They never said it…

Ever notice how people will use certain phrases to preface an opinion or statement, and when they do you can almost predict what will follow?

Most people know this example:


Here’s one you’ll get from conspiracy theorists:

“Here’s something the mainstream media doesn’t want you to know about…(TOTALLY BULLSHIT CLAIM OR CLAIM THAT IS REAL BUT THE “MAINSTREAM MEDIA” REPORTED IT EXTENSIVELY)”

This one’s limited to certain political circles but it’s still a good example:


Lastly one of my favorites from regime supporting Russians:


Well readers, I believe I’ve found a new one, and it goes like this- when a Russian politician or diplomat begins a sentence with “We never said…” rest assured that they almost certainly said exactly the thing they claimed they never said, or they may have even gone further. Thus far I only have two examples, but they are major ones and these people are getting so predictable that we should probably look forward to hearing more.

The first example came from Putin, at his yearly press conference last December. At the previous year’s press conference Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbaliuk asked Putin how many soldiers and mercenaries he’d sent to Ukraine. Putin flat out denied everything, though implicitly admitted the existence of “volunteers” who supposedly couldn’t be called mercenaries because they were not being paid. The latter is bullshit on both counts; they certainly are paid one way or another, and even if they were not paid any sort of salary they’d still rightly be called mercenaries. This year Putin made what amounted to an admission, with the following quote:

“We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere.”

In fact Putin and many others had made this claim and gone even further, denying that they were organizing, financing, and arming the “rebellion” in the Donbas in any way. The only thing they would admit to was sending “humanitarian aid.”

Recently we got another example of “We never said,” this time from the Russian foreign ministry on the topic of Syria. Special thanks goes to Twitter user and geo-locator Reggae Mortis for catching these lies and making these pictures:



The fact is that the Kremlin and its media have continually spread the talking point that the “moderate rebels” are a Western-concocted myth and that the opposition to Assad consists of radical Islamists, first Al Qaeda and then ISIS. However, at times when they need to point out what a great power Russia supposedly is, they will allude to their cooperation with those very same moderate rebels who supposedly don’t exist in an attempt to show the West that they should cooperate with Russia.

I think we can expect more of this in the future. Western leaders will accuse Russia over something they are obviously doing, Russian leaders will feign total bafflement, asking for proof long after plenty of proof has been provided, and then later they will make an admission prefaced by “We never said…(THING THAT THEY CERTAINLY SAID NUMEROUS TIMES).” The worst thing about this tactic is that it actually tacks on another massive lie onto the one in question. If Putin had admitted to some kind of military personnel in the Donbas, serving in a military sphere, he wouldn’t have been lying then, and the “We never said we didn’t have…” statement wouldn’t have been a lie either.

Here we have an interesting difference between politicians from functioning democracies and the Kremlin. In the former, there’s this concept of credibility; you want your lies to sound believable. Or, even better, you lie by omission by using really obtuse or contrived language. This isn’t necessarily good per se, but when you hear this you know that they are lying or otherwise distorting the truth and more importantly, you know that they know it. They care about making it difficult or impossible to debunk their lies. In that way they show some respect for your intelligence.

With the Kremlin (and no doubt a lot of other similar regimes in the world), this concern for credibility doesn’t exist. In fact, looking at Kremlin media it would seem there is no concept of credibility at all. For example, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov recently expressed a very creative interpretation of the Budapest Memorandum, the 1994 agreement which guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons (yeah, they had those). The problem with this is that the full text of the Budapest Memorandum is available online for anyone to see, and it’s not particularly ambiguous. Indeed, the article I linked to above notes this as well:

“What does it say about the mendacity of Russian diplomacy and its contempt for international opinion when the foreign minister says something that can be proven wrong with less than 30 seconds of Google fact-checking?”

I’ll answer that question. It says they live in a fantasy realm. They are disconnected from reality, from the very concept of reality, and therefore any attempt to negotiate with them in good faith is really pointless unless you take this into account. Otherwise you’ll constantly find yourself being dumbfounded as they tell you they never said something they actually did say, sometimes word for word, numerous times.







