While you were away

For those of you who don’t know, Russia has ten days of public holidays starting on January 1st. Generally not much in terms of major news happens during this period, as the whole country kind of shuts down. As it turns out, I kind of shut down as well, thanks to the bitter cold and long periods of darkness. Nonetheless, there are a few updates I’d like to share. This also includes a lot of commentary that is the sum total of several days of having literally nothing to do. As such, you might want to tackle it in parts.

Russia Without BS in Russian!

Noodle Remover Alexei Kovalev generously volunteered to translate my latest piece on Russia! Magazine, entitled “Patronizing Patriotism,” and publish it on his blog. Apparently it’s a big hit, and I’ve seen a lot of positive feedback from Russian readers.

Naturally, the vatniks weren’t  too happy about it, and their response has been predictable. The typical response to this is: “This foreigner doesn’t understand anything about Russia!” Here’s a tip- When a vatnik says this, it means you probably hit the nail right on the head. “You don’t understand anything about Russia” is basically the Russian equivalent to the American “You just hate muh freedoms!”

This idea of the eternally enigmatic, mysterious Russia which no foreigner can possibly comprehend is just ridiculous on so many levels. You think Russian history or culture is complicated? Tell that to China, which boasts a continuous civilization spanning about 4,000 years, and which boasts numerous dialects and languages which are not mutually intelligible yet all speakers understand the same writing system. Try getting your head around that.

Where to begin with this idiotic myth, that Russia is so super-exotic and difficult to understand? Well let’s start with the fact that I’ve been here nearly ten years and I speak the language. If people can study your country’s history for roughly 15 years, live there continuously for nearly a decade, have numerous friendships and intimate relationships with the locals, all the while having a command of the language adequate to be able have deep discussions and consume local media, and yet still not understand anything about your country, I’ve got bad news for you. Your country isn’t deep; it’s insane. North Korea is enigmatic and mysterious. Russia isn’t.

Oh yes, it was a borderland with “the East” and it was ruled under the Mongol-Tatar yoke. Who gives a shit? Hungary was founded by Magyar people, Finno-Ugric speakers who most likely originated in the Volga-Ural region. Bulgaria was originally inhabited by Turkic Bulgars (I’m not convinced by Indo-European Bulgar theory) who also originated in roughly the same region. Both of these peoples were at one time or another nomadic steppe dwellers, not too far removed from the Mongols who would one day conquer Rus in terms of culture and lifestyle. By contrast Russians are Eastern Slavs who came from the West. This being the case, who ever insists that Hungary or Bulgaria are simply impossible for outsiders to understand?

Second, the idea of enigmatic Russia and the mysterious Russian soul is part and parcel of the patronizing, condescending Russophobic mythology that was the topic of that article in the first place. At first, this idea of being mysterious seems like a positive stereotype. These Russians who peddle the idea remind one of that angsty teenage outcast from high school. But where else do we see this kind of mythology? That’s right- in racist noble savage stereotypes.

Pop culture is doing this all the time with East Asian people and Native Americans who, according to Hollywood, have magic powers. They do it with Russians as well, and you can see a perfect example of this in the popular computer game Call of Duty: Black Ops. In an early mission that involves breaking out of a Soviet prison camp, the Russian supporting character Reznov and his fellow inmates describe their escape plan in strange metaphorical language. For example, they use the phrase “skewer the winged beast” in reference to bringing down a helicopter. There’s this implication that a Russian can’t just say “Take out that helicopter!” And since vatniks just love talking about WWII, there’s also the well-known habit of German officers mentioning the mysterious Russian soul or mentality as well as Russians’ “closeness to nature” in their memoirs. This is often paired with passages about how Russians are “Asiatics” and not European.

Another problem with the “you don’t understand Russia” argument is that it tends to come from people who think they understand every other nationality and yet fail so hard even at understanding the mentality of their own neighboring former Soviet republics. Probably the closest relatives to Muscovite Russians would be Ukrainians, and yet I think it’s pretty clear that most Russians, including those who aren’t extreme “patriots,” simply don’t understand Ukrainians or Ukraine at all. Ukrainians, for better or for worse, understand that change is preferable to stagnation and a slow death, and they also understand that while change can bring great difficulty (even if your neighbor doesn’t deliberately sabotage things with invasion, annexation, and economic warfare), progress is preferable to phony “stability” under an incompetent regime.

In fact, some of the feedback actually shows how true this point is. Apparently a significant number of people who commented on the article seemed to get the impression that I thought Kyiv, a city which I have visited 7 times since early 2007, is in Russia. I was confused as to how they could infer this and feared there might have been some kind of typo I had missed. When I examined the article again, I found the likely culprit was where I mention how Putin was spooked by protests in Moscow and Kyiv. Now Putin actually has a history of being spooked by protests in Kyiv, though it is of course in a different country (not that Putin cares about that though), going back to the Orange Revolution in 2004. This being the case, why would someone ignore what ought to be common knowledge in Russia and assume that the author doesn’t know Kyiv is the capital of a separate country? Oh right, because the author is American, and of course every Russian knows Americans are just terrible at geography. So terrible, in fact, that one can safely assume an American living nearly ten years in the region and who has spent time in both countries in question wouldn’t notice that they’re separate countries.

But you know I’ve got to wonder. If vatniks understand the rest of the world so well and no one outside can understand them, even when the outsiders live within their borders, speak their language, and communicate with them directly, why is it that the Kremlin is in so much trouble these days? Sun Tzu said “Know your enemies and know yourself…” The way vatniks tell it, Russia has this down pat, and yet it’s stuck in two military quagmires, one with a country that had only a token military until the summer of 2014, and its economy is tumbling with no end in sight. In the mean time, they continue to spend millions on ineffective foreign-language media that deliberately appeals to the political fringes of these Western countries they supposedly understand so well. This leads us to an argument I find myself making in so many situations I might as well name it Kovpak’s Razor, i.e. if your theory or system is so effective, where are your results? Effective theories, ideologies, plans, etc. can have flaws, even major flaws, but to be justified they ought to be able to show concrete positive results.

In summation on this point, every nation has cultural differences, nuances, and paradoxes. Some may have more than others. This does not mean, however, that any nation can be so paradoxical, so mysterious, so enigmatic as to render it impossible for anyone not born to that nation to understand. Japan, owing to centuries of isolation, is practically impossible for an outsider to assimilate into. This does not mean, however, that a foreigner cannot gain a firm understanding of Japan and its culture, to the point that their analysis can have predictive or explanatory value. Russia is nowhere near as opaque to Westerners as Japan. Give it up, you’re not such a special snowflake after all.

Kovalev attributes some of the hostility to this common notion in Russia that their societal issues aren’t the business of the “pindosy” (Americans). To those cotton-padded critics I say you made it my business when you lost your spines in 2012 and decided to submit in exchange for “stability” you never received. If you lived in America and people in your community were enthusiastically supporting politicians who gut budgets for infrastructure, education, and other services, I’d expect you to raise your voice about it even if your neighbors were apathetic or against you. Dignity means standing up to those who steal from you, insult you, and generally make yourself worse. You don’t achieve dignity by shaking your fist at some bogeyman that isn’t doing anything to you. Oh yes, you all decided to stand with your president against NATO in 2014. Imagine if Americans of all political stripes stopped protesting the government and started lavishing praise on Obama, possibly giving him a third term, all because we suddenly decided we needed to stand up to the mole people, a hostile subterranean race that has definitely been moving its military infrastructure closer to the surface.

What a lot of these particular Russian readers don’t seem to understand is that most of what I say about Russia is based on things Russians have told me over the years, that is to say I repeat or comment on things you told me. Then in 2014 so many of you suddenly acted like the corruption, the thievery, the insulting behavior, and the squandering of the country’s future either stopped, or just wasn’t important anymore. This isn’t patriotism, it’s cowardice plain and simple, and you’re not fooling anyone when you say otherwise.

In the Lions’ Den

What follows is an experience, a veritable torrent of audio visual pleasure. Before watching this video, I suggest you prepare for it. Microwave a bag of popcorn. Or if you’re the high class type, light up a cigar and pour yourself a brandy. Lay on a pile of throw pillows while smoking a shisha. Maximize the sensory delight.

What follows is an Al Jazeera program where a Russian former diplomat and Duma deputy Natalya Narochnitskaya made the mistake of stepping outside Russia’s controlled, managed media bubble and into the real world. I’m at a loss to choose the most appropriate image as an analogy for what ensues. Christian versus lions? A firing squad? Watch this and take your pick:

 

It’s so great watching a supporter of the regime getting flak like this because in Russia, they have this arrogant attitude whereby they dictate reality and you mustn’t question them otherwise you’re an “extremist” or whatever. If this host worked in Russia and asked hard-hitting questions like this, he’d have his accreditation and possibly visa canceled. If he were a Russian citizen, he’d probably face persecution and extremism charges. This is what they do inside of Russia, where they can use the power of the state to enforce their views. Yet outside of Russia, without the power to punish those who disagree, they are powerless. The results are simply hilarious.

One of my favorite parts were when Natalia tries to go for a what about with Iraq, and Hasan, who will have none of it, quickly says that yes, American troops in Iraq was not legal under international law, right before getting back to the question of Russian troops in Ukraine. I always find this amusing because what-about artists will always throw out these arguments as if they expect you to say: “Hey wait a minute now! That invasion of Iraq was completely legal and okay because freedom, democracy, human rights, and AMERICA!” The idea that at individual would be anti-imperialist on principle no matter who is doing it simply doesn’t occur to them. Even the idea that a journalist might consider it their job to grill politicians and guests on a political TV program, regardless of where they come from, is beyond them.

Obviously I don’t agree with all the questioners and I think Hasan should have pushed harder on some topics while maybe leaving aside others as a matter of priority, but I’m willing to let all that slide because I’m so entertained to see a journalist asking the kind of questions I would ask. This was truly a masterpiece.

Of course poor Natalia will no doubt chalk up this hostile response to the vast multi-national Western conspiracy against innocent Russia, and it’s obvious this host is nothing but a Western, American boot-licking lap dog of the mainstream media right? He’d never grill a Western official or criticize the US like that, right? Oh…Wait…No…

 

Of course none of these videos matter to Team Kremlin, which will still note down Al Jazeera as “Western mainstream media” for their impunity. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if they labeled them terrorist supporters.

Speaking of lists and mainstream media…

How do you know if media is mainstream? RT will tell you. 

I’ve made references before to RT’s so-called “Ultimate Guide to the Mainstream Media” in the past, but a recent TV spot on RT made me go back to it again. The most glaring omission in the list is Russia. Does Russia, supposedly a superpower, not even have a mainstream media in spite of the fact that most of its major media giants are owned either by the state or oligarchs loyal to Putin? That the Russian media isn’t in English is irrelevant; this list includes Germany and France. Why can’t I get any info on Russia’s mainstream media?

More curious still is the inclusion of sources like Buzzfeed, Gawker, and Vice as “mainstream media.” Well it’s curious if you don’t know how Russian media works. While Buzzfeed, Vice, or The Daily Beast may be financially successful and/or boast ownership by by large corporations, none of this makes a media source mainstream. I’m sure I could find plenty of Americans who have never heard of Vice, or at least never watched it. Buzzfeed, which actually does do good investigative journalism, is more likely to be associated with pictures of cats and nostalgic 90’s lists for most people. On the other hand, pretty much everyone in America knows about Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, etc.

So what makes something like Vice “mainstream?” Oh right, it’s because they countered the Russian government’s foreign policy line:

 

The fact that in the process Vice also allowed plenty of separatists to voice their own opinions, you know, showing the “Russian POV” on the conflict is irrelevant. Putin said something and Vice challenged it, ergo it’s “Western mainstream media” and you can’t trust it. Obviously they’d never make stories critical of Western government policies! Oh wait, what’s this? Youtube apparently has a search function!

 

Wow, amazing things happen when you actually bother to CHECK THINGS. And what about all-American propaganda bullhorn, that pillar of the mainstream media, Buzzfeed? Here’s an article about CIA torture programs. Here’s another about Snowden, and as a side note, I should say that most Western media coverage of Snowden has in my experience been very favorable. This is probably best demonstrated in John Oliver’s interview with Snowden, where Ed is virtually unchallenged:

 

Getting back to Buzzfeed, here’s one of their articles on the Pentagon’s failed weapons program in Syria. Here’s one about police in Britain using illegal warrants. Here’s another talking about the Saudi-led coalition bombing of a hospital.

And  what about The Daily Beast? Sure, it often hosts ultra-critical articles on Russia by authors like Michel Weiss, but it also hosts things like this piece, which looks like it could have been on Sputnik News. Here’s another article praising Russia’s impressive military technology, a favorite topic of state propaganda organs in Russia. Here’s one suggesting that Obama found common ground with Putin after “four years of failure” in Syria. Those are pretty damning words. This one, complete with a hilarious photograph, unveils General Petraeus’  brilliant plan to “use” Al Qaeda to fight ISIS. Speaking of Al Qaeda, here’s none other than “Russophobe” Michael Weiss writing about a US-backed rebel leader defecting to Al Qaeda.

The reason I’m pointing out these stories is twofold. First of all, there’s this liberal theory of journalism that says a free press enhances and preserves democracy because it scrutinizes power and keeps people informed. Obviously, like most liberal ideals, this doesn’t always work in the real world, but it certainly works better than its opposite- a heavily regulated, state controlled press.

Sources like Buzzfeed and Vice aren’t really mainstream, but they are definitely giving the real “mainstream” media a run for its money, and I suspect this is largely because they are doing a better job of scrutinizing and challenging authority, something Western news consumers want to see. RT and other Russian media outlets don’t provide this kind of coverage; they are a cheap knockoff which only scrutinizes Russia’s perceived enemies while providing their own government’s talking points. If one is unaware, this can seem like real alternative news, breaking taboos and challenging the real mainstream narrative. Again, it may seem that way but it simply isn’t.

Recently I issued a challenge to test Russian media claims that they are merely an equivalent to the “Western mainstream media.” Only one example of what I was looking for was put forth, and though it was watered down and heavily qualified with a disclaimer and a link to a rebuttal, I still let it count. Recently a friend of mine made a similar suggestion, pointing out how you will never see Russia’s state run foreign language media challenge Putin the way you’ll see US outlets challenge American politicians. Obviously conservative outlets like Fox constantly rake Democrats and insufficiently loyal Republican over the coals all the time, but even non-conservative mainstream outlets aren’t reluctant to question the president.

To give you an example I just did a Google search for “fact checking the state of the union.” Here are three actual mainstream media sources doing exactly that. First The Washington Post, next is NPR, and finally there’s ABC News, which according to RT’s guide is perceived as having  “liberal bias.”

Now in Putin’s end of year press conference in December, he not only fudged numbers or played fast and loose with figures, but actually told a number of lies. So where’s RT’s “fact check” on Putin? I don’t expect them to use terms like “outrageous lies,” as those American sources didn’t use such language in their articles about Obama. I’m just talking about a simple fact check. “Putin said this, but the real evidence shows otherwise.” Instead we go to the Op-Edge section and find all kinds of apologetics and fawning praise for his royal majesty. If this is just the equivalent to the Western mainstream media, where’s the questioning of Russian government claims? Where’s the internal political debate that we see on American TV?

The truth is that at the end of the day, RT and Sputnik aren’t alternatives. For one thing, they are mainstream media, as they are merely foreign language versions of Russia’s domestic state run channels. When I think of criticism of Western media I think of the ideas you find in documentaries such as Orwell Rolls in His Grave or Weapons of Mass Deception. What you’ll notice about both documentaries is that while they ruthlessly pick apart all the problems of American corporate media, at no point does anyone suggest the solution to this is to give one’s trust to foreign government outlets that put out their masters’ message. At the end of the day, all RT ends up being is a foreign version of Fox News, an Fox News of course was largely responsible for many of the problems in the US media. Basically it’s as if RT’s founders looked at the worst news company in America and said: “That’s what we should be!” Obviously this does not help advance critical thinking, nor does it inform people.

At the end of the day, the term “mainstream media,” when used by RT, is nothing more than a buzzword, loaded language to use Robert J. Lifton’s terminology based on his study of thought reform (aka brainwashing). Whereas a normal definition of mainstream media suggests papers of record or the evening network news, in RT parlance “mainstream media” can be lobbed at any media outlet, however small and however critical of other governments including their own, simply because it contradicts the line of the Kremlin. And once the label has been applied, the viewer, reader, or listener should discount any information that source provides about Russia because it is now untrustworthy. Of course if that same source writes something critical of the US or say, Ukrainian government, that particular piece is entirely genuine and can even be cited to make Russia’s case. Again, critical of Russia equals “mainstream media” and thus the source can be dismissed out of hand. Hell, maybe one day someone will call this blog “mainstream media” even though I’ve never directly made any money from it. All media outlets which fail to uphold the Kremlin’s line or challenge it in any way, regardless of size, funding, circulation, country of origin, or ownership can be labeled “mainstream media” and should thus be seen as part of the dastardly world conspiracy to defame Russia.

I guess to sum up I have to once again relate this point which was once used by someone I used to argue with online all the time. I had the idea myself, but she put it into the best words at the time. Basically when we are confronted by the failure of our “mainstream media” we have two choices. One is to be critical thinkers and evaluate each story or claim on the merit of its evidence. This is ideal. The other route, the route that outlets like RT would like us to take, is to uncritically accept any source that claims it’s an alternative, not mainstream, and which appears to be saying the opposite of those outlets it designates as “mainstream.” This route is a surefire recipe for disaster.

 

 

 

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68 thoughts on “While you were away

  1. Estragon

    I saw your article on Russia!, and I thought one reader (“Sorokin”) made a point worth engaging: Russian patriots have a superiority, not an inferiority complex. That is, they really are convinced that Russia is a different and superior civilization. Therefore, your basic thesis is flawed, because there’s no point comparing Russia to (inferior) Western democracies. Some foreigners, like Sleboda and Lavelle, have bought into this also.

    I don’t quite know what to think, because here we enter the realm of psychology. But this gets back to that fundamental split in Russian history, between Slavophiles and Westernizers.

    Also, I’ve been aware of Narochnitskaya for years now – I actually watched that program earlier. She seemed slightly drunk, peeved and “not all there,” almost like something out of a bad Cold War thriller, and based on this and her previous appearances, I wondered why they like to trot her out as a spokeswoman. Surely they could find somebody more convincing?

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      But as I say, there’s a certain duality to this patriotism. They might claim to have a superior civilization(yet for some unknown reason they are always far behind the leading countries with inferior civilizations), but when you press them on certain issues they’ll trot out the “Russian mentality” and the need for a strong leader. They’ll justify things like censorship and repression by claiming they are under siege. Okay then, why is it this superior civilization is so threatened by things like small protests, bloggers, etc. while the degenerate, decaying civilizations seem to have no problem having competitive political systems, presidents who leave office, and really strong protection for free speech?

      Also when the same people say “We tried democracy in the 1990’s and it was chaos,” they are essentially implying that Russians can’t handle it for some reason.

      There’s definitely an inferiority complex. This is seen in their insistence on being a “great power” and their implication that America must be the reason why other countries don’t side with them.

      Reply
    2. Asehpe

      I think inferiority and superiority complexes often go hand in hand, because of one simple fact: human beings are not per se superior or inferior to each other (except on personal merits, which does not reflect in a nation as a whole); rather, they are more or less equal. The human material that the US, Europe or Japan are built on is not significantly different from the human material in Russia.

      Yet is it obvious to any observer that the West is doing much, much better than Russia — economically, morally, ethically, spiritually, etc. So what can you do when you’re confronted with this difference? One the one hand, there’s the temptation to have an inferiority complex: we’re not as rich/democratic/developed/tolerant as the West because ‘we’re Russians, and Russians are an espeically crooked example of the timber of mankind’. But the conscience of the fact that this isn’t true — on an individual level, Russians are not worse than any other people on earth — makes them feel angry at this temptation, and, as people often do, they externalize it, claiming that it’s the West who hates them (‘Russophobia’) and that they’re actually better than the West (which is why the West hates them and attacks them, which is why we are ‘under siege’ and have an ‘information war’).

      So, basically: I feel inferior because you’re doing better, but deep inside I know I’m not really inferior, so it must be YOUR FAULT!

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        This is very true. You can see it in other movements like white supremacy for example. They’re constantly telling you that whites are superior, and yet at the same time they tell you the world, including all their “white” governments, is dominated by Jews, a tiny minority with virtually no significant presence in large parts of the world. It gets really funny when you ask them just when this Jewish domination came about.

        There’s also a really obvious subtext in a lot of white supremacist literature that betrays a fear of black male sexual prowess. I’ve always found this funny because the idea itself originated among racist whites.

        The idea of a superior race or culture which is somehow easily subjugated again and again by a tiny “inferior” minority simply doesn’t make sense.

  2. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

    I love it when you’re on a roll. The Hasan interview was one for the ages. The BBC show HardTalk is somewhat similar.

