5- Full on meltdown 

TURKISH ISLAMISTS ARE JOINING THE UKRAINIAN ARMY TO CRUCIFY RUSSIAN SPEAKING CHILDREN! COLOR REVOLUTIONS! GAY PROPAGANDA! THE EU IS DOOMED! LIES! LIES! EVERYONE IS LYING ABOUT US! THERE’S A DEEP-ROOTED INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACY AGAINST US!

Naturally I’m having a bit of fun here, but follow pro-government Russian media and its supporters and you’ll see this pattern emerge almost every time, if not necessarily in that order. It always boils down to the entire world being part of a vast conspiracy to frame Russia for something they totally didn’t do, but if they did it would still be okay because America did it too. If we want to play it out in a simpler, summarized fashion, it looks something like this:

Russia: “We’re going to do X! And nobody can stop us!”

Media: “Hey, you did X, that thing you were talking about doing earlier.”

Russia: “LIAR! YOU’RE ALL LIARS! HOW COULD YOU ALL ACCUSE US OF DOING X? WHO IS CONTROLLING YOU?!”

Media: “Yeah but you were talking about X, and we found these people admitting to doing X, and it really looks like you did X, seeing as how X actually happened…”

Russia: “WHAT ABOUT Y?!”

Thankfully someone else has found the best way to describe this behavior, which they label infantilism, and they describe Putinism as essentially infantilism as a state ideology. Lucky for you someone with more drive than myself at the moment translated the article by Russian journalist Arkadiy Babchenko.

Getting back to the original point here, some foreign Kremlin supporters often whine about why it seems like correspondents from “the Western media” tend to distrust the Russian government’s statements and blame their proxies in Ukraine for things like breaking ceasefires. As I showed before, sometimes it’s just because of common sense, for example, Ukraine’s army had no reason to deploy SAM systems in eastern Ukraine and fire at a high-flying passenger aircraft, whereas the rebels had downed a Ukrainian transport before that day and clearly thought they’d shot down another one. Other times it’s simply because when you get to know this place long enough, and when you know enough about vatniks, you just understand that in all likelihood, they did it.

I know that sounds arbitrary and unfair but there’s a long pattern here, and when you establish such a pattern with no regard for your own credibility, you’re going to be judged accordingly, and yes, sometimes unfairly. That’s simply the consequences of certain behavior. In the downfall of the Russian empire, the Bolsheviks found and exposed many of the Tsarist government’s dirty dealings, including things like conspiracies cooked up by the Okhrana. After the fall of the Soviet Union, KGB front organizations and false flag ops were similarly exposed. It only stands to reason that some day the current regime will fall, its archives will be open, and we’ll find the truth about the Kursk, Nord-Ost, Beslan, Crimea, Donbas, Chaika, support for far-right parties, and so forth.

Major mission creep with Sputnik

This initially started out as a sort of How to Amnesty International for Dummies, but in the course of my research on the topic I found a gem that I simply couldn’t ignore. So forgive me but this post is going to read something like a double feature that appears to go way off topic.

First let’s get the Amnesty story out of the way. If you follow Russia news on Twitter you may have heard that Amnesty International released a report about Russian bombing of civilians in Syria, and apparently the report also accused them of using cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has also reported the use of cluster munitions either by Russia or the Syrian government.

Naturally the Russian state run totally independent media went ape shit, as did the Russian Ministry of Defense.  Just check out this tweet of theirs:

This one has been making the rounds and frankly I like it a lot, if only because the veiled threat basically serves as a warning that they’re about to make shit up. But to get to the heart of the matter, one needs to read this quote from the Sputnik article:

“We have a question for Amnesty International: why did this organization keep silent and turn a blind eye to material, undeniable, real evidence of the use of cluster munitions by the Ukrainian Armed Forces against cities in eastern Ukraine?”

As is typical for the Russian government, the denial follows a typical pattern. Accuse anybody and everybody of deliberately lying to frame Russia. Claim no evidence was given. Claim that contrary evidence was given, even when it hasn’t been or it is highly suspect. And then…WHAT ABOUT?! 