10 thoughts on “They never said it…

  1. A.I.Schmelzer

    First, what Sputnik said is NOT what the Kremlin said. This should not be particularly hard to grasp. Sputnik exists to counter the avalanche of bullshit targeting Russia with an equal avalanche of bullshit. It is not the official channel from which formal Russian communications are broadcast (that would be Tass).

    2: Russia regards the FSA or moderates as weak and as terroristic. The first point is true, the second point is debatable, but they fullfill a number of definitions for terrorists. Why do you think that “moderate” and “terrorist” exclude each other? “Moderate” is simply a pretty nebulous political persuasion, “Terrorist” is an equally if not more nebulous set of tactics.

    3: This does not mean that Russia does not see value in flipping individual FSA/moderate units over to their side (increasing their own power), or over to the Kurdish side (neutralizing these units without expending ammunition). Successful flipping can create bandwagon effects, is cheap, sows distrust among coalitions hostile to Russian goals in Syria and could create conditions for Syrian Sunni Kadyrovs (who also were a terrorists before he changed sides. Making terrorists flip is pretty important in achieving victory over them.). Once a formerly “moderate terrorist” unit flipped and is no longer hostile to Russian goals in Syria, it becomes a “moderate freedom fighter”.
    This is simple cynicism/pragmatism, it is pretty old (so it should surprise no one) and is completely grounded in reality. Maybe you should reexamine your assumption about who is “realistic” and who is “living in its own world” if you regard Russia behaving in a pragmatic/machiavellian way as a reason that Russia “totally lost it and has left reality”?

    Now, before you think that this is me fanboying Putin, these tactics, while pretty obvious, carry major risks:
    There have been situations in which an impasse was reached in flipping negotiations between the Loyalists and an individual armed formation, due to the individual armed formation fearing reprisals too much to flip back to the loyalists, these impasses were, in some cases, solved by the armed formation flipping to the YPG instead, with Russian mediation.

    This does end up in making the YPG led coalition considerably more Anti Assad then the YPG, and simple bad blood between a recently now-YPG-flipped unit and a neighbouring Loyalist formation could trigger incidents which fray the current Loyalist-Kurd non aggression pact.
    A lot of Russias strategy in Syria is based on having the Kurds friendly to them and neutral to Assad, and flipping anti Assad units towards the Kurds does potentially undermine this mid to long term. A YPG backstab of Assad is also possible, if the YPG believes that Assad is going to backstab them and seeks to preempt this by moving first. Inundation of the YPG with Anti Assad Sunni Arabs could create conditions in which those Anti Assad Sunni Arabs, who have been flipped to YPG, could make YPG believe that an Assad backstab was incoming even if this is not the case.

    The Russian counter to the first risk would be the assumption of some kind of referee role in such incidents. The counter to the second, more dangerous, scenario would be to shape the battlefield in a way that would make either Assad backstabbing the YPG or the YPG backstabbing Assad obviously unprofitable for both. I think this is feasible to achieve, but it adds some constraints to the possible operational choices for Russia.

      1. A.I.Schmelzer

        What does that have to do with it?

        Sputnik is mostly a trolling device operated by the Kremlin. That does not mean that Sputnik transmits the actual view of the Kremlin, it transmits either what the Kremlins hopes to be effective at trolling its adversaries (40%), or disinformation to misled about Russias aims (40%) or to test the waters with various publics for new intiatives (20%). To an extent, it also exists to establish an extremely pro Russian pole in the English speaking world, with the aim of not actually convincing people (well, they do tap into some anger about the “mainstream press”) but with the goal to shift the overton window concerning Russia and give f.e. various business interests an easier time arguing for policies beneficial (sanctions relief, return to business as usual) to Russia.

        The popular mainstream stick of accusing everyone dissenters on the wests Russian policy as “Putin paid propagandists” loses some luster when the public is exposed to Putins real paid propagandists, who are were different from the dissidents.

        Seriously, do you believe that the higher ups in the Kremlin believe what Sputnik is writing (Sputnik does, sometimes, writes things the high state does believe, but that is not Sputnik Raison d´etat)?

        Thats like assuming that the CIA/the white house believes everything Radio Free Europe is writing.

        Some example for “high state” people voicing their views:

        I hope you get the difference from Sputnik.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Okay first we’ll start by destroying your argument. Here’s one of the occasions when Lavrov claimed the “moderate rebels” were a phantom and a myth.