    On your comment on the Snowden coverage, it was worse, it was a disaster. They kept uncritically reporting claims, mainly coming from Greenwald, that were debunked. Almost everything was debunked but they bought the narrative because they prefer what got called “scandal-fluffing” or Scandalabra™. I wrote a lengthy denunciation of Greenwald’s work as political, as coming from a libertarian worldview that socialists should be wary of. Includes this on what media did:

    Some of the reporting has been shockingly inept and lacking in common sense, such as …

    This Observer cover story which actually got printed but withdrawn online because inept editors discovered too late that it came from a conspiracy kook who thinks (among other things) that Anders Breivik was an Israeli agent.
    Or then there’s the Guardian’s claim that civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis supported Snowden when he did not.
    Or this derp which thought that GCHQ was collecting 21 petabytes of data per day tapping undersea cables.
    Or that MSM ‘NSA Admits Listening to U.S. Phone Calls Without Warrants’ headline, which they didn’t (caught corrected, by source CNet at least).
    Or the Washington Post’s “White House spokesman defends wiretapping program” headline (caught corrected).
    Or a CNN star saying the NSA is ‘reading your emails’ (uncorrected).
    Or the journalist who said a web search for ‘pressure cookers’ got her house searched (wrong).
    http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-left-must-challenge-greenwald.html

    Reply
  3. sglover

    I had a bizarre exchange with a Russian who emigrated to America, and runs a blog that’s mostly about military stuff, with occasional side trips into western decadence, ineptitude, etc. He recently posted an especially delightful rant about those EU governments (whose people are apparently all gay, or at least dress like they are) that have taken in (some) Syrian refugees. Gotta love an immigrant frothing about “letting **those** people in”. I can send you the URL if you’re interested ( I don’t know why you would be, really), but I won’t be looking in there any more.

    Anyway, a few days before that the guy highlighted some Russian government announcement proclaiming a bold new policy of “import substitution” (do you know anything about this?), This is going to set the US/NATO cabal on its heels. They won’t have Russia to push around any more!

    I asked him if this could really be so: Russia’s economic resources seem to be shrinking all the time. And how much control does the central government really have over the economy, there? How do you know this announcement isn’t horseshit, meant to distract people from the real economic numbers? Besides, states have played the import substitution game before, e.g., several Latin American countries in the last quarter of the 20th Century. I’ve never heard of any historical or contemporary example where autarky’s worked — though I can think of several pathological regimes that embraced it.

    The response I got was something like, how dare you compare Russia to South America!?!? You must be emotionally ill! Sez right here in the CIA factbook that Russia has industries in metals, aviation, shipbuilding, etc etc etc.

    So I guess the Russian government is really unique among governments, because it **always** says what it means, and it **always** does what it says. Anyway, as I say, I don’t plan on stopping by that joint again.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Ah yes, another Russian who loves Putin and hates the decadent, decaying, inept West, yet prefers to live there. I think these people simply can’t appreciate how lucky they are if Putin’s Russia is as great as they think. Look at it this way, if I wanted to move back to America, I won’t be coming back to an America where my views are widely represented, if at all, not to speak of an America where my views totally dominate the state and where there is no meaningful opposition to them on TV or elsewhere. This is to say that if you love Putin and think his system is great, you can hop on a plane and live in a society where the whole media and state is basically dedicated to that premise. You can label dissenters as traitors and the whole media is with you. The “traitors” are marginalized and you can lob abuse at them more or less with impunity. He won’t have to go to work and hear his boss or co-workers constantly rant about how terrible Putin is. This individual you encountered can live in that society that he believes represents his ideals and values; I cannot. And yet he prefers to live in America, the alleged enemy of his homeland.

      As for import substitution, this guy is a bit behind the curve because they were talking about this first when they announced the counter-sanctions on foodstuffs. Of course it also deals with other sectors than agriculture, because prior to that Russian manufacturing depended a lot on imports, including a lot of parts and products which were manufactured in Ukraine. On that note, Ukraine was actually manufacturing a lot of products and components for the Russian arms industry. Yup, these brilliant strategists decided to ignite a war against one of their best gas customers(that’s over now), and one of their best trading partners. Brilliant.

      Anyway, import substitution has been taking place, but extremely poorly and it’s not going to lead to Russian self-sufficiency. For one thing, the food products being churned out are of poor quality and a great deal of the dairy products have been found to contain palm oil in various amounts not shown on the label. Palm oil, of course, is linked to cardiovascular disease.

      The fact that the government just came up with “import substitution” on the fly is yet another example of how they are reactionary and possess no concept of strategy or vision for the future. We’re told that these leaders are standing up to the West, yet they were importing about 40% of their foodstuffs from the West prior to the falling out they caused, as opposed to helping their own agriculture to become more competitive and productive. It’s no different from how Russia was praising Turkey for a year until the latter shot down one of its planes, and then they suddenly discovered that Turkey was helping ISIS and it’s an evil nation whose entire population should be punished due to the actions of its government. The real links between the Turkish government and ISIS have been known since at least late 2014, when Putin was announcing the new Turk Stream pipeline.

      Getting back to the import substitution and economic development, the simple fact is that if Putin were so concerned with “raising Russia from its knees” and making it a powerful economic player that could compete with other nations’ exports, he had ample opportunity to do so for years. Yet all we got was, at best, a bunch of show products that didn’t really go anywhere. This is because Putin wasn’t really concerned about making Russia truly great; he was concerned with keeping himself and his cronies in control and avoiding accountability for his actions. The system whereby close friends headed up state run or partially state run companies facilitated this better, whereas stimulating a rising middle and upper middle class was a threat. It’s no coincidence that the protests in 2011-2012 were often associated with the new Russian middle class.

      Anyway, here are some relevant links about import substitution:

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2015/10/15/russias-import-substitution-isnt-working/#2715e4857a0b7c2ac446bfee

      http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/chanel-or-war-russia-s-import-substitution/537422.html

      http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-economy-import-substitution-idUSKCN0RV4W920151001

      http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/russias-import-substitution-is-a-rip-off/529228.html

      But of course all these sources come from the dastardly West or Russian traitors, all complicit in a sinister plan to distort and defame Russia, thus we cannot trust them. To find a really trustworthy source on the success of the Russian government’s import substitution plan, we should obviously look toward a media outlet funded by the Russian government and run by die-hard Putin supporters:

      https://www.rt.com/business/315562-putin-russia-import-substitution/

      That’s better!

      Reply
      1. Estragon

        The Russian gov’t has long had a habit of making grandiose declarations of future glory and then failing to follow through on them adequately. It sounds like “import substitution” is the latest one, following Skolkovo, “nanotechnology superpower,” the “dictatorship of law,” and the Russky Mir foundation in support of compatriots abroad. Have I missed any? Does the alliance with China count, or is that actually happening?

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Yeah, the pivot to the east was a bust almost from the beginning. And there’s an update- today TASS reported 28% drop in trade between Russia and China.

        A while back I was editing stories on investment in Russia and the Chinese were supposedly investing in all kinds of grandiose projects all over Russia. The problem is, however, that China of course has territorial claims on Russia and the credit they’ve been extending them comes with strings attached in ways that benefit China. China knows Russia is desperate so they’re going to be maximizing the benefits of their new colony, probably more so now that they have their own economic issues to deal with.

      3. sglover

        When my good buddy pointed out how thoughtless and heinous it is to compare Russia with South America, my first thought was airliners. Brazil’s aviation industry started from almost nothing only a few decades ago, but now you’ll finds Embraers in airlines all over the world. Meanwhile outfits like Sukhoi and Antonov (but is that still Russian, or Ukrainian, now?) have the better part of a century of experience to draw on, yet to the best of my knowledge they still haven’t managed an economically competitive airliner.

        Everything considered, South American states have been managing economic and social development pretty well over the last couple of decades. If they weren’t so busy dismissing that experience, Russians could learn a thing or two from it. (Americans too, for that matter.)

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The Russian airline industry put out something like 7 aircraft last year. That’s it. Now the local airlines are being forced to buy these aircraft.

      5. Gud

        You are making very strong general statements on a rather complex topic, especially given that you still come across as an outsider to the cultures involved (it take many years and lots of will to learn any significantly different one). Reality is always more nuanced. In your black-and-white view you are the exact mirror image of the similarly black-and-white Russians you criticize. Take a step back, detach for a second, you might learn something new, which will enhance your overall worldview. Or is someone equally suffering from a case of superiority/inferiority complex?

        For the Ukraine and it’s divisions, one place to start is previous time Ukraine was independent in 1917-1921, and from there on, all the way back to Kiev the capital of Rus. The divisions are real within Ukraine as well as between Ukraine and Russia. They have existed for a long time, morphed and evolved, and did express themselves at a very personal level. Take American South and Civil War, somewhat similar mix of commonalities and divisions. Or perhaps British and French Canada of the past.

        All media has one spin or the other. Private propaganda, public propaganda… a fundamental difference? It can be an eye-opener to trace the ownership and editorial ties of various sources for a balance, if one so desires.

        For instance the Al Jazeera clips do have a bias, although a relatively subtle one. The parts related to the Western malice have other panel participants presenting both conflicting perspectives as well as facts for and against. The Russian one didn’t even mention the standard Russian spin on Kosovo. Also a disproportional insertion of disputed facts from just one side. Which is not to say that the Russian side has clean hands.

        It’s curious, as Al Jazeera actually was one of the more balanced sources during the original Ukrainian revolution. Perhaps Syria, where Al Jazeera’s Qatar also has a stake, has something to do with it.

        Final pointer. Marketing/PR/rhetorics/spin trades turned out to be one of the most short-supply skills in Russia following Soviet collapse. Something that was not needed much in Soviet command economy. Hope this helps you see some of your Russian experiences in a slightly different light, especially when it comes to older folks.

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        What precisely am I being black and white about in this case? Also I’ve spent a fair amount of time (though nowhere near as much as I wish) studying Ukrainian history and the complexities o the Ukrainian ethnic identity. While it has often been malleable or flexible, the point is that the fairly recent invention of the East-West divided Ukraine along Ukrainian/Russian lines is highly problematic.

        Believe me, I wish I had far more time to study Ukraine during the Civil War (I spent more time studying the Bolshevik and to a lesser extent Polish perspectives) and post-Soviet politics. While I was predicting some kind of revolution in Ukraine as far back as 2009, I was totally caught off guard by Maidan and didn’t properly interpret it in the beginning.

        That being said, being an outsider studying this information can often be an advantage because one can detach oneself emotionally, and it’s easier to find other examples that people in the middle of the conflict might not have had any experience with.

        On the whole, if you read a larger sample of my work, as well as some of my upcoming pieces, you will see that i do include as much nuance as possible.

        On the topic of media, there’s biases and then there is a deliberate plan to wage “information war”(allegedly in defense) and fabricate stories or misrepresent sources.

        Let’s take Al Jazeera and Qatar, for example. Al Jazeera doesn’t claim to represent the Qatari POV as RT claims to represent the Russian POV (only when pressed). Is there bias, sure. But watch this interview and then try to find RT doing the same with the guest’s equivalent, Lavrov: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g0QDgLIG0Y

        Notice anything different?

        As I’ve alluded to before, RT has a rather strange approach to the topic of corporate media failures. Rather than upstage this media in a journalistic sense, they just basically take the same biases and errors but turn them into a deliberate practice.

    2. jonathan

      Import substitution is old news in Russian politics. It became a buzz word when the sanctions were first enacted. It was never a success in Latin America, and in Russia it is being very much impeded by lack of access to affordable loans and lack of foreign investment. Some success has been seen in agriculture, but by “success”, this means increased production. What it DOES NOT mean is better quality products at lower prices for consumers. In fact, in more often than not it means the opposite due to lack of competition and a myriad of other reasons.

      So by supporting import substitution, Russian Ura-Patriot consumers are basically screwing themselves. Fruit? Good luck on reaching levels of quality management and efficiency that Turkey has achieved over the years.

      Reply
  4. Asehpe

    I loved the Al-Jazeera ‘Head to Head’ host and his take-no-prisoners approach to interviewing, but I must say Natalia looked like she wasn’t comfortable speaking in English, and the host’s speed was such that she often didn’t have time to really think of a good answer (in the few cases in which there was one).

    So I can imagine Natalia herself, or the Russian media, taking this as an example of bias, claiming basically: ‘they didn’t give her time to speak or think, and they kept bombing her with “facts” without checking, and they gave the word to anti-Russian enemies of Putin who got to speak more than she did — of course it’s biased!” or something like that.

    Reply
    1. sglover

      Sorry to disagree with our host here, but I really did not like the emcee/interviewer/inquisitor in that show, and I stopped watching about a third of the way through. I wasn’t extremely impressed by the quality of his questions, but more than anything I got tired of his endless interruptions.

      I don’t doubt that the woman’s a shill. If so, I think a more effective way of dealing with her is to let her play out a string of bullshit, and then point out the inconsistencies — they’ll be there. To me, at least, the interviewer’s constant interjections came off as hectoring, and a little grandstanding.

      I actually started feeling a bit sorry for her, and puzzled about why she — or anyone — would willingly show up for this show. Is the show always like that? Should she have known what she was walking into, or was that a special performance?

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I think she should have done a little research on the program. I had never seen it before myself, but you go on Youtube and you can find plenty of episodes it seems.

        He is pretty aggressive but as an American I find that refreshing, because our mainstream journalists tend to be far too soft, at least on certain politicians. By contrast, British journalists, for example, seem to feel they are required to give the guest a hard time.

  5. A.I.Schmelzer

    Actually, Russians do understand Ukrainians, but only those in Donbass/Odessa etc.

    Your own misunderstanding of Russia (and to an extent also Russias misunderstanding of non South East Ukraine) comes from the loaded statement of “change is preferable to stagnation”.
    This is simply a blanket statement that is often objectively not true.
    Change can go incredibly wrong, Maidan was such change that went incredibly wrong, and while many pro Maidan Ukrainians will continue to support it (due to sunk costs) this fact cannot be argued away. Ukraine is now poorer, in a civil war, further removed from actually joining the EU as a member, about twice as corrupt and had its overton window moved so far to the right that it is no longer funny.

    The “stagnation” of the Putin decade was the best part of most Russians lives. They did not perceive this as “stagnation”, and do not see why they should brave risks and deprivations for some “hope of beneficial change”, especially since the risks of such a change are severe.

    Russia, during Perestroika, did enough “change” for a generation or 2.

    What Russians didnt/ dont get was:
    1: Ukraine under Yanukovich was fucked up, in some ways, more blatantly then Russia in the 90s. Basically, while the actually 90s in Ukraine werent that bad (partly because Kravchuk and Kuchma both had a semblance of brains) compared to Russia, things went south hard in the 2000s. Pre Maidan Ukraine was already the worst performing post Soviet economy bar Kirgizstan. If you actually want to make any inroads when trying to convince Russians to be sympathetic to Ukraine, trying using “imagine that the 90s would have never ended” as a frame of reference.
    As a movement of west and central Ukraine against being subjugated by Donbass, Maidan was legitimate. It lost its legitimacy when it became a movement by west and central Ukraine to subjugate Donbass. The problem is that Ukraines “the winner takes it all” style politics doesnt exactly encourage any kind of compromise, and now that they have “taken it all”, the new Maidan elites arent going to change the political concept either.

    2: That Russia utterly failed to promote some idea of what Ukraine meant. In Ukraine, there was a clash between proponents of a pluralist civic inclusive identity and nationalist, often galician, “ukrainizers”. The Ukrainizers were backed by the west, the pluralists were not backed by Russia and thus lost. Russia effectively allowed her enemies to define what “Ukrainian” means.

    3: That Russia failed to capitalize on its extensive person to person bonds in Ukraine, and that its support and subsidies were delivered to top oligarchs (who are expensive and illoyal by definition) and not to the people.

    What you dont get:

    The press in the west is “free” because it does not threaten the powers that be.
    Those ruling Russia can be threatened by press exposes, because they are weaker then their western counterparts and thus less dangerous.

    To paraphrase Ghandi, first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win.
    The real position of the western demos is so weak that the powers that be get away with ignoring or sometimes ridiculing them. In Russia, the powers that be are weaker and thus have to adopt a mixture of ridicule and fighting.
    That those running the West, sadly correctly, perceive that there is no need to actually repress the incredibly obedient people is not really something in the wests favor.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Only those in the Donbas, huh? Well apparently they don’t understand them that well, since plenty of Donbas residents apparently preferred to remain part of Ukraine, before and after the takeover. If they understood them at all, this would have turned out very differently.

      But of course this was never about understanding anyone- it was about Putin deliberately trying to sabotage Ukraine to punish it. He knew that if Ukraine succeeded, it would throw the whole narrative that justifies his power into question.

      Maidan didn’t simply “go wrong.” It went wrong because Putin deliberately invaded and annexed part of the country, and then fomented an insurrection and invasion in the East. These topics are not up for debate any more than the victor of the American Civil War is.

      Also the idea that it’s always Galicians at the forefront of Ukrainianization doesn’t hold water I’m afraid.Even among the nationalists there are plenty of primarily Russian speakers and even people from Eastern Ukraine. The idea of “divided Ukraine” was largely spread by the Russian press(and their proxies in Ukraine) around 2004, but doesn’t hold water when held up to scrutiny.

      Reply
      1. A.I.Schmelzer

        Seriously, read Richard Sakwas “Ukraine, crisis in the borderlands”. It is a lot more complex then just 2 sides, and Donbass is its own side, considerably distinct from other parts of Russophone Ukraine.

        I said Donbass because Dnipropetrovsk and its oligarch clans are, if anything, more hostile to Donbass then either Kiev or Lviv, mostly because Donetsk has taken away the “leadership mantle over Russophone Ukraine” to which Dnipro felt entitled since Brezhnev.
        Dnipro is also, due to having run the Soviet Union in the early Brezhnev period (and no worse then others who ran the Soviet Union), quite allergic towards claims of being “Russias little brother”, while also seeing the Soviet period quite differently from how the actual Banderites in Lviv see it.

        In terms of who runs the “russophone Ukraine” you also have Odessa and Kharkov as potential contenders, however Kharkov lacks economic power (being a chiefly university city) and Odessa is too threatened by the quite close nationalist parts to be in the contender for running the “pro Russian side”.

        Kiev and Lviv dont really get along either, the Kiev elites are pretty snobbish and feel utterly entitled to their “leadership”. When they felt marginalized by Yuschenckos Lviv group, they invited in Yanukovich (which is why he had such an easy time in 2010), and the flip flopped after Yanukovich marginalized them too.

        Dnipro elites backed Maidan under the understandings that they would rule the Russian parts in a post Maidan agreement and Dnipro associated Taruta, an associate of Kolomoisky, was made boss of Donbass.
        Dnipro situations then got more challenging due to Timoschenkos release, which means that Kolomoisky and Timoshenko now compete over Dnipro, while both also simulatenously and in competition with each attempt to eat Firtash while he is in his US induced Austrian penalty box. The whole thing gets even more hilarious because Yatsenyuk, who is a 100% US proxy (in contrast to Poroshenko who has at most allied with the US because it suits his interests, Kolomoisky or Timoshenko are not even allied with the US as both of them hate Yats for different reasons ) also tried to steal Timoschenkos party while she was in prison, this didnt work and Timoshenko has a long memory.

        Hilariously enough, the only ones who actually like Yatsenyuk hare hardcore seperatists, who consider him being prime minster to be an invaluable asset to their cause.

        Even today, there are some in Donbass who would prefer to remain in Ukraine, but only if Ukraine returns to the Status Quo Ante Maidan. They understand the Status Quo as “Oligarchs and politicians fuck each other but leave the common people out of their antics”.
        This is the sine qua non, since under “Maidan rules” any Donbass deputee in Kiev is just a hostage because he could always be roughed up or outright disappeared by some “patriots” and there is nothing the Kiev police (now lead by one such “patriot”, formerly second in command of Azov) would do about it. Some others prefer this state of subjugation over civil war, which due to Maidans utter refusal to meaningfully negotiate is the only alternative.

        Some others believed Maidan PR, but the reality (especially Tarutas appointment and the language law repeal attempt) soon disabused them of this notion.

  6. jonathan

    You could do a thesis on the performance of Natalia on Head to Head. Her responses encompassed so many standard Team Regime retorts to arguments regarding Russia. The gay question is a prime example. “But we don’t mind guys! Hey, I even know a gay person, and he’s got a good job and people like him! But don’t forget that in Russia they all sinners and she be given forced treatment.”

