Another day, another “realist”

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.

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Sure, your .45 ACP’s got the stopping power to drop one target, but a few shots from one of these little babies killed 17 million 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:

ukrainemap

If it just had something about Bandera being a “controversial figure,” I’d have gotten “Western media failures in Ukraine coverage” bingo.

 

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 [2015] 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:

tweets

 

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.

 

 

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49 thoughts on “Another day, another “realist”

  1. alkeilani

    It’s really bad that Foreign Policy published such drivel from somebody with no knowledge or qualifications, they could as well have provided a hyperlink to Sputnik.com’s opinion section.
    What is even more unfortunate is that Ehrlich’s “analysis” is very similar to what the more serious Stephen Walt writes in the same magazine.
    I don’t know if you’ve read some of his articles but he always opposes any action abroad by the US, even to defend international legality (chemical weapons in Syria, annexations by Russia), exactly in the same way Putin sympathizers do.

    Also, you’re absolutely right that “old-school realpolitik” never works. Actually it worked in Europe when every major power was busy invading African countries, China and others, and ceased to function when there were no longer any “empty spaces”.

    “Realists” (of that kind) aren’t only shamelessly supporting crimes around the world, they also are astonishingly thickheaded and ignorant about history.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Very good point. By the way, I must again apologize for my embarrassing reaction earlier today. I seriously thought some right-wing pro-Putin guy had stumbled in here because the views have been really high as of late.

      Anyway, yeah- I think it would have been perfectly fine if he’d been more honest and just reported what people had been telling him, maybe quoting some of them. For example, “One professor said…” “Some of my colleagues say…” It looks like it’s going to start out that way and then he just drops all pretense and starts going full Kremlinbot.

      That, coupled with his highly questionable background and experience in Russia makes me think that he’s just another Westerner chasing girls who got snatched up by the Kremlin propaganda machine. They can give you teaching positions at universities, gigs in media, and positions in think tanks, to name a few of the benefits.

      I don’t remember reading Stephen Walt before, but I know the type. I wonder what they’d think of US involvement in WWII. Then again, some of the pro-Kremlin Westerners think America fought on the wrong side. This in spite of Russia monopolizing the victory in WWII.

      I think what they fail to realize is that if the US never intervenes, someone will. Would they be any more right than the US? If yes, why? If no, what is the alternative? Also the US often takes flak for not intervening in some conflicts, such as Rwanda.

      Reply
      1. alkeilani

        Thanks for your reply. Actually I didn’t see what your “earlier reaction” was, so apology accepted. Regarding your point on US involvement in WWII, the whole point of the original “America First” movement was to oppose interventions abroad for any motive, and that is still defended today by the likes of Pat Buchanan (described as “paleoconservative”, i.e. the ultimate anti-neo-conservative) and even Gary Johnson to some extent.
        People who defend Russia’s actions abroad don’t always do it because of the money, but often because they are sincerely and completely uninterested in what happens beyond their borders.
        For instance, did you here about the april referendum in the Netherlands where most voters actually voted against the (highly symbolic) EU agreement with Ukraine, despite to what happened to the MH17 ?

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Oh I totally know what you mean when you talk about people who aren’t interested in things happening beyond their borders. I try to explain this to the think tank types all the time. It’s not that activists in the US are pro-Russia or Iran or whatever, it’s just that they are dealing with problems in America and they don’t plan to ever go to Russia or Iran so it’s irrelevant. I try to reach out to those people just to make them understand that there are people in Russia, Ukraine, etc. who feel the same about their governments, and warn them that they shouldn’t let their movements be hijacked by the propaganda machines of foreign governments.

        That being said, there are good reasons to care. For example, Brits get priced out of London thanks to the massive influx of dirty money from a number of corrupt regimes. Matt Taibbi documents how US municipalities have actually given up their property and infrastructure to foreign state-owned enterprises.

    2. Sanchez Garcia

      old-school realpolitik is even more in existence than ever…….such as when the batshit crazy Vice President of the United states, neocon, Joe Biden boasting out loud it was the United States who forced the EU, against it’s will, to go into sanctions against Russia. Russia doesn’t try that with Belarus,Kazakhstan ….to go with certain decisions against their wishes for the purpose of “showing a united front”, despite having arguably more leverage over those countries than USA has with the EU poodles.