In this case, the what about was directed at Ukraine of course. Strangely, the intrepid journalists at Sputnik didn’t bother to actually go to the Ukraine section of Amnesty’s website, a task I accomplished in roughly 15 seconds thanks to Google. Here is that link.  In the end notes one finds links to the actual detailed reports. As is clear from the summary and the report titles, Amnesty International certainly didn’t turn a blind eye to human rights violations on the part of the Ukrainian armed forces and volunteer units. Several times we see the term “both sides” being used. Of course naturally Kremlin supporters will, with all sincerity, insist that those crimes Amnesty attributed to the Ukrainian side are 100% genuine, while all those attributed to the “rebel side” are sinister lies cooked up by the international conspiracy against poor, persecuted Russia.

This is the point I’m trying to make about Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch- they actually do document human rights abuses pretty much anywhere. Here, take a look at their section on the United States.

“Ah yes,” the Moscow supporter exclaims. “The US has its own human rights abuses! There’s proof, from the West itself!”

Oh but wait, sir! When you’re done with that you can read this report on Russia!

LIES! All lies! This is nothing but information war waged by Washington against Russia! Who funds Amnesty International anyway?! It’s probably a CIA front!”

Yes, yes, brave dissident. Of course it is. Such is the ridiculously childish Kremlin mentality. And when it comes to the topic of civilian casualties, sure, nearly all governments engage in these double standards about collateral damage, human shields, and the slaughter of innocent civilians from the air. But when Russia does it is is ridiculously childish, black and white, and unlike the West there is no significant counterweight, no real criticism. All criticism is a sign of treason. George W. Bush era on steroids.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way it’s time for our second story. As I said it is not on the same topic, but the common thread is that Sputnik was the source. First a little background though.

You remember that idiotic story about Putin’s so-called “gunslinger gait,” the one that alleges his mode of walking was somehow influenced by his “KGB training?” I tore this one apart in the second half of my post Vladipocalypse. Mark Adomanis did one better and wrote an article for Russia! about it. I know a lot of Russia/Ukraine journalists and commentators, both in person and online, and pretty much every one of them found the story to be rather ridiculous. Oh but we were wrong. So wrong.

As it turns out, one of Sputnik’s aggressive, muckraking investigative journalists has apparently discovered that this was in fact a “CIA smear” against the glorious leader Putin. The headline reads: CIA Smoking gun in Latest Putin Slur. This promises to be intriguing! Excuse me while I put on some mood-enhancing music.

 

Alright that’s better. It’s called “Spy Music” and god dammit it delivers! Just leave that playing from now until the end of the article, just to keep your heart pounding till the bitter end.

Now before we go through the looking glass, it’s probably worth pointing out that several other people and myself would strongly disagree that this non-story was a “slur” against Putin. On the contrary, I argued from the start that it’s essentially pro-Putin propaganda that feeds into his undeserved macho tough guy image. If some credible evidence emerged to suggest that the so-called “study” of Putin’s gait was in fact sponsored and disseminated by a Kremlin PR firm, I would not have been surprised at all. Suffice to say, implying that Putin was such a highly trained KGB agent that he still retains some kind of Bond-like handgun training decades after the fact isn’t black propaganda. You’ll rarely hear Putin critics say things like, “Damn that Putin! He’s such an efficient killing machine because of his superior KGB agent training!”

Sputnik’s Finian Cunningham is having none of that though. He’s convinced this was a CIA plot to slander His Majesty. So what’s his smoking gun? Well if we assume he did his homework properly, it seems that the “smoking gun” is the fact that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty supposedly put out the story before some British publications. It’s not clear whether they were the first in the world to publish the story, but let’s leave that aside for the moment. What does this prove, exactly?

“The concerted way the British press ran with the tawdry story points to a politicized agenda – and in particular orchestration by the American Central Intelligence Agency.”

This is a typical tactic of conspiracy theorists. In reality there are several other, far more likely things this points to. I and many others have said for years that poor coverage of Russia (and many other countries for that matter) is largely caused by the cutthroat struggle for profits and the lack of experienced correspondents on the ground. Sensationalism sells, and Russia garners very little attention without it, unfortunately. Even with everything that has happened since 2014, most readers and viewers simply don’t care about Russia. When it comes to big, old school media outlets, they seem to have a formula- KGB stuff, nuclear weapons, war, and stories about prostitutes and strippers. That’s what they think gets the attention of their readers.

