Who’s a realist, really?

Here, as promised, is the post about realism. In case you haven’t heard, “realism” is supposedly the basis of Russian foreign policy. According to them, great powers (and of course they’re a great power) should act according to self-interests without considering morality or ideology. For some unknown reason, those in Russia who claim to support such an approach to foreign policy can’t seem to fathom the possibility that some other great power might find it in its self-interests to stomp all over Russia without regard to morality or ideology. No, as I’ve written before, according to the realists, American foreign policy should be isolationist and concerned mostly with domestic issues, whereas Russia’s allowed to find its self-interests wherever it sees fit. In other words, this whole argument is bullshit.

Those Russians who genuinely support Trump seem to believe that he is a realist with an “America first” policy. This would be a mistake on their part. Trump has no policies; he has only whatever he happens to be saying in response to a question at a given time. The beltway pundits recoil in horror when Trump supposedly ponders leaving NATO members to stand alone, or when he says he’ll have people look into the issue of recognizing the annexation of the Crimea. They really ought not to get their heart rates up; it’s painfully obvious that when Trump answers questions in this way, he has no idea what they’re actually talking about. His answers truly sound like a man who knows he’s been caught with his pants down and needs to give an answer that makes it look as though he’s familiar with the issue. In short, Trump is not a realist. Trump is not anything but Donald Trump, and that’s bad enough.

I have a better question to think about, however. Is Vladimir Putin a realist? Does he practice what he preaches? HINT: No, he is not.

It’s a rare occasion that I find myself agreeing with a conservative pundit, but Twitter Trumpkin slayer Tom Nichols has raised the question of Putin’s “realism” and provided an accurate answer, though I must disagree with his assessment of Putin’s thinking on some levels. Here is the relevant passage:

“Finally, if Putin is a realist, it is a strange realism indeed. This is where counterfactual thinking might help: a realist seeking to increase the power and influence of his state simply would not do most of the things Putin is doing. The Kremlin’s foreign policy at this point violates almost every rule of competent strategy, to say nothing of common sense. From the injunction to avoid the needless multiplication of enemies to the danger of letting emotion overcome policy, Putin has trampled all over “realist” expectations.

This is an especially remarkable series of errors because Russia faces, in the administration of Barack Obama, an America that has no interest in a fight and would just as well walk away from European affairs if only given half a chance. Or put another way, America is being drawn into a European conflict only because Putin is too stupid to know enough to keep us out of it, despite every indication from the White House that we want nothing to do with any of this. If this is Russian “realism,” it’s the dumbest realism in modern history.”

Indeed this brand of realism is a strange one. Nichols goes into more detail regarding what Putin has wrought in Ukraine, but I’m writing this post because I wanted to go a bit deeper.

First of all, according to the realist school Russia could be seen as looking out for its self-interests (for the moment let’s ignore the fact that the interests of a country’s ruling class rarely coincide with the majority) when it engaged in a trade war with Ukraine in order to pressure Yanukovych away from the EU Association Agreement and towards Russia’s Customs Union. But if that is the case, the Russians can’t complain when they accuse the US of orchestrating a “coup” with Maidan. After all, what right have they to say this wasn’t in the best interests of the US? It wasn’t about morality or ideology, after all.

More importantly, however, is the fact that Russia’s reaction to Maidan, almost from the beginning, was incredibly stupid and ideologically-driven. The fact is that Maidan was not a Western-orchestrated coup; what happened is a protest movement grew, the government reacted improperly, and the West saw this and backed the right side. Russia, as has often been the case in recent decades, decided to throw in with the corrupt dictator. Not only is this incredibly stupid strategy, but it was definitely influenced by ideology, inasmuch as you can call the fantasy of Russia being surrounded by enemies and threatened by NATO an ideology.

Russia had other options even before Yanukovych fled. First, they could have dumped him like a bad habit. “Viktor, you idiot! You make this EU trade deal the cornerstone of your administration, and then you walk away from it? The people are right to protest you! Do not blame this on us!” This alone would have been a major game changer.

But let’s not go back that far and instead focus on the moment after Yanukovych left. Instead of seizing the Crimea and starting a war in the Donbas, once again Russia could have scolded Yanukovych publicly. Putin could have pointed out that the idea that Russia is controlling Ukraine is absurd, and to prove this he could have publicly recognized the interim government. This, of course, would leave several million pro-Russian or at least anti-Maidan voters in place throughout Russia. No Odessa riot, no annexation, no war. Russian media would be free to operate all throughout Ukraine. Putin would have a massive “fifth column” of voters and politicians in Ukraine to sabotage or hold up EU reforms. All the while Russia sits back and watches. No sanctions, no bad press over invading another country. No war for corrupt Ukrainian politicians to use as an excuse for their lack of reforms. Ukraine’s official non-bloc status would remain intact, and if the government actually did try something unpleasant to Moscow, well there’s always that contingency plan to seize the Crimea, right?