    Reply
  7. Gud

    You point out many of the Russian flaws, in my view often correctly, albeit with a tendency to exaggerate. What makes it black-and-white, however, is the implied (and at times explicit) narrative that it is actually much much whiter somewhere else. A shining city upon a hill, which while not perfect, is almost like a Hollywood movie. In reality, there are serious questions by credible people about massive number of issues – upward mobility, declining middle class, concentration of media ownership, unprecedented level of social inequality, sustainability of debt and trade deficits, perpetual global devastating imperial adventures, legalised political corruption, and even whether nominal electoral processes result in actual democracy (in the sense of government operating for the general welfare of the people). Too much to get into here, but hardly just a minor political fringe opinion. They also add up to something much more than just a minor glitch in the system. Just watch the current US presidential campaign…

    I do think you are sincerely interested in learning and have made some good well-studied points. Else I‘d never bother to comment at all. Bottom line, if you take a fair skeptical look at both sides, you might see a mixed picture at least on some points. You might also make yourself more accessible to the locals, as they will not have instant and instinctive defensive reactions, which few of them can properly articulate intellectually. Mysterious Russian soul, American exceptionalism, the Japanese Way… notice anything in common?

    Re Ukrainian East/West divide. If by “fairly recent” you mean last few centuries, then yes. For instance see historical tensions between Orthodox and Catholics. I do agree it’s not clean-cut East/West, but there is a geographic gradient. It’s not “Ukrainian/Russian” either, as it implies the “Russian” ones are somehow less “Ukrainian.” (Ultimately, modern national identities were manufactured relatively recently. In epoch of feudal divisions, there were just a bunch of smaller little kingdoms all having their own identities)

    And the divides have been often enhanced and manipulated by foreign powers for their own reasons, just as perhaps now. From none other than Al Jazeera:
    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/03/reckless-kiev-neocons-putin-ukr-201431053846277945.html

    Re media biases. Lets see what we have here:
    http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/08/what-would-a-realist-world-have-looked-like-iraq-syria-iran-obama-bush-clinton/
    Towards the end a renowned Harvard academic pleading for just one representative of a realist school among “balanced” elite Western media. Is RT fundamentally different or simply a less skilled version of the same? Anyways, RT is more equivalent to RadioFreeEurope and VoA, rather than larger Western shops.

    What exactly is “Qatari” POV or “Russian” POV? You might be nitpicking on words here. I think RT means it in the sense that they raise points which are suppressed by the other [generally anti-Russian] side. Perhaps, if one takes RT and Western media together, the two compensate each other and add up to a more balanced understanding overall? It is not as if Russians cannot access the Western press.

    Al Jazeera does tend to be more balanced, perhaps because Qatari don’t really have a stake in most of the topics discussed. They hardly care beyond Middle East.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      First on the topic of shining cities on hills, I believe in no such thing. In fact, the West and in particular the US are certainly up shit creek without a paddle as they say on a number of issues. That being said, where the West far exceeds Russia is in institutions, rule of law, and personal freedom. What this means is that no matter how bad it gets, people in those countries have far more avenues to effect change available to them. They are better able to organize, seek funding, petition lawmakers, support candidates, etc. The problem of course, is that many Westerners, and again Americans in particular, are often too lazy to bother to find out what they can actually do or even find out what the real problems are (none of which are particularly esoteric or hard to discover).

      The problem with Putin’s Russia isn’t that it has major socio-economic problems, it’s that the dictatorial power structure insists on controlling every aspect of politics and remaining in power at all costs. In other words, it’s like they’ve hijacked the plane and locked themselves into the cockpit as they dive straight into the ground. Everybody is along for the ride. I believe this is one of several reasons why many Russians still claim to support the president, because deep down they are fully aware that there is nothing they can do. It’s a kind of reverse sour grapes. They’re stuck with him, so they support him.

      Back on the topic of Ukraine, in all my time spent there and based on what I’ve read on the pro-government side, religion doesn’t really play an issue at all outside of the historic conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. That’s not to say that religion can’t possibly become an issue in the future. One thing that struck me when I returned to Ukraine in May of last year was the preponderance of religious themed billboards and advertisements, many of them reminding me of the sort of doctrine commonly associated with American Christian fundamentalists as opposed to traditional European churches. But as I said before, in most debate I’ve witnessed the Uniate/Orthodox issue doesn’t come up.

      Even linguistics isn’t so much an issue, with many nationalists being either Russian speaking or in a few cases, Russian citizens. It’s more about certain signpost values one adopts. Being “Ukrainian” centers on hating the USSR, one or another degree of subservience or deference to the Bandera cult, and looking towards “Europe.” On the other side is reverence for Stalin and Lenin as symbols(severed from their ideological reality and historical context), victory in WWII, nostalgia for the USSR, etc.

      All that having been said, it would not surprise me at all to learn that such religious debates are raging on the internet between the “sofa armies.” Oftentimes the discourse that you see on the net doesn’t reflect what’s actually on the ground. I learned that with the Yugoslav conflicts.

      Now on the topic of media, I notice you provide two sources which would easily be labeled “anti-Russian” or “mainstream media” by RT and its fans, seeing as how they routinely contradict the Kremlin’s line on a number of issues. This basically proves my point, because you simply will not find this kind of reporting from RT and other Kremlin-supported media. Sure, they’ll report on bad news, but what they don’t do is actually take the system to task.

      As I’ve said before, where have we ever seen RT challenge the Russian government on anything concrete, particularly in terms of foreign policy? Where have they “fact checked” Putin the same way Western media does with their own politicians? Again, fact checking doesn’t mean headlining an article “Putin’s speech full of lies!” Many such articles in the West don’t run with those headlines after speeches like the State of the Union. But again, nothing is refuted, challenged, etc.

      So when they say that RT is just like “the Western media,” this is demonstrably false. We might like to see Western media challenge Western leaders more, but one cannot claim that they don’t do it, and some do it much more than others. What is more, where real mainstream media does fail, the more or less free press environment of the West allows people to create their own media, some of which gets major success.

      As for the RFE/VOA comparison, yes, that is much more accurate, but even then I’ve seen those outlets be more objective than RT and its affiliated media. For example, there’s a VOA story from Donetsk where the correspondent interviews people in rebel territory living in basements due to shelling from the Ukrainian army. These people are allowed to speak their minds. When have we seen Russian media even talk about how their forces shell the very same people they claimed to be protecting in cities like Mariupol, Avdiivka, etc.?

      As for the question of POVs, again the problem is that most “mainstream media” outlets in the West don’t claim to put forth any national POV. RT just says they do because they report material that contradicts their Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Likewise they label them “anti-Russian.” When I hear some people complain about there being “no place” for the Russian POV in the Western mainstream media(again, problematic term as we’ve seen how liberally RT applies that snarl-word label), I want to ask them what they actually expect the Western media to do. For example, should they report every single “new discovery” the Russian press has found regarding MH17? I mean put yourself in the shoes of an American news producer, understanding the kind of pressure they are under because of the cut throat nature of the business that is constantly losing ground to the internet:

      You want to give a balanced report on MH17 findings, so you seek out some Russian sources to see what they’re saying. Suddenly you’re assailed with links where “experts” interchangeably insist the plane was shot down by a SU-25 or Buk, some that say there was a bomb on the plane, one says it was an Israeli missile fired from a SU-25, and then you see that First Channel program with the “satellite photo.”

      What would you make of all this? Would you attempt to put something like that on the air?

      The fact is that one reason why other media outlets are not chomping at the bit to provide Russian POVs is because the Russian government, still believing in this failed concept of “disinfo” and “hybrid war,” deliberately shotguns dozens of contradictory reports and stories in an attempt to confuse people and cause doubt in reality. And then they get mad because people who actually care about things like credibility aren’t very eager to provide a space for this “POV.”

      To answer your last proposition, I’d say that one need not use RT to get “balance,” though knowing what the Russian government is trying to say is very useful. Instead, one can get better balance by reading a wider array of outlets, some smaller, and paying more attention to the feature stories of veteran correspondents as opposed to the smaller routine stories. After all, those are the stories that are usually going to just quote State Department sources and give little background.

      Speaking of which, I would partially agree with Kremlin-media supporters who claim that cursory reading of headlines and routine stories could give readers an anti-Russia bias, but then again I would have to add that people who only read those stories probably didn’t have much interest in Russia to begin with. If they really cared, they’d read the features.

      Reply
    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I accidentally forgot to say something about American Exceptionalism. Most Americans do not believe in it, nor do I hear them talk about it. It’s worthless boilerplate often brought up by politicians during campaign seasons.

      By contrast talk of a “Russian soul” or more often “Russian mentality” is far more widespread in Russia. Sadly it usually has a negative connotation.

      Reply
      1. Estragon

        “American exceptionalism” was actually a term originally used in sociology. It referred to the various ways in which the USA was different from the European cultures that founded it. The well-known sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote a book about it. I suppose from there, the term migrated into political rhetoric, where it acquired a different meaning.

        And yes, the only Americans who habitually use the term are politicians and certain pundits.

      2. Gud

        Bingo. Exactly the kind of articles of blind ideological faith which should be questioned more.

        Lets begin with “people [..] effect change”:
        https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-testing_theories_of_american_politics.doc.pdf
        A Princeton study based on empirical voting records, which basically says people at large get to decide which politician sells them to the special interests. Yes, in theory everything can be overcome, but that’s true everywhere.

        Next onto “where the West far exceeds Russia”. I hope you would agree “smart is as smart does.” Point-by-point:
        – Institutions: US political gridlock, government shutdowns, runaway debt-based spending, deteriorating infrastructure. EU institutions squeezing the life out of Greeks the people for debt incurred by their corrupt government to, originally, mostly German and French banks. Looking at birth rates, it is not too much of exaggeration to say “depopulation of Germany and Greece to make space for ME refugees.” Lot of idiotic behaviour by Russian government as well, but perhaps we can settle for MIXED?
        – Rule of law: Have to split this into two parts. First at the highest levels of power. Lets call unlimited political contributions and revolving door what it is – US political system is currently amazingly corrupt, it would be very hard to outdo. It’s all perfectly legal, but does it help? Furthermore, whole business models, like Uber, are based on running over huge number of laws.
        Second is what an average Joe will experience. Sure, law & order – if one is financially well-off, can afford a good lawyer, lives in a nice neighbourhood, and is not black. Score low on these points, and “police state” comes to mind. But true, overall this is still much better in the West. A good part of it is a function of prosperity. Some US counties got so devastated recently that police force has a quota for the number of traffic tickets to pay the bills. It is also nothing like it was in Russia’90s. Also, sometimes not enforcing stupid laws is just as important. That one often is a big part of what ails Russia. How many times one deals with a bureaucrat idiotically insisting on following some ridiculous procedure on the books only to settle in exchange for a “favour”? Now, imagine if these were to be enforced: http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states
        – Personal freedom: it is one elusive term, but lets see. If you need a permit to make a campfire in your own backyard, is it a sign of freedom? If in high school you need a written note to walk the halls during class and face zero-tolerance detentions and suspensions? What about the largest prison system in the world, by any metric? If you can get fired for stepping on political correctness? If you are loaded with debt are you really free? If it happens to be student debt, it really is a full-on debt servitude. Sure, one is free to say anything you want, but one’s employment and means of economic well-being are not guaranteed. Nor is your right to be heard – even Mr. Putin admires the skilful ways in which Occupy Wall St was disbanded.
        Lots of that in Russia is likewise self-censorship and fear of pushing one’s own rights. People conditioned by 70 years of the Soviet system (and the Czarism before). You would be surprised with what one can say in Russia and not get into trouble for. Yet, step on some important bureaucrats toes or call for an overthrow of the government – that can get you in trouble. Try that in the West, and you just might find yourself in a sea of trouble as well – lawsuits, inability to gain well-paid employment, political assassination campaigns. See for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb
        Sure, American folks are way more open-minded to new ideas and ways of doing things, just as they have beautiful ideals. But their system has been failing them recently.

        If one wants to fairly judge the current governments, one has to look at the trends and not the absolute levels (which are due to what happened long ago). One reason Mr. Putin is popular is, even the with recent economic carnage, Russia made major progress, since he took over in the late 90s, on a vast number of issues that matter to folks day-to-day. The country was literally on the verge of falling apart back then. Sure, some of it was the oil boom. But in the 90s even the oil revenue was not staying in the country.

        By this account Ukraine is having the 1990s all over again and they completely recovered from their actual 1990s. Disheartening for anyone who really cares about the regular folks on the ground.

        If one criticises conspiracy theories, lets be consistent and criticise them all. Can one really blame all the misdeeds of a humongous government apparatus filled with “Sovki” (Soviet-style mentality) on the one man at the top? There are numerous political parties, just as there are elections. Calling it a dictatorship is truly a conspiracy theory on par with the powers-that-be ruling America. Sure, one can question how fair and meaningful those are and whether presidential powers are not too strong (thanks to Yeltsin!). But this a lot more than one can find even in some major democracies. See Japan – for the most part a one party system, which also happens to lack Habeas corpus. FDR btw died in his 4th term as a president.

        Re poor media quality. Who in hell in bellingcat? And why the loner guy with no professional experience or education in the subject matter and who only got started in 2012, given so much credence and space across so many major Western publications. Fine, you can find anything on Internet, as you can in Russia as well. Modern propaganda relies on signal-to-noise and not 100% one way story. That’s the skill part. Professional publications (like foreignpolicy) are indeed more nuanced everywhere.

        Re Ukraine. Yes, religion doesn’t play a central role at all. It was just a visible sign of Polish influence in some parts and Russian influence in others. That same influence produced a wide range of differences far beyond religion, which kept on mutating over time. Your description of current divisive memes is not bad. Just keep in mind those are lowest-common-denominator views, with more educated versions also available. There’s bombing people to democracy, and then there’s political science.

        Most Americans are indeed not heavy on exceptionalism. It is typically more a case of benign ignorance. Yet, start criticising and they will defensivelly fall back to the exceptionalism themes absorbed from the media. I’d say most Russians don’t really believe in Mysterious Russian Soul meme, either. That meme filtered down from the Slavophile movement, which various Russian leaderships on-and-off toy with, as suits their purposes.

        You made lots of other points, but I am out of time. It all really comes down to questioning the absoluteness of one’s own beliefs and ideology. Such is the human nature that we all find it hard to escape our own biases and conditioning. Takes effort to listen to the people one disagrees with and trying to see if they might just have a point or two. Not to say that all is relative, but simple absolute wide-ranging truths rarely do proper justice to infinitely complex reality. The also have a strong tendency to be nothing but a product of one propaganda machine or the other.

  8. Jim Kovpak Post author

    “A Princeton study based on empirical voting records, which basically says people at large get to decide which politician sells them to the special interests. Yes, in theory everything can be overcome, but that’s true everywhere.”

    First, the idea that elections don’t actually decide anything isn’t true, as I will lay out in my response to your other points. Also, the ability to overcome this isn’t exactly true everywhere- it is not true in dictatorships that don’t have such a system, at least it isn’t possible to change the system without some kind of revolutionary violence. See when you don’t allow people non-violent means to change leaders and hold them accountable, that leaves only one other way.

    Now on to the rest:

    “Institutions: US political gridlock, government shutdowns, runaway debt-based spending, deteriorating infrastructure.”

    Do you know why there are gridlock and government shutdowns? This is because US politics are actually competitive, i.e. some people, at some time, are actually doing what their constituents voted them into office to do. If we take the latest shut down, for example, it was a result of Tea Party-elected candidates essentially fulfilling their promise to attempt to defund, repeal, or otherwise block the Affordable Care Act. In other words, they actually tried to accomplish what their voters wanted them to, even though this was completely idiotic.

    Also why were those Tea Party candidates and other Republicans elected in such numbers as to make this possible in the first place? This was due to Democrats failing to fulfill their promises to their electorate. In this case, Democratic voters held their candidates accountable by not voting.

    This is far from a perfect system and it is one of the worst in terms of democracy, but it still functions, it’s incredibly stable, and it’s far preferable to a rubber-stamp parliament that just approves the whims of some dictator.

    “Looking at birth rates, it is not too much of exaggeration to say “depopulation of Germany and Greece to make space for ME refugees.” Lot of idiotic behaviour by Russian government as well, but perhaps we can settle for MIXED?”

    By this logic, the Russian government is doing a much better job at depopulating its country. It could probably use those Syrian refugees, particularly since it has decided to throw in with Assad. In any case, most of these refugees are Sunni and Russia’s Muslims are as well.

    But seriously, nobody is “depopulating” Germany or Greece. Development means lower birth rates; you can see it going back to the 19th century in fact. What is more, immigrants from developing nations also see their birthrate lower to the local norm within a generation. This issue has a lot to do with things like the price of housing, jobs, benefits, etc.

    “First at the highest levels of power. Lets call unlimited political contributions and revolving door what it is – US political system is currently amazingly corrupt, it would be very hard to outdo. It’s all perfectly legal, but does it help? Furthermore, whole business models, like Uber, are based on running over huge number of laws.”

    Yes, the political contribution issue is a big problem. Luckily there’s no restriction on protesting this, creating organizations to highlight it, investigating it, making your own media to spread awareness, etc. And as for Uber, suppose Uber was allowed to do what it does solely because the owner was the son of a close personal friend of the president, who no longer needs to be elected.

    See what you’re failing to notice here is that with all of these problems, you still have the freedom to talk about all of them, to demonstrate against them, to form organizations that are specifically dedicated to fighting them, etc. and all this WITHOUT being labeled a traitor and thus fair game.

    ” Sure, law & order – if one is financially well-off, can afford a good lawyer, lives in a nice neighbourhood, and is not black. Score low on these points, and “police state” comes to mind. ”

    Police state comes to mind in this case only if you are black and live in a neighborhood where that kind of overpolicing is the norm. Yes yes, we all know that being able to afford a lawyer means being able to afford justice. Is this different in Russia? Nope. Sometimes affording the best lawyer in Russia isn’t enough, if you’re facing the government(look at the conviction rate in Russian courts some time).

    So in other words, in Russia you have the same inequality problem, PLUS all the other problems.

    Also, even when we get on the topic of oppression against black Americans, we see that this has become a topic of national discussion in the media. We don’t see the heads of Black Lives Matter being slapped with bizarre charges and having their websites blocked. Their organization is not banned. One can see positive opinions of the organization expressed on media.

    By contrast, try saying something like this on any Russian media: “While I am strongly opposed to the ideology of Praviy Sektor, one must understand that such groups are largely a reaction to Russian chauvinism towards Ukraine.” First of all you’re already screwed because you didn’t mention that Praviy Sektor is banned in Russia, which is a requirement. Second, get ready for your “extremism” charge.

    “Also, sometimes not enforcing stupid laws is just as important. That one often is a big part of what ails Russia. How many times one deals with a bureaucrat idiotically insisting on following some ridiculous procedure on the books only to settle in exchange for a “favour”? Now, imagine if these were to be enforced: http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states

    First on this point- Putin has been told before that they need to deregulation to help reduce the rent-seeking behavior of bureaucrats towards small businesses. This, naturally, did not happen. Second, when you talk about US blue laws, it would be ridiculous if they were enforced but they are not. It’s simply easier to stop enforcing them instead of repealing all of them. If someone tried to bring you up on such a charge, the judge has discretion to dismiss the charge on the basis of common law and because that is their right in an independent court system. By contrast, the original charge in the Pussy Riot case was the rather minor crime of “hooliganism.” Because Putin and Kirill wanted to score points with the babushka rally, a new charge was invented and of course they were convicted.

    ” If you need a permit to make a campfire in your own backyard, is it a sign of freedom? If in high school you need a written note to walk the halls during class and face zero-tolerance detentions and suspensions? What about the largest prison system in the world, by any metric? If you can get fired for stepping on political correctness? If you are loaded with debt are you really free? If it happens to be student debt, it really is a full-on debt servitude. Sure, one is free to say anything you want, but one’s employment and means of economic well-being are not guaranteed. Nor is your right to be heard – even Mr. Putin admires the skilful ways in which Occupy Wall St was disbanded.”

    Oh boy, let’s break this nonsense down case by case. Lighting fires in your back yard is usually forbidden by local ordinances or homeowners associations I believe. Since the smoke from your fire will almost inevitably end up in other people’s yards, soot can get on their houses, and sparks and embers could theoretically pose a fire hazard to their property, it is perfectly normal to limit this “freedom” by requiring a permit. Your freedom stops where your fist meets another’s nose.

    In school we’re talking about minors in an institution that is granted “in loco parentis.” Now when minors are under the guardianship of their parents, do they have restrictions on their speech, association, and basically everything? Yup, they sure do. In fact, libertarians tend to assert that the parents should have total control over their children. Is that freedom?

    About the largest prison populations well let’s see…Who’s right behind the US, which does indeed have the largest prison population? Oh right…Russia: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm

    Probably not the best metric to bring up, but let’s dissect that a bit. First of all, this was due largely to the war on drugs plus private lobby groups that build private prisons. What is more, you’re going to see this change dramatically as more states move to decriminalize marijuana. California enacted such a change back in 1996 with their medical marijuana referendum. Now I’m told that people smoke weed in California openly with no fear of the cops. Obviously Washington and Colorado have gone even further. But HEY! How did that even happen? Oh right…Years of grass roots organizing and lobbying by ordinary citizens. Try doing that in Russia.