      This is a wrong interpretation of what is meant of “old-school realpolitik”. It is not a referal to what they did in Third World countries ( who the west secured most mining,drilling licenses for and selected dictator after they were allowed their independence,,,making your point on that to be irrelevant) but a reference to how big Empires for a few centuries were relatively stable and their monarchs marrying eachother instead of invading. In a most telling fact, the perennial bloodthirsty ( and often loser) Poles had been involved in wars every year for a few centuries….. apart from when they were under Russian Empire rule. This is the same as when terrorist attacks occur and the media are talking of ” they are getting more prevalent”, the reality is they are refering solely to terrorist attacks in western countries but not showing interest in the near daily terrorist attacks in Muslim countries that are killing more civilians….and for a long time before this.

      One of the main shameless violators of international legality….the USA…..should not be defending it….that sounds quite an obvious truth to me. They cant refer to the peaceful and overwhelmingly supported Crimean reunification as “illegal”….when for cynical political interests they support the Kosovan independence or invade Iraq and dont get sanctioned….sounds quite obvious to me too.

      Going onto the article itself….there are many faults but Im going to focus on two. Subsidising working mothers Is a successful government policy that has lead to social benefit. It has resulted in a much higher female vote for Putin than men. It is subsidised for a long time , one that beats many nations. There is no “other quibles with it”. It does seem at first glance that you might be the one unfamiliar with Russian politics and culture based on your take on the message of Mizulina and Astrakov ( linked from lacksidaisical western sources that always get the wrong end of the stick on these topics in Russia). The most malicious charge is that the Russian media (“state media” used as if it is a “dirty” term , even though state media is common around the world, and the Russian state channels are fair….unlike the openly propaganada, state-media run, RFE/RL or Voice of America. “State media” Echo of Moscow is the most openly kreakl outlet there is )..that the Russian media is anti-Muslim or “far-Right”. Show me a link to support this?

      The second issue is the defensive reaction to Russias distrust of all these Colour revolutions . I wont debunk your take there as my post is long enough already but would add that Boris Berezovsky claimed he funded the Orange Revolution (yet another one that spectacularly failed)

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “old-school realpolitik is even more in existence than ever…….such as when the batshit crazy Vice President of the United states, neocon, Joe Biden boasting out loud it was the United States who forced the EU, against it’s will, to go into sanctions against Russia. ”

        You’re going to need more than a statement from Joe Biden to prove this idiotic claim. See what you fail to understand is that many of those citizens who died were Dutch, EU citizens. Many Europeans are also aware of what Russian domestic propaganda says about their countries, which helps fuel anti-Putin sentiment. Lastly, and far more importantly, there are very good incentives for European countries to side with an economic powerhouse like the US over a rapidly deteriorating kleptocracy. Keep in mind that massive capital flight out of Russia actually began in 2013, prior to Maidan.

        “Russia doesn’t try that with Belarus,Kazakhstan ….to go with certain decisions against their wishes for the purpose of “showing a united front”, despite having arguably more leverage over those countries than USA has with the EU poodles.”

        This because Russia can’t compel them. That’s how economically weak they are. Belarus does a lot of trade with Ukraine and the EU. Running around sanctions was also beneficial to them. Kazakhstan now trades more with China than Russia and they also have an incentive to be on good terms with the US (which has some joint oil projects with Kazakh companies).

        See this is what you fail to realize- the US can actually attract countries to its position these days. Countries want to invest in the US, and they want US investment.

        Putin’s Russia on the other hand has nothing to sell but this bullshit idea of “we’re opposing the West!” which is a lie anyway.

        And if you want to talk about twisting arms, take a look at the news prior to Maidan and see how Russia was engaged in a trade war with Ukraine in order to warn Yanukovych against signing the EU deal. One Russian official actually threatened Yanukovych that there might be some kind of separatist activity if he signed.

        “but a reference to how big Empires for a few centuries were relatively stable and their monarchs marrying eachother instead of invading. In a most telling fact, the perennial bloodthirsty ( and often loser) Poles had been involved in wars every year for a few centuries….. apart from when they were under Russian Empire rule.”