This isn’t even exclusive to coverage of Russia. These big dinosaurs and even some of the newer media outlets are notorious for being taken in by bogus stories about China and North Korea, for example. Strangely, however, you don’t see these Western crusaders for media fairness coming to the rescue of poor China. No, it looks like it’s up to Cracked.com to do that kind of fact checking.

That’s a topic for another article. Actually that was originally intended to be the main topic of this blog before the Kremlin and its media decided to go cuckoo bananas in the end of 2013. It really makes me wish I’d started this blog a lot earlier, but what’s done is done. What’s important now is tracking down the CIA role in this story.

So getting back to Cunningham’s theory, RFERL was the first to publish the story, and then the British media fell for it.

“Several other British newspapers, such as the Daily Express, Daily Star, The Mirror and Daily Telegraph, as well as the state-owned BBC, all ran similar headlines. Notably, too, all the reports were written in very similar style, sharing the same wording and “talking points.”

Why wouldn’t they be written in a similar style with the same talking points? This is not a major feature, and they’re all quoting the same source. Perhaps there was a press release that accompanied the paper, which would explain a lot. When you look around at routine stories from different outlets, particularly about the same event and quoting the same sources, you’re going to get a lot of similarity. Then there’s the whole matter of journalistic style. Individual outlets will often have their own style guides, but they’re all following a more or less similar pattern. Do you even journalism, bro?

Still, I want to get to that CIA link. Where is it?

“Now here is where it gets interesting. The paper was published in the BMJ on Monday, December 14. Within hours it was then made into a story and published on Tuesday by the US government-owned news outlet, Radio Free Europe (RFE). It is well documented that RFE has close ties with the CIA, and has served as a propaganda outlet since the heady days of the Cold War back in the late 1940s and 50s.”

He promised it would get interesting, but alas, it didn’t. First of all, The Daily Mail, just the kind of publication you’d expect to run with such a story, ran it on the same day as RFERL, at 10:55 GMT. Cunningham claims, with no substantiation, that RFERL publishes at midnight, Central European time, but again, none of this matters because his assertion about the CIA is far more important.

Note he says it is “well documented that RFE has close ties with the CIA.” Indeed, RFE was affiliated with the CIA. Key word: was. The CIA stopped funding RFE in 1972. That’s a bit late to be using the present perfect there, Mr. Cunningham. Basic research, folks. Indeed, RFERL is funded by the US government and as such one should be on the lookout for bias. That is a far cry from a CIA operation to spread black propaganda, however. In fact, all this is basically saying is at worst, RFERL is just like RT or Sputnik. But hold on, we’re getting to the best part. This would be a good time to find your favorite part of that spy music mix in the video above.

“In recent years, Western news media have shown a sporadic tendency to engage in negative stories about Putin. And the telling thing is that this negative Western media coverage shows a concerted response.
Newspapers and other news outlets tend to publish the same pejorative stories about Putin at the same time. That indicates a centrally manipulating source.”

Once again I’m forced to ask if this guy has any idea how news is made? The Gunslingergaitgate (See what I did there?) non-story was a perfect example of the type of sensationalist click-bait that publications like The Daily Mail and Daily Express are known to lap up. Curiously, he didn’t give us any examples from the American media. Did the CIA forget about its own home turf?

The author is also using another tactic here, whereby without even having proven his first example, he’s using it as proof that this happens all the time without providing other examples. We’ll look at more of that later.

“But what is revealing from the latest Putin “gunslinger” smear story is that the triggering media source was evidently and specifically the CIA-affiliated RFE outlet.”

Cunningham still failed to prove this point. We’re supposed to take his word about the publishing time of RFERL, which he claims to be midnight, Central European Time. We also have no idea if this study was announced via press release, which would explain why so many publications jumped on it when they did. Also note that yet again he has called RFE “CIA-affiliated” when it hasn’t been so since 1972.

Are you on the edge of your seat yet? Here it comes! Get ready for a tsunami of bullshit!
“In previous bouts of Western media slandering against Putin, such as his alleged millionaire daughter, or his alleged ordering of the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014 by Russian-backed rebels, it is plausible to speculate that there was covert media manipulation going on.
However, in this week’s media smear job carried out by British publications, it is clearly traceable that the disinformation came from the CIA operation RFE.”