    Next, first let’s define “stepping on political correctness.” Shit, let’s define political correctness. I guarantee that if you are an outspoken atheist in a company run by religious conservatives, you’ll be considered very politically incorrect and you can be fired. This is mainly because your employer is a private company, and according to capitalism(and libertarianism, incidentally), the property owner generally has full freedom to hire and fire at will. If you make comments that cause customers to complain, you can be fired. This is especially when “stepping on political correctness” involves making racist comments or sexually harassing co-workers and customers. Terribly sorry, but you have to learn to live in human society.

    Now, on the matter of debt, one is also free NOT to get into debt in most cases. I managed to do so. Of course student debt is a tricky one but let’s ask why for a second: several decades ago, one could find gainful employment in the US without a college degree. It was understood that college wasn’t for everyone and if it wasn’t for you,it shouldn’t be a sentence to perpetual poverty. Then PRIVATE companies started requiring four-year degrees for virtually any position with career prospects, as well as things like unpaid internships, post-graduate degrees, etc. In other words, private companies made college a necessity. Now the US government could have stepped in and provided more grants or educational subsidies to offset this, but they didn’t because…MUH TAX DOLLARS! JACKBOOTED THUGS WANT TO TAKE MUH TAX DOLLARS!

    Lastly on the topic of Occupy. They were not “disbanded.” Occupy’s failure was its own fault, as iit was flawed from the beginning in a number of ways. First of all, they didn’t really occupy anything. They asked permission to protest in a private park and then left when they were asked to leave. Yes, in San Diego they were violently repressed. Of course none of this stopped Occupy from continuing to exist and protest if they wanted to. There were plenty of ways to keep protesting around the country in public places if they wished to do so, but the movement broke up and became ineffective because of those many flaws I alluded to. To date, I know of no leading Occupy figure who has been hit with suspicious charges aimed at neutralizing them.

    “You would be surprised with what one can say in Russia and not get into trouble for. Yet, step on some important bureaucrats toes or call for an overthrow of the government – that can get you in trouble. Try that in the West, and you just might find yourself in a sea of trouble as well – lawsuits, inability to gain well-paid employment, political assassination campaigns. See for example:”

    No, I wouldn’t be that surprised, trust me. As for the US, lots of people call for the overthrow of the federal government or secession and get away with it or years. Hell, some people actually tried it and still managed to get away with it in a trial for sedition(Fort Smith sedition trial).

    “Sure, American folks are way more open-minded to new ideas and ways of doing things, just as they have beautiful ideals. But their system has been failing them recently.”

    Yes it certainly has. You know how NOT to solve that problem? Making false equivalencies with a system that is far worse. See what I find funny about all this is that you keep trying to make these comparisons, and yet we see an interesting divergence. Countries which have certain features are really successful, and ones without aren’t. If Russia is really no different from Germany, France, the UK, US, Canada, etc., why this vast difference in results? After all, the political systems in all of those other countries differ quite a bit from one another.

    I”f one wants to fairly judge the current governments, one has to look at the trends and not the absolute levels (which are due to what happened long ago). One reason Mr. Putin is popular is, even the with recent economic carnage, Russia made major progress, since he took over in the late 90s, on a vast number of issues that matter to folks day-to-day. The country was literally on the verge of falling apart back then. Sure, some of it was the oil boom. But in the 90s even the oil revenue was not staying in the country.”

    Ah yes, the old 90’s trope. You know it’s pretty pathetic when the best accomplishment one can claim is “the country didn’t completely collapse.” Really this argument had legs in the early 2000’s and even 2008-2010, but it’s 2016 now and Russia’s already starting to hit 90’s level in some indicators. If we ignore things like massive foreign investment and oil prices, Putin is still, as I have said before, like a guy who puts a bandage on your bleeding wound and then insists that you seek no further medical attention or even change the bandage days later, even as the wound is clearly becoming infected and festering. Moreover, Russia could have made FAR more progress if so much of that oil wealth wasn’t stolen by Putin’s buddies.

    “If one criticises conspiracy theories, lets be consistent and criticise them all. Can one really blame all the misdeeds of a humongous government apparatus filled with “Sovki” (Soviet-style mentality) on the one man at the top? There are numerous political parties, just as there are elections. Calling it a dictatorship is truly a conspiracy theory on par with the powers-that-be ruling America.”

    Again a terrible comparison. Sure, Russia cannot be reduced to Putin. In many ways he doesn’t personally determine a lot of things that happen. But he set up this system and he occupies the top. He deliberately made moves to consolidate power around himself and his friends, and therefore he must also take on the responsibility. In the US and other functioning democracies, there are real opposition parties and they actually oppose each other. In Russia this doesn’t happen. Name an initiative put forth by Putin which met significant opposition in the Duma and failed as a result.

    Moreover, Russian elections have never been fair and there is plenty of evidence for this. In fact, virtually every Russian election comes on the heels of new rules which always tend to benefit Putin and the ruling party.

    All the major aspects of Putin’s rule and control in Russian society are well documented. This is not a conspiracy theory.

    “Sure, one can question how fair and meaningful those are and whether presidential powers are not too strong (thanks to Yeltsin!).”

    Yeltsin helped build that strong executive branch, if that’s what you mean.

    “But this a lot more than one can find even in some major democracies. See Japan – for the most part a one party system, which also happens to lack Habeas corpus. FDR btw died in his 4th term as a president.”

    You know that in FDR’s time, there was no law against running for more than 2 terms right? That was codified after he died. Prior to that it was a sort of unspoken rule that one should not seek a third term.

    As for Japan, the system clearly works, whereas in Russia it’s not working. This is a major point Ikeep coming back to. I’m willing to be very open-minded toward any system that actually achieves concrete positive results. If the Russian economy were booming today and living standards were high, and yet somehow Putin’s system was basically the same, I might give it far more credit. Alas, that is not the case.

    “Re poor media quality. Who in hell in bellingcat? And why the loner guy with no professional experience or education in the subject matter and who only got started in 2012, given so much credence and space across so many major Western publications. Fine, you can find anything on Internet, as you can in Russia as well. Modern propaganda relies on signal-to-noise and not 100% one way story. That’s the skill part. Professional publications (like foreignpolicy) are indeed more nuanced everywhere.”

    I’m quite certain you can contact Bellingcat and get all the information you want. Bellingcat works with open source information, and they’re actually publishing guides to show other people how to do it(meaning you can learn and check their methodology). If one puts in the time, it is entirely possible to learn about geolocation, EXIF data, military technology, etc. Obviously this takes a lot of time and dedication, but it doesn’t take some special formal education to be able to say: “This is a particular model of tank, which can be identified by these markings and these features.”

    The funny thing about all the Bellingcat griping is that there’s a REALLY easy way to debunk Bellingcat and yet I never see their detractors even attempting to do it. Obviously if someone geolocates a photograph incorrectly, that person, vehicle, whatever, must be somewhere else. Now a number of photographs can’t always be reliably located anywhere due to lack of distinguishing landmarks, but there are plenty of photos from Bellingcat that are full of landmarks, which incidentally are usually the basis of their work. Thus it should be possible, using the same methods, to show that these photos that are allegedly in Ukraine are actually in Russia, for example. And yet…This doesn’t happen. The only time I saw an attempt to do this was when the Russian source deliberately altered a sign in the background to make it seem like it was in Russia and not Ukraine. It was a pathetic failure.

    Of course instead of doing this, the Bellingcat detractors love to focus on one “expert” from a Spiegel interview, whose criticisms were rather weak and vague. That and ridiculous technical minutiae without actually saying what their argument is. This is a technique used by bullshitters such as Holocaust deniers- e.g. Flood someone with academic papers about the CO levels in diesel engine exhaust while ignoring the fact that the most reliable witness testimony of CO gas chambers strongly points to petrol engines being used.

    “Most Americans are indeed not heavy on exceptionalism. It is typically more a case of benign ignorance. Yet, start criticising and they will defensivelly fall back to the exceptionalism themes absorbed from the media.”

    It depends on who you’re talking to. The people most likely to “defend” America are going to be conservatives, who always take up the mantle of patriots. Yet these are also the same people that insist that America is either being ruined, or already has been ruined. Liberals and progressives have no problem criticizing America because this is seen as something that is necessary and good.

    “You made lots of other points, but I am out of time. It all really comes down to questioning the absoluteness of one’s own beliefs and ideology. Such is the human nature that we all find it hard to escape our own biases and conditioning. Takes effort to listen to the people one disagrees with and trying to see if they might just have a point or two. Not to say that all is relative, but simple absolute wide-ranging truths rarely do proper justice to infinitely complex reality. The also have a strong tendency to be nothing but a product of one propaganda machine or the other.”

    There is a wide middle ground between absolutes and this post-modernist idea where all narratives are equal. In general the problem is that you’re making false equivalencies. As a Marxist I have no shortage of criticisms for the US system and pretty much any existing system. On the other hand, I do not pretend that all these systems are the same. This is a recipe for disaster, both for people in America who want to change the system, and Russians living under the system here.

    Reply
    1. Gud

      Elections allow for the choice of representatives. Nowhere does it say that representatives in turn will vote in the interest of the people that voted them in. I am sure you know the texts of the bills are enormous and hardly anybody reads them, except professional special interests. Lots of nasty stuff gets tossed in into the fine-print. Politicians then can then blabber around and spin any way they want to. In theory the media is supposably the independent watchdog. But media is a for profit business. Which part of their business model will actually require them to do that, giving how time-consuming and controversial (lawsuits and access to government) it can be. No business wants trouble, which it can avoid. The Princeton study is a professional systematic analysis of congressional voting patterns over many decades, which pretty much concludes the little voter guy is nowhere to be found as independent voice when it comes to votes in congress. Of course, you have done another fact-based analysis which will contradict that? Maybe you can share. Else, one has to assume you are talking pure blind faith.

      Founding fathers got many things right, but the world was a totally different place when they wrote the constitution. Back then, the newspapers were all locally-based with a wide and broad ownership. The founding farther never even meant for political parties to exist. They also made the constitution really hard to change. Which you can say is a good thing generally, but it also made it extremely hard to adopt to modern realities. Today, with current campaign financing levels, all the candidates need to raise enormous amounts of money to have a real shot at winning. Which means effectively the candidates are pre-selected by those who do provide the funding. You agree that there’s a lot of problems in US. Where do they come from? Well, here are some factors. It really takes a billionaire to have a shot at bringing meaningful significant change.

      Re birth rates, again it’s one of the things that have seen a major turnaround from the 90s. Current raw birthrates in Russia reached American levels, and even with expected drop due to 90s birth gap, the overall smoothed fertility rate is way above Germany or Greece. Sure, you can say it is all fabricated. But who decides what is fabricated or not? A matter of blind faith again?

      Re “Development means lower birth”. That one is an obvious falsehood when it comes to going below replacement rate. France has replacement rate. Are you saying they are less developed? Sure there are other factors besides government policy, media is also part of the story, but all of these are inter-related.

      In protesting political corruption. Well, the effectiveness of that speaks for itself. It’s been growing for decades and is getting worse and worse.

      “Yes yes, we all know that being able to afford a lawyer means being able to afford justice. Is this different in Russia? Nope. ” Exactly my point. When one is well off, one can live well just about anywhere. All third world countries have a small amazingly reach elite living very well. On that topic, look at conviction rate in Japan… As you probably know both Russia and Japan for that reason are trying to increase jury-based trials for a reason.

      Believe it or not, but at least according to the data sources I have, the inequality in America exceeds that of Russia. On top of that, most Russians actually own their own place of residence outright without any mortgage.

      It goes far beyond blacks. One reason working-class whites are so angry. There are many different ways to get a low score. It should speak volumes to have an unprecedented percentage of population in prisons.

      Pussy Riot is a cheap shot. If they did what they did somewhere in American south on church property, I am willing to bet the independent judge would have them do time, not in the very least for violating a number of laws. They would be lucky not to get beaten up by the local rednecks on top of it. Do you really seriously believe Pussy Riot is of any real danger to Putin or even some low level bureaucrat? Russia must be a very flexible place if one can bring out political change by screwing a dead chicken. ROFL. I mean seriously, if one can be friends with the likes of Saudi Arabia, and then try to use any possible thing to smear the likes of Putin at the same time – is that in the interest of real democracy or is it more of a political assassination campaign for some other reason? Just like the Democrats and Republicans do to each other during campaigning… At the same time you say “To date, I know of no leading Occupy figure who has been hit with suspicious charges aimed at neutralizing them.” Now those guys were protesting real things in a very real way, and they had to shut down. A quick look at Wikipedia and we have “In December 29, 2012, Naomi Wolf of The Guardian newspaper provided U.S. government documents which revealed that the FBI and DHS had monitored Occupy Wall Street through its Joint Terrorism Task Force, despite labeling it a peaceful movement. The New York Times reported in May 2014 that declassified documents showed extensive surveillance and infiltration of OWS-related groups across the country” Perhaps a cause of concern? Or we continue selectively taking Putin’s faults and ignoring all else? How is this not a blind faith and selective justice?

      Re political correctness. I am sure you know what I mean. It is the essential places like Academia and Media where this thing is particular importance to the general public interest. With journalism model getting destroyed by the Internet, can you imagine the level of bravery it will take for a journalist to bring up something inconvenient. Garry Webb was one such case. I guess nobody shot him, but he got fired and couldn’t find a job as professional journalist anywhere. Divorce, eviction, and suicide. I dunno, if I was a journalist I’d take the 90s Russia way of getting shot and dying a hero and quickly. Sure, some choose to be poor and do it on their own, but they can never reach the audience size of *mass* media.

      Re 90s. It is true that Mr. Putin was on the wane as reforms and progress slowed down. Well, now it’s rally around the flag, which all societies do when attacked. Economic war is still war, what else does one think sanctions and the timing of funny things happening in the oil market is? Can you imagine how it sounds to Russians when Obama in both of his last State of the Union addresses says “Russian economy is in tatters” (with an implication that he deserves credit for it)? There’s no need for any Putin propaganda. So here we go, Russians went from estimated 90% reading dissident literature during the later Soviet times, to pretty much 90% against. Sad, unnecessary, and will not be good for anyone in the long run.

      I totally agree with you, however, that since the Ukrainian crisis started, things have decidedly shifted for the worse in Russia when it comes to democracy and freedoms. All the Sovki running around crazy, feeling empowered to do whatever, like never before. A bunch of stupid laws. Frankly, I haven’t been to Russia myself since this whole mess started, but this is what I hear. A partial excuse is this is war time. Lots of things happen during war time. Nothing unique here too. Think Patriot Act, McCarthy Red Scares (talk about purges!), and Japanese American interment in WWII.

      “There is a wide middle ground between absolutes and this post-modernist idea where all narratives are equal. In general the problem is that you’re making false equivalencies. As a Marxist I have no shortage of criticisms for the US system and pretty much any existing system. On the other hand, I do not pretend that all these systems are the same. This is a recipe for disaster, both for people in America who want to change the system, and Russians living under the system here.”

      Who gets to decide what is and is not “false equivalencies”? Do Russians get to vote on it? Are you taking the line out of Reagan and saying that Russia today is the same totalitarian system the Soviet Union was? I am personally a firm believer in capitalism and democracy, with the caveat being needing to have good rules and institutions. The devil is in details, the world evolves, so do need the rules and institutions for them to preserve their good meaning. And we are in real trouble right now across many different places.

      I cannot answer all of your points as my procrastination time is now fully spent. I am glad we agree on quite a few imperfections to both sides. I hope it will be a starting point for you to question not just one side of the story, but both. Of course, you still have all the normal psychological biases and try to find a way to deflect some of the points, even when it’s hardly the most logical direction to take the argument in. All humans do that to avoid cognitive dissonance. To make that final point, I will refer to your “I’m quite certain you can contact Bellingcat and get all the information you want. ” I am sure you can, that is not the question. Nor whether he is correct or not. The question is how is it that some guy with no prior experience or credentials out of nowhere end up all over premium Western media, while at the same time a renowned Harvard academic cannot even get one realist representative in? Business as usual, move along, nothing to see.

      Reply
      1. Gud

        One more thing to add. “You know that in FDR’s time, there was no law against running for more than 2 terms right? ” Which, given the criticism of Putin running the third term, implies American law must apply in Russia and has to be kept up-to-date? Does the statement “no taxation without representation” ring a bell?

        “As for Japan, the system clearly works, whereas in Russia it’s not working. This is a major point Ikeep coming back to. I’m willing to be very open-minded toward any system that actually achieves concrete positive results. If the Russian economy were booming today and living standards were high, and yet somehow Putin’s system was basically the same, I might give it far more credit. Alas, that is not the case.”

        Have you even been to Japan? Lots of things work very well, but lots of things are completely broken. Oh, they also have good memories of gunboats showing up on shore in the 19th century. I am sure to make their then backwards system work properly. And then when it did start working, well sanctions sanctions sanctions, followed by a full on ultimatum and oil blockade.

        Russia is no stellar country, but don’t even bother saying it’s all completely broken. Have a look at the Western Hemisphere, the likes of Honduras. They are so working well. Americans did a stellar job helping them over the last couple hundred years.

        Now, can you at least admit to yourself the case of superiority complex, with a god-like pretense to decide how other people should or should not live their life.

  9. Jim Kovpak Post author

    “Elections allow for the choice of representatives. Nowhere does it say that representatives in turn will vote in the interest of the people that voted them in.”

    Indeed, but sometimes they do, or, even if it is not really in the voters’ interests, they at least fight for what they promised to do, as in the case of those Tea Party candidates I mentioned earlier.

    “I am sure you know the texts of the bills are enormous and hardly anybody reads them, except professional special interests. Lots of nasty stuff gets tossed in into the fine-print. Politicians then can then blabber around and spin any way they want to. In theory the media is supposably the independent watchdog.”

    Sure they can. That still doesn’t make the US system equal to a dictatorship. In democracies, flawed as they are, voters have a method to peacefully hold politicians accountable, whether by voting for them, against them, or not voting at all.

    And again, show me examples of Putin facing pushback from his Duma and not being able to push one of his initiatives through.

    “But media is a for profit business. Which part of their business model will actually require them to do that, giving how time-consuming and controversial (lawsuits and access to government) it can be. No business wants trouble, which it can avoid.”

    Indeed, but the nice thing about the Western system is that nobody stops you from creating your own media, and in the West independent, mostly internet based sources have scored major success against older, corporate dinosaurs. In Russia, however, you have to contend with things like Roskomnadzor and the blogger law.

    “The Princeton study is a professional systematic analysis of congressional voting patterns over many decades, which pretty much concludes the little voter guy is nowhere to be found as independent voice when it comes to votes in congress. Of course, you have done another fact-based analysis which will contradict that? Maybe you can share. Else, one has to assume you are talking pure blind faith.”

    So it’s blind faith to point out basic historical facts that showed politicians doing what they were voted in to do? It’s blind faith that the Tea Party candidates largely stuck by their promise to oppose Obama care to ridiculous degrees, eventually leading to a government shut down? Did people not vote for Obama in hopes of getting out of Iraq(done in 2010), getting some kind of healthcare reform(ditto), repeal of DADT (done), marriage equality(done)?

    Again, your whole method of arguing here is extremely flawed. You point out very real problems in the American system and then go to the unwarranted conclusion that the Russian system is comparable. It simply isn’t.

    And by the way, when you hear any American complaining about those problems you speak of, try telling them they shouldn’t complain because it’s the same in Russia. Watch what happens.

    “Founding fathers got many things right, but the world was a totally different place when they wrote the constitution.”

    Thank you, Captain Obvious.

    “Back then, the newspapers were all locally-based with a wide and broad ownership. The founding farther never even meant for political parties to exist. They also made the constitution really hard to change. Which you can say is a good thing generally, but it also made it extremely hard to adopt to modern realities. Today, with current campaign financing levels, all the candidates need to raise enormous amounts of money to have a real shot at winning. Which means effectively the candidates are pre-selected by those who do provide the funding. You agree that there’s a lot of problems in US. Where do they come from? Well, here are some factors. It really takes a billionaire to have a shot at bringing meaningful significant change.”

    Could you please explain how any of this can be solved by putting a dictator in charge, giving him a rubber stamp parliament and declaring all those who complain about this system to be un-American traitors? I’d really like to know.

    “Re birth rates, again it’s one of the things that have seen a major turnaround from the 90s. Current raw birthrates in Russia reached American levels, and even with expected drop due to 90s birth gap, the overall smoothed fertility rate is way above Germany or Greece. Sure, you can say it is all fabricated. But who decides what is fabricated or not? A matter of blind faith again?”

    First I’d like to see your sources for that claim. Second, births only outnumbered abortions in Russia very recently. That might change soon.

    “Re “Development means lower birth”. That one is an obvious falsehood when it comes to going below replacement rate. France has replacement rate. Are you saying they are less developed? Sure there are other factors besides government policy, media is also part of the story, but all of these are inter-related.”

    France, as you admit, has better welfare state policies that certainly have an effect on birthrates. And again, development doesn’t necessarily mean that births will go below replacement levels. It just means that with development and urbanization you see a drop infertility.

    “In protesting political corruption. Well, the effectiveness of that speaks for itself. It’s been growing for decades and is getting worse and worse.”