        I’m sorry this is not only historically inaccurate but simply immoral. Realpolitik should stay where it belongs, in the 19th century. The world lives much better now, and far fewer people die violent deaths.

        “One of the main shameless violators of international legality….the USA…..should not be defending it….that sounds quite an obvious truth to me.”

        So the US has violated international law that makes it okay for Russia to violate it? In other words, you acknowledge that Russia is in violation of international law and by making these equivalencies you’re saying Russia is as bad as the US. Fine by me.

        Here’s the problem though, it’s whataboutism plain and simple. You can’t escape the fact that this is your answer to everything. You don’t stand for any actual values. Someone like me would rather live in a world with no “poles,” where international law is universally applied. But you apparently want a world where larger countries get to act like brutes so long as they don’t criticize one another.

        Which ideology makes the world better, and which makes it worse?

        ” They cant refer to the peaceful and overwhelmingly supported Crimean reunification as “illegal”….when for cynical political interests they support the Kosovan independence or invade Iraq and dont get sanctioned….sounds quite obvious to me too. ”

        Actually they can, because it is illegal. And the Kosovo thing and Iraq were also probably illegal as well. See they’re all bad? Can your mind handle that concept? Take a minute if you need it.

        They’re all bad and they shouldn’t happen in general, which is why people with principle oppose any country engaging in that behavior.

        The Kremlin doesn’t really see anything wrong with Kosovo independence or the Iraq invasion. They’re just made they can’t do the same. That’s why they’ve been trying to do lately now that they’ve managed to build a halfway decent military.

        Basically the Kremlin wants to be the very worst of America- a militaristic bully. But unlike America, they don’t even have the courage to admit their invasions, and there’s no accountability because there’s no competitive politics and anyone who dissents is a traitor.

        “It does seem at first glance that you might be the one unfamiliar with Russian politics and culture based on your take on the message of Mizulina and Astrakov ( linked from lacksidaisical western sources that always get the wrong end of the stick on these topics in Russia).”

        Actually I’m quite familiar with their politics. If you want to claim that the Western media somehow misinterpreted their numerous statements on things such as domestic violence or that Chechen marriage by all means, give your interpretation.

        “The most malicious charge is that the Russian media (“state media” used as if it is a “dirty” term , even though state media is common around the world, and the Russian state channels are fair….unlike the openly propaganada, state-media run, RFE/RL or Voice of America. “State media” Echo of Moscow is the most openly kreakl outlet there is )..”

        Yes, and they’re often branded as traitors and subject to surprise inspections and other forms of harassment, like any other dissenting media in Russia.

        Ekho Moskvy doesn’t really compare to NTV, 1st Channel, Rossiya 24, etc.

        “that the Russian media is anti-Muslim or “far-Right”. Show me a link to support this? ”

        I’m sorry but if you’re not already aware of this you’re not really on a level to be discussing this. It’s not that they’re anti-Muslim (which I clearly say in the piece), but that they like to show lots of stories about how Europe is turning into Arabia, Muslims are taking over, etc. Recently they pulled this in France and caused a big scandal: http://gawker.com/russian-state-tv-caught-manufacturing-anti-migrant-quot-1778520671

        “I wont debunk your take there as my post is long enough already but would add that Boris Berezovsky claimed he funded the Orange Revolution (yet another one that spectacularly failed)”

        Oh Boris Berezovsky! There’s a trustworthy source! The only thing I know for sure that he supported (and succeeded at), was getting Vladimir Putin into the presidency. Could Putin be a SOROS AGENT? A one man color revolution? Given his behavior and its effect on Russia, it certainly fits!

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        And one more note about objective state-run media in Russia. They USED to have that. They had Moscow News, which was part of RIA-Novosti, itself a respected outlet. Even RT was far more respectable back then.

        Then the powers that be decided that objective reporting doesn’t exist and that they wanted to wage “information war” instead. So in the process they wiped out what was left of their objective state media and now they whine when people call Sputnik and RT propaganda bullhorns.

        This is a pretty common process for vatniks:

        1. Decided that your rivals, who are rivals because you decided they must be, are already doing the thing you want to do.