Once again we see the typical tactic in action. He hasn’t proved his point and he’s already using it to make unsubstantiated claims about other, unrelated stories which incidentally didn’t come from the very not CIA-affiliated RFERL.

First of all the story about Putin’s daughter started with Reuters, not RFE. Reuters sticks by its story and the Kremlin has thus far failed to provide even a remotely convincing answer to its allegations. If they are in any way inaccurate, Putin has no one to blame but himself for making even the most basic details of his family a matter of state security. Would it really be such a risk to actually show Putin’s daughters, living in Russia?

Cunningham tries to hammer through an even bigger lie after that, however, when he speaks of the Western media slandering Putin with stories of his “alleged ordering of the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine…” Excuse me but what Western media publication ever claimed that Putin had ordered the plane to be shot down? What Western media publication even suggested that the civilian plane was shot down intentionally? The only side that has ever accused the other of intentionally shooting down a civilian plane is the Russian side, and maybe a handful of Ukrainian crackpots whom no one takes seriously.

So no, Mr. Cunningham, it isn’t “plausible to speculate” about covert media manipulation, especially when you can’t get your basic stories straight. And once again he refers to RFE as being affiliated with the CIA when it isn’t. Laziness or deliberate lying, take your pick.

He just gets better and better though:

“Nevertheless, what should be alarming to anyone upholding independent, critical journalism is the odious way that supposedly independent news media are played as political tools to sell a propaganda message.”

Says the guy writing for a state-owned media outlet whose own bosses openly claim there’s no such thing as objectivity and that they are fighting an information war. And what does he mean by propaganda message? If RT had published a story about what a badass Putin is with a gun, would it still be slander?
“If in this instance it is clear that British media are so pliable to serve as propaganda outlets to demonize Vladimir Putin what does that say about the credibility of all their other news and information?
What of their coverage on events in Ukraine, Syria, or any other major international development?”

See what I mean, the way they try to get an inch and then take a mile? He’s never even proved his initial point and he’s either deliberately lied or included false information (about RFE and the CIA), and now he wants us to use this to call into question all the coverage of the so-called “Western media.” Well how about this- RT, Sputnik, and other Russian state-owned media outlets have been busted numerous times deliberately misrepresenting sources or in some cases actually fabricating stories. I’ve yet to see any example of anyone being punished for these instances, unlike in the Western media where a failure to thoroughly fact check ended Dan Rather’s career. So that given the case, should we then just dismiss any and all coverage coming from outlets like RT? Brace yourselves…

No. You’re not hallucinating. I said no, as in “No, we should not immediately dismiss anything that comes out of RT offhand.” All claims must stand or fall on the merits of their evidence. No exceptions. Imagine you’re on trial for your life, in spite of the fact that you’re 100% innocent of the charges. Which standard of evidence would you prefer, mine as expressed above, or Mr. Cunningham’s?

I could end this here, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t let you see the author’s hilarious ass-kissing session with Putin.

“As already noted, the CIA-British media smear job about “gun-toting Putin” came out just as the Russian leader was holding a major international press conference. In recent months and especially over the conflict in Syria, Putin has shown himself to be probably the best world leader there is.”

Notice how he goes from suggesting that the CIA was involved via RFERL, to just flat out calling it a CIA-British media (again, why no American media?) “smear job?”  I’m also not sure what major press conference he was referring to; Putin’s annual press conference was held three days after the non-story broke, and people who actually pay attention to that press conference are the last people to take that Putin walk article seriously.

“Best world leader there is?” Are you shitting us? This is an impulsive dictator whose best defense is that he is completely ignorant of what is going on in his country (aka “Good Tsar, Bad Boyars”). According to his own propaganda machine, in 15 years Russia has failed to produce even one more man capable of properly leading Russia, and even according to his own supporters Russia cannot have democracy. That’s right- America with over twice the population of Russia and shit tons of firearms for everyone is capable of having regular, contested elections according to rules that have changed very little since the country came into being, but Russians cannot handle this minuscule freedom, even after over a decade of Putin’s brilliant leadership. Best leader indeed.