    Actually I have to stop you here because this is demonstrably false. If you think political corruption in America is bad today, go ahead and look at what it was like in the 19th century. I suggest reading Otto Bethmann’s The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible, or Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York to see the difference.

    And once again, Russia is more corrupt than the US. Even if you don’t accept the figures on this, the margin of error can’t explain the difference in terms of corruption.

    “Exactly my point. When one is well off, one can live well just about anywhere. All third world countries have a small amazingly reach elite living very well. On that topic, look at conviction rate in Japan… As you probably know both Russia and Japan for that reason are trying to increase jury-based trials for a reason.”

    I’ve seen nothing in the news about increasing jury based trials in Russia. In any case, the fact that the rich live better is explained by the fact that we live in a capitalist world. It still doesn’t make Russia like the other systems.

    “Believe it or not, but at least according to the data sources I have, the inequality in America exceeds that of Russia.”

    Well then your source is wrong, because a very reliable source(Credit-Suisse) famously reported that 110 individuals own 35% of Russia’s wealth, and several million Russians have sunk below the poverty level recently. Again, 110 INDIVIDUALS, not families.

    “On top of that, most Russians actually own their own place of residence outright without any mortgage.”

    This was due to the Soviet system. If you want an apartment these days, you’re going to need a mortgage. Even in good times the interest rate was at best, 11%-12%.

    “Pussy Riot is a cheap shot. If they did what they did somewhere in American south on church property, I am willing to bet the independent judge would have them do time, not in the very least for violating a number of laws.”

    Well you’d lose money on that bet. Probably at best they could be charged with disorderly conduct or trespassing. There would be no jail time. This is assuming the church would press charges, and I’m guessing they probably wouldn’t so as not to provoke a scandal. Even if they did, the church really couldn’t determine the charges or the sentence.

    “They would be lucky not to get beaten up by the local rednecks on top of it. ”

    Rednecks, who if they did so, would be arrested and charged with assault and battery, which does carry a jail sentence. By contrast members of Pussy Riot in Sochi were beaten on camera by brave cossacks in 2014.

    “Do you really seriously believe Pussy Riot is of any real danger to Putin or even some low level bureaucrat?”

    I don’t, but apparently some Russian bureaucrats think so.

    ” Russia must be a very flexible place if one can bring out political change by screwing a dead chicken. ROFL. ”

    Again, talk to the Russian authorities about that. There are few things that don’t chill them to the bone.

    “I mean seriously, if one can be friends with the likes of Saudi Arabia, and then try to use any possible thing to smear the likes of Putin at the same time – is that in the interest of real democracy or is it more of a political assassination campaign for some other reason?”

    Well first of all since I’m not a defender of Saudi Arabia, I can say fuck Saudi Arabia. Also I notice how sometimes the standard to judge is Japan, and other times it’s Saudi Arabia. Funny how that is. Is that the standard of freedom Russia aspires to? Saudi Arabia?

    “Just like the Democrats and Republicans do to each other during campaigning… At the same time you say “To date, I know of no leading Occupy figure who has been hit with suspicious charges aimed at neutralizing them.” Now those guys were protesting real things in a very real way, and they had to shut down.”

    Actually much of the protest was sidetracked by right-wing populists who introduced their “End the Fed” Ron Paul bullshit. Then you’ve got all the typical left-wing backbiting, disdain for organization, discipline, etc.

    “A quick look at Wikipedia and we have “In December 29, 2012, Naomi Wolf of The Guardian newspaper provided U.S. government documents which revealed that the FBI and DHS had monitored Occupy Wall Street through its Joint Terrorism Task Force, despite labeling it a peaceful movement. The New York Times reported in May 2014 that declassified documents showed extensive surveillance and infiltration of OWS-related groups across the country” Perhaps a cause of concern? Or we continue selectively taking Putin’s faults and ignoring all else? How is this not a blind faith and selective justice?”

    I didn’t ask about monitoring. I asked about trumped up, phony legal charges and arrests. I should also point out that some people involved in Occupy ran in movements with ties to domestic terrorist organizations, so the monitoring was pretty standard. I don’t really blame the Russian government so much for monitoring dissidents(though there is no oversight or restraint). My problem is with the harassment and deliberate suppression.

    “Re political correctness. I am sure you know what I mean. It is the essential places like Academia and Media where this thing is particular importance to the general public interest.”

    No, I don’t know what you mean. Please explain.

    “With journalism model getting destroyed by the Internet, can you imagine the level of bravery it will take for a journalist to bring up something inconvenient. Garry Webb was one such case. I guess nobody shot him, but he got fired and couldn’t find a job as professional journalist anywhere. Divorce, eviction, and suicide. I dunno, if I was a journalist I’d take the 90s Russia way of getting shot and dying a hero and quickly. Sure, some choose to be poor and do it on their own, but they can never reach the audience size of *mass* media.”

    As you can see from your own article, even proponents of Webb admit that some of his research was flawed. This might have led to his getting fired and blacklisted.

    See, when you screw up in journalism in the West, you usually get fired and blacklisted. See Dan Rather or Brian Williams for examples which are much better than Webb. Meanwhile in Russia you can air a story about Ukrainian forces crucifying a child, and when called to task you say it is others’ responsibility to prove it didn’t happen. Nobody was fired or reprimanded.

    “Re 90s. It is true that Mr. Putin was on the wane as reforms and progress slowed down. Well, now it’s rally around the flag, which all societies do when attacked. Economic war is still war, what else does one think sanctions and the timing of funny things happening in the oil market is?”

    Russia wasn’t under attack. They went on the attack. Look at the US deployments in NATO prior to 2015. The US is still closing bases in Europe and reducing personnel.

    ” Can you imagine how it sounds to Russians when Obama in both of his last State of the Union addresses says “Russian economy is in tatters” (with an implication that he deserves credit for it)?”

    Again, that SOTU was in early 2015. And Russian media had been blaming the US for all their woes long before that.

    ” Frankly, I haven’t been to Russia myself since this whole mess started, but this is what I hear. A partial excuse is this is war time. Lots of things happen during war time. Nothing unique here too. Think Patriot Act, McCarthy Red Scares (talk about purges!), and Japanese American interment in WWII.”

    Again, poor comparison. This isn’t war time. Russia isn’t at war; it has consistently claimed that it is not a party to the conflict in Ukraine. It also claims not to be a party to the Syrian conflict, as stupid as that is. There is no excuse for this. In fact, the real crackdown started in 2012-2013, so who were they at war with again?

    “Who gets to decide what is and is not “false equivalencies”?”

    Objective reality. Cows have four legs, tables have four legs. Cows are not tables.

    “Do Russians get to vote on it?”

    Nobody gets to vote on it, but I’m sure most Russians are used to that.

    ” Are you taking the line out of Reagan and saying that Russia today is the same totalitarian system the Soviet Union was? ”

    First I dispute the very term “totalitarian,” but that’s another matter. Yes, Russia is more free than the USSR, but then the USSR at that time was more free than it was in the 1930’s. And to some extent that was more free than under the tsar. The fact that there has been progress doesn’t change the fact that it is still far behind many countries in this respect and it is not the same.

    “I am personally a firm believer in capitalism and democracy, with the caveat being needing to have good rules and institutions. The devil is in details, the world evolves, so do need the rules and institutions for them to preserve their good meaning. And we are in real trouble right now across many different places.”

    And Russia doesn’t have those rules and institutions.

    “To make that final point, I will refer to your “I’m quite certain you can contact Bellingcat and get all the information you want. ” I am sure you can, that is not the question. Nor whether he is correct or not. The question is how is it that some guy with no prior experience or credentials out of nowhere end up all over premium Western media, while at the same time a renowned Harvard academic cannot even get one realist representative in? Business as usual, move along, nothing to see.”

    I think that has a lot to do with the weight and merit of the evidence each presented.

    Reply
  10. Jim Kovpak Post author

    “Which, given the criticism of Putin running the third term, implies American law must apply in Russia and has to be kept up-to-date? Does the statement “no taxation without representation” ring a bell?”

    While the Russian constitution only forbade being president for more than two consecutive terms, it’s clear that in reality, Medvedev was not as powerful as Putin while occupying the role of president, and the system was rigged to allow them to switch: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/03/09-constitutionality-putin-partlett

    Suppose Putin gets another term. What’s to stop him from switching for another for years and then coming back again, indefinitely? See this may technically be legal but it’s a problem because there’s no way to hold him accountable for anything.

    For example you can say that he’s popular with the public, but Putin could just as well force every Russian to fly a gay pride flag from their window and they couldn’t do jack shit about it.

    “Have you even been to Japan? Lots of things work very well, but lots of things are completely broken. Oh, they also have good memories of gunboats showing up on shore in the 19th century. I am sure to make their then backwards system work properly. And then when it did start working, well sanctions sanctions sanctions, followed by a full on ultimatum and oil blockade.”

    None of this changes the fact that Japan came back from being a starved wasteland to an economic leader that put the US on its heels at one time. It’s still a major innovator.

    “Russia is no stellar country, but don’t even bother saying it’s all completely broken. Have a look at the Western Hemisphere, the likes of Honduras. They are so working well. Americans did a stellar job helping them over the last couple hundred years.”

    Again, what does this matter to someone living in Russia? At least I have a foreign citizenship. Please, try this in the US. Next time someone complains about anything, dismiss their complaints by talking about problems in Russia or Honduras. I’m sure they’ll see the light real quickly.

    “Now, can you at least admit to yourself the case of superiority complex, with a god-like pretense to decide how other people should or should not live their life.”

    That’s rich coming from the defender of a system that appropriates the right to decide what is “pro- and anti-Russian.” A system that dictates national values and punishes and/or demonizes anyone who disagrees. And a system which lectures the world about aggression and hegemony while gleefully engaging in all manner of aggression to the extent that its military can deliver, half the time not even having the courage to admit it.

    So please drop this nonsense about deciding how people should live their life. The Kremlin constantly does exactly that, and if you disagree you’re a “liberast” and a traitor. You want foreign cheese? Too bad! We have to show Europe and America! Want to travel abroad? No! Stay home or visit Crimea(PLEASE!)! Don’t watch Western movies, watch our movies that are ripoffs of Western movies! Read only Russian classics over and over again! Your kids need a patriotic education!

    Reply
  11. Gud

    Why not go to Saudi Arabia and civilize them? Is the matter of Russian constitution and it’s changes not the matter to be decided by the Russians? Why was it ok for FDR and not ok for the Russians to decide for themselves? Should America of today sanction America of 1945? Ms. Merkel is pushing 10 years, why not sanction Germany?

    Frankly, if you came to my house, put the finger on the table, and said “look at the dust on the desk – clean it up” – I’d throw you out. You truly have proved the superiority / inferiority complex source here. Hint: perhaps it ain’t jus the Russians you meet.

    Re Japan. First they got there without much Western help, beyond letting their students study overseas (paid for by Japan) and allowing them to buy some industrial goods. After WWII, in connection with Korean war they got effective equivalent of Marshall plan. Indeed a great and smart accomplishment of American leaders of the past. The guy behind Marshall plan and the Soviet containment policy – George Kennan. Read what he had to say about NATO expansion and overall foreign policy following the end of the Cold War. “A disaster.” Is it any wonder the results are so poor today. The true quality leadership is gone. All we get is folks like you on the ego-trip global colonial venture.

    And now what would be the equivalent of Perl Harbor in a nuclear age? Too scary to fathom. I guess it must have been really worth it…

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Aaaaand cue the vatniy meltdown.

      “Why not go to Saudi Arabia and civilize them? Is the matter of Russian constitution and it’s changes not the matter to be decided by the Russians?”

      Who is talking about civilizing anyone? Are you implying that Russians inherently want to be dominated, denied the right to hold their leaders accountable, and live under a dictatorship? They may claim that from time to time but numerous revolutions, failed and successful, suggest otherwise.

      And what about all the Russians who don’t agree with this, regardless of what they might tell a pollster today? Do they get a say? Is it right to label them traitors and persecute them because they’re more concerned about their authorities stealing from them and pissing away their future than “opposing the West”(AKA stealing from your people and hiding the money in the West)?

      “Why was it ok for FDR and not ok for the Russians to decide for themselves?”

      Did Russians truly decide or was it decided for them? That’s the issue. Just because many people now say that they like this doesn’t mean they really decided.

      “Should America of today sanction America of 1945?”

      America of 1945 doesn’t exist, and even if it did, it’s important that the US today not BE the US of 1945.

      ” Ms. Merkel is pushing 10 years, why not sanction Germany?”

      That depends on the German constitution. In any case, we see that Germany has plenty of dissent in spite of having stricter laws than the US.

      “Frankly, if you came to my house, put the finger on the table, and said “look at the dust on the desk – clean it up” – I’d throw you out. You truly have proved the superiority / inferiority complex source here.”

      First. It’s not your house. It’s Putin’s house. Second, I live here and I’ve spent most of my adult life here. If simply living in a place makes it your house, than it is as much mine. If not that, then it certainly is for my in-laws. Do they get a say? Again, what about all the Russian oppositionists or just those who voiced complaints about all these problems we’ve been discussing?

      Are you proving your superiority complex by pointing out problems in the US? No. The problems either exist or they don’t

      “Re Japan. First they got there without much Western help, beyond letting their students study overseas (paid for by Japan) and allowing them to buy some industrial goods. After WWII, in connection with Korean war they got effective equivalent of Marshall plan. Indeed a great and smart accomplishment of American leaders of the past. The guy behind Marshall plan and the Soviet containment policy – George Kennan. Read what he had to say about NATO expansion and overall foreign policy following the end of the Cold War. “A disaster.” Is it any wonder the results are so poor today. The true quality leadership is gone. All we get is folks like you on the ego-trip global colonial venture.”

      Sure, but you’ll notice that Japan also had a lot of disadvantages and they’ve managed not to return to a Showa-era dictatorship.

      Russia had far more advantages in terms of land, resources, oil prices, etc., and that was squandered because Putin preferred a system where he and his buddies could steal and enjoy Western luxury at the expense of his people.

      Reply
    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I should also add that the knee-jerk reaction that any criticism of Russia’s human rights record is an attempt to “civilize” Russia really shows where the superiority complex lies. Comparing Russia to Saudi Arabia isn’t great either.

      If anything many of the “Russia realists” and “Putinverstehers” are the superior ones. Their logic is implying that Russia is and always has been a barbaric country and thus it should be held to a lower standard.

      Moreover, does not the Kremlin and its media assert that Russia is a unique civilization that is superior to Western civilization? If so, then Westerners have every right to hold a magnifying glass to Russia’s society and system to determine whether or not this allegedly “Russian” civilization is indeed superior to theirs. And of course when they do this and start observing all kinds of problems, the same people who assert this civilizational superiority then scream about how “Russia isn’t the West,” and “can’t be rushed!” So which is it?

      Reply
  12. Asehpe

    Wow! That Gud person at first sounded like s/he was actually interested in discussing real facts and exchanging opinions, but when challenged and shown to be wrong, s/he really deteriorated.

    And that’s a pity. It must have taken quite a lot of time to put up that impressive list of things that he (mis)analyzed here. I’d imagine s/he would be really interested in debating the details, comparing sources, responding to arguments, etc. — as would anyone interested in finding out where the truth lies and capable of accepting the possiblity of errors in his/her own views.

    But soon it turned out to be just another person who thinks s/he is right, and that trying to counterargue is tantamount to being offensive. When, oh when will we ever learn that being wrong means nothing other than being wrong — it is not a personal offense, it is not an implication of lower human worth, it is merely a statement about the correctness of one’s arguments?…

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Good point. The reason for assuming this criticism comes from some superiority complex and a desire to civilize “savages” seems motivated by a belief in said savagery or backwardness. In other words, it’s a lot like what I wrote about in that article on patriotism which served as a basis for part of this post.

      Reply
  13. Asehpe

    “I should also add that the knee-jerk reaction that any criticism of Russia’s human rights record is an attempt to “civilize” Russia really shows where the superiority complex lies. Comparing Russia to Saudi Arabia isn’t great either.”

    That is indeed an interesting point. I should note that nobody — not you, not me — would accuse Gud of trying to ‘civilize the US’ when s/he points real problems with the current American system. Why should Russians immediately run to the conclusion that any criticism of Russia — human rights records, election rigging, denial of obvious military participation in the Donbass conflict, a rubber-stamping Duma, personality cult, etc. — is an attempt to ‘civilize’ Russia (i.e. implicit ‘Russophobia’), rather than just what it purports to be — a criticism of Russia?…

    I have to go back to my initial formulation of the superiority/inferiority co-complex: ‘I feel inferior because you’re doing better, but deep inside I know I’m not really inferior, so it must be YOUR FAULT!’

    Reply
    1. Gud

      > Except that I haven’t. I’m a tireless critic of capitalism in general, including Western liberal democracies.
      Re-read all your comments in this thread again. Pussy riot in the US South not getting jail time. Redhecks will surely do time if they beat up pussy riot. Sure. No small towns with their chiefs the rednecks, no religious fanatics who’d have a massive problem with them and put them into deep deep shit. Easy Rider was never made. And it goes on and on and on. Too many to even read throughly, never mind reply.

      We have not been talking about capitalism. I am very much pro-capitalism, so much so that I do have a slight distrust towards Marxists helping Russia in it’s development and giving authoritative advice on Russian economic policy.

      > Taking responsibility is an objectively adult behavior. I don’t say “we” because I’m not ethnically Russian and nobody accepts me as such.
      Adult behavior is to take responsibility for your own actions, not tell others to take responsibility for yet another 3rd person. The later is immature and plain rude. Can you do the adult thing and take responsibility for this one action of yours? 🙂

      It’s not the using or not using WE, it’s about not saying “them take responsibility”. There’s a hundred ways to say the same. “I am concerned about your ability to control your government and it’s doing damage to Russian reputation abroad. And here’s what you can do that works well for us in America.” 80% of vatniks will melt into normal people.

      > “No, it is not a conspiracy theory because the Russian media and government constantly tout this line about the US being behind every “revolution” and creating chaos. Putin also has a very obvious fear of being held accountable via popular revolutions.”

      This is complete non-sequitur. How does behavior of Russian media and gov bureaucrats prove in any way that Mr. Putin sabotaged Ukraine to justify his own dictatorship. This yet another new conspiracy theory. CNN lied about Iraq WMD, Americans are trying to take over the world! State-owned – fine, BBC lied about Iraq WMD – British are rebuilding the British empire!

      I do agree Russian bureaucrats spew lots of exaggerated nonsense. But so do the American ones.

      > “On the other hand, your PNAC claim is a conspiracy theory, and not a particularly good one. For one thing, Ukraine remaining as it was would not turn Russia into a rival. If anything it would be a burden. There was little to gain from it.”
      Again making up weird illogical excuses on the fly. This does not prove or disprove that conspiracy theory. Anyways, if you really haven’t heard it goes like “Ukraine was used as a pawn to blow up relationship between EU and Russia and Russia and Ukraine, and as pre-text to impose economic sanctions, reinstate containment, and so on”

      I will pass on Yanukovich story, there are plenty of detailed accounts for what transpired during those days. Coups is something governments (including USSR) have been doing for a long time. They do often involve legitimate protests as an element. It’s like political campaigning plus some violence by small groups at the end.

      > “The US isn’t going to overthrow a government just because it postpones a trade agreement with the European Union, and if they wanted to they certainly wouldn’t have done it in such an inefficient, unpredictable way which has far to many variables.”

      Yet there is the history of Bay of Pigs and plenty other no longer disputed actions for god knows what reasons and god knows what consequences.

      And …. “Mr. Putin would not be so callous to blood brother Ukrainians, so stupid to damage Ukranian economy tightly integrated with Russian one, and risk international condemnation, and so personally reckless to kill his own escape roots to nice warm locations around the world where he could enjoy his $200bil… all to stay in power”

      Actually, no, I think there’s a non-zero chance of him being that idiotic. So, you still claim to be not biased in any way, yet come up another amazingly twisted excuse for one and similarly amazingly twisted accusation towards the other?

      > “Taking South Korea as an example, the government protected its industry from the beginning and built up a diverse economy. Russia hasn’t done that for the most part. ”

      Yes, it has. It’s called import tariffs and Mr. Putin started with that rather early on. They really lifted the Asia growth model. 13% tax code and people starting to pay taxes also help.

      > “Their current “import substitution” is too little, too late. ”

      It’s a milder case of 1998 now. 1999 was the first year ever since the end of Soviet Union that domestic light industry picked up. So, in time actually the chances are relatively good. Currency effect mostly, with Russians no longer being able to afford expensive foreign goods. Necessity is a powerful drive of industriousness and creativity. People find a way even through most Byzantine system.

      > “Instead Putin preferred to keep the country dependent on oil and other natural resources”

      Dutch disease. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease Let’s sanction Netherlands cause their gas killed their industry? Can people everywhere finally get it not everything is due to their president / prime minister?

