What is it with all these Russia “realists” popping up everywhere? I’m sorry but I prefer my Kremlin apologetics open and honest as opposed to these supposedly moderate, level-headed types who assure us they only want both sides to get along, only to insist that the only way to achieve this is to give Russia whatever it wants with nothing in return.
The inspiration for today’s piece comes from this article published in Foreign Policy by Clinton Ehrlich, an individual claiming to be the only Westerner at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, known as MGIMO in Russian. For those who don’t know, MGIMO is a very elite institution in Russia. If you’re a Russian oligarch and you failed to get your kid into Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, etc., you’ve still got MGIMO. That being said, there is one major caveat. Even top officials in the Kremlin insist that Russia is surrounded by enemies, and that the United States is picking away all its potential allies. Accepting this common claim at face value, we might reasonably conclude that Russia’s training in international relations and diplomacy seriously sucks.
In the article, Ehrlich claims to give us an insider view of how the Russian elite view the US presidential election. There is nothing wrong with this; people should be aware of how Russians at different levels of society view the world and politics outside their country. The problem is that very early on in the article, Clinton forgets to report on Kremlin views and quickly starts peddling them from his own pocket. In the process, he demonstrates stunning ignorance of Russian politics and culture and advances nonsensical conspiracy theories sourced to an American expat pseudo-expert. Before proceeding I should point out that this morning an article about Mr. Ehrlich was published by Buzzfeed, which I will link to near the end of this post. Suffice it to say that once you read it, Ehrlich’s bait and switch routine in Foreign Policy suddenly makes a lot more sense. Having got that out of the way, onward to the article.
For me things started to get weird early on, in this passage:
“To Russian ears, Clinton seemed determined in her speech to provide this missing ingredient for bipolar enmity, painting Moscow as the vanguard for racism, intolerance, and misogyny around the globe.
The nation Clinton described was unrecognizable to its citizens. Anti-woman? Putin’s government provides working mothers with three years of subsidized family leave. Intolerant? The president personally attended the opening of Moscow’s great mosque. Racist? Putin often touts Russia’s ethnic diversity. To Russians, it appeared that Clinton was straining to fabricate a rationale for hostilities.”
Here the author made it very apparent that he is still quite unfamiliar with the particulars of Russian politics and culture. Starting with the family leave, it’s not subsidized for the full three years, assuming you want to take that much time. I could quibble about it more, but this is really a minor issue. Russia actually does beat the US hands-down in some women’s issues, such as reproductive rights for example, but on the other hand the government is infamous for ignoring domestic violence, a major killer of Russian women. Not only do some top officials actually deny the existence of domestic violence, but recently “family values” Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina proposed decriminalizing it, because beating your wife and kids is apparently a good family value or something. By contrast, a Russian Youtuber who photographed himself catching a Pokemon in a church (without disrupting any services) was recently facing a criminal charge that carried the threat of jail time (so far he’s under house arrest). Just for good measure we could also throw in former children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov standing up for polygamous marriage between a 17-year-old girl and a man old enough to be her father, and female genital mutilation in Dagestan (to their credit, the Duma appears to be drafting a bill to make this a criminal offense).
In truth, however, Russia is not really much more misogynistic than many industrialized nations, in fact I find some Western countries to be even more misogynistic in some ways, but it’s certainly not terribly progressive either. What gets me is his comments about intolerance and racism in Russia. Ehrlich “debunks” Hillary’s comments with isolated facts about Putin, yet he betrays a very curious ignorance about the culture and society that Putin has built in the past 16 years.
First there’s the matter of attending a mosque opening. Indeed, he did this. And for years now, state run media, which is closely in contact with the presidential administration, has put out a constant stream of anti-Muslim propaganda of the sorts you see from Western European far right parties. The narrative is as follows: “Look at the degenerate West? They’re so tolerant that they’re being overtaken by the Muslim horde from North Africa and the Middle East.” That Mr. Ehrlich has never encountered such views expressed either in the media or from ordinary citizens speaks volumes about his connection to Russian society.