“Putin has proven himself to be a noble world leader – unlike mediocre Western politicians, who are not fit to tie his shoelaces.”

Okay seriously how do you write this and not feel like a prostitute? One thing I notice about Western media critics of Putin is that you’d be hard pressed to see them launch into such pathetic, groveling praise of Western leaders, from Cameron to Obama, or Poroshenko for that matter. Most of them have scathing criticism for their leaders, because you know, that’s kind of what we’re supposed to do. How do you launch into this kind of diatribe and then pretend that you’re somehow more objective, and imply that people should trust you over experienced journalists who don’t lavish fawning praise over political figures?

 

Anyway, maybe Western politicians need to gut their constitutions, destroy their electoral institutions, and then run their national economies into the ground. Then maybe they’d be fit to tie Putin’s shoelaces. On second thought, maybe Putin should tie their shoelaces, if only because he is closer.

journo

Someone needs to ship a dump truck full of these things to Sputnik.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely something happening here

Let me be frank. I had planned a long polemical post about Ukraine’s recent ban on the “Communist” Party of Ukraine (I’m sorry I won’t write that without quotation marks), and how it fits in with decommunization in general, but some other business came up and frankly my heart’s not in it at the moment. With topics like that I’ve decided that you’ve got to go hard or don’t go at all. Lucky for us, however, there’s no shortage of news coming out of Russia, so the Ukrainian government gets a little breather…for now.

A while back I wrote about some strange behavior of the Kremlin, which as of late definitely seems to be anticipating some kind of mass unrest. Some recent updates seem to confirm this point of view. I have to say this is puzzling to me, and not because I take the president’s high approval rating at face value. It’s confusing because it’s not clear exactly what the authorities are afraid of.

If we’re completely honest, we know at some level the powers that be should have an understanding as to what constitutes a serious threat to their rule. Publicly they may rant about gays, performance artists, and other trivial bullshit that supposedly poses an existential threat to this great Russian superpower, but in private there must be people who understand where the real threats are. This is their job. They must have some measure of competence, at least behind closed doors. Right? Right?

If we go with this explanation, then it suggests that the authorities, most likely the security forces, know about some gathering threat that the rest of us don’t clearly see at the moment. Perhaps there’s no legions of people ready to create that mass unrest the government is so afraid of, but maybe the latter is anticipating some coming economic catastrophe which they think might serve as a catalyst.

On the other hand, maybe they truly are largely incompetent, which is an equally debatable position. Groupthink can affect even the most professional institutions, and the peculiar nature of Russia’s system fosters groupthink to a much higher degree. In other words, it is entirely possible that many people in the halls of power have convinced themselves that small opposition parties and other marginalized groups are in fact somehow poised to overthrow them, and that this could actually be feasible with the sudden arrival of American aid that the authorities have hitherto been unable to find.

The point is, I just don’t see this threat the authorities are afraid of. Yes, the economy is in a nose dive with no end in sight. Yes, standards of living are dropping. Yes, Putin’s blame the West line is starting to wear thin, just barely. Still, I don’t really see people so brainwashed with the “stability uber alles” mindset coming out in the street until you start seeing things like widespread malnutrition and starvation or people’s elderly relatives freezing to death in the winter (which given Russia’s issues with utilities is entirely possible eventually).

Now to be fair, I failed to predict the opposition protests in 2011. This was based on experience with ordinary Russians and how apathetic they were toward politics. In 2007 everyone I talked to expected the Duma elections to be rigged but they simply didn’t care. Many of them were doing too well in their personal life to be concerned over trivial matters such as who was in charge of their country. Their mistake, I guess. But in spite of that apathy, one thing you definitely had in 2011 was a lot of people willingly to publicly voice their dissatisfaction. The Kremlin still put out its “NATO encirclement,” patriotic propaganda, but most people just seemed to roll their eyes. So while I didn’t expect the protests, I could at least understand where they came from.

These days I still don’t see that. Out of fear or cowardice, many Russians, including those who should know better, have drunk the Flavor Aid (Yes, Flavor Aid. Read your Jonestown history!). I have often struggled to explain to other foreigners what this is like. The best analogy I can come up with is one in which you and a friend are both die hard Star Wars fans. You both hate the prequels and you constantly trade jokes about how terrible The Phantom Menace was.Your complaints coincide 100% every time.