      > “Also, Putin has failed at providing long-term stability. Corruption stifles investment and his lack of concern for rule of law scares off investors, especially in recent years. Hence the capital flight. Keep in mind that in 2014 or 2015 the Duma discussed bills about seizing foreign property in Russia. Investors just love that.”

      All emerging markets were experiencing large capital flight at the same time. Sanctions surely scare people too. I know some stupid laws they did in 2015, like equivalent of FATCA except even more paper-work heavy. One asshole duma guy responsible. It does hurt individuals, but businesses were under similar law for many years before. In theory it is supposed to fight offshore tax evasion. In reality, it’s just useless paperwork.

      > “Putin has had 16 years to “raise Russia from her knees.” At best he managed to get her into a crouching position, but that’s it.”

      Total BS, I travelled every few years to Russia since before he came to power to until 2013. I also have relatives and threads there who tell me what’s up, including some real anti-Putin folks. There were clear signs of economic development, stability, and improvement of people’s self-confidence. Was easy to spot the difference with my own eyes as the visits were spaced out. Towards 2012 or so, it slowed down, and people rightfully blamed Putin. I also noted decline of the crazy 90s type of freedom. Yet, while I was harassed by cops in early 2000s, I didn’t get harassed more recently (maybe just luck). I think Russians will benefit from new fresher leadership, but it’s very very hard to claim Mr. Putin had no positive impact in his earlier days. And it’s very hard not to say Yeltsin was a disaster.

      Long discussion and I am done. You really seriously claim you have no lack of balance whatsover? Just read through all the stuff I am replying to here. I am almost laughing. Have the final word.

      Reply
  14. Gud

    Guys, I hate to tell you, but I haven’t lived in Russia or America for quiet a long time. Obviously, I have lived in both Russian and American societies long enough to put up some semi-credible criticism of both. I really wouldn’t give a rats ass about all those petty little fights, as it ain’t my fight anymore. I was all too happy to leave those monkeys-throwing-feces type of issues behind a long long time ago. But they way things are going, it really is a concern to all human beens on the planet. So, I feel like I’ve got to try to do my part too once in a while, as I did study those issues in my previous life.

    I am proud to be a vatnik or whatever else you call the people you disagree with. The truth is quiet different. If you guys work for CIA, come work for us, the pay is better 😉 I could give a shit ass about Putin, Obama, Nuland, Lavrov, Kerry, and all those types. I have friends and relatives on both sides, who will surely get totally screwed if this gets out of hand. The way those assholes on both sides are going, we gonna have a WWIII soon. For fucks sake, CALM THE FUCK DOWN. Start listening to each other.

    You do understand where we are, don’t you? It is the first time in the history of US, that US outright attacked something called ‘Russia’, except perhaps for the 100 or so American soldiers sent during the Russian Civil War. People talk about Cold War 2.0. It is quite an understatement.

    Who fucking cares which side is ultimately wrong or right? The important point I see no Russians driving the initiative to isolate US and tell Americans how to live their lives. You guys pretty much go into somebody’s else’s home and do just that. There’s a difference between giving criticism and outright telling people they are shit and you know better how they should live their lives… and sanctioning them for not doing what you tell them to. If you cannot tell the difference, well, I guess lots of people will have to die before this one gets settled. One can only hope humanity survives.

    It takes two idiots to have a stupid fight. You can easily point one of those. Have a guess at the other.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      If you don’t care so much, why are you so eager to defend Putin’s system and excuse it?

      America is not attacking Russia.In fact, America was investing billions in Putin’s Russia, which in turn helped raise living standards. Russian and American oil companies were working together as well. In spite of these sanctions American companies continue to invest in Russia or sell their much-desired products here. Meanwhile the Russian government has once again increased its share of investment in US treasury bonds.

      As for WWIII, this dismay tactic isn’t going to work. The USSR had more nukes than Russia and a larger military, and that didn’t do anything because ultimately the real war going on near the end was between the elite and the ordinary people, not between the US and the USSR. This will eventually happen in our time with Putin’s Russia.

      “…and sanctioning them for not doing what you tell them to. ”

      Oh you mean like telling someone not to invade their neighbor’s house and annex part of it?

      Nobody’s telling Russia how to live(but again, those Russians who don’t like this system apparently have no say in the matter), they’re saying Russia isn’t allowed to violate the sovereignty of its neighbors at will.

      It’s funny that you make these allegations totally ignoring what Russia has done to Ukraine. I think that certainly qualifies as telling someone how to live. In the vatniy narrative, Ukrainians should thank their lucky stars that the generous Muscovites “gave” them so much land and won the Second World War for them. And of course, they should speak Russian.

      Reply
      1. Gud

        I never specifically defended the Putin system. I just pointed out the flaws in the other side, which to me is in no way fundamentally better. My preferred options is for all this crap to settle down, so the Russian people for once can decide for themselves – Mr. Putin has seen his day and it’s time to move on. It will never happen under external pressure, it never did anywhere in the whole of history. Don’t you get it, that exactly this kind situation we have now, is what justifies having the hard-ass folks like Putin. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”

        For America not attacking Russia, I think you will have a hard time selling it to vast majorty of Russians. See Obama state of the union address. If you lived in US following 911, you might remember all of those folks they would show on CNN America – “let’s make the parking lot out of Afghanistan” type. Well, that’s pretty much Russian mentality right there as well. When Obama goes on to say “Russian economy is in tatters” the first thing Russian Joe the sixpack will think of is to reach out for the nukes. What the actual truth is is secondary, perception is king.

        USSR was in that ideological dream of the bright Communist future which will come eventually, sooner or later. No pressure. Very much like “building the world for inevitable triumph of democracy and freedom” (in Janis Joplin sense I am sure). They guys making decisions were all for the most part well over 70. Neither is the case any more. Mr. Putin cut his teeth in Yugoslavia by putting the troops down on the ground first, having the other side back off to “avoid WWIII.” If you understand the logic of MAD, you surely know the crazier side wins… until it doesn’t, and we all die. Ukraine is a far cry from Cuba. No Russian can be entirely rational about Ukraine, due to all the blood ties Russians and Ukrainians have. The number of nukes is completely irrelevant. 10x the amount it takes to end all life on earth, versus only 3x.

        Invading people. Well, I think US has invaded so many folks who were not even their neighbor, that it will be quite a chore to make the full list. None of it is legal, as international law nominally requires UN security council decision. As for Annexing them, well, it seems like the whole world got annexed already – it’s either the American way or you get bombed. Anyways, if anything one learns from serious studies of this type of issues, it is that there’s never any morality in killing hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. Since the end of WWII, America killed more civilians than anybody else. Take a guess on who is second…. matches the prison populations and a great company to have.

        Ukraine story is pretty simple. It got stuck in the great game between major powers, and that never ended well for anybody. As someone who has some Ukrainian roots, what can I say? It is a shitty world. Don’t bother blaming it all on just one side. There’s plenty of concrete evidence that points the finger at at least three major foreign players involved. Russia is only one of them. History does repeat itself in a way, and Ukraine was a pawn in foreign power conflicts a number of times before.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The problem is that the two systems are not the same. If they were, we’d see more cooperation and both sides would be doing better. Look at how the US relates to countries like Germany, France, The Netherlands, UK, Norway, etc. They all have very different political systems, but the commonality is such that they are all rather successful and they get along well. The problem with Putin’s system is that he needed this conflict with the West to explain away all his failures.

        Also I’m afraid the perceptions don’t matter. Obama gave that SOTU in 2015, long after Russia annexed part of Ukraine and started a war there. These people need to take responsibility for their actions. Moreover, Obama said from the beginning that military solutions were out of the question, therefore how can anyone reasonably argue that Russia is under threat of war. They’re the ones running all these snap drills and invading airspace as well.

        And as for Ukraine, I’m sorry but NED grants to some NGOs can’t be equated with armed troops, volunteers, weapons, etc.

      3. Gud

        First of all, you are still talking as some kind of superior being judging the mortals on the ground: “These people need to take responsibility for their actions. ” The answer is judge not before you judge yourself.

        I agree things worked out very well for Germany etc. Actually, I personally think if 1990s worked out differently, Russia would have been all too happy to be another Germany and defer to the Americans on global things. Water under bridge.

        However, do remember that Germany didn’t exactly get there without some major global snags along the way. It wasn’t just one WWI, it took the second one to finally settle things. Historians generally agree that it is the overly harsh treaty of Versalles that inevitably pushed Germany to go into another WWII. Europe did a lot better after, not in the very least because of ingenious design of the Marshal Plan and how well it was executed. It was unprecedented to give massive economic assistance to the former foe who lost you in a war. Perhaps, it would not have been even politically possible to accomplish in US, if not in the context of new rivalry with USSR. Very quality American leadership for sure.

        I am not gonna reply to other moralizing points. Moralizing in context of international politics are known as crusades. I am sure you know there were things happening well before Ukraine humpty dumpty fell of the wall. Notably, Magnitsky Act and all the propaganda about Pussy Riot, anti-gay propaganda laws, etc. I am waiting for your answer why Russia and not Saudi Arabia. There’s one and anyone from realist political science school can easily tell you, why.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “First of all, you are still talking as some kind of superior being judging the mortals on the ground: “These people need to take responsibility for their actions. ” The answer is judge not before you judge yourself.”

        Excuse me but exactly who am “I” here? Like a typical Putin supporter, you seem to think that I’m some kind of representative of the US government.

        Principled people don’t see themselves as representatives of their government. My criticism of the Russian government is largely gleaned from Russians and because I live here. When I lived in the US, most of my criticism was aimed at them. If I move back there, it will be the same thing.I stand for certain principles, not any particular government.

        “Notably, Magnitsky Act and all the propaganda about Pussy Riot, anti-gay propaganda laws, etc. I am waiting for your answer why Russia and not Saudi Arabia. ”

        Again, that’s a question for the US government and not someone like me, since I loathe Saudi Arabia more than the Russian government. The problem is though, I live in Russia, I don’t know any ordinary Saudis, and however bad it is there doesn’t change anything here.

        And all these things you list do not constitute a war against Russia. The Magnitsky Act, which I too felt was highly problematic, was the product of a powerful lobbyist. The “propaganda” surrounding Pussy Riot was often hopelessly naive, but in principle it was right for people to speak out against their show trial and unusually long sentence. Again, the response to the anti-gay propaganda law was misguided(in the sense that many people didn’t understand what it was or how it got passed), but in principle right.

      5. Gud

        > “Excuse me but exactly who am “I” here? Like a typical Putin supporter, you seem to think that I’m some kind of representative of the US government.”

        Thank you for ascribing to me both that I am a Putin supporter and that I think that you work for US government. I recommend to drop exercises in empty rhetorical tricks. These do not add to meaningful discussion. I do not live in Russia and have not been to there for quiet sometime. I am not aware of ever doing to support Putin, and would be all too happy to see him voted out of office in the next election and for him not to run at all in the first place. I also think Russian government has way too many way too corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats, which is the #1 problem in the country.

        I was, however, referring to your personally talking down to Russian people by telling them what to do:
        “Also I’m afraid the perceptions don’t matter. Obama gave that SOTU in 2015, long after Russia annexed part of Ukraine and started a war there. These people need to take responsibility for their actions. ”
        Mr Obama talked about Russian economy in tatters, which happens to mean the Russian people, at large. You telling all of the Russian people what the need to take responsibility for is rising a level above them – a god-like creature.

        “Again, that’s a question for the US government and not someone like me, since I loathe Saudi Arabia more than the Russian government. The problem is though, I live in Russia, I don’t know any ordinary Saudis, and however bad it is there doesn’t change anything here.”

        I am talking about Western media at large, based on which you form all of your criticism and implied motives etc of Mr. Putin and Co. They would have more credibility if ON TOP of criticising Russia, they have criticised consistently everyone who is by all accounts at least as bad as the worst things they say about Mr. Putin. There’s a long list beyond Saudi Arabia, but that one is a very glaring gap. For that matter, they never criticised Yeltsin for using tanks to storm the Russian parlament, nor for changing constitution giving more presidential powers, and not even for reported election-rigging to steal 1996 elections from the other party.

        When that doesn’t happen, then one can legitimately ask why Mr. Putin specifically? Because, selective justice is not justice, selective moralizations is immoral, and selective negative reporting is a smear campaign.

        Magnitsky Act is minor indeed, but it is symbolic of extraterritorial application of American law. If you are Marxist as you claim, surely you know how it smacks of colonialism and unequal treaties which were done in later evolutions of colonial methodology.

        I should add Georgia war on top of it. Georgia was very closely associated with and supported by US government.

        All of these in combination, just show that Ukraine is the culmination of the trend that was building for a while. Now, if you listen to the Putin side and to some Western analysts like Stratfor, then you would also know they say Ukraine went through a blatant coup coordinated and promoted by a foreign government. In particular a certain intercepted conversation discussing the composition of the new Ukrainian government, two weeks or so before the actual overthrow. That did strike me personally as highly suspicious. The yet-to-be-found snipers likewise… I just don’t get using snipers for crowd control, especially when 20% or so dead were police… Hard to buy police shooting police.
        Repost: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/03/reckless-kiev-neocons-putin-ukr-201431053846277945.html

        I am absolutely not interested in debating whether this is true or not. Just as I am not interested debating the evidence of Russian troops in Ukraine (ex Crimea). But given all these, would you not say there were some aggressive sparks building up well before Ukraine, which were not all due to Russian government?

        It really comes down to why do you think Russia just suddenly took Crimea? If I understand your point of view, it’s because Mr.Putin is a crazed dictator bent on rebuilding USSR. Now, given that Ukraine is still an independent state, I see trouble with that version. Wouldn’t he just take Ukraine by now to stick it in the new USSR? Or is he simply trying to keep Ukraine out of western orbit? In that case surely a deal on neutral Ukraine will be better than Cold War 2.0? See, after Iraq WMD stuff, one has to learn to think more for oneself and not just take all reporting as truth for granted. Which what I try to do, neither for nor against Putin.

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        You claim not to be a Putin supporter, but you seem very eager to excuse and defend his regime, and imply that it rules in the name of Russia. Look at this, for example:

        “I was, however, referring to your personally talking down to Russian people by telling them what to do:”

        Really? Again have I not mentioned that most of these complaints come from Russians? Do they not get a say? Are they talking down to themselves?

        “Mr Obama talked about Russian economy in tatters, which happens to mean the Russian people, at large.”

        As the result of the actions of the Russian government.

        ” You telling all of the Russian people what the need to take responsibility for is rising a level above them – a god-like creature.”

        No, it isn’t. It’s called being an adult, not a god. If people want to support this government, they own responsibility for the consequences.

        The rest of your comments are moot since I don’t support US policy. You can contact the US Department of State and send your rants there. I doubt they’ll respond.

        “It really comes down to why do you think Russia just suddenly took Crimea? If I understand your point of view, it’s because Mr.Putin is a crazed dictator bent on rebuilding USSR.”

        No, that is not my position. It is partially because he is a dictator, but not because he’s trying to restore any Soviet Union. Of course there are class interests in the Donbass, but really this was about punishing Ukrainians for overthrowing their “legitimate” government. Putin doesn’t understand the concept of a legitimate government losing its legitimacy through its actions.He had to demonstrate to his people that protesting leads to “chaos” and worse consequences. He also had to make sure that Ukraine didn’t become a successful, law abiding democracy.If that happened it would destroy his narrative that Russians are backward savages who cannot handle liberal democracy.

      7. Gud

        > “You claim not to be a Putin supporter, but you seem very eager to excuse and defend his regime, and imply that it rules in the name of Russia. Look at this, for example:”

        Ok, if I am a Putin supporter then you are an agent on the pay of somebody trying to overthrow Russian government. You’ve spewed consistent positive spin on everything to do with the West, and consistently negative on anything to do with Russia and Russian government in particular.

        NO I AM KIDDING. Stop making baseless accusations, because the above is just exact equivalent.

        > “Really? Again have I not mentioned that most of these complaints come from Russians? Do they not get a say? Are they talking down to themselves?”

        Rhetorical dodge again. You previously explicitly said that “These [Russian] people need to take responsibility for their actions.,” which implies you have the authority to tell Russian people what to do. What a Russian would say is “WE need to take control of our government so it stops doing crap internationally.” See the difference? Less explicit, but ever-present, this same tone is through a good portion of your statement.

        Look, I’ve known some older Russian immigrants in US, who while they moved and acquired citizenship, did not really become Americans. Americans understand that well… 1st gen, 2nd gen, 3rd gen. They also tended to be overly-critical about peculiar American ways of doing things. In many ways you are a mirror of them. Except they were generally way more respectful and didn’t carry the overbearing arrogance superiority-to-locals tone which you seem to. I’ve also met many Americans in Russia who were just like the Russian immigrants, without those same arrogance overtones. Remember Trump’s 911 cheering muslims? It’s for your own quality of life there, that I recommend you be more considerate to folks sensibilities. You are most certainly free not to, however.

        > “The rest of your comments are moot since I don’t support US policy. You can contact the US Department of State and send your rants there. I doubt they’ll respond.”
        Again a rhetorical dodge. You are making massive accusations towards Russian government people on these threads are trying to find out who is right or wrong, and who has started it. If it’s not relevant whether Ukrainian government got overthrown, than I don’t not what is.

        > “No, that is not my position. It is partially because he is a dictator, but not because he’s trying to restore any Soviet Union. Of course there are class interests in the Donbass, but really this was about punishing Ukrainians for overthrowing their “legitimate” government. Putin doesn’t understand the concept of a legitimate government losing its legitimacy through its actions.He had to demonstrate to his people that protesting leads to “chaos” and worse consequences. He also had to make sure that Ukraine didn’t become a successful, law abiding democracy.If that happened it would destroy his narrative that Russians are backward savages who cannot handle liberal democracy.”

        Fine, you are entitled to your opinion, which is a conspiracy theory. I would like to see evidence. On the other hand, we have: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfowitz_Doctrine#Superpower_status
        “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere”
        Pull Victoria Nuland, the lady on the intercepted phone call, her husband Robert Kagan, was a founder of something called the “Project for the new American Century” which ties directly into the above. Now, that really makes me suspicious. A conspiracy theory perhaps and I avoid those. But so is yours.

        Anyways, look at it this way. I have relatives in Russia who run their own small business. They do not support Putin or whatever. I heard all about the pain of running a business in the byzantine business and regulator culture, yet it’s better than it was in the 1990s and they wanted their kids to stay. Why is their economic well-being deserves to be damaged based on a conspiracy theory?

        Say, if I wanted to do a cross-border business involving Russia. None of it to do with Putin or to his benefit. No way I would do it now, and especially if Russian government gets overthrown. No way I would dare to do that in Ukraine of today either, given all the crazy stories, instability, and even large number of murders. Why restrict peoples options on a conspiracy theory?

        Finally, take South Korea, or Taiwan, or Singapore. Large share of their development happened under outright sometimes brutal dictators. They all started making cheap crappy goods. Then eventually, without any external help, people came together and got themselves democracy. The dictatorships provided some basic stability, and basic stability is required for any kind of development and business. Can democracy not really emerge in any other way, than the people who are ready to come and demand it?

      8. Jim Kovpak Post author

        ” You’ve spewed consistent positive spin on everything to do with the West, and consistently negative on anything to do with Russia and Russian government in particular.”

        Except that I haven’t. I’m a tireless critic of capitalism in general, including Western liberal democracies. However, I’m for a realistic assessment of their faults and I don’t believe in making false equivalencies. Again, look to the Communist Manifesto and its context in 1848. Communists back then didn’t say: “Well the liberal bourgeoisie are also oppressive so who are they to condemn those monarchists?”

        “Rhetorical dodge again. You previously explicitly said that “These [Russian] people need to take responsibility for their actions.,” which implies you have the authority to tell Russian people what to do. What a Russian would say is “WE need to take control of our government so it stops doing crap internationally.” See the difference?”

        Taking responsibility is an objectively adult behavior. I don’t say “we” because I’m not ethnically Russian and nobody accepts me as such. Even in Ukraine, where I can claim some heritage(though not terribly concrete), I try to avoid saying “we” because it sounds weird. In Eastern Europe if you’re not born to the country or have two parents that were, you’re rarely accepted as being of that nationality. They’re actually right to think this way, in some sense.

        “Fine, you are entitled to your opinion, which is a conspiracy theory. I would like to see evidence.”

        No, it is not a conspiracy theory because the Russian media and government constantly tout this line about the US being behind every “revolution” and creating chaos. Putin also has a very obvious fear of being held accountable via popular revolutions.

        On the other hand, your PNAC claim is a conspiracy theory, and not a particularly good one. For one thing, Ukraine remaining as it was would not turn Russia into a rival. If anything it would be a burden. There was little to gain from it.

        More importantly, Eurointegration was Yanukovych’s project, and he didn’t totally call off the deal, he merely tried to postpone it. Now you want me to believe that the US somehow got those students to protest, knowing that they’d be brutally beaten, and then they somehow knew that this would bring out even larger crowds and riots would ensue? And then they knew that Yanukovych wouldn’t stick around after the 21 February agreement? That’s a pretty complicated conspiracy and it doesn’t really match any historical US-backed coup I’ve ever heard of.