On the matter of tolerance and intolerance, I’d urge Mr. Ehrlich to ask Russians what they think of tolerance as a value and see what they say. Tolerance in Russia is a dirty word. To them it means you want to let homosexuals teach your boy how to dress like a girl while an Arab refugee rapes your daughter. Where did people get this idea about tolerance? Who controls the education system, the state-run media that constantly puts out this message?
In case this still seems like some kind of unhappy coincidence, I remind the reader that the Putin regime has long had ties to far-right and neo-Nazi parties across Europe, such as Jobbik, Golden Dawn, Vlaams Belang, Front Nationale, etc. In the past the connections were more indirect, with state-sanctioned conferences being held in Russia. In recent years, however, there’s been more open cooperation between the Russian state and these parties. It’s worth noting that no Kremlin apologist I’ve seen has ever tried to deny these links. Indeed it seems many of them agree at least in part with the worldview of these neo-fascist organizations.
Indeed, Putin has from time to time stressed ethnic unity in Russia, but his administration has taken another route. It is no secret that the Kremlin has long used far-right nationalists as muscle to do its bidding. Occasionally, these groups have got out of hand, as in the case of BORN (Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists, more detailed link here). By the time of the protests in 2011-2012, many far-right nationalists had become soured on the Kremlin, and in particular its submissive posture toward Chechnya and its leader Ramzan Kadyrov. When the war in Ukraine started, however, many nationalists and neo-Nazis were happy to embrace the Kremlin’s cause and take out their frustrations on an approved target- Ukrainians. Putin can stress national unity in public all he wants, but in reality he presides over a society that normalizes far-right nationalism. Again, I can’t understand how a supposed researcher at such an institute could be so out of touch with Russian society.
Moving on from this, we get to a lot of claims regarding Hillary Clinton. Once again it seems he goes from reporting what Russians think, which is totally fine, to basically advancing their claims without challenge. Take a look at this, for example:
“Given the ongoing Russian operations, a “no-fly zone” is a polite euphemism for shooting down Russia’s planes unless it agrees to ground them. Clinton is aware of this fact. When asked in a debate whether she would shoot down Russian planes, she responded, “I do not think it would come to that.” In other words, if she backs Putin into a corner, she is confident he will flinch before the United States starts a shooting war with Russia.
That is a dubious assumption; the stakes are much higher for Moscow than they are for the White House. Syria has long been Russia’s strongest ally in the Middle East, hosting its only military installation outside the former Soviet Union. As relations with Turkey fray, the naval garrison at Tartus is of more strategic value than ever, because it enables Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to operate in the Mediterranean without transiting the Turkish Straits.”
For starters, he seems to forget that Donald Trump said he would shoot down Russian planes just for mostly harmless things like passive-aggressively buzzing US ships in the Black Sea. I think what a lot of people forget about Trump’s attitude toward Russia is that he does tacitly accept Russia as an enemy of the United States, but blames its actions on Obama’s weakness. He says “our enemies don’t respect us.” The implication here is that tough guy Trump will make Putin respect US authority by blasting his planes out of the sky and who know’s what else.
Then there’s the matter of “the stakes” for Moscow. True, they have a naval base in Tartus. I’m sure they must have made some improvements since 2015, but according to a real expert, Mark Galeotti, the “base” was historically more like a few docks and warehouses. As for transiting the Turkish straits, the base will have to be supplied one way or another. Syria, in peacetime, could obviously provide food, water, and maybe fuel, but not the necessary spare parts or munitions for modern Russian vessels. Without delving into the nuts and bolts, this is a really stupid reason to piss away Russia’s reserve fund and pensions. Assad cannot possibly survive this war without massive Russian and Iranian help. They’re basically betting on a losing horse and Russia’s squandering its wealth doing so. But this is going to come up again later, so stay tuned. For now, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the article. This is the part where Ehrlich becomes the “realist.”
“Moscow prefers Trump not because it sees him as easily manipulated, but because his “America First” agenda coincides with its view of international relations. Russia seeks a return to classical international law, in which states negotiate with one another based on mutually understood self-interests untainted by ideology. To Moscow, only the predictability of realpolitik can provide the coherence and stability necessary for a durable peace.”
Oh that sounds so rational, so realist! But let’s break down what that really means with a little bullshit-to-English translation:
“Moscow wants to return to an outdated, imperialist mode of international relations where great powers divide up the world into spheres of influence and decide the fate of smaller nations without those nations’ consent. And oh yeah…Russia is a great power by the way.”