Such a strategy is obviously far more intelligent than what Putin actually did, and he did it because he’s not a realist and he is driven by a kind of ideology, a propaganda narrative. According to what passes for an ideology in the Kremlin, Putin and his cronies knew that this was orchestrated by the US. They knew it was all about getting Ukraine in NATO. They knew it would make Putin look weak and they’re extremely afraid of Russian-speaking people rising up an holding their government accountable. They were so convinced of their own bullshit geopolitical theory.

The fact is that the Kremlin’s foreign policy isn’t realism. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. It’s driven largely by fantasies that exist in an echo chamber; dissent equals disloyalty. The truth is that when the Kremlin ideologues or their sympathizers peddle this idea of realism to the West and in particular the United States, it’s really just a scam. What they’re saying is “Let’s not strive for a better world. Let’s all be as bad as we like, without criticizing one another.”

I’ll be really frank here- if someone asked me if I think the United States government should be more concerned with the state of its own people, I would generally agree with that statement. Of course I’d also say that the Russian government needs to show far more concern for its own people, and the need is far more urgent than in the US. We have to ask ourselves if it is better to live in a world where countries strive for lofty goals while often falling short, sometimes far short of them, or do we want to live in a world where the majority of people are at the mercy of wheeling and dealing great powers like some kind of neo-Victorian dystopia. I would rather see a world in which Russia improves its human rights record and foreign policy in order to legitimately challenge the moral superiority of the US, than to see the US abandon its stated values and emulate Putin’s Russia as it presently exists. Of course my own politics are far more radical, but while the former scenario falls short of my personal ideal, it is, at least, realistic.

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28 thoughts on “Who’s a realist, really?

  1. AndyT

    No matter how things are going to develop in the next 5-10 years, the World is still going to need a universally-recognized, common framework for handling conflicts and controversies.

    The most powerful Countries might think that “might makes right”, but they should be careful, because:

    1) They cannot know how “mighty” they are going to be in the future – geopolitical trends aren’t always predictable;
    2) Even a great power can be dragged into an endless conflict with a lesser force – just look at the mess previously known as Middle East…

    Reply
  2. zephyrean

    > It’s driven largely by fantasies that exist in an echo chamber; dissent equals disloyalty.

    There’s a Russian Orthodox Church doctrine (perhaps shared by other churches) known as Sobornost. It holds that each person’s input is soooo valuable that no matter whatsoever can proceed forward unless everyone is in agreement. If you disagree, you are obliged, for the greater good, to speak out and save your brethren from a tragic mistake. Or let yourself be saved, hurr hurr.

    Reply
  3. Mr. Hack

    What’s up with dat?

    Another great piece. I checked in earlier and saw that somebody had left a somewhat rambunctious comment from the ‘unreal’ side, not especially offensive to you Jim. I was hoping to see you clobber him, but now it seems it’s been deleted??….Or has it been a long week and I’m just seeing things that aren’t there??……..:-)

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I most likely did respond, but then later deleted both. On occasion you get these people who are so deluded or who are pathological liars and can’t keep their story straight even in a simple dialog. These people are really not worth debating with.

      As you see, I leave and respond to some of Sanchez’s comments, but others are so delusional and ignorant that they don’t merit a response. When someone clearly not in Russia tells me how things are here, I dismiss them. When someone claims the Russian media is objective because some political talk shows have an opposition leader on them (getting shouted down by several people at once), sorry, but no.

      Reply
    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Unfortunately the internet has created legions of people who mistakenly believe that their idiotic opinions merit a response, and if you don’t respond, you’re not “debating” them (as though debate is what they are looking for). In reality, there are many opinions which don’t merit debate, unless someone wants to indulge them for some reason.

      I used to spend a lot of time debating Holocaust deniers, for example, and I can do it for hours if I wanted to. But if I’m not in the mood, I can just dismiss them as morons who are ignorant of history and be done with it. There’s no need to debunk claims that have been debunked numerous times.