        2. Do the thing.

        3. Whine when your actions provoke a negative response.

        4. Repeat.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        One more thing- It might not seem fair that the US wasn’t sanctioned for the invasion of Iraq, but it’s really simple- it would hurt the sanctioning countries far more than the US. Why? The US at the time was the leading economy and arguably still is.

        See this is the problem with the Kremlin- they want to be this superpower, but they also don’t want to stop stealing and they don’t want to unleash the creativity and potential of Russia’s talented population because doing so will make it harder for the current elite to maintain power.

        It’s like someone who wants to be a prize fighter but doesn’t want to train.

      4. Sanchez Garcia

        No shock to know that I disagree with all of that….apart from on Berezovsky. Yes , he is unreliable. There was a time though when the hapless joke that is western media coverage of Russia treated him as a “political dissident” and lapped up his claims when it suited them.
        You say that the Biden statement means nothing. Alright , maybe you are right. Would you agree he is batshit crazy to say it then to Harvard students?

        There is nothing remotely whataboutism in it because it is the US enforcing and bullying other nations into these sanctions against Russia. There may be many European states who think the coup was illegal, may not trust the evidence or credibility of those who are claiming Russia “invaded” Ukraine, may think that if Russia did or didn’t do this or that in Ukraine..it is none of their business because Ukraine isn’t in the EU or NATO. They might also think the only criminal regime is the Kiev one for what they have done in the Donbass or that it is pointless the sanctions if they feel that Ukraine aren’t commited to the Minsk agreement. The average dutch I reckon would have took one look at the likes of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk and not feel a large amount of trust in them whenever talking about the plane that was shot down,…or anything. As it is, until it has been proven who shot it down then sanctions related to it shouldn’t have been placed.

        If the US didn’t exist, then neither would these sanctions, and probably most of the western worlds current official position on Ukraine wouldnt exist either.

      5. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “There is nothing remotely whataboutism in it because it is the US enforcing and bullying other nations into these sanctions against Russia.”

        Oh did you forget you didn’t have any evidence for that? You have some quote from Biden to some Harvard students, that’s it.

        “There may be many European states who think the coup was illegal, may not trust the evidence or credibility of those who are claiming Russia “invaded” Ukraine, may think that if Russia did or didn’t do this or that in Ukraine..it is none of their business because Ukraine isn’t in the EU or NATO.”

        Really? Name those European states.

        Also, we’re not going to debate whether or not Russia has invaded Ukraine. I’m sorry but the evidence is overwhelming at this point. If it doesn’t convince you, you are either ideologically biased or you simply do not understand Russia and basic military science. Take your pick.

        “They might also think the only criminal regime is the Kiev one for what they have done in the Donbass or that it is pointless the sanctions if they feel that Ukraine aren’t commited to the Minsk agreement.”

        The current regime in Kyiv was lawfully elected and it’s officially recognized by the Russian Federation, unlike the DNR and LNR.

        ” As it is, until it has been proven who shot it down then sanctions related to it shouldn’t have been placed.”

        The majority of evidence, plus basic common sense, points to the rebel side.

        “If the US didn’t exist, then neither would these sanctions, and probably most of the western worlds current official position on Ukraine wouldnt exist either.”

        This is literally one of the stupidest things you’ve posted so far. I think you’re done here.

      6. Sanchez Garcia

        So Strelkov is more a trustworthy source if we want to selectively and conveniantly believe what we want to…..but not Biden?Really strange

      7. Jim Kovpak Post author

        It’s funny how readily you guys throw a “hero of Novorossiya” to the dogs. Strelkov’s quote is by no means the only evidence of Russia’s invasion. There are numerous telephone and radio intercepts, photos and videos (sometimes accidentally provided by Russian press), and basic common sense and knowledge about the region and its politics.

        I think the problem here is that you really don’t have any argument. For example, you totally ignore what I’ve pointed out about why European nations have an incentive to side with the US. You might not think it’s fair, and sometimes it isn’t, but that’s just the way the world works.

        Putin had other options. He could have broken with his past in the early 2000’s and used Russia’s oil money like Gulf state to build up infrastructure throughout the country and help out ordinary citizens. He could have come down hard on corruption and worked with civil society groups to weed out lower-level bureaucrats on the take. He could have instituted rule of law.