        Suppose Yanukovych caved in the beginning or at any time beyond that. What would they do? Suppose he was more competent like the Armenian government last year.

        The US isn’t going to overthrow a government just because it postpones a trade agreement with the European Union, and if they wanted to they certainly wouldn’t have done it in such an inefficient, unpredictable way which has far to many variables.

        On the topic of South Korea, Taiwan, etc., this is very true, but with an important difference. Taking South Korea as an example, the government protected its industry from the beginning and built up a diverse economy. Russia hasn’t done that for the most part. Their current “import substitution” is too little, too late. Instead Putin preferred to keep the country dependent on oil and other natural resources, because he could control these industries better by putting his friends in charge of the companies.

        Also, Putin has failed at providing long-term stability. Corruption stifles investment and his lack of concern for rule of law scares off investors, especially in recent years. Hence the capital flight. Keep in mind that in 2014 or 2015 the Duma discussed bills about seizing foreign property in Russia. Investors just love that.

        Putin has had 16 years to “raise Russia from her knees.” At best he managed to get her into a crouching position, but that’s it.

  15. Asehpe

    “See Obama state of the union address. ”

    If that’s your only argument for ‘the US is attacking Russia’, besides Jim’s point above, there is also the obvious one that it refers to the sanctions, not to any military actions; and the sanctions were a response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine after annexing Crimea. So, if you want to criticize someone, why not do this with the one who started it by giving a motivation to the sanctions?

    I understand that the Russians don’t buy it, but that’s the point of toxic patriotism + a media system under direct control of the state: to create this climate. At this point, no matter what the West said, the Russians wouldn’t buy it. Even if the West sincerely agreed with Russia, they’d smell something fishy and keep saying that the West was wrong.

    “Ukraine story is pretty simple. It got stuck in the great game between major powers, and that never ended well for anybody. ”

    So you deny Ukraine any real self-interest and any real opinion on this matter? The Ukrainians don’t matter, and nobody has to listen to what they say?

    Besides, the same can be said for all of Eastern Europe, and yet some countries (e.g., Poland, Estonia) are coming out well. History is not so simple as “might makes right”. There are other factors.

    “Invading people. Well, I think US has invaded so many folks who were not even their neighbor, that it will be quite a chore to make the full list.”

    Unless you mean to imply that you agree with the US doing that, I don’t see the relevance.The US was wrong in many of these invasions, and Russia is wrong in their invasion. Surely you’re not trying to justify Putin by saying ‘Bush did it too’? That’s a non-sequitur, since nobody here is claiming the opposite.

    ” it seems like the whole world got annexed already – it’s either the American way or you get bombed.”

    Huhn? What? If that were true, then we would have no problem, right? Russia would simply be a docile American colony and Putin would be kissing Obama’s hands (or whatever body parts Putin prefers — I remember him implying one once). Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, you can’t be really right.

    I suspect what you’re really implying is the old “everything that happens is planned by America” trope. We can discuss it independently if you will, because it certainly deserves further examination. Let my answer for the time being be simply “it isn’t, and in fact can never be, that simple”.

    “I have friends and relatives on both sides, who will surely get totally screwed if this gets out of hand.”

    So do I. That’s why I care about who is right. It seems to me that the only real path for reuniting the two sides is a good understanding of what happened, why, and who is indeed to blame for what. Without that, and without an act of contrition, the bad blood will go on for generations… See Serbs and Croats, who, by most accounts, are even closer relatives than Russians and Ukrainians.

    “It takes two idiots to have a stupid fight. You can easily point one of those. Have a guess at the other.”

    No — actually, all it takes is one idiot and a cardboard box. If he annoys someone else enough to be avoided/shunned, he can claim to be ‘under attack’ and go on talking. Then, when he feels frustrated and starts punching the guy sleeping next to his cardboard box, then someone will call the cops (= sanctions) — and he’ll claim that ‘the system (= whole world) is against him’.

    “No Russian can be entirely rational about Ukraine, due to all the blood ties Russians and Ukrainians have.”

    If that is right, then there indeed is no hope. Just as with the Sudentendeutschen, about whom I’m sure Hitler would claim that ‘no German could be entirely rational’. I hope you’re wrong, because, if you’re not, then you’re basically saying this problem will never be solved — especially given the trauma the Russians have now caused on their Ukrainian ‘brethren’. As they say, some of the nastiest, least resolvable conflicts arise between blood relatives…

    “Who fucking cares which side is ultimately wrong or right?”

    I imagine both sides do. Also, all those who would be interested in measures that would make a repetition of this one-man-driven war impossible, or at least less likely — since if the Russian side wins this task will be more difficult And you probably do, too, since you spend so much time here trying to prove that one side is wrong. If you don’t care whether or not America or Euope are ‘right’, why should you even try to argue that America is ‘wrong’?

    Look, your point in the end is somewhat defensible: you think that, no matter whether or not Putin gets his way, in the end the important thing is that the common people survive and have enough to prosper. If he ends up claiming victory or not, this is less important than making sure people don’t die unnecessarily on both sides of a conflict that had no reason to be other than Putin’s need to stay in power. And I agree — the most important thing is indeed to stop the violence and let Ukraine — and Russia — return to some semblance of normal life. But my question to you — and I am sincerely interested in your answer — is: what do you see as the best way to do this? It doesn’t seem to me that simply shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘whoever wins is OK with me’ is going to help, but I’m willing to hear your arguments to the contrary.1

    Reply
    1. Gud

      There were already things happening before Ukranian conflict. Magnitsky act, etc.

      Second, sanctions are a form of war. Even UN recognizes economic sanctions and blockades as a form of war.

      My point about US invasions, is to point out the lack of morality and law in major power behaviour. Consistent application of law to all is the essential feature of the rule of law. UN basically failed to manage great power relations, just as the League of Nations before it. I think it is unfortunate, but it is what it is.

      Now we are back to “might makes right,” in some ways we never left. There is a realist school in political science which does a superb analysis of such international power relationships. Sure, it will be worthwhile to try to construct a new system of international law (“reform UN”), but than Americans must be willing to lead/accept that. Don’t see that happening.

      Without international law, statements like “So you deny Ukraine any real self-interest and any real opinion on this matter” are meaningless. Because this implies some kind of right, which implies some kind of international law.

      Moralizing doesn’t help settle conflicts, nor do the half-assed propaganda wars that rely on it. Facts are complex and there’s a fog of war. Sure, anyone would accept Ukraine self-determination. Does that include accepting the overthrowing previous Ukrainian government in violation of Ukrainian constitution, with plenty of documented foreign participation in that overthrow, or do we not accept? Sure, I know. Yanukovich is corrupt and whatever, which must be worthwhile to throw any kind of notion of Ukranian rule of law. Do you Eastern Ukranians have a right to equal representation in “Ukrainian self-iterest”. Anyways, these things have been plaid out long enough, that’s hardly worthwhile to replay again. People already know the answer they prefer, and they will find facts, morals, and reasons that get them to the answer and dismiss those that will take them to another. Very few people really can master “When the facts change, I change my mind – What do you do sire?”, especially in light of massive media spin for both sides.

      > “I understand that the Russians don’t buy it, but that’s the point of toxic patriotism + a media system under direct control of the state: to create this climate”
      First, I haven’t visited Russia since 2013, so presumably I am not under effect of Russian state media any more than you are. Also, as I noted earlier, around 90% of Soviet population read dissident literature by early 80s and didn’t really buy into Soviet propaganda. That’s to give you an idea about how effective lie-based totalitarian propaganda is.

      Finally, on the subject of Russia I find Western media climate very toxic as well. Some of it could easily have rolled off Goebbels printing press (“the inferior Slavs in dirty homes not capable of ever building anything without the Aryans”). American exceptionalism to me, as expressed in Western media, is also a form of highly toxic patriotism to me.

      >”Even if the West sincerely agreed with Russia, they’d smell something fishy and keep saying that the West was wrong.”

      Prisoner dillema, isn’t it? Russians can likewise say “we backed off in last cold war, see how well it worked, cannot back off now…”

      >”Besides, the same can be said for all of Eastern Europe, and yet some countries (e.g., Poland, Estonia) are coming out well. History is not so simple as “might makes right”. There are other factors.”

      I agree it’s desirable to create a more robust system of international law. History is actually quite brutal. You know, there’s even the time when Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth occupied Moscow (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_Minin_and_Pozharsky).

      I do not think Russia is seriously interested in invading Poland or Estonia. There’s simply not much to be had by doing so. Same reason why Ukraine was not already outright invaded and taken over. At least not Russia of today. Lots of fear and spin, but practically speaking the actual real sore is treatment of Russian minorities there, although I doubted it will ever grow to the level of invasion. I did predict they would go for Middle East in late 2014, and that they did. A number of real interests, including strategic there.

      “Huhn? What? If that were true, then we would have no problem, right? Russia would simply be a docile American colony and Putin would be kissing Obama’s hands (or whatever body parts Putin prefers — I remember him implying one once). Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, you can’t be really right.”

      That’s exactly why Russia and to a lesser extent China is such a thorn in Washington’s behind (and has been for quite a while and long before Ukraine). Cannot bomb them… “RIVALS!” See, realist political school can give sensible answers. Anyways, it’s actually not a conspiracy, you can find the relevant policy papers in public domain.

      > “I suspect what you’re really implying is the old “everything that happens is planned by America” trope. We can discuss it independently if you will, because it certainly deserves further examination. Let my answer for the time being be simply “it isn’t, and in fact can never be, that simple”.

      I actually do not at all think so and reject all massive conspiracy theories along those lines. It’s more subtle and emerges as interplay of many different centers and forms of Western power. Also, nut just in America. Europeans like to play clean and innocent, but they aren’t. To quote George Kennan in his Soviet containment policy document, but substituting Washington for Moscow. While not 100% percent, lots of it sticks 🙂
      “On the principle of infallibility there rests the iron discipline of the American
      Establishment. In fact, the two concepts are mutually self-supporting. Perfect discipline requires recognition of infallibility. Infallibility requires the observance of discipline. And the two together go far to determine the behaviorism of the entire American apparatus of power. But their effect cannot be understood unless a third factor be taken into account: namely, the fact that the leadership is at liberty to put forward for tactical purposes any particular thesis which it finds useful to the cause at any particular moment and to require the faithful and unquestioning acceptance of the thesis by the members of the movement as a whole. This means that truth is not a constant but is actually created, for all intents and purposes, by Washington itself. It may vary from week to week, month to month. It is nothing absolute and immutable — nothing which flows from objective reality. It is only the most recent manifestation of the wisdom of those in whom the ultimate wisdom is supposed to reside, because they represent the logic of history. The accumulative effect of these factors is to give to the whole subordinate apparatus of American power an unshakable stubbornness and steadfastness in its orientation. This orientation can be changed at will by Washington but by no other power. Once a given party line has been laid down on a given issue of current policy, the whole American governmental machine, including the mechanism of diplomacy, moves inexorably along the prescribed path, like a persistent toy automobile wound up and headed in a given direction, stopping only when it meets with some unanswerable force. The individuals who are the components of this machine are unamenable to argument or reason which comes to them from outside sources. Their whole training has taught them to mistrust and discount the glib persuasiveness of the outside world.

      > “So do I. That’s why I care about who is right. It seems to me that the only real path for reuniting the two sides is a good understanding of what happened, why, and who is indeed to blame for what. Without that, and without an act of contrition, the bad blood will go on for generations… See Serbs and Croats, who, by most accounts, are even closer relatives than Russians and Ukrainians.”

      Unfortunately, who is right and wrong in matters involving hundreds of millions of people is complicated. I do try to be practical and do what I can to avoid the worst and hopefully have this settle and reconcile as soon as possible.

      I do find the concept of morality when applied to nations rather troubling however, in general. Collective responsibility and all of that. Not to say there should not be robust rule-based international law, but moralistic judgment by the rules of propagandised mob without any kind of due process and imposing collective punishment on hundreds of millions of people…. I find nothing pretty in that.

      >”No — actually, all it takes is one idiot and a cardboard box. If he annoys someone else enough to be avoided/shunned, he can claim to be ‘under attack’ and go on talking. Then, when he feels frustrated and starts punching the guy sleeping next to his cardboard box, then someone will call the cops (= sanctions) — and he’ll claim that ‘the system (= whole world) is against him’.”

      You again presuppose some authority above the idiots, which sanctions the “cop”. In modern international system there’s no such effective widely accepted authority. It’s more like one bully goes punches some little guy, then another bigger bully shows up bullies the bully. They even collect protection money… seriously.

      >”If that is right, then there indeed is no hope. Just as with the Sudentendeutschen, about whom I’m sure Hitler would claim that ‘no German could be entirely rational’. I hope you’re wrong, because, if you’re not, then you’re basically saying this problem will never be solved — especially given the trauma the Russians have now caused on their Ukrainian ‘brethren’. As they say, some of the nastiest, least resolvable conflicts arise between blood relatives…”

      Time cures things once situation stabilises and conflict ends. In American Civil War brother likewise went against brother. Traces of that remain, but for the most part mutual interests triumphed and people moved on.

      Tired of Hitler analogies. Hitler was one screwed in the head guy with a nasty ideology before he even came to power. Mr. Putin is not that clearly. Next one can be. Economy implodes like it did in Weimar Germany, and the populace will truly go for ultra-nationalism marshal law war economy.

      > “If you don’t care whether or not America or Euope are ‘right’, why should you even try to argue that America is ‘wrong’?”
      I do not actually think or try to argue America is wrong, or right. The point I am trying to make is to show the complexity and grey nuances of the issues and to question whether morals are better left to where they belong – in the relationships between individual people.

      I am not sure what exactly “Putin getting his way is.” What is that way? Is it what he says he wants in his speeches or they mind-reading done by some media organisation, if later – which one?

      > “that had no reason to be other than Putin’s need to stay in power”
      I would strongly disagree with this. This conflict goes far beyond Mr. Putin staying in power and was building up from well before Ukraine. Indeed it really gets going with the Yugoslavia message. I am always willing to listen for a well made argument for why it is all explained by “Putin’s simple need to stay in power”

      >”what do you see as the best way to do this? It doesn’t seem to me that simply shrugging your shoulders and saying ‘whoever wins is OK with me’ is going to help, but I’m willing to hear your arguments to the contrary.”

      My view on this is the following. If conflict continues it will go for a long time. Even weaker Iran under stronger sanctions didn’t fold for decades. I also think such conflict has all the potential to blow up into a total global nightmare, worse than Cold War 1.0. So, best the conflict does not continue. If you are right, that should in itself lead to Mr. Putin to fold. If I had to guess, he might even retire himself. Cold War 1.0 was won with soft power, whatever historical rivisionists claim. To end the conflict some kind of deal needs to be made to normalise relationships. It doesn’t mean everyone should start suddenly liking anybody else, but they have dealt with the likes of Stalin before (who to me is on par with Hitler). Yes, one can claim they sold out Eastern Europe to Stalin – but what was the alternative? Continue WWII right along, now between US and USSR with tens of millions more dead?

      For the Ukraine itself, unfortunately it will be difficult to put humpty dumpty together again. Maybe not right now, but eventually, I see Ukraine as a neutral state having preferential trade agreements with both EU and Russia (but both synchronized) and some kind of Marshall-like plan paid by both EU and Russia (which they will get back as economic stimulus when that money comes back in procurement of EU/Russia goods). Smart people with Ukraine geography choose to be Finland or Switzerland.

      Reply
  16. Uffe Dimon Bendtsen (@DimonUffe)

    Gud (A sidenote, is your current residence Denmark?)

    I was curious about your remark about MAD and “the crasier side wins)
    I would say that this is not at all the case in regards to MAD, somewhat opposite in fact, it is more the case of: this is so crazy that no side wins. I worked in the Danish army as an “ABC calculator” Back in the years just after the wall fell and the danish army still hadn’t changed to the new reality. My job was to work with the consequences of tactic nuclear weaponry and biological, chemical warfare. Calculate from a forward base of operations the size and effect of attacks involving this sort of weaponry, and what i have learned about MAD is something completely different.

    MAD is an equilibrium where both sides have such a sizable cache of nuclear weaponry, and the ability to respond in kind in case of an attack, so that launching said weapons would result in mutual assured destruction. The appearance of weapons platforms such as nuclear missile carrying submarines was one factor that helped ruled out the possibilty of so called “Decapitation strikes” and created a stand off situation. The situation being that nuclear powers can not launch without expecting total annihilation themselves.

    Recent technology advances are pushing the equilibrium a bit, but still not in any meaningful way.

    In essence, nothing has changed in this regard even though the political landscape has changed. Using nuclear weaponry today is just as crazy as it was since the inception of the concept of MAD.
    And all sides know this, Russia included. Even if you speculate in a full on nuclear exchange or a small scale limited exchange, the results will be the same, the leadership of the country that starts the exchange will have their days numbered.

    Russia pulling the nuclear card is banging on empty drums, nuclear weapons have seized to be an offensive weapon that can reasonably be used, the most value they can offer is as a threat but if you consider all aspects with a clear head, then it is clear to see that the threat is also empty

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      This was a point Galeotti made one time about how Russia’s announcement that it was putting more money towards nuclear missiles was actually a positive thing- they would be pissing away money on something they can’t really use. I’d had a similar idea stretching back to my late teens and early 20’s. There’d be all these news reports about Russia getting a new nuclear missile like the Topol-M, and I was wondering as to why they weren’t developing new strategic bombers with conventional cruise missiles. After all, back then the US was using Tomahawks all over the world.

      In a nuclear exchange, pretty much everybody, possibly even China, would hit Russia if it launched on the US. The US has 315 million people and counting, Russia has 142 million and it’s pretty static. Who’s going to “win” that scenario?

      Reply
      1. Uffe Dimon Bendtsen (@DimonUffe)

        Exactly..

        And we don’t even have to play the big horror scenario.
        Just imagine the fallout (slight pun intended) of the use of a limited nuclear device 50 kiloton, or in that order, not even aimed at any US (or NATO) allies or assets. A small detonation in some random conflict that Putin and cronies has gotten themselves into in some hypothetical scenario.
        in that hypothetical scenario there wouldn’t be a full on retaliation, but think of the other responses? The condemnation, the sanctions, the total lockout from international affairs, crashing stock markets and… oh yeah.. sheer panic!
        What would the odds be for the regime to survive that?
        How would the Russian people really respond if they started to ponder what their government just did?
        And how many of Putins cronies would stick it out or jump ship? Etc.. Etc..

        I don’t think it is realistic for any government that is a nuclear power to “survive” that, physically for a while perhaps, but the isolation for such a government would be total inside and outside the respective borders untill finally someone comes and pull them out of the bunker without asking nicely.
        This is apparent for any leadership that stops and thinks about it for a second

      2. Gud

        MAD is as you say quite correctly. In case of full exchange just about everybody on both sides die, even in case of first strike by one side. The question is what is sufficient to trigger MAD. It is generally understood that direct military confrontation between two nuclear powers, especially on their respective geographic territories, will escalate until full out strategic nuclear exchange. While it will be rational for each society at large to stop at every step of the escalation, any leadership that does will be instantly overthrown. All of these confirmed by war games conducted by both US and USSR.

        Now, the crazy part is focused around what you can do without triggering MAD. In particular, during Cuban missile crisis it was Khruschev that backed off, at least publicly. The answer is the aggressing power will always back off to avoid triggering MAD, but that has to involve the standoff which will credibly trigger MAD. For that reasons NATO has the concept of US tripwire forces, etc.

        Now, what this also means is either one can do basically anything they want as long as the action is swift and conclusive. There will be no military consequences as in stalemate that follows the revenge-seeking aggressive side backs off.

        For example, if Russia quickly wipes out Turkey, WWIII still does not start. Just an example, don’t worry, I doubted Russia wants to wipe out Turkey.

        I agree using nuclear weapons will be a very much last-resort option. If they are to be used, they would have to deal a decisive economic blow to the other side to make it worthwhile the negative PR effects. Maybe there’s something that Russia can do along these lines, but it’s gotta be Plan Z. The crazy part doesn’t have to be nuclear, however.

        As for sanctions actually that part is a bit overblown. The oil price does the lion share of the damage, which is somewhat enhanced by the sanctions. All oil producers suffer. It also important to note that sanctions are not nearly as global as people seem to portray. The only country outside EU/US which participated is Japan. South Korea in particular is quite notable. There’s not a hell of a lot that US/EU produce these days which regular folks really need and which cannot be found in Asia in particular. Remember, Asia does have a fond memory of previous European colonial escapades and power struggle between colonial powers. To them it’s really more of “look at those white people duking it out [again]”

        It was actually not a very smart move in my view to use up almost all of the cards, except of course for SWIFT. That one EU wouldn’t do as they need a few years to build the infrastructure to replace Russian gas. Now we are basically watching a slow motion disengagement on both sides. From May 2015, Russia devised away to conduct domestic payments without relying on SWIFT. Having those fail would have been truly devastating. Now, they are working on signing up to other payment systems, developing their own, in particular Asian ones.