      Reply
  4. Rubens Martinez

    Your argument on the talkshows is nothing more than a strawman. Opposition figures are over-represented on television. They get shouted at…and they shout back…sometimes they are the ones doing the shouting…..the point is though that they are able to make their views heard to millions of people. The most popular programme… “Duel” on Rossiya …has 1 person on each side, the moderator….and 3 participants from both sides asking qurstions. You are simply not reflecting reality.
    My experience and knowledge of Russia is extensive….what is bizarre is you claiming , based on nothing , that it is not.
    What’s more bizarre is you using this kind of argument….when there are millions of Russians with more experience and knowledge of the country than you who share similiar beliefs to mine.
    You already made this mistake with Peter Hitchens
    I wonder who is getting shouted down in Russian newspapers….federal and local?
    There is a phrase ” cant take the heat…..stay out of the kitchen”…..if you make hundreds of perjorative , trolling posts on here and twitter,…then expect to have them scrutinized instead of an echo-chamber. Your reponses are nothing more than bullying….and you know it.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Moron, you’re the one who brought up talk shows. The fact that they have guests on to get yelled out isn’t the same as the POV that the media constantly pushes. It’s one thing to invite someone on a talk show who says Putin is bad. It’s another thing when your news stations show how great Putin is, fabricate stories about Navalny being a CIA agent, and of course put out dozens of fake stories on Ukraine. Fox news also has liberal guests on the air; that does not change the general tenor of that particular network.

      “My experience and knowledge of Russia is extensive….what is bizarre is you claiming , based on nothing , that it is not.”

      It isn’t particularly impressive or insightful. It sounds like what one would believe if they only believed pro-Kremlin sources and rejected anything to the contrary.

      “What’s more bizarre is you using this kind of argument….when there are millions of Russians with more experience and knowledge of the country than you who share similiar beliefs to mine.”

      Yes, and if you were in the British Union of Fascists there’d be millions of Germans who share beliefs similar to yours. Popular doesn’t mean right.

      “There is a phrase ” cant take the heat…..stay out of the kitchen”…..if you make hundreds of perjorative , trolling posts on here and twitter,”

      Trolling posts? What the fuck are you talking about?

      “Your reponses are nothing more than bullying….and you know it.”

      Whine more.

      Reply
    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      And by the way, I didn’t suggest that Peter Hitchens has no background knowledge in Russia. I said he used a lot of irrelevant Russian historical facts in order to dress up a bad argument. It’s like if I rattle off a bunch of facts and anecdotes about the Ottoman Empire and then say that’s why Erdogan is actually a great leader. In any case, Russia analysis has long suffered from the practice of historical determinism. Everything must be compared to something in Russian history and always Russian history- nothing else. Both sides frequently do this.

      Reply
    3. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Also, on the topic of “staying out of the kitchen,” I am not complaining about people coming in here and insulting me or acting like asses. I’m just pointing out that I am not obligated to take them seriously like they are actually trying to debate.

      Reply
      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        AAAAAnd one more thing. I think that this whole “who is more qualified to speak about Russia” thing is a massive distraction. Some people have an encyclopedic memory about Russian history or culture, others don’t. There are areas of Russian/Soviet history upon which I could expound upon for hours, and then there are those areas I barely skimmed or basically didn’t deal with at all. You will find it is not much different with those experts who have published works and formal academic credentials.

        When I complain about someone being billed as a “political analyst” or some other fake expertise title, I have always pointed out that I’m cited simply as a blogger, or freelance journalists. As it turns out, I have often communicated with recognized experts on Russia and unless they’re being extremely diplomatic they seem to take my opinions seriously. Where they disagree, I typically defer to them. Moreover, I believe in academia and expertise, but it has limits.

        My problem with certain authors is when they use their real knowledge a smokescreen to deliver bad arguments, as I explained earlier, or when you have these people who say things like “I didn’t know anything about Russia before I moved here,” but then suddenly they become experts because they chose to believe certain things and reject others.

        That being said there is such a thing as objective truth. No, I’m sorry, the Russian media is not as diverse and objective as the media in a lot of Western developed countries. No, people don’t have the same freedoms here as they do countries like the United States. Yes, Russia did invade Ukraine and their case for doing so is pathetically flimsy (and “moralist” too).

  5. alkeilani

    I agree with pretty much the entire post, my question is : does Putin or his associates consider Russia’s foreign policy to be based on realism ?
    I’ve read about them more often invoking other concepts, such as “multipolarity” and “tradition”.
    Putin supposedly studied economic law, and yet he seems much more interested in geostrategy than in Russia’s economic development.
    You wrote that Putin could have recognized the interim government in Ukraine and maintained a Russian-friendly Ukraine, but would he have been interested ?
    There is little record of Putin accepting the ‘finlandization’ of former Soviet republics, and it doesn’t seem he consider those neighboring states to be potential friends, but rather he might view them as countries that will one day ‘re-join’ Russia, even if only in a distant future (see his comments about Kazakhstan and his attitude towards Belarus).
    As a consequence, he probably saw the fall of Yanukovich as an opportunity to expand Russia ‘s territory, which is more important in his eyes than Russia’s sphere of influence.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      First, to clarify, it’s not that he could have maintained a Russia-friendly Ukraine, but rather he could easily sabotage it by taking advantage of the voter base in the Crimea and Donbas. What Putin did is basically hand over Kyiv an most of Ukraine to people who see Russia as hostile.