        He could have done all these things and then retired in 2008 to enjoy his legacy. People might bring up his past and call him controversial, but reasonable people would point out that he lived in a time that called for hard measures. He would have been a hero.

        But alas, that’s not what Putin and his buddies wanted to do. They wanted golden iPhones, golden toilet seats, diamond-encrusted skis, Lamborghinis, sprawling palaces, etc. And in order to secure their power they established a chain of corruption. They also turned Russia’s political system into a bullshit reality show with phony opposition parties. They mindfucked the population by creating front organizations of almost every political orientation. They cracked down hard on virtually any kind of volunteer civil society activity, however innocuous. And when all this irresponsible behavior started to show mounting consequences, they cracked down on dissenters.

        Now the largest country in the world, in spite of all its human capital and natural resource wealth, has an economy on par with that of Italy, and it’s still contracting. Recently the deputy finance minister has projected that the reserve fund will run out in 2017. Oil’s not going to go back to those triple digit prices, much less the $80 that the Kremlin prays for now. And gas? Gazprom used to be one of the biggest companies in the world, but Putin and his buddies decided to use it as a political weapon against their neighbors, never thinking that those countries might resent them and find other energy sources (many have now). Now Gazprom is a shadow of its old self.

        So you look at all that, and you look at the constant disrespect Russia shows towards Europe, whether it’s calling them perverts or talking about how they’re being taken over by migrants (I noticed you ignored that example you demanded I show you), and it’s not hard to see why those nations are going to trust the United States more than Russia.

        Russia just has nothing to sell. In that alternate universe scenario I alluded to above, Russia could have attracted countries into a Eurasian Economic Union. Countries like Ukraine and Moldova might have found it advantageous. But no, Putin chose a system that peddles chauvinism and imperialism as compensation for rampant corruption and theft, and thus every country that can struggles to escape Russia’s orbit while those who remain are basically dictatorships with presidents for life.

        But yeah…This is all George Soros’ fault right? He MADE Putin and his buddies do all that.

      8. Sanchez Garcia

        Not addressing your other points doesn’t mean I dont have a strong counter-argument but the one I will focus on is Gazprom. Their reducing in value is simply down to the American shale gas expansion in technology and operations . When Miller made his infamous “trillion dollar” remark he was not considering this would happen in America. That is well done to the Americans and nothing Gazprom can do about that…..( other than long term rebuilding relations with US shale businesses, for the inevitable shale technology sharing that Gazprom itself may well have to undertake in Russia)

        LNG to Europe in mass amounts is a non-starter, maybe Norway can export a little bit more gas, no other pipelines from any other country than Russia are feasible in the short to medium time-period.

        Plenty of countries have no problem with the job creating, cheaper-gas creating, extra-money from transit creating South Stream…but the powerful Northern European countries and the Americans ,as usual, bullied them into not going into it. Germany is keen on North Stream 2. It is only countries that have nothing to do with the respective pipeline (SS or NS2), American troublemakers and Ukrainian troublemakers who nonsensically hate Russia but are desperate, as a political tool,. to hang onto being a kep transit route….who want to stall the deal. Russia just wants to give gas, indexed to oil price, and get paid for it

      9. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “Not addressing your other points doesn’t mean I dont have a strong counter-argument”

        If you had it, you would have used it. There’s simply no counter-argument to the fact that nations tend to side with the United States because it is beneficial for them to do so, and they don’t side with Russia because it is not attractive and tends to talk shit about every nation on Earth.

        “Their reducing in value is simply down to the American shale gas expansion in technology and operations . When Miller made his infamous “trillion dollar” remark he was not considering this would happen in America. That is well done to the Americans and nothing Gazprom can do about that…..(”

        Indeed, but it’s not only that. There’s also the move toward renewables, which has really taken hold in Europe in recent years. That will only increase.

        “Plenty of countries have no problem with the job creating, cheaper-gas creating, extra-money from transit creating South Stream…but the powerful Northern European countries and the Americans ,as usual, bullied them into not going into it”

        Yes, yes, it’s always those cheating Americans! Russia would be the world’s most popular and respected superpower if the Americans weren’t constantly sabotaging all its goodwill missions!

        1991’s coming. Then if anything’s left, Russia will get another chance to accept reality and build a functioning country. Hopefully.