Then one day you make a joke about The Phantom Menace and your friend suddenly gets visibly offended. They tell you that The Phantom Menace is brilliant film and if you do not recognize it as such, you obviously hate the whole Star Wars series. At first you think your friend is joking. You want to see how he’ll ironically defend Jar Jar Binks, or little Anakin. He goes off on a long monologue about how brilliant both these characters are. You begin to realize he’s not joking. You ask him how he could hold this opinion now when it is 180 degrees the opposite of what he had said for years. His answers are evasive. He begins to talk about other film series which are allegedly worse. “You don’t like the prequels? And I suppose you think The Matrix trilogy was brilliant, don’t you?!”

That’s about as simple as I can break it down. Right now, while many people are still grumbling among themselves, publicly it looks like the majority still consists of confirmed Jar Jar supporters (Psst! “Jar Jar” is Putin). That doesn’t mean they’ll actually put any effort into defending the current regime; it just means they aren’t going to be pouring out into the streets any time soon.

Granted, I’ve been wrong about these things before. To hedge my bets I should remind the reader that uprisings and revolutions don’t always come from well-organized opposition movements. When the system breaks down, people can be faced with the choice of starvation and death or getting out into the streets and forcing change. It could very well be that the authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about their ability to keep that system running at a level considered acceptable by the majority. That being said, at this moment I don’t see any convincing evidence of storm clouds on the horizon.

With that in mind we’ll have to see what 2016 brings. What we’re most likely to see is the Goble-types predicting imminent total collapse after every scandal, while the Kremlin cheerleaders seize upon anything that can be spun as good news and present it as proof that Russia has weathered the worst of the crisis, and now it’s only a matter of time before the degenerate West collapses the way it was supposed to ten to twenty years ago. In other words, let’s be really cautious and take everything with a grain of salt.

 

 

RT’s double failure

Here’s a riddle for you. What’s worse than RT giving expert credentials to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about? The answer, RT giving expert credentials to someone who not only doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but who tries to cover for this by claiming other journalists don’t know what they’re talking about. And wouldn’t you know it, RT served us up exactly that.

In case you haven’t heard, Putin recently made a tacit admission of Russian military involvement in Ukraine at his annual press conference last Thursday. Almost immediately, Putin’s press secretary tried to walk back Putin’s words, claiming that he was referring only to Russian “volunteers” and not serving military personnel. Of course in 2014 Putin also tacitly admitted to the presence of Russian volunteers, yet he hilariously claimed they weren’t receiving any material compensation and he was suspiciously unconcerned about his citizens crossing a border illegally to fight in an armed conflict for states not recognized by his government. You’d think that with the West constantly accusing Russia of orchestrating and supporting the rebellion in the Donbas, indeed using it as the basis of their sanctions, Putin would have been cracking down on any attempt by Russian citizens to engage in that conflict and thus provide fodder to the West.

Before we get into RT’s hilarious attempt to spin the words of a president who is increasingly detached from material reality, let’s be clear- there would be no war in the Donbas were it not orchestrated by Moscow. A basic understanding of very recent Ukrainian history and talking to anyone from the region, plus basic common sense regarding insurgencies and military science is more than sufficient to support this conclusion. This is then backed by tons of evidence in a variety of forms, including admissions from some of the rebellion’s leaders themselves, many of whom are Russian citizens who have returned to Russia without facing any legal consequences of their actions, in spite of the fact that said actions were embarrassing for Russia and directly related to the West’s sanctions. There is no need to rely on grainy satellite photos that supposedly show Russian vehicles crossing the border or artillery firing into Ukraine from Russian territory. Here are just a couple examples:

 

Reports coming from inside of Russia speak of serving military personnel being asked to sign contracts if they are conscripts (as only contract soldiers can be sent abroad under Russian law), while captured Russian personnel are said to have resigned from the Russian armed forces prior to the time of their capture, implicitly prior to their arrival in Ukraine. It is important to note here that the actual status of the military personnel is irrelevant. The Russian government has steadily denied all involvement in the conflict that they claim is a “civil war,” including providing arms and financing for the “rebels.” A Russian soldier fighting in the Donbas is a Russian soldier regardless of whether or not he signs a meaningless document claiming that he “resigned.”