      As for the question of realism and their policy such as that “multi-polar world” they’re always talking about, I think the important thing is to remember that like I wrote in a past post- Putin is basically Hans Gruber from Die Hard. This is to say that he and his cronies are pretending to be a real government with a real ideological underpinning of some kind, but in reality it’s all about getting away with stealing billions of dollars from wealth that belongs to the Russian people.

      What they want is for Western countries to stay off their back, but of course leave their banks open for stolen money and give access to their elite real estate markets.

      Reply
      1. alkeilani

        Regarding “multi-polar world”, I never said they believed in it, simply that it fit better their vision than realism.
        Also, don’t you think Putin, in spite of being a bandit, is an extreme nationalist at the same time ?
        I don’t think being corrupt and espousing an ideology are incompatible, it was often the case for fascist regimes in Europe.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Ah sorry, it was getting late when I answered.

        I think on some level Putin sees himself as a nationalist tsar of some sort, inspired by the selective reading of history that is popular in this country, but like most politicians, concrete needs come first. He’s had to play the nationalist role more lately because he found himself trapped in a corner.

      3. Xavier F.

        To go a bit further, but going from alkeilani’s point, couldn’t we consider that Putin’s foreign policy is realist (because he defines national interests in terms of power, because states are central to the intl system, because military force is a preeminent tool,…) but sucks at it?

        Tom Nichols says “Finally, if Putin is a realist, it is a strange realism indeed. This is where counterfactual thinking might help: a realist seeking to increase the power and influence of his state simply would not do most of the things Putin is doing. The Kremlin’s foreign policy at this point violates almost every rule of competent strategy, to say nothing of common sense.”
        To me, that doesn’t mean Putin’s foreign policy isn’t realist per se, it just means he’s incompetent at it. And in a way, I tend to see his foreign policy objectives as broadly and basically realist, but his interpretation of the situation and on how best to achieve his aims is biaised by his ideological view of the world. Of course, if we say that he’s ideological, then he can’t be a realist. But what if he truly believes to be a realist because he can’t see that his own views are ideological and largely based on false premises?
        I know, I’m reaching a bit into Putin’s psyche!

        Thanks for the article btw, great analysis as always!

  6. Samurai Sam

    Jim, I know I give you hell for your crap articles where you grossly misinterpret the Ukraine about whose internal social dynamics you so obviously and maddingly know so little. But, by the same token I think I should be fair and complement you for your excellent work on Russia about which your analysis is excellent. Great job! I’m not saying this because your judgment on Russia here is harsh; I’m saying this because your analysis here is excellent and, to the first few approximations, true. Well done.

    Now please, please for the love of all that is good – please just recognize that little bit of dunning kruger inside of yourself and stop making overbroad pronouncements on Ukraine based on your 5 weekend visits and blog hopping. The contrast between your excellent russia articles and your cringeworthy ukraine ones where you constantly invent scarecrows, is staggering.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Sam, let’s talk about what’s really going on here. You flip out over what I write on Ukraine not due to a lack of knowledge. I’ve definitely gotten things very wrong on Ukrainian politics in the past and I’m more cautious about them in the present. You know I have far more than “5 weekend visits,” and then there’s all the stuff I read on Ukraine on a weekly basis.

      What this is really about is me triggering your cultish streak when I criticize the Bandera cult or the activities of the Ukrainian far right. I can tell this by your praise for my work on Russia. Folks like you just love watching me thrash Russia’s historical myths and romanticized narratives, but as soon as I shine the same critical light on Ukrainian myths manufactured much in the same Soviet-style way as Russia uses, I suddenly become totally ignorant of history.

      I didn’t make any “overboard pronouncements” on Ukraine. I make observations based on history and phenomenon that is readily observable in Ukraine. Perhaps you forget that I have both Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian friends who live in Ukraine and much of my “pronouncements” are typically bounced off them first.