      10. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I should point out that it’s not that I don’t believe the US doesn’t pressure countries to do things (while not pressuring others because it serves some particular interest). The problem is that the Kremlin worldview is that every time countries side with the US or West it’s because of some kind of dirty cheating. They ignore the fact that these days the US doesn’t have to use pressure so much because there are big incentives for siding with it. China has been doing something similar as well. Russia hasn’t seemed to figure it out yet.

        There was a time when I bought into all these anti-American regimes’ rhetoric about how they were supposedly defending their sovereignty, and how they were supposedly working for their people and not American corporate interests blah blah blah! Of course over time you see these countries fail or collapse. Venezuela, Belarus, and now Russia. Back in the day, I’d chalk this up to some nefarious US plot.

        But even after a short time in Russia, when you learn how the system works, you start to immediately understand what’s really going on in these countries, an you realize why they fail. Sure, sometimes there’s pressure from outside, but none of it matters compared to the incompetence and corruption of the government itself, which usually makes that foreign influence a factor.

  2. Mr. Hack

    I’m glad that you really got into this one and let it all hangout. I don’t know where to start in
    lavishing praise on some of your insights (I finally finished reading it):

    ‘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.’

    ‘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. 🙂

    ‘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.’

    The last one, pretty much sums it all up though, in an uncomplete list of notable quotations.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      LOL. Thanks. This article kind of set me off because I’d just read that other “realist” article the other day. It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered these realist articles, but they tend to drive me through the roof because it’s always about “negotiating and compromise” but in the end you see that the solution is basically giving Russia everything it wants while it gives nothing in return. This isn’t compromise. It’s capitulation.

      To be sure, there are some people on “the other side” who constantly beat the drums against Russia and then don’t offer any concrete solutions either. In fact, next week I’m going to tackle one of those types, albeit the subject matter is a little different.

      Reply
  3. Jamie Peppard

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m not well versed in the issues and came to this site through Twitter. It was intellectually rewarding to read about Russia compared to the nonsense being spouted on the campaign trail.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Thanks. I certainly do not envy those in the States right now, with every TV screen and radio blaring about what will go down in history as one of the worst elections ever.

      Reply
  4. Journo in Moscow

    Also, the LinkedIn page states that he’s been teaching at MGIMO for all of a month, a month and a half at most. He’s also got limited proficiency in Russian.

    Reply
      1. Journo in Moscow

        Looking at the page now. “Visiting Researcher, August 2016 – Present.” And in the language section, “Russian, Limited working proficiency.” How “embedded” (quoting FP’s social media guy here) can he really be?? Props for pointing out that MGIMO is largely for rich kids now, definitely not something that FP would have known receiving Ehrlich’s submission.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Yes it’s really weird because true, you can find the kind of opinions he reports in there, but you don’t need to be at MGIMO and you actually don’t even need to be in Russia to get them if you know what sites to read.

        And I think what Galeotti said pretty much settles it.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Believe me, that would not surprise me at all. I wish some of these men would realize that:

      A: If you’re in this country for dating purposes, you’re probably not really in love with the country.

      B: Most women in both Russia and Ukraine don’t really find this attractive. They find it weird, in fact. It’s not just women either, it’s just not normal for these people to see Westerners coming over and trying to “assimilate” themselves, talking about what “we” need to do, and generally trying to act more Ukrainian or Russian than the Ukrainian or Russians themselves.

      Anyway, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who recoiled in horror from that article.

      Reply
  5. Josh

    Yeah, the entire idea of being in a country – any country – for the sake of women is weird, if not downright creepy. If someone’s a journalist, works for a foreign company, see early stage investment opportunities etc. and you meet someone – fine, perfectly normal. But to pick a country to go to just for dating is bizarre. In fact, your articles on this phenomenon in Russia are just hilarious, you should re-post a couple of these!

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Technically there’s only one article about that- it’s called The Loser Carousel. It’s about a particular type of guy.

      I’ve always seen those types as predatory. They won’t openly admit it, but there’s a reason why they’re coming to countries that have problems with corruption, civil rights, economics, etc. They know they have an advantage they don’t have at home.

      Thankfully for the moment that sort of guy isn’t doing to well in Russia, and it looks like they’re starting to fail in Ukraine as well, in spite of the war and instability.