It’s also worth noting that this tactic of creating pseudo-states and denying involvement in supporting them militarily is by no means new, nor is it exclusive to Russia. In the beginning of this video, we see the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic publicly denying that the Belgrade-controlled Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was supporting the Serbian Republic forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

 

Russia did essentially the same thing in the run-up to what would become the first Chechen War.

There are debates as to what percentage of the “rebels” are actually Russian military personnel and what their official status is within the Russian armed forces, but there can be no debate about Russia’s involvement in this conflict. War is extremely expensive and complex. Insurgencies so well armed and trained do not simply pop up within a matter of a few months as they did in Ukraine. The “rebels” simply have too many shells, too much heavy artillery, too many tanks, too many personnel capable of using such modern weaponry effectively, and engage in tactics far too conventional to be local insurgents. Anyone still insisting otherwise is either deliberately lying, like Putin and other Russian officials, or simply doesn’t know what they are talking about, like these “experts” on RT.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about those two “experts,” shall we? The first is from Neil Clark, a journalist from the UK. He is quoted in the Op-Edge as saying:

“It’s misreporting again in much of the Western media. [Some time ago] the claims were of “Russian invasion of Ukraine” and, of course, soldiers were mentioned. And Putin isn’t saying this. What he is saying is that military advisors are, or were in Ukraine, the same way US military advisors were in Ukraine, too. So, I think it is a bit of a non-story, really. He is not saying that there were Russian soldiers coming in; that was the claim. And now his words are twisted again …”

Apparently Clark hasn’t been following the story closely, because first and foremost, Putin specifically denied the existence of Russian instructors or advisers in Ukraine. You can see him say exactly that in this video:

 

So no, Neil, Putin wasn’t admitting to instructors or advisers on par with those from the US. If he were talking about military advisers, which he had denied in the past, he could have just said they had advisers or instructors instead of talking about people handling “questions in the military sphere.” It’s clear from their other attempts to spin this that we’re talking about people who were actually fighting in Ukraine. That’s why the comparison with the US and Western advisers is inaccurate, particularly in light of the fact that the US and NATO were totally open about the instructors and training missions that were carried out in Ukraine from the beginning. In fact, they made a pretty big deal of it.

So nice try, Neil, but you lose this round. Next time figure out what your masters have been claiming before you try to cover for them. Also maybe this little item can be of use:

journo

Next at bat is Marcus Papadopolous of Politics Firsta UK publication which I’m told typically deals in domestic politics. Papadopolous tries a different tack, accusing unnamed journalists of not knowing anything about Ukraine.

“Western journalists remain very ignorant of Ukraine. Prior to the crisis in Ukraine, many of them wouldn’t have been able to find Ukraine on a map. And if you said to them Kiev, they wouldn’t have thought of the capital of Ukraine, they probably would have thought of a certain dish that you can find in Russian and Ukrainian restaurants.”

Strong words there. Before I go on, I just want to point out that on a certain level he is right; Western journalists often didn’t know much about Ukraine until 2014, as many of them didn’t know much about Russia either. This fact makes many Western journalists prime targets for bullshit coming from both sides. Of course this is somewhat irrelevant to the issue here, because one doesn’t have to be an expert in Ukrainian history to discover evidence of Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

Getting back to Marcus’ statement, I think that it’s at least reasonable to infer that if he’s attacking unnamed Western journalists as having utterly no knowledge of Ukraine, including its basic geographical location, he must possess some solid background knowledge of Ukraine that they just don’t have. So let’s see what insight Marcus can give us based on his vast knowledge of Ukraine.

“The reality is this that Ukraine is a very important part of the Russian people’s identity, their cultural identity, their linguistic identity. And, of course, Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities; it is the birth place of the Russian state. And it is only natural that the Russian government will have an interest in eastern Ukraine where millions and millions of Russian speaking people reside rather than ethic Russians or Ukrainians who consider the Russian language to be their mother tongue.”