      Reply
      1. Samurai Sam

        no jim, you’re wrong. i really do think that you’re really and truly ignorant on ukraine and your posts on ukraine really and truly do read like those of somebody who has shown up a few times, gotten a few mental snapshots, and is dead set on his views despite any evidence to the contrary. i know this based on what you’ve written, despite your claiming, absurdly, that i’m not a native english speaker (if your blog app lets you – do a quiet ip lookup on where i am – while of course location is no direct clue as to identity, it might give you an idea of just how wrong you are).

        what you continue to be wrong on and appear to be doubling down on is are you insanely stupid characterization of things having to do with bandera. for example, without a single bit of actual evidence, you accuse me of being a ‘bandera cultist.’ sorry, jim, but that’s fecking insane and beneath you. moreover, what is beneath you and further testament to your being up your own arsehole on this topic is that you think you have me all figured out based on these archetypes that you’ve invented that actually don’t correspond to actual thinking people.

        i have no love for the ukrainian far right (or even the ukrainian right for that matter). their worst elements, small as they are in practice, are certainly an embarrassment and in fact i spent much of the time on maidan pleading with them to take DOWN the pictures of bandera and to stick up a few old communst ww2 heroes up on stage behind the speakers on maidan. this message – of divided history but united future was the right one for ukraine to send then as now. the message was ignored and the results predictable – russia has opportunistically coopted all of ukraine’s shared history that matters with consequences that we all now know. Whatever the historical truth of the matter of bandera (see the next paragraph), ukraine’s maidan heroes who get an A+ for bravery get an F- for not realizing that the symbolism that came out of maidan was opening the door to trouble.

        but .. there is also the issue of historical truth… bandera was not a modern swedish style liberal democratic leader. but nobody, outside of the strawmen that you invented ever claimed that he was. you seem to think that there are serious diaspora or western ukrainians who actually think this way but honestly nobody really does. the reality is that throughout his political career, bandera was too concerned with keeping his head and the head of his organization above water to really put forth anything resembling much of a heartfelt political ideology beyond the idea that ukrainians, who he felt to be long oppressed, to have their own state. chances are, this state, had it ever come into existence, would likely have been something along the lines of the hungary and poland that he knew – regimes that don’t look good in a modern context, but were not extraordinary for the day and the region. he was Ho Chi Minh – he wanted a unified state for his long repressed people first– ideology came a distant second. however, unlike bandera, uncle ho was not incommunicado and in prison when the bulk of the far larger democides (and genocides of certain minorities) that the NVA/VC engaged in occurred – and yet while everybody agrees that those killings were unconscionable and all agree that he was collaborating with china at the height of china’s own murderous great leap forward and cultural revolution, no historian can be found who would place these as the key features of his leadership because everybody knows they weren’t. and if i say these uncontroversial things about ho chi minh you don’t suddenly leap up and call me “ho cultist” or being a revisionist for the massacres at, say, Hue, but yet you do the same thing when it comes to bandera.

        in actual ukraine, not the ukraine of your whistlestop tours, bandera rarely comes up. he certainly doesn’t figure into any serious discussions other than the “not this tired shit again, can’t we please move on” ones that people like you seem hell bent on initiating. you’re utterly and totally wrong in thinking that educated people who care about ukraine somehow think of bandera other than in the context of refuting outlandish claims such as yours or that of the russian press. as has been told to you over and over and over and over and over and over again if they think of bandera at all, then they think of him like the russians these days think of lenin – totemic of ukrainian nationlaism – not of any ideology. i mean, for fuck’s sake, EVEN IN LVIV, the monument to bandera is tucked away in a relatively obscure corner and nobody seems to mind. even in lviv.

        ya, but go on, call me a “bandera cultist.” accuse me, nonsensically, of being part of or partial to the ukrainain “far right.” your ‘re so utterly wrong on these counts that it’s comical. and, again, i’m hardly the only one who reads your blog here who has come to this conclusion.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “no jim, you’re wrong. i really do think that you’re really and truly ignorant on ukraine and your posts on ukraine really and truly do read like those of somebody who has shown up a few times, gotten a few mental snapshots, and is dead set on his views despite any evidence to the contrary.”

        This is a fairy tale you have constructed to avoid directly answering anything I wrote.

        “but nobody, outside of the strawmen that you invented ever claimed that he was. you seem to think that there are serious diaspora or western ukrainians who actually think this way but honestly nobody really does.”

        I have seen evidence of people who have attempted to do so. I realize that a lot of people try to rework Bandera for their own purposes. Some come closer to the mark than others.

        But in terms of mainstream attempts to whitewash Bandera, the usual claim is that the OUN wasn’t anti-semitic, wasn’t ideologically fascist, didn’t engage in pogroms against Jews, etc.

        These are all historically inaccurate. I’m terribly sorry.

        The rest of your claims are basically just mental gymnastics and apologetics.

        I’m totally aware that for some, Bandera is just a symbol of Ukrainian independence and nothing more. I also find that concept insulting because apart from the fact that his movement never achieved anything close to popular support in Ukraine (even in inter-war Poland), the whole idea is simply infantile.