      Reply
    2. Asehpe

      Speaking as someone from a country — Brazil — who is also supposed to attract foreigners because of its women, I agree that the notion of going somewhere just to ‘find a bride’ is quite preposterous. I remember having once exchanged posts with an American guy of Polish descent who claimed that ‘American women have all been spoiled by radical feminism’ and as a result ‘they no longer understood what a good man had to offer’ — they only wanted ‘little chihuahuas who would do their bidding’. But not he — he was going back to the ol’ country to find a good Polish girl who knows that men are men and women are women and that’s how it should be! Now if only he could find the time to learn to speak Polish (darn language! why all those dl’s and zn’s and zbg’s and chlc’s and prz’s and all those consonants with little marks on top of them…). Yeah, it’s not only Kremlin-influenced Russians who like to believe in big conspiracies…

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The funny thing is that more and more women in these countries are breaking free of the hopeless 90’s mentality and since women in Eastern Europe are usually very resourceful and career oriented they’re becoming less receptive to this kind of bullshit. Speaking of Russia, for example, many of these dopes don’t realize that an educated woman in Moscow could easily find numerous eligible Russian bachelors who are their age, better looking, and can offer a better life (in the short term, at least) than some middle-aged suburban divorcee who managed to scrounge enough money together for a trip to Russia. Hell, even when things do go bad here, such Russian husbands have a better shot at emigrating and getting a real career in the West somewhere.

        As this trend grows in Eastern Europe, I guarantee you’ll start to hear the grumbling: “These women are getting WESTERNIZED! Feminism is creeping in!”

        And on the herd moves…toward more economically depressed areas to prey on the desperate and vulnerable. Noble gentlemen they truly are.

  6. Josh

    BTW, on another completely random note, anyone know if Ukraine has a domestic stock market and if yes, what its Price/Earnings ratio is? Thinking of Buffet’s “buy when there’s blood in the streets” maxim, I could envision small fortunes being made by those who buy at the bottom. Those who bought at height of Russia’s 1998 financial crisis after the stock market there tanked made 10X within a few years.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      That is something way outside my field, though I recommend looking up Business Ukraine Mag, and there’s supposed to be a new Ukrainian Business Journal soon. What is definitely the case right now is that Kyiv and L’viv are apparently seeing a rise in startups. Like a lot of other Eastern European nations, Ukraine has a lot of skilled programmers. Snapchat, for example, was designed in Ukraine.

      The tech sphere will be something to watch.

      Reply
      1. gbd_crwx

        I saw something about the Morozow guys trying to make inroads in the Polish army, they might have some opportunities there in old Wp-countries who would like to modernize

  7. Pingback: Brainstorming session | Russia Without BS

  8. ramendik

    I’m not going to defend someone’s random article. I do however take issue with your statement that somehow supporting Assad is “not in the best interests” of the United States or Russia.

    The simple, undeniable fact is that there is Assad, the Islamists, and the Kurds. And that’s it. I think we agree that Kurds are good guys – I’d go for recognition of Kurdestan tomorrow if it was my choice – but Kurds don’t have the numbers, the power, or the will to run all of Syria.

    Supporting Assad is exactly as much “in the best interests” of Russia and the U.S. as supporting Stalin was in the “best interests” of the U.K. and the U.S. in 1942, for all the same reasons. And Stalin was, to put it very mildly. a more dictatorial and bloody leader than Assad can ever be.

    Islamism must be defeated. They have stuck the U.S. again just yesterday – or do you think this was Assad’s work, eh?

    This is not about who is a friend of Putin. I fully support al-Sisi and his methods of dealing with Islamism, and al-Sisi is no friend of Putin; the tourist blockade of Egypt. unlike that of Turkey, remains in place.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      “The simple, undeniable fact is that there is Assad, the Islamists, and the Kurds.”

      Sorry but this is not an established fact.

      Also if you support Al-Sisi, did you notice that his way of dealing with Islamism hasn’t worked for past dictatorships, much like Assad’s? Islamism didn’t grow up in a vacuum. In fact the roots of Al Qaeda can actually be traced to Egypt (ideologically). Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak certainly kept a tight regime against Islamists. How did that work out?