But if you think that’s a straw man, by all means let’s examine the boilerplate as is, starting with this “America First” agenda and “self-interests.”
When people say “America First,” it’s typically associated with American isolationism in the interwar period. It’s obvious why the Kremlin likes the idea of American isolationism, and it’s not because they like the idea of America focusing on its own problems instead of global ones, which happens to be the best argument in favor of such a policy. It has to do with this question of self-interests that he brings up.
What the “realists” won’t tell you, is that while America’s self-interests are supposedly domestic, thus necessitating an isolationist foreign policy, it’s perfectly okay by them if Russia’s “self-interests” happen to exist outside Russia’s borders. In this very article the author makes the case for Russia’s involvement in Syria, all to save a small military base so it can operate in the Mediterranean (to what end?). Is that truly in Russia’s self-interest? Looking at Russia’s ongoing economic decline, I think it’s fair to say that if anyone needs to look inward and focus its efforts at home, it’s Russia.
Another point about interests is who gets to decide what is in the best interests of the country? Who is the Kremlin to claim that intervention in Kosovo or the invasion of Iraq weren’t in the best interests of the US? Certainly American administrations apparently thought they were. Suppose for a moment the US agrees on a sphere of influence division of the world with Russia. Does that then make it right for the US to annex part or all of Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, or Canada? Would RT and Sputnik report on the annexation with dispassionate objectivity and remind the audience that these countries are, after all, in the American orbit? If the pro-Kremlin types object to such actions in America’s supposed national interests, they are simply hypocrites. If they would grant the United States such leeway, they are simply horrible, immoral people.
Now let’s tackle the matter of realpolitik and its alleged stability and predictability. Contrary to common belief, the Kremlin is far more inclined toward the Russian Empire rather than the Soviet Union, insofar as ideology even matters to a gang of thieves. Now looking at 19th and early 20th century geopolitics, what do we see in terms of predictability and stability? OH NO! GOD NO! WHAT IS THAT?!
Yep, old-school realpolitik led to a bloody world war which would leave four empires, i.e. great powers, in ruins. Can you feel that stability? And as for predictability well, the catalyst was a Bosnian Serb shooting a couple of people.
Now some may say that what Russia is really seeking is something akin to the post-Yalta, Cold War world, which is often portrayed as being more stable than what we have seen post-1989. At face value it might appear that the world has become a more unstable, dangerous place. The breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia certainly did lead to ethnic conflict and the proliferation of weapons that would find their way into the hands of insurgents around the globe. The problem is, however, that Cold War predictability and stability is largely a myth.
For one thing, people tend to have a really superficial understanding of the Cold War; they see it as a conflict between two superpowers, the United States on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. In reality it started that way but then rapidly became much more complicated. You had the US and its allies, you had the Soviet Union and its camp, then you had Red China, the non-aligned movement, you had Albania eventually declaring that every side could go eat a bag of dicks as far as it was concerned, and near the end you had the rise of Islamic fundamentalism which believed that after defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan it could go on to defeat the United States and its allies.
Just to give you an idea of how insane this period was, look at the conflict between the People’s Republic of Vietnam (Soviet-aligned) and Democratic Kampuchea (China-aligned, “democratic” results may vary considerably). Vietnam responded to Khmer Rouge incursions with an invasion that drove that organization from power. China wasn’t too happy with this and thus backed the Khmer Rouge, which by this point had reverted back to a guerrilla insurgent movement. China invaded Vietnam in 1979 and promptly got its ass kicked, mostly by home guard forces. Meanwhile, the US got interested in supporting the insurgency against the Vietnam-backed puppet government in Phnom Penh, leading to what I’ve once seen termed as “Vietnam’s Vietnam.” To this day, there are still credible allegations that US support via Thailand reached the Khmer Rouge guerrillas who were fighting against the Vietnamese and their allies in Cambodia. Simpler times, right?