        “The Free Syrian Army and the moderate opposition in general remain a “phantom” group, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said, adding that Moscow has called on the US to explain what it is and where it is based.

        “No one has told us where the Free Syrian Army operates or where and how the other units of the moderate opposition act,” Lavrov said.

        “We will even be ready to establish contact with it, if these are indeed efficient armed groups of the patriotic opposition that consist of Syrians,” the foreign minister added.

        So far, the Free Syrian Army remains a “phantom group,” he said. “Nothing is known about it,” Lavrov said.”

        From the same article we have Peskov, who speaks for Putin:

        “Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “there is absolutely controversial information about this so-called army.” “What is Free Syrian Army? Is this an official term? Are they official armed forces or what is it,” Peskov said. ”

        And while Russian officials have often made these statements, we just happen to see the Russian press and affiliated bloggers, social media pages, etc., spreading the same message- all anti-Assad forces in Syria are terrorists, ISIS, etc., and the “moderate rebels” are a joke.

        So yeah, they said that.

        Now if Sputnik is just a “trolling device,” then let them say that. Let them stop pretending that they provide a “Russian POV” and especially let them stop pretending to be a journalistic outfit.

        As for what the leadership believes, that depends on the claims. Of course that doesn’t matter, because the presidential administration and MID dictate the major talking points to their press and not the other way around.

      3. A.I.Schmelzer

        You should perhaps stop posting about topic of which you know pretty little.

        Like Syria.

        That the Free Syrian Army is more of a label then it is an army is pretty widely acknowledged, including by what is supposed to be informed comment in the west.

        Lavrovs statements were part of a high level trolling attempt that, eventually, got the Russians some major gains:



        Feeding the media with rumors, hints, and disconnected bits of genuine information about a Russian-FSA connection serves the Kremlin’s political agenda in two ways:

        First, it tricks some people into believing that Russia is skillfully peeling away Syrian allies from the USA. It will mostly be people who know nothing about the politics of the Syrian insurgency, but then again, that’s most people.

        Secondly, and no less important, Russia’s rivals cannot protest Moscow’s fraudulent claims without engaging in a debate about who actually should represent the FSA in talks with Assad, if it shouldn’t be Masri, Effendi, or the other candidates suggested by Moscow. Since there is no central FSA leadership and no consensus on which groups should be labeled “FSA,” that’s like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

        It is a problem partly of the Americans’ own making. Indeed, one could say that the opposition’s backers are now falling victim to their own propaganda. For years, officials in the US, Europe, Turkey, and the Arab World have been promoting ”the moderate FSA” or even “the secular FSA” as Syria’s great hope for the future, without ever arriving at a better explanation of what that means than ”any damned armed group in Syria that we can work with.” It is undoubtedly a definition, of a kind, but how do you sell it to the general public? What do you do when journalists, voters, or even congressmen start to ask questions about who, exactly, is at the receiving end of all this taxpayers’ money?

        The Russian government has now started to exploit this deliberately engineered ambiguity for its own purposes. By rebranding their own allies and all kinds of random exiles as “FSA representatives,” they are trying to wring a very useful fiction out of the hands of their enemies or, failing that, to destroy it by adding to the confusion.

        As a poker-faced Bogdanov recently put it when discussing whether the FSA should be part of hypothetical future peace talks:

        In general, we support their participation as a structure. We do not yet understand who will represent it. We are waiting for them to manifest more clearly or for our partners who maintain relations with the Free Syrian Army to tell us.

        Some might call this diplomacy. I call it elite-level trolling.”

        Quote end.

        This piece gets some things a bit wrong. For starters, a number of the ethnic minorities, which apart from Kurdish controlled Arab groups, generally dont call themselfs FSA have their own militias and attempt to maintain neutrality while defending their turf. Examples for this are Armenian militias in Alleppo, and Russia was quite successfull in flipping those.
        In some other cases, the Russian intervention likely prevented the flipping of the f.e. Druze militias in Southern Syria into an outright anti Assad position.