        You can’t just isolate on aspect of a person and then claim that’s what he represents and nothing more. Suppose someone in Ukraine defends a Lenin statue claiming that, while Lenin certainly was no friend of Ukrainian independence, he was certainly more in favor of creating a Ukrainian nation and preserving its culture than the White Guards he was fighting against. Couldn’t we just say that Lenin really thought that Ukrainians were in fact a separate culture from Muscovites and celebrate him for that reason? Of course doing so would be stupid.

        We could literally try this with anyone. Nathan Bedford Forrest- JUST A REALLY GREAT GENERAL! Erich von Manstein, another…Actually I’ll give you that one, because Wehrmacht fappers the world over basically do idolize him as a god of war without remember his less savory aspects.

        Hell, forget Lenin for a second and look at how the Russians view Stalin these days. Generally you don’t hear people saying “I like Stalin because he starved the Ukrainians and put millions of my countrymen in camps.” No, the standard answer you get from people are things like “He built a superpower. He was a strong leader. He unified the country so it could survive World War II.”

        Hell, a couple of those are arguably true, so what’s the problem with Russians putting up posters or busts of Stalin? Every country gets to write its own history, right? Evidence or context doesn’t matter right? That’s how it’s supposed to work? And how much time have you spent in Russia, outside of tourist trips? Have you put in the time to TRULY understand the Russian attitude toward Stalin? HAVE YOU? (I’m being sarcastic here.)

        I call you a Bandera cultist because it’s apparent that the mere mention of certain negative aspects of Bandera and his movement apparently cause you to go into tirades. If this did not happen, I wouldn’t say it. You say he’s just about symbolism and independence? I can rattle off at least a dozen other fighters for Ukrainian independence who weren’t fascists, who weren’t connected with the fucking Holocaust, and in some cases did far more to advance the cause of Ukrainian independence than Bandera or his movement.

        You also still haven’t acknowledged that you erroneously claimed I said the Inter attack was ordered or somehow carried out by the government.

        And your comments about Ho Chi Minh? Whataboutism.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Also, aren’t you effectively admitting that you’re not in Ukraine as well? And if you’re a native speaker of English, that means you weren’t born an raised there?

        Anyway to reiterate, we don’t need totems if we’re supposed to be a modern, “European” country. As I said before, there are so many other Ukrainian independence fighters and many of them had positive ideas to draw from. Sure, the Bandera monument might be tucked away, but recently they renamed a street after him in Kyiv and Viatrovych wants to name another street after Shukhevych. The majority of Ukrainians no doubt disagree with the fanatical Viatrovych, but they don’t have the kind of influence he wields.

    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Of course what I said only holds true if I’m not mixing you up with another commentator from a long time ago.

      I noticed you never even responded to my comment where I pointed out that I never implied the arson attack on Inter was ordered by the government.

      Reply
      1. Samurai Sam

        sorry jim – i honestly dont know/remember what you are referring to by your arson attack comment, though i’m sure i’m the person you are referring to from before. i also admit that despite writing here a few times, i dont necessarily have the time to read all the replies or follow the threads. mea culpa / real life in the interim.

        let me put this in a way that you won’t like– your comments on bandera and what’s going on in ukraine today sound to me and others that i’ve spoke with something along the lines of somebody who thinks that japan is all about anime and geisha. it’s an unnuanced, touristy view–it really and truly is. and just because i take a few moments out of my day to very quickly scribble you an expletive laden note pointing this out to you makes me neither a “bandera cultist” nor whatever other label you care to stick on me.

        i again contend that your observations on russia, good and bad, tend to be quite insightful. you’ve lived there and you know the place . and while i’d be the first to say that there’s a lot… let me emphasize that *A LOT* to criticize when it comes to ukraine, you’re not advancing the conversation one iota by making some strawman “bandera cultists” a feature of your analysis. it’s as if you did a story on brexit focusing only on the EDL and then insisting that its supporters who fly the flag of st george and use medieval symbolism are somehow feudalists. it misses the point and the reality by a wide margin.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “let me put this in a way that you won’t like– your comments on bandera and what’s going on in ukraine today sound to me and others that i’ve spoke with something along the lines of somebody who thinks that japan is all about anime and geisha. ”

        Well then you’re wrong, because I don’t think that Ukraine is Banderastan at all. Most of the time I’m there the issue virtually never comes up when talking to ordinary people. As a long-time student of history and politics, it naturally comes up in discussion with some of my friends there, for obvious reasons.

        In fact last time I noticed a marked decrease in OUN/UPA/Bandera-themed decorations. I don’t remember seeing any outside of a few souvenir stands, many of which always sold those things.