If you’d like to see a more thorough debunking of Cold War stability I recommend watching this lecture, but for now we must move on. Ehrlich really shows his realist colors in this next passage:
“For example, the situation on the ground demonstrates that Crimea has, in fact, become part of Russia. Offering to officially recognize that fact is the most powerful bargaining chip the next president can play in future negotiations with Russia. Yet Clinton has castigated Trump for so much as putting the option on the table. For ideological reasons, she prefers to pretend that Crimea will someday be returned to Ukraine — even as Moscow builds a $4 billion bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland.”
So recognition of the Crimean annexation is a “bargaining chip,” according to Ehrlich. Very well then, if we’re going to hand out parts of other countries without their consent, please tell us what we’re supposed to bargain for. This is the most irritating thing about these “realists.” They act like they’re all about finding common ground and negotiating and yet in the end it always ends up with one side giving Russia whatever it wants with no promise of anything in return. President Trump recognizes the Crimea as part of Russia and the Russians then…fill in the blank. Please.
They can’t even articulate what Russia’s supposed to concede to the West. I don’t blame them- what can Russia possibly offer? In their invasion of Ukraine they broke two international agreements, the Budapest Memorandum and the Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty. Hell we could throw in the Helsinki Accords just for good measure. So assuming we do the immoral thing and hand a piece of a country to another without so much as consulting that country, what do we get in return? Will they leave the Donbas and promise not to violate Ukrainian territorial integrity again? They already made that promise twice and look what happened. As an aside, do you see why I’m a bit skeptical of MGIMO’s international relations education?
I might also ask why he doesn’t apply the same logic the other way. Hillary’s supposedly being ideologically motivated into thinking that Crimea will one day be returned to Ukraine? Is the Kremlin not being ideologically motivated when they harbor the belief that Kosovo will some day be returned to Serbia? Quite hilariously, the Russian government used Kosovo’s independence to justify the Crimean annexation, which implicitly argues that both are not in accordance with international law. I wonder if whoever formulated that argument went to the prestigious MGIMO. In fact I wonder if MGIMO actually has a course in whataboutism.
But why should we stop at recognizing the Crimean annexation? Obviously Turkey is an important ally on both sides in the Syrian conflict. Perhaps it is time to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. After all, this state came into being because an actual coup put an actual right-wing junta in charge, which then overthrew the legitimate Cypriot government and threatened Turkish Cypriots. Sound familiar? Oh no wait, I forgot we’re only supposed to hand Russia everything the Kremlin wants on a silver platter. We’re not supposed to be consistent or anything. Besides, Russian businessmen love to hide money in government-controlled Cyprus and recognizing the TRNC might jeopardize that.
Moving on, we find a little confusion as to America’s best interests.
“Moscow believes that Crimea and other major points of bipolar tension will evaporate if America simply elects a leader who will pursue the nation’s best interest, from supporting Assad against the Islamic State to shrinking NATO by ejecting free riders. Russia respects Trump for taking these realist positions on his own initiative, even though they were not politically expedient.”
Here the author substitutes the Kremlin’s best interests for those of the United States. While the US government’s improvised, Mickey Mouse approach to Syria is by no means in America’s best interest, neither is supporting Assad, which is also not in Russia’s best interests. One thing that’s important to understand about pro-Kremlin Russians is that they don’t give a shit about what is in your country’s best interests. They’re not hoping that a future American government will bring paid maternity leave, raise the minimum wage, institute universal healthcare, or make higher education free or mostly-subsidized. If a US administration ever accomplished even half of that, the Kremlin propaganda machine would struggle to find more alienated Americans to put on the airwaves and tell their own people how terrible it is to live in America.
And on the topic of those NATO “free riders,” let’s get down to the truth about why Trump says pro-Russian talking points about NATO and the Crimea. Are you ready to hear the secret? He’s a fucking idiot, that’s why. Look at how he answers those questions about fulfilling our obligations to Baltic NATO members or recognizing the Crimea and you can clearly see this is a man who has never considered these issues struggling to come up with an answer. Beyond that, he says the “pro-Russian” answer because if he knows anything at all, he knows such answers sound “anti-establishment,” and that’s how he’s trying to portray himself.