      Reply
      1. ramendik

        Well, by this standard the best approach was that of Saddam Hussein. He had not trouble with them. As far as I understand he did that by suppressing their activity inside the country and at the same time encouraging it when directed against Israel. So Saddam exported the problem.

        Assad is no friend of Israel so he could probably have done that – wonder what prevented him. For al-Sisi it is not an option, he depends on relationships with Western countries that are friendly with Israel.

        I am somewhat too pro-Israel to see this option as viable, though. I think some things, like the heroin trade or violent Islamism, must be suppressed by police measures even if this looks like an endless war. (Or are you up for legalizing heroin?)

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        While this is somewhat difficult to predict, it’s fair to say that had Saddam survived until 2010-2011, he probably would have been facing a major uprising himself.

        What you fail to realize is that when you don’t let people participate in competitive politics and you suppress any opponents, you’re eventually going to push them into violent movements because violence becomes the only way to achieve any change.

        As for the heroin trade and violent extremism first of all- it’s a bad comparison. Legalizing heroin would not be the same as legalizing Islamic terror. Second, heroin addiction and Islamist cults have root causes, and those roots can be linked in some ways. People often turn to drugs because of problems in their life and a lack of connection to other human beings. For the same reason they can fall prey to cults, and these Islamic terrorist groups are really nothing but cults.

        So the question is do we fight the symptoms or the cause? A corrupt dictatorship that steps on any perceived threat doesn’t help the situation. The more pressure, the more powerful the explosion.

      3. ramendik

        “What you fail to realize is that when you don’t let people participate in competitive politics and you suppress any opponents, you’re eventually going to push them into violent movements because violence becomes the only way to achieve any change.”

        So you’re with me on saying the suppression of the Ba’ath party in “democratic” postwar Iraq had a big role in the disaster there? And that the Ukrainian Kiev government is up to no good with its laws suppressing Communist activity?

        I made the comparison with the heroin trade because, regarding the heroin trade, “the war on drugs does not work” is a pretty common argument. And my analogy with heroin is not terror (it is only a method), but violent Sharia.

        Sadly, a “methadone harm reduction” approach seems to be taken by the US sometimes – what with allowing the puppet government in Afghanistan to persecute people for apostasy, for example. My proposal, ideally, would be a law prohibiting any aid at all and most notably military aid to any regimes who criminalize either converts to Christianity or gay people or both. Reaching this would, unfortunately, require an alliance between people who won’t sh*t in the same field with each other (to take a Russian saying you’re probably familiar with).

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “So you’re with me on saying the suppression of the Ba’ath party in “democratic” postwar Iraq had a big role in the disaster there?”

        In the case of Iraq, yes, but what was far more problematic was the disbanding of the Iraqi army and police, not the Baath Party.

        “And that the Ukrainian Kiev government is up to no good with its laws suppressing Communist activity? ”

        I have consistently spoken out against the de-Communization law and how it has been implemented. As a real Marxist, I do not lament the death of the CPU, but in any case thanks to Russia’s actions it had lost what little influence it had left after Maidan.

        Still, this can’t be compared with say, the suppression used by past Egyptian governments or the Assad regime on dissidents. Random people aren’t disappearing from the streets of Kyiv and being tortured because they’re suspected of being Communists.

        “My proposal, ideally, would be a law prohibiting any aid at all and most notably military aid to any regimes who criminalize either converts to Christianity or gay people or both.”

        That’s actually an excellent idea, though I’d add something about people converting to any religion or no religion. For one thing, radicals often kill people for not adhering to their interpretation of Islam.

      5. ramendik

        The problem with “any religion or no religion” is that such a wide formula would actually disintegrate NATO on the spot. I’d like that outcome 😉 but it’s not realistic.

        The religion of Scientology is prohibited in France. Turkey cracks down on Islamists and this was upheld by the ECHR.

      6. ramendik

        “Criminalizing leaving a religion” is a fair formula, yes. I would not want to create a blanket ban on prohibiting anything that calls itself a religion, so I thought naming Christianity would work best – but in fact, “leaving “might be a better idea.

        It would avoid a chance to hit Uganda for proscribing the Lord’s Resistance Army! (As opposed to hitting Uganda for the same-sex relationships life in prison thing, which is the intended effect).

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