        “it’s as if you did a story on brexit focusing only on the EDL and then insisting that its supporters who fly the flag of st george and use medieval symbolism are somehow feudalists.”

        This is another bad comparison. The St. George flag represents England. The OUN flag is the OUN flag, adopted in 1943. Contrary to some claims, it is not a historical Ukrainian flag or cossack banner or whatever.

        Again, I realize that most people don’t know anything about Bandera’s ideology, let alone agree with it. I know he’s just a symbol of independence for many. Hell, I’d wager most people only express affinity for him to troll the vatniks.

        Still, history is history, and these people can’t claim that they’re trying to erase the Soviet-controlled version of history if they’re just adopting another myth.

        What is actually WRONG with Ukraine shedding that OUN mythology by repealing the Law on Independence Fighters, having a real discussion about the true OUN-UPA, and promoting learning about dozens of other Ukrainian independence figures who are often completely ignored?

      3. Samurai Sam

        the fact that you seem to talk about the prevalence of bandera souvenirs and decorations again only reinforces my conclusion– you’re literally and intellectually a tourist in ukraine and don’t understand the difference between symbolism and reality. for a brief period (before they lost their ironic cool), somebody might buy and wear an “I’m a banderite girl” t-shirt not because of some deep-seated devotion to “banderite ideology” (if that were really a thing – hint: it’s not), but more of a tongue in cheek show of support for ukraine. likewise, somebody might fly a red and black flag basically as a direct fuck you just like russia is plastering the orange and black symbol everywhere not really for ww2 remembrance but mostly as a direct fuck you to ukraine.

        really, if you don’t understand that but insist on some puerile deconstruction the historical origins of the red and black flag then you really have no concept of what’s going on in ukraine. at least as opposed to your mostly misguided take on bandera as a historical figure, your reading of the history of the red and black flag is at least correct – but it’s still irrelevant and misses the context of its modern usage entirely–its a flag that now symbolizes to those flying it today ukrainian independence just like lenin statues to some symbolize not communism but colonial status.

        and again, you go on about “bandera’s ideology” as if that were really a thing, much less a thing that in any way matters.

        your ‘adopting their myth’ and all that stuff is talking to some discussion that nobody is having. is ukraine going to make a few one step backwards laws and rulings from time to time during its transition phase? of course it will. does this matter in any way in the bigger picture? no, it really doesn’t. in ukraine where the government struggles with impotence and relevance, decisions like the one i understand you are on about have little to no institutional reach (as opposed to russia, where the culture of fear makes them pervasive) and so transitional bonehead moves here and there like those which you seem to over and over again make a central focus of your discussion of ukraine are really beside the point.

        you also totally missed the point about the EDL if you again insist again on deconstructing flag histories. at one point you’re either going have to let your ego get out of the way and admit that you don’t quite know as much about social trends in ukraine as you thought you might (because the stuff i’m pointing out here is pretty fucking basic knowledge around people who know ukraine) or you just continue on talking instead of listening, i’m done here.

      4. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “the fact that you seem to talk about the prevalence of bandera souvenirs and decorations again only reinforces my conclusion– you’re literally and intellectually a tourist in ukraine and don’t understand the difference between symbolism and reality. ”

        Pure idiocy. For one thing, there are people who spend much more time in Ukraine and don’t know shit about Bandera or Ukraine’s history. I believe Graham Phillips can actually and easily claim more continuous living in Ukraine than I can. Does HE better understand these topics?

        For one thing, when we speak about Bandera, his ideology, the movement, etc. we are speaking about history. The relevant information is contained in archives, books, published papers, etc. You will learn virtually nothing on the streets that will be more insightful than that, just as your average American is an awful source of info on the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (in some sense so am I).

        ” t-shirt not because of some deep-seated devotion to “banderite ideology” (if that were really a thing – hint: it’s not), but more of a tongue in cheek show of support for ukraine.”

        Yes, thank you for telling me something I’ve known pretty much from the beginning of this whole mess.

        Again, what is it you’re actually disagreeing with?

        ” likewise, somebody might fly a red and black flag basically as a direct fuck you just like russia is plastering the orange and black symbol everywhere not really for ww2 remembrance but mostly as a direct fuck you to ukraine. ”

        I find a blue and yellow flag works just as well. You know when people like me protested the war in Iraq we didn’t wave Al Qaeda flags.

        “really, if you don’t understand that but insist on some puerile deconstruction the historical origins of the red and black flag then you really have no concept of what’s going on in ukraine. ”

        I’m sorry but people should have some knowledge of the symbols they are displaying or adopting. I don’t expect people to be WWII experts just to know that you probably shouldn’t wave a Nazi flag. I don’t expect people to be able to quote Alexander Stephens to understand why the Confederate “flag” is associated with slavery.