When it comes to NATO “free-riders,” it’s helpful to keep a few things in mind. First, NATO’s Article 5 was actually triggered due to 9/11. In fact that’s the only time it’s ever been triggered. NATO allies could have played semantics and claimed that Al Qaeda wasn’t a state, but they didn’t. What is more, even smaller member states like Estonia and the Czech Republic have sent contingents to Afghanistan– Albania even sent a special forces unit that participated in combat alongside US forces. Many of these states know that they’re far from being top priority targets for Afghan-trained terrorists, yet they put themselves in harms way to fulfill their NATO obligations.
While it is true that prior to 2014 many NATO states were spending far less than the 2% of GDP encouraged by NATO leaders, this doesn’t mean the US was picking up the tab. In fact, the pre-2014, really pre-2015 situation was exactly what the Kremlin wanted. The US was rapidly decreasing its presence in Europe, countries weren’t spending 2% of their GDP on NATO-related defense, and Ukraine, Sweden, and Finland were officially neutral countries. Then something happened, and by 2015 the US is timidly moving combat-ready forces into Europe, Ukraine cancelled its non-bloc status after roughly eight months of war, and Sweden and Finland seriously contemplate joining NATO. Just more proof that the ultimate advocate for NATO expansion is in fact the ultimate neocon- Vladimir Putin.
Near the end of the article it seems that Ehrlich totally forgot he was pretending to just report the Russian POV and pretty much starts giving the talking points directly:
“Clinton also has financial ties to George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations are considered the foremost threat to Russia’s internal stability, based on their alleged involvement in Eastern Europe’s prior “Color Revolutions.”
Here’s a tip: If your foremost threat is George Soros and his NGO’s, you’re not a superpower, great power, or whatever. You’re a goddamned basketcase. What is more, this kind of negates all the Kremlin’s claims about a conventional threat from NATO. You can’t claim that NATO is going to invade your territory, and then when people point out ridiculous this is given NATO deployments, switch over to claiming they’re going to use protest movements to overthrow your government. Moreover, you can’t claim to be a superpower when you’re absolutely terrified of NGO’s, including those who have no ties to Soros and may not be involved with political causes.
Are you ready to see Ehrlich really slip up? Check this out:
“Russia’s security apparatus is certain that Soros aspires to overthrow Putin’s government using the same methods that felled President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine: covertly orchestrated mass protests concealing armed provocateurs. The Kremlin’s only question is whether Clinton is reckless enough to back those plans.”
On one part he is telling the truth- there are people in Russia’s security apparatus who believe that. But his explanation of Euromaidan displays a hilarious level of ignorance. Where could he have got such an idea that Euromaidan began with “covertly orchestrated mass protests concealing armed provocateurs?” Luckily he provides a link…to an ad for a book by wunderkind insta-expert Andrew Korybko. After a short time in Moscow, Korybko’s ability to regurgitate Kremlin and Eurasianist talking points as a Westerner has led to a meteoric rise in Kremlin-linked think tanks, where he’s now touted as an expert in “color revolutions.”
Obviously I don’t have time to read Korybko’s doorstop, which is offered for the low low price of $0.00, but thankfully the description does provide a little detail on Korybko’s version of the events surrounding Euromaidan in Ukraine. Guess what sources he relies on. Interviews with Maidan participants and organizers? Leaked internal documents from the US government or NGOs? Nope. According to the description it was:
“In the case of EuroMaidan, Andrew cites Western news sources such as Newsweek magazine, the Guardian, and Reuters in reminding everyone that in the days immediately prior to the coup’s successful completion, Western Ukraine was in full-scale rebellion against the central government and the stage was set for an Unconventional Syrian-esque War in the heart of Eastern Europe. Had it not been for the sudden overthrow of President Yanukovich, the US was prepared to take the country down the path of the Syrian scenario, which would have been its second full-fledged application of Hybrid War.”
Whoa, hold on there, Andrew! Western mainstream news sources? I thought we couldn’t trust those! I guess we can when they appear to say what you want. In fairness to Korybko’s, several Western media outlets did erroneously report that Western Ukrainian cities were threatening to break away from the center near the end of Maidan. Here’s a story about it from The Guardian. The problem is that these were not in fact declarations of independence (comparable to the uprising in Donetsk and Luhansk), but rather local governments saying they would not carry out orders of a government they no longer saw as legitimate after things got out of hand and dozen of people had been killed. They were certainly not in “full-scale rebellion.” I myself have seen Ukrainians expressing utter puzzlement on seeing such reporting. And if you don’t believe that the Western media could get a story so wrong, just look at the map they provide in the article and tell me if you notice anything unusual:
And do I really have to point out that Yanukovych wasn’t “overthrown” on 22 February, but rather he left on his own accord. Even if he had seriously feared for his life, it makes little sense that he ultimately fled to Russia instead of holding out in one of his strongholds like Donetsk or the Crimea.