There’s plenty to pick apart in this statement, but I think it is unnecessary because this does nothing to demonstrate any real insight or background knowledge of Ukraine. This is basically cobbled together from information which could be gleaned from Wikipedia, plus the regurgitation of a Russian-government narrative. Anyone with real knowledge of Ukraine and Russia would be able to see the flaws in this non-argument. For one example, look how he speaks of their “linguistic identity” in spite of the fact that most Russians are unable to understand even basic Ukrainian (whereas the opposite is not true), and they often express undue hatred and hostility to that language.

The real fun starts when Marcus uses his vast background knowledge in Ukrainian history to creatively interpret Putin’s statement.

“So, President Putin did not say there are Russian regular forces in eastern Ukraine. What he said is that: “Yes, there are Russian personnel, Russian officials acting there in the interest of the local population of Donetsk and Lugansk,” because these people have been suffering tremendously because of the Ukrainian government’s dreadful murderous policy towards them in terms of cutting electricity, cutting gas, shelling them, bombing them either with artillery or aircraft. So, it is only natural that Russia would not stand by idly and would do something in eastern Ukraine and quite rightly, so,” he said.”

No, Marcus, Putin wasn’t saying that. Oh sure, he accused the Ukrainian forces of all manner of atrocities in their “punitive operation,” but he also insisted from the beginning that he was doing absolutely nothing about it. Marcus is just being creative.

Still, I was concerned about Mr. Papadopolous’ credentials to speak on Ukraine, as he is obviously more qualified than all those unnamed journalists who didn’t know that Kyiv is not a chicken dish. I wrote him an email asking him to detail his experience in Ukraine and Russia prior to 2014. It was sent on the 19th and I’ve yet to receive an answer.

The Noodleremover did a little digging and found that Mr. Papdopolous has a soft spot in his heart for Cyprus, and is quite logically opposed to the Turkish occupation in the form of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I was in Cyprus last month and I too find the division of that island to be a crime. But wait a second! I’m just getting one point of view here! I need to question more! After all, if you know anything about the history of Cyprus, we all know that the Turkish invasion was in response to a coup in Greece that installed a right-wing junta, which in turn overthrew the democratically-elected government of Cyprus in an attempt to unite the island with Greece. In the fighting that ensued, the Greek Cypriot fighting organization EOKA-B engaged in a murderous policy of their own. So how about it, Mr. Papadopolous? Is it good for Ukraine but not good for Greece? At least in the latter case, the coup and the right-wing junta were real.

This tactic is getting to be commonplace with RT and their fellow travelers. Talk about unnamed “Western journalists” who supposedly know nothing about Ukraine or Russia, and the audience will assume that the person speaking on a Russian network must actually know something. Perhaps these talking heads are aware that readers often don’t know much about the journalists in the bylines, that is to say they often have no idea whether they are reading the work of a seasoned Russia correspondent who is fluent in Russian and who spent years in that country.

Another irony of this tactic is that oftentimes the people making these accusations are, like the two featured here, Western journalists with little to no background knowledge of Russia. Hence they are as wide open to Russian propaganda narratives as idealistic, newcomer journalists could be toward Ukraine and Maidan. In both cases, they are vulnerable to propaganda narratives simply because they have no frame of reference. It’s as true of pro-Kremlin journalists who showed up in Russia in the last couple years as it is of pro-Ukrainian folks who never heard of Stepan Bandera until 2013-2014.

In any case, the tactic is extremely dishonest, and it’s rich when people appear on RT and accuse others of not having proper background knowledge in the subject. We’re talking about a network that showers guests with titles like “political analyst” all the time, and a media machine that is happy to label a guy with a website as a “Western political scientist.” Furthermore, there is little trivia knowledge of Ukraine or Ukrainian history that can somehow make Putin’s words mean something completely different. Even his “admission” contained a lie, as he specifically denied the presence of Russian instructors and advisers in addition to all other Russian involvement save for “humanitarian aid” convoys.

I’m willing to make one concession, however. This is by no mean the worst example of using this tactic. If you’re up for it, get ready to cringe:

 

Yeah, Steve, “do your homework” by going to Russia and regurgitating whatever their state media has to say. Now there’s a real journalist. I bet he’s got shit tons of glitter gel pens, confetti  flowers, gemstones, and sequins.