        In some other ways, Russias view of the FSA mostly evolved. Before Russias intervention, the FSA were basically seen as US/Turkish/Saudi proxies, and since Russia had scant clout on the ground, flipping them would have been impossible. Therefore, Russia denigrated them in order to reduce the effectiveness of other peoples proxies (great power politics 101). Following Russias intervention, Russia is now equipped with enough local overwhelming force to incite flipping of individual formations, which neccessarily means that it acknowledges their existence when it suits them.

        This is totally normal diplomatic/strategic opportunism, and I am at a total loss why you would expect anything else from Putins government, or why you would claim that Russia behaving in a pragmatic and opportunistic way (which should surprise absolutely noone) somehow is evidence of Russia “losing touch with reality”.

        They are definitly comitting less unforced dumb errors (strictly machiavellian perspective) in Syria then they did in Ukraine.

        Flipping of non Islamist units (not neccessarily FSA) on the ground in Syria is something Russia does for real, their attempt to hijack the FSA by using some exiles is mostly something they do for the lulz, because it is cheap, hilarious and doesnt have real downsides.

        I wouldnt be surprised if they soon start operation “Troll harder” and create a new FSA out of a combination of the ethnicity based units they flipped, exiles in their pay, Kurdish and Loyalist pet FSA groups (yes, Assad has pet FSA groups, who pretend to fight him and the islamists, try to get foreign backing, and then turn the backing over to Assad) and some other flipped units.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Okay what your textwall ignores is that the Russian media and Kremlin has routinely pretended like the term “moderate rebel” or the FSA is a “phantom” or propaganda myth.

        “Trolling” is not something that foreign affairs ministers should do. In fact it’s not something that a country should do. This is what Russia under Putin has become- a bratty teenager running around trying to get attention.

  2. Callum C.

    On the subject of the different ways Russian and Western methods of lying, this interview is my absolute favourite example of how Western politicians lie.

    The good bit starts at about 2:00, but it might help establish context to watch from the beginning.

    For context: After a high-profile escape by several IRA members from a British prison in 1995, Home Secretary Michael Howard (the guy in the interview) sacked the governor of that particular prison. It was alleged that he had threatened to overrule Director of Prisons Derek Lewis to do this. Howard then fired Derek Lewis several months later after an investigation found problems with the British prison system going all the way to the top.

    Howard was accused of scapegoating both the prison governor and Derek Lewis, and the BBC asked him if he had threatened to overrule Lewis. Watch the video and see how he handled that.

  3. Pingback: They never said it… – To Inform is to Influence

  4. Pingback: #UKR Update – 311330UTC January 2016 | Blog

  5. A.I.Schmelzer

    You need a wall of text to get an idea of what is Russia doing in Syria, for what reasons and what its intermediate plans are, because you wont be getting that out of either western or Russian media.

    Why do you think foreign ministers A) do not or B) should troll?

    The USA is a lot more direct about its “trolling”, with the caveat that they do not really “troll” but straight up insult, the UK used to be a master class troll artist on par with Russia in that regard, (some stuff they pulled in the 90s regarding Russian nuclear security, or lack there off, was concern trolling at the very highest level) but this degraded considerably starting with Blair and his Americanisation of the UK.

    I take extreme exception to you claiming that Russians “flip flop” on dealing very differently with non hard core islamist rebels on the ground after it intervened is evidence that Russia “lost touch with reality”.

    A usefull thing for you to keep in mind:
    If a Russian action is explainable by either A) a mixture of great power politics, strategy and high level trolling or B) seen by you as evidence that Russia lost touch with reality, the answer is always A. In any account, even if Russia goes the way into lalaland, the geopolitical and strategic reality will be the last area in which they lose their realism.
    Now, having no idea how a common Moscovite sees things like readily available small shops, that is a reality with which the elites can indeed quickly lose touch.

    The technocrats running things in Russia btw. believe that the fact that they dont believe their own propaganda bullshit (they of course make use of people who do) is one of their main advantadges over their western, in particular American, adversaries.

    It is pretty much “whoever believes our PR only has himself to blame anyway”, with a mix of “we actually tried to be truthful before, but in Georgia, fucking Sakashvili beat us with an avalanche of bullshit, and the Americans have us beat in bullshit quality and quantity as well, if we do not bullshit to the maximum we automatically lose any PR conflict.”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s