While the “political analysts” and “geopolitical experts”haven’t managed to provide any concrete evidence of a planned coup in Ukraine since 2014, we do have hard evidence that the Yanukovych government financed the far right-wing Svoboda party to the tune of $200,000, with a smaller amount being earmarked for one of Ukraine’s oldest nationalist organizations the UNA-UNSO. That might sound shocking outside of Ukraine, but Ukrainians themselves have long suspected ties between Yanukovych and far-right nationalist organizations, which helped scare votes toward his Party of Regions. And when we consider that Maidan started over Yanukovych suspending the signing of an EU trade agreement that was his own project, the real culprit of the Maidan “coup” becomes clear. It was Yanukovych!
I’ve dealt with Korybko’s work in the past, but if you need any reason to question his expertise in “color revolutions,” take a look at his articles in response to last year’s Electro-Yerevan in Armenia. Basically people were upset about a large hike in electricity rates, and then later an initially brutal reaction to the protests by police. Naturally, pro-Kremlin pundits, expert Korybko included, rushed to declare the protest movement a US-backed Maidan-like color revolution, because the idea that people might willingly protest their government’s actions on their own is simply ridiculous…except Occupy Wall Street of course.
Actual protesters were offended by the Maidan comparisons, as they saw there movement as nothing of the sort, but that didn’t bother Korybko, who went right along calling it an attempted color revolution. Luckily for Armenia, the government responded rather competently and a settlement was arranged that saw the end of the protests. I guess the State Department agents and Soros must have forgot to keep paying those protesters or something. Later on Korybko has happily admitted this attempted color revolution failed, but he doesn’t seem to provide any good explanation as to why. It certainly isn’t because the Armenian government cracked down harder. As it turns out, Korybko also saw an attempted color revolution in Armenia once again, in this year. This ought to tell you how useful these “color revolution experts” really are. They use the flimsy, Texas Sharpshooter technique to “connect the dots” without ever actually providing any hard evidence of a true coup d’etat. If the “revolution” is successful, it turns out Soros and the State Department perfectly executed everything, just like Euromaidan. If it fizzles like in Armenia or Belarus, the authorities somehow managed to defeat the evil Western grandmasters. That Ehrlich would refer to this source and advance that claim is very telling.
The article ends on an awkward note in this paragraph:
“That fear was heightened when Clinton surrogate Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, recently accused Putin of attempting to rig the U.S. election through cyberattacks. That is a grave allegation — the very kind of thing a President Clinton might repeat to justify war with Russia.”
There have been numerous cyber-attack allegations against not only Russia, but China in the past decade or so. If the “neocons” didn’t go to war then, they won’t do it now. Once again, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people Ehrlich was talking to seriously believe this, but he makes no attempt to challenge or question it. This technique reminds me of that used by anti-Putin blogger Paul Goble, the favorite low-hanging fruit for the Western Putin fanboy. Goble says he’s just letting his source “speak for themselves,” but there’s no fact-checking, challenging, or questioning. It’s usually some obscure academic predicting immanent civil war or economic collapse for Russia.
As I said in the beginning, a recent Buzzfeed article gives us a little more information about the author, and it was indeed enlightening. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks like a familiar story:
“Ehrlich described an unusual path, laced with descriptions of grandeur, that brought him to Moscow. The son of one of California’s top lawyers, he dropped out of high school and did not go to college. Instead, he says, he landed an internship at the age of 16 at the Claremont Institute working on a project on missile defense.”
That sounds a bit suspicious at face value, but with a father who’s apparently a top California lawyer, it’s not entirely unbelievable.