        This “they don’t know” thing, while somewhat true, is starting to wear really thin. Ukraine is involved in a global propaganda war, and say what you want about the Russians, they know how to conceal their far right in spite of the fact that theirs is much bigger than that in Ukraine and is also state backed.

        “ts a flag that now symbolizes to those flying it today ukrainian independence just like lenin statues to some symbolize not communism but colonial status.”

        I know another flag that makes a better symbol for Ukrainian independence- the Ukrainian flag.

        “you go on about “bandera’s ideology” as if that were really a thing, much less a thing that in any way matters. ”

        First of all, it is “a thing,” and second it does matter a great deal if we want to see a free, modern Ukraine and not some kind of miniature Russia whose conflict with the actual Russia resembles some kind of idiotic football rivalry.

        If it matters in Russia, it matters in Ukraine.

        I’ve said before that the average Russian who puts up a picture of Stalin likely has zero knowledge of Communism or Marxism. To them he’s just a symbol. But what happens when a symbol is associated with a strong state wherein people rat each other out to authorities?

        Right now we’re seeing this in Russia; the crackdown “works” because people have internalized this idea that Russia is under siege and “traitors” need to be suppressed.

        “you also totally missed the point about the EDL if you again insist again on deconstructing flag histories.”

        Again, you shouldn’t wave something you don’t understand. One point of this article that you totally miss is that Ukraine is in a propaganda war with a GLOBAL audience. Russia understands this; few in Ukraine seem to get it, however. It doesn’t matter what ordinary people think this symbol represents or if they don’t know. What matters is what the rest of the world sees, and the Russians are more than happy to supply their explanation and narrative with a $400 million global propaganda network.

        What’s Ukraine supposed to do? Use Ukraine Today to convince everyone that Bandera was actually a good guy who was just maligned by a global Russian/Polish/Jewish/American conspiracy?

        Why even fucking bother when as I’ve reiterated numerous times- Bandera and his movement never garnered popular support in Ukraine? Could you imagine if Frenchmen or Norwegians insisted that the world recognize the Vichy regime or Quisling collaborators as French and Norwegian heroes, respectively?

        Ukraine can just jettison these losers and say “Sorry, that’s just not us.”

        “at one point you’re either going have to let your ego get out of the way and admit that you don’t quite know as much about social trends in ukraine as you thought you might (because the stuff i’m pointing out here is pretty fucking basic knowledge around people who know ukraine) ”

        Maybe you’re the one who should start listening because I’ve told you several fucking times that I’m well aware of the points you make, and I’ve also pointed out that I have friends and contacts in Ukraine who do keep track of stuff like this, and some of them were born and raised there.

        Can you please show me the part in any of my articles where I suggest that there’s this big swathe of Ukrainian far-right nationalism in that country? Can you show me where I claim that people waving red and black flags are ardent Banderites who have read and accepted the actual ideology of the OUN?

        I’m well aware that most of these people don’t adhere to that ideology because MOST PEOPLE IN GENERAL do not adhere to any ideology at all.

      5. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Let me put it another way-

        What is your POINT?

        Yeah I know most Ukrainians see the Bandera thing as an ironic “fuck you” to Russia. Hell, even I make jokes like that from time to time. But here’s the problem- political/military/propaganda struggles require a bit more than pithy “fuck yous” to the opponent, and you have to think about who else is watching and how the opponent will spin things.

        Are you trying to say most Ukrainians don’t give a shit about Bandera and find the far right to be bullshit? Yeah I know that as well. Just because I think they’re a problem (like the far-right anywhere) doesn’t mean I think they run half of Ukraine or something.

        Please try to write your point concisely and clearly, and if you’re not a real Bandera fan dispense with the mental gymnastics defending him.

        You still haven’t acknowledged anything I’ve said about the many other independence heroes who are totally ignored or unknown in Ukraine. What is the harm in dumping an old right wing cult to shed some light on those who were forgotten and suppressed by Soviet education?

  7. Mr. Hack

    When I boil things down that you’ve both said at this thread about Bandera, it looks to me that you’re pretty much stating the same sorts of things. It seems that Sam’s biggest gripe with you Jim, is that you even broach the Bandera topic, at least broach it too often when it doesn’t deserve so much attention. Maybe he’s right?…

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      That last article wasn’t even primarily about Bandera. It touched on the issue of propaganda war and the global audience. If anything, groups like the Azov regiment are a far bigger PR disaster than the occasional red and black flag or Bandera picture.

      Reply

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