        So, if Russia did do use nukes somewhere in the middle of nowhere, I would not be so certain it will be fully economically isolating and devastating. We don’t really have historical precedents here, except Japan getting nuked twice. I would imagine one has to look at all the different countries and try to evaluate from their point of view the cost/benefit of participating or not participating.

        But you see where this whole thing is going and how many things can possibly go wrong? Is it all really worth it? It takes TWO sides to come to the table with some minimal level of respect.

      3. Richard

        “This was a point Galeotti made one time about how Russia’s announcement that it was putting more money towards nuclear missiles was actually a positive thing- they would be pissing away money on something they can’t really use. I’d had a similar idea stretching back to my late teens and early 20’s. There’d be all these news reports about Russia getting a new nuclear missile like the Topol-M, and I was wondering as to why they weren’t developing new strategic bombers with conventional cruise missiles. After all, back then the US was using Tomahawks all over the world.”

        Russia’s nuclear weapons are an insurance policy of sorts. I ensures that other nuclear powers cannot use their own nuclear arsenals against Russia with impunity, and it also greatly helps to balance NATO, US, and Chinese conventional superiority. That nuclear weapons cannot easily be used (or at least not without catastrophic consequences) is a moot point, because it’s the simple threat that they may be used which creates the deterrence. Of course, a deterrent has to be credible to be effective, and for that Russia needs both a modernised nuclear force and a sufficient quantity of warheads and delivery systems. Russian nuclear modernisation/buildup is therefore not a as pointless as you suggest.

        That said, Russia has actually been building up its conventional strike capabilities too, including starting development of a new strategic bomber (look up PAK-DA) and modernising existing bombers (Tu-160M2, Tu-95MSM and Tu-22M3). Russia also has its own equivalent of the Tomahawk, the Kalibr, as well as the Kh-101 air-launched stealthy cruise missile. Both these missiles have recently been used to attack targets in Syria.

    2. Gud

      To answer your question, no, I live in Asia for the last 10 years. Gives me a nice side perspective on the good-old European (including Russia) tradition of hate for one another.

      We also have China-US story growing here, although in earlier phases compared to US/EU-Russia one. Not fun. I really quiet enjoyed Asia not in the very least as this regions still very much primarily focused on pragmatic economic development and hard work, rather than scuffles, spin, crusades, ideologies, and masking de-industrialisation by fuzzy math.

      Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me. He mentioned Kosovo and Putin getting troops in their first, but Putin wasn’t president then and had nothing to do with that.

      Reply
  17. Jim Kovpak Post author

    “Re-read all your comments in this thread again. Pussy riot in the US South not getting jail time. Redhecks will surely do time if they beat up pussy riot. Sure. No small towns with their chiefs the rednecks, no religious fanatics who’d have a massive problem with them and put them into deep deep shit.”

    I’m sorry but this isn’t based on any concrete facts, just stereotypes. In the real US, people generally don’t get jail time for what amount to misdemeanors. And yes, people get arrested for assault.

    It’s also a poor comparison because you insist it has to be some small town in the South, whereas Pussy Riot committed their act in the capital city of Moscow. Therefore for your comparison to be accurate, we’d have to imagine Pussy Riot doing that in DC or a major city like New York.

    But no, for some unknown reason we MUST imagine this happening in some little small town with a corrupt sheriff.

    “Easy Rider was never made. And it goes on and on and on. Too many to even read throughly, never mind reply.”

    Easy Rider is a fictional movie. You should have picked Mississippi Burning. At least it’s based on a true story.

    “We have not been talking about capitalism. I am very much pro-capitalism, so much so that I do have a slight distrust towards Marxists helping Russia in it’s development and giving authoritative advice on Russian economic policy.”

    Well than that creates a problem because one would then have to approve of the free market capitalist advice given to Russia in the horrible 90’s.

    “Adult behavior is to take responsibility for your own actions, not tell others to take responsibility for yet another 3rd person. The later is immature and plain rude. Can you do the adult thing and take responsibility for this one action of yours? :)”

    What action of mine? I’m not the one doing a 180 and supporting Putin in spite of the fact that nothing changed and everything actually got worse.

    “It’s not the using or not using WE, it’s about not saying “them take responsibility”. There’s a hundred ways to say the same. “I am concerned about your ability to control your government and it’s doing damage to Russian reputation abroad. And here’s what you can do that works well for us in America.” 80% of vatniks will melt into normal people.”

    I’m not really defending America. I’m just pointing out that they’re not the same, and that the system in America is objectively better based on the US’ economic power and stability. That doesn’t really even get into the topic of what is morally better, though that argument can certainly be made.

    If I say that eating at McDonald’s is better than eating out of their dumpster, this isn’t a glowing endorsement of McDonald’s. It’s just stating a simple objective fact. The person eating out of the dumpster doesn’t even need to go to McDonald’s. They have unlimited options for much better food, they just need to stop eating out of garbage receptacles.

    “This is complete non-sequitur. How does behavior of Russian media and gov bureaucrats prove in any way that Mr. Putin sabotaged Ukraine to justify his own dictatorship.”

    It’s not about justification, it’s about securing his rule. That Putin has been scared shitless of “color revolutions” since 2004(possibly sooner), is well documented by his own speech and the documents of his national security strategy, and so on.

    That being the case, you really think he’d just let Maidan win, let the country integrate into Europe, with such a large population of Russian speaking people, while his own press and educational system has for years claimed that Russians and Ukrainians are “the same,” AND that Russians are backward savages who need a strong leader to look after them? How do you then explain to them why the “Russians” on one side of the border can handle things like competitive elections and succeed without endemic corruption tolerated by a strong leader?

    “Again making up weird illogical excuses on the fly. This does not prove or disprove that conspiracy theory.”

    You really need to look up the definition of conspiracy theory, and learn more about where Ukraine was in 2013.

    “I will pass on Yanukovich story, there are plenty of detailed accounts for what transpired during those days. Coups is something governments (including USSR) have been doing for a long time. They do often involve legitimate protests as an element. It’s like political campaigning plus some violence by small groups at the end.”

    Great. Name one that was achieved in that same manner, without the use of the military or police structure to seize control of power.

    “Yet there is the history of Bay of Pigs and plenty other no longer disputed actions for god knows what reasons and god knows what consequences.”

    Oh Cuba was going to sign a European Union trade agreement? That’s news to me. Also you might have noticed that the Bay of Pigs incident didn’t involve a protest, which was then beaten, which in turn brought out a bunch of outraged citizens, etc. It was really a conventional military intervention.

    “Actually, no, I think there’s a non-zero chance of him being that idiotic. So, you still claim to be not biased in any way, yet come up another amazingly twisted excuse for one and similarly amazingly twisted accusation towards the other?”

    But Putin actually is stupid in the sense that he is disconnected from reality. By your logic, Putin should have done more to get rid of Yanukovych himself and put someone competent in the seat. After all, it is true that their economies are very integrated.

    “It’s a milder case of 1998 now. 1999 was the first year ever since the end of Soviet Union that domestic light industry picked up. So, in time actually the chances are relatively good. Currency effect mostly, with Russians no longer being able to afford expensive foreign goods. Necessity is a powerful drive of industriousness and creativity. People find a way even through most Byzantine system.”

    Not really. We’re going back to 1991. Expensive oil isn’t coming back. Gazprom has been devastated with little hope as its big grandiose projects have fallen flat. Two other things mitigate against Putin now. One is that he destroyed political discourse in the country. People are too afraid to tell him bad news to his face, which is why he’s constantly saying things that show he’s disconnected from reality. Second, too many Russians have been abroad and know that a better life is possible.

    “Dutch disease. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease Let’s sanction Netherlands cause their gas killed their industry? Can people everywhere finally get it not everything is due to their president / prime minister?”

    That depends. Did the Dutch prime minister deliberately consolidate power into his hands, reduce his parliament to a rubber stamp body, and take control of a media which then began to insist that this is the only man capable of running the Netherlands? Did he put his own friends into the top positions in partially state-owned enterprises?

    “All emerging markets were experiencing large capital flight at the same time. Sanctions surely scare people too.”

    Too bad the massive capital flight actually began in 2013.

    ” I know some stupid laws they did in 2015, like equivalent of FATCA except even more paper-work heavy. One asshole duma guy responsible. It does hurt individuals, but businesses were under similar law for many years before. In theory it is supposed to fight offshore tax evasion. In reality, it’s just useless paperwork.”

    Which is on top of tons of other bribes and red tape one needs to go through to do business in Russia. Even IKEA refused to put up with it and thus scaled back their investment into the market.

    “Total BS, I travelled every few years to Russia since before he came to power to until 2013. I also have relatives and threads there who tell me what’s up, including some real anti-Putin folks. There were clear signs of economic development, stability, and improvement of people’s self-confidence. Was easy to spot the difference with my own eyes as the visits were spaced out. Towards 2012 or so, it slowed down, and people rightfully blamed Putin. I also noted decline of the crazy 90s type of freedom. Yet, while I was harassed by cops in early 2000s, I didn’t get harassed more recently (maybe just luck). I think Russians will benefit from new fresher leadership, but it’s very very hard to claim Mr. Putin had no positive impact in his earlier days. And it’s very hard not to say Yeltsin was a disaster.”

    First of all, a lot of the development went to Moscow, where about 80% of the wealth is concentrated. Second, Russia’s achievements don’t square with how much revenue was being made off of oil and gas by the state. I didn’t expect Russia to become Norway in 10 years, but when you consider how much money was made and then see what it bought, obviously a lot of it went missing.

    And suppose we look at these real accomplishments. Does Russia need a right-wing dictatorship to achieve what other countries got without one? Sure, Moscow’s full of new pedestrian areas and it looks really great now, but why does this require a dictator and and invasion of Ukraine?

    “Long discussion and I am done. You really seriously claim you have no lack of balance whatsover? ”

    No, I never made such a claim. I have also repeatedly said in the past that I won’t give credence to illogical or inaccurate claims in the name of balance for balance’s sake. So I guess we’ll add that to your army of strawmen.

    Reply
  18. Richard

    “It’s not about justification, it’s about securing his rule. That Putin has been scared shitless of “color revolutions” since 2004(possibly sooner), is well documented by his own speech and the documents of his national security strategy, and so on. ”

    And so he should, and so should the Russian people, because the majority of the colour revolutions in the post-Soviet space since 2004 have invariably resulted in periods of political instability, followed by the imposition of another authoritarian regime and the rule of the same breed of corrupt oligarchs. If was true for the Orange Revolution in 2005, and it is true for the Maidan now…

    That sad, I find your thesis that Putin is somehow “punishing” Ukrainians for their “democratic choice” to be rather flawed. For Putin, it’s about geopolitics, not loosing a major naval base in Crimea, and an important neighboring country to rival military, political and economic alliances. If he can reintegrate Crimea and become the most popular Russian leader since Stalin, then that’s an added bonus.

    On the other hand, I also don’t buy your assertion that Putin fears a prosperous and democratic Ukraine, firstly because Ukraine certainly isn’t that “beacon” of prosperity and democracy now, and secondly, because it has very little chance to become so if it follows its current domestic policy trajectory.

    Thirdly, there are a few other democratic “success stories” in the former Soviet space already that Russians could look up to, like the Baltic states, or (partly) Georgia, yet Russians haven’t overthrown Putin and his clique to become more like Estonia and Georgia. Actually, I heard the very same arguments you are making now about how a democratic Ukraine is a threat to Putin, as I heard about Georgia after the Rose Revolution in 2008, and I think the argument is as silly now as it was them.

    Why do I think it so? Well lets compare Russia, Ukraine and Estonia to the US, Mexico and Canada. Naturally, Russians today would not have a lot of incentive to make their state more like Ukraine today, because it’s smaller, poorer and more unstable than Russia, much like Mexico is to the US. On the other hand, most Russians wouldn’t like their country to be more like Estonia either, just as most Americans wouldn’t like their country to become like Canada.

    The thing here is that even though Estonia and Canada are arguably more progressive and democratic than both Russia and the US, both Russians and Americans are proud to be Russian and Americans, and in addition, both Estonia and Canada are smaller states, and not great powers/superpowers. Great powers and superpowers, like Russia and the US, have their own historic, social, economic and military attributes that are not compatible with the same political reality that applies to smaller states.

    In reality, Russia and the US could only become like Estonia and Canada if they gave up trying to be great powers/superpowers, and so far, the political elites and a sizable part of their populations aren’t willing to accept that. Maybe that’s something you will have to accept too…

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The Orange Revolution was in 2004, and it didn’t really lead to political instability or another authoritarian regime. The problem is that it just didn’t accomplish anything because Yushchenko didn’t have any ideas, only populist bullshit. As for the Rose Revolution, that actually did transform Georgia, but yes, near the end Saakashvili definitely got authoritarian. In any case, he was voted out, showing that there is democratic accountability in Georgia.

      I think the main flaw of this argument is your insinuation that Putin cares about political instability and authoritarian regimes. On the latter he obviously doesn’t care, as he runs one himself. On the former, we’ve seen how he’s more than happy to foment political instability in other countries when it suits him.

      “Putin, it’s about geopolitics, not loosing a major naval base in Crimea, and an important neighboring country to rival military, political and economic alliances.”

      It doesn’t matter what he thinks it’s about, he’s wrong. And Ukraine wasn’t going to join NATO. Plus, nobody ever said anything about revoking the lease on that base at the time. At the very least he could have waited to see what would happen. But this is not a man who thinks very far into the future, as we have seen.

      ” I also don’t buy your assertion that Putin fears a prosperous and democratic Ukraine, firstly because Ukraine certainly isn’t that “beacon” of prosperity and democracy now, and secondly, because it has very little chance to become so if it follows its current domestic policy trajectory. ”

      There are two flaws here. First, we’re talking about Ukraine’s hypothetical future, which leads to the second flaw, acting as though Ukrainian politics today would have been the same without any Russian intervention. Obviously the Ukrainian government can’t blame everything on the war, but they can justifiably put a lot of blame on it.

      That brings me to another point- if Putin had seen the failure of the Orange Revolution, why act differently this time? That previous failure led to the election of Yanukovych which also led to the securing of that base in Crimea. Why not stand back and let the new government fail? Clearly Putin thought something was different this time around, and euro integration might have been part of it(that and the Russian economy was already showing problems at the time).

      As for your other comparisons, plenty of Americans would like to see their country be more like Canada, even though they might not phrase it that way.

      In any case, Russia really isn’t a great power. It’s a regional power that has some nukes it can’t use and its economy is now falling behind Spain. The problem is too many people preferred the image of a great power to actual greatness, which of course takes work.

      Reply
      1. Richard

        “The Orange Revolution was in 2004, and it didn’t really lead to political instability or another authoritarian regime. The problem is that it just didn’t accomplish anything because Yushchenko didn’t have any ideas, only populist bullshit. As for the Rose Revolution, that actually did transform Georgia, but yes, near the end Saakashvili definitely got authoritarian. In any case, he was voted out, showing that there is democratic accountability in Georgia.”

        Well, the Orange Revolution lasted from the start of street protests in late November 2004 to the inauguration of Yuschenko as president in late January 2005, according to one accepted chronology of events, but I’m not going to split hairs… And the Orange Revolution did eventually give way to the authoritarian Yanukovich and left the same old oligarchs in power, i.e. return to status quo ante.

        As for Georgia, Saakashvili only took the “democratic exit” after being subjected to enormous pressure from the country’s richest oligarch, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the media owned by said oligarch and that oligarch’s own Georgian Dream party. Actually, before Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream managed to force his ouster, it was speculated that Saakashvili intended to “do a Putin-Medvedev” by transferring powers from the Presidency to the Parliament/Government and staying on as the country’s Prime Minister. Alas, Georgia was lucky that “democracy” prevailed…

        “It doesn’t matter what he thinks it’s about, he’s wrong. And Ukraine wasn’t going to join NATO. Plus, nobody ever said anything about revoking the lease on that base at the time. At the very least he could have waited to see what would happen. But this is not a man who thinks very far into the future, as we have seen.”

        Putin didn’t know this for sure, and neither do you. With new pro-Western and anti-Russian forces in power in Kiev, there was a good chance that Ukraine’s drive to join NATO would resume. Likewise with the basing rights for the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, which had been a contentious issue with the country’s opposition under Yanukovich. By annexing Crimea and supporting separatism in Donbass, Putin ensured two things:

        1. That Russia’s basing rights in Crimea would never come in doubt again, as Crimea would now be de facto sovereign Russian territory
        2. That Ukraine would never be able to join NATO (or at least as long as the conflict in Donbass lasts), as countries with unresolved borders cannot be accepted in NATO

        In addition, Russia would no longer be bound by the conditions of base treaty with Ukraine, which seriously limited the scope and nature of possible Russian deployments on the peninsula. This means Russia could now do what it wanted with Crimea, including basing nuclear weapons and long-range bombers there, something it couldn’t have done before the annexation.

        So, I do think Putin did think way ahead, opting for the certainty of forcing these issues on his terms when he had the chance, instead of waiting for the conditions in Kiev to eventually turn out favourable for Russia (which they might or might not).

        Of course, Putin probably underestimated the impact of Western sanctions, and the drop in the oil price at the same time as the crisis developed was bad timing, but overall, in geopolitical terms, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass could be called a success.

        “There are two flaws here. First, we’re talking about Ukraine’s hypothetical future, which leads to the second flaw, acting as though Ukrainian politics today would have been the same without any Russian intervention. Obviously the Ukrainian government can’t blame everything on the war, but they can justifiably put a lot of blame on it.”

        True, but the Orange Revolution was a failure, and there was no Russian military intervention back then. Sure, the Russian actions make things much more difficult for Ukraine, but in the end, the success of Maidan hinges on internal reform, first and foremost fighting corruption, establishing rule of law, and holding abusive politicians and oligarchs to account. I don’t see Ukraine accomplishing these things as of yet, which leads me to think that the results of the Maidan will be no better than those of the Orange Revolution. I do hope I’m wrong though…

        “That brings me to another point- if Putin had seen the failure of the Orange Revolution, why act differently this time?”

        Good question. I think the easiest answer is that Putin COULD do something about it this time, whereas he probably could not do much about it back in 2004. Russia is much stronger militarily and economically today than it was back then, and Putin also has a lot more experience with ruling and exercising power. Also, Russia still had powerful allies in Ukraine even after the Orange Revolution, while those same allies had been largely ousted and marginalised by the Maidan. Maybe Putin felt that waiting things out this time wouldn’t end up to Russia’s advantage.

        “In any case, Russia really isn’t a great power. It’s a regional power that has some nukes it can’t use and its economy is now falling behind Spain. The problem is too many people preferred the image of a great power to actual greatness, which of course takes work.”

        Nominal GDP is not necessarily the best way to judge true economic potential, and economic potential is only one way to measure the strength of a country. True, in nominal terms, Russia is comparable to Spain, but in purchase power parity (PPP) terms, it is comparable to Germany (2014 numbers). Nether do Spain and Germany have nuclear weapons (obviously), huge natural resources (oil, gas, rare metals etc.), a seat in the UN Security Council, and so on and so on…

        Even if we do accept that Russia is merely a “regional power”, due to its shear size, it will be a “regional power” in a region that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Rim, and from the Arctic to the Mediterranean Sea, which means that Russia will be involved more or less by default in most of the key areas of the globe in the 21st century.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        There are a few major problems with this thesis. First of all, what Putin believed was irrelevant to the morality of his action. I’m sure Bush believed there were WMDs in Iraq(that tends to happen when you purposely filter which intelligence reports you’re going to believe), but the invasion was still wrong.

        The more glaring problem is that there are numerous, well-publicized facts which Putin and his intelligence services should have known about Ukraine. He could have looked at surveys about NATO membership and concluded that the people in the east plus Crimea would be able to keep the anti-NATO opinion in the majority.

        Next he knew that Ukraine’s new leaders would be counting on the Budapest Memorandum and he probably would have cynically but realistically counted on Ukraine’s new leaders and their oligarch backers squabbling among one another for the spoils, a situation which would have been incredibly easy for him to manipulate with far less publicity.

        If Putin was not aware of any of this widely available/common sense information, then he is incompetent. In fact he is, because the actions he did take show us this.

        First he annexed part of the country and thus blew way all those years of talking about “national sovereignty” and not interfering in other countries’ affairs. This of course also set Russia on the path to economic ruin.

        What is more, in both Crimea and the Donbas Putin’s actions actually removed a massive amount of opposition voters from the electoral process. One reason why populists have so much influence in Kyiv and why nationalists can run wild(fueling a cycle of populist measures meant to appeal to them) is that there is no more balance. With the Crimea and Donbas intact, without something like 500,000-700,000 refugees fleeing to Russia, laws like de-communization probably wouldn’t have been passed, and the new government would understand it has to make compromises and focus on important matters like fulfilling all these promises at Maidan about fighting corruption and bringing dignity.

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