But I think the real answer lies here:
“Through the years he’s been to Moscow several times, he says, but it’s all been self-funded and more in the pursuit of the women he’d come in contact with while attempting to practice his Russian. “I have multiple exes who are Russian and I came to Moscow in March  to visit a girl. A lot of what you see on my Facebook is related to my search for a soulmate, not anything policy related,” he said by Facebook Messenger.”
Look, Clinton, if you just want to date Russian girls, that’s fine. I don’t see why you have to become a rabid supporter of the regime in the process. If you think that impresses Russian women I can see why you haven’t found that soulmate yet.
When I read something like this, I wonder what would happen if instead of Russia he’d gone to Ukraine instead. Maybe Mr. Erlich would be one of those Western Warriors for Ukraine, accusing everyone who disagrees with him of being a paid Russian troll, insisting that Bandera did nothing wrong, and explaining how we other Westerners who “don’t get” Ukraine should stop wagging our hypocritical fingers at Kyiv and appreciate how Ukraine died multiple times for our sins. In other words, he could have been this guy.
In any case this also helps explain why he seems to lack a lot of knowledge on Russian politics and culture. When you’re only talking to potential dates, these things don’t often come up. Most Russians actually hate talking about politics.
And of course like all realists, he insists that he’s not a Putin supporter:
“Ehrlich denies that he was prompted to write the piece by foreign ministry officials, listing several ways where he disagrees with the Russian government. “One argument in defense of Crimea is idea of self-determination, and I think both Moscow and Washington are hypocritical,” he said, pointing to Russia’s brutal quelling of Chechen independence and the US refusing to let the South secede during the Civil War.”
This is one of the weirdest comparisons I’ve ever seen. The United States government made the case that states did not have the right of secession, and while people have disputed this the case is not only pretty solid, but the United States was undeniably better off for preserving the Union. By contrast, Chechnya didn’t just declare independence- Yeltsin had told local leaders to “take as much sovereignty as you like.” Chechnya was not the only former-ASSR to take him up on that offer. The other, Tatarstan, eventually gave up on independence.
In any case, Clinton, if you’re reading this, be careful about bringing up Chechen independence in the future, because whereas America is home to a large number of openly neo-Confederate secessionists who are allowed to publish and disseminate their materials, in Russia public calls for independence or even more autonomy for regions is actually a criminal offense.
When it comes to the accusation that Ehrlich is some kind of paid propagandist or “active measures” as the diligent “information warriors” love to call it, I’m sorry but my opinion is no. This is a much more mundane, familiar story. Young man feels alienated, down on his luck, goes to Russia and is suddenly the center of attention. These days if you’re willing to publicly regurgitate Kremlin talking points and spend time denigrating the US you will be handsomely rewarded. It can get you on TV or a position in some state-sponsored think tank. This generally doesn’t happen on the “other side.” Contrary to what some readers might think, I don’t have think tanks like Legatum or the Atlantic Council filling up my inbox and requesting articles or lectures. Ditto for those shadowy Soros NGOs. Western think tanks and NGOs value connections and more importantly, academic credentials, and besides that, I’m not exactly “on message.”
The Kremlin’s practice of handing out titles and positions like candy to any foreigner who will spread its message has had a lot of success. A lot of true believers who have come to Moscow in recent years don’t realize that all this talk about opposing intervention, global stability, or alternatives to globalization is nothing but bullshit to cover up the ugly truth- Russia is run by thieving parasites who want to hoard their wealth in the West and surround themselves with Western luxury without ever being held accountable to their people. Putin isn’t a James Bond villain with some personal ideology and a vision of an ideal world. He’s Hans Gruber from Die Hard, a thief who carries out his heist by posing as an ideologically-driven terrorist. You can’t negotiate with him because he’s got nothing to offer.
Ehrlich, at least thus far, isn’t really a malicious propagandist in my opinion. He just came in late in the film and doesn’t know the backstory as I alluded to above. If my experiences had been slightly different, if I hadn’t met certain people, you might see me hosting my own show on RT right now. I hope they’d pay me at least as much as they do Peter Lavelle.
Of course Ehrlich has his own statement about accusations that he is a propagandist:
“I think part of the problem is this idea of propaganda,” he said. “If I were Russian and I was taking positions that lined up with official positions of the US that would be propaganda in Russia. If I express my sincere convictions and that lines up with things Moscow believes, I’m a propagandist.”
I find that line about “sincere convictions” rather hypocritical after what he said about Maidan. See in the minds of people like his source Korybko, people involved in protests the Kremlin doesn’t like don’t have sincere convictions. They’re just being paid or drugged, yes drugged, by the US State Department. Rational people are supposed to tolerate their government being totally corrupt or hiking up fees. I have no doubt that Mr. Ehrlich sincerely believes what he’s saying, but I wish he’d extend the same courtesy to protesters in Ukraine or Russian opposition supporters.
And on that note, I’m very sorry but it doesn’t follow that someone taking positions that happen to line up with those of a government are engaging in propaganda. One very good argument against Russian involvement in Syria, for example, is that it is a colossal waste of money that will ultimately fail to benefit Russia. This isn’t a US government position; I’m not even sure the US government even knows what it wants in Syria. Yet expressing open opposition to the Kremlin’s activities in Russia, even on those grounds, is good enough to get you labeled a traitor or a supporter of terrorists.
The statement is also rather dishonest because as I pointed out before, in the Foreign Policy article it is implied that he’s only reporting what the Kremlin believes. Now he admits that his own “sincere convictions” line up with Moscow’s talking points? That does kind of make you a propagandist, if only an unwitting one.
I sincerely hope that Mr. Ehrlich will be a bit more skeptical towards his new friends, who are always happy to praise Western “dissidents” while declaring their own to be traitors and foreign agents. They’ll pay you, they’ll give you titles and instant credentials, and they’ll put you on the air. Hell, I myself have had two major networks trying to interview me just because I wrote about Western stereotypes about Russians. But what you need to understand is that you’ll never be one of them. These people don’t believe that dissent is healthy for a country. Your country is your team and you support it unquestioningly, at least in public. Otherwise you’re a traitor. You may be a useful traitor, but a traitor nonetheless, and such people have no respect for traitors.
UPDATE: A reader took a screen cap of Clinton Erlich’s Linkedin profile and there are some very unusual discrepancies. For example, he’s 26 now, so this means he would have been a “missile defense researcher” when he was about 16. Then he’s a “debate coach” for two years and a “national champion.” That sounds like a high school or college activity yet he claims he dropped out of high school and never went to college. Then he becomes the “senior fellow/director of post-Soviet studies at something called the Hegemonic Affairs Institute at the young age of about 18, again with no high school or college diploma. And what about the Hegemonic Affairs Institute? A Google research reveals nothing whatsoever. This is precisely why I’m convinced this guy isn’t some kind of Russian agent. An agent would have a much better cover story.
Clinton, if you’re reading this, give it up. Nobody’s buying. You can still chase your soulmate in Russia without being a Putin tool.
UPDATE: Russian security expert Mark Galeotti, who has actually taught at MGIMO, has apparently weighed in on this topic, delivering what by now can best be described as a coup de grace:
UPDATE: Clinton has contacted me and wanted to explain some of the discrepancies in his background. He was able to name past employers at the Claremont Institute and other places he claimed to work for (such as the internship regarding missile defense). He said that he was coaching the debate team at his former high school. As for the Hegemonic Affairs Institute, he says he founded it when 17 or 18 as a sort of “poor man’s version of the Council on Foreign Relations.” I did some checking and Hegemonic Affairs was registered as an LLC back in 2007, but unfortunately it has no website and I haven’t managed to find any published works from the institute. He also said that a rebuttal to Sam Harris’ moral theory, along with Harris’ response, can be found in the appendix of the print version of Harris’ book Lying.
Ehrlich explains that his position is in the faculty of international law at MGIMO and his research is in regards to the Status-6 torpedo. He insists that he is the only Westerner with the title of researcher at the institute, but also says he did not claim to be the only Westerner “embedded” there, and blames Buzzfeed for this misunderstanding. He also says that the story of how he ended up at MGIMO will be the subject of an upcoming NBC prime time news special, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Obviously questions may remain, but Clinton has made a sincere effort to try to clear things up. I’ve certainly encountered Westerners with stranger work histories in Moscow.
Anyway, I provided this update because I hope this will remove the focus from the person and put it back on the arguments themselves.