Monthly Archives: March 2017

A Big Deal

In case you haven’t heard yet, yesterday Russia experienced its largest protest action since 2012. Sanctioned and unsanctioned anti-government protests took place in over 80 different cities all over Russia. Over 700 people (including American Guardian reporter Alec Luhn) were detained in Moscow, where the march went ahead without official sanction.

Of course if you watch any news besides Russia’s major state-run networks, you probably already know about the protests.

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Moscow

Now I had planned to write an explainer about the significance of these protests, but as it turns out, Mark Galeotti handled that:

 

I have a few points I’d like to add to Mark’s, but before I do, check out that massive collection of Osprey military history books on the right. That’s an impressive collection. This is a measure of wealth among military history nerds. A friend in the States is hanging on to my Osprey collection (which is about the same size as what you see there) so that, as per tradition, they may be buried with me when I die so I’ll have something to read in the next life. For as it says in The Havamal, “Cattle die, kinsmen die, you yourself must die. But I know of one thing that never dies- the fame of a dead man’s Osprey book collection.”

Now getting to my own points about the protests, I think the first thing to keep in mind is that the Moscow march was unsanctioned and it happened anyway, drawing as many as 20,000 people. This makes it smaller than some of the recent sanctioned opposition marches, but huge by unsanctioned protest standards. I can’t stress this unsanctioned part enough. People tend to get carried off by police even during sanctioned meetings in Moscow. If a meeting is unsanctioned, it’s possible to get hauled off by police just for getting too close as you pass by. The implication is that if the meeting is unsanctioned and you go to it, they have every right to take you (they actually don’t, according to the Russian constitution). Yet in spite of this threat hanging over everyone’s head, about 20,000 Muscovites decided to roll the dice. This is very important. It shows that there is a growing number of Russians who refuse to submit so easily.

Another interesting point is how the Russian state media almost totally ignored the protests. While yesterday’s events were unfolding in the center of Moscow, several state news outlets were covering the exciting story of a cow in the US that led police on a wild chase after it had escaped. This is curious because you think it would have been a great time to deliver a call to arms to the alleged 96%, the die-hard pro-Putin majority who support the Glorious Leader out of sheer patriotism and who don’t want to see him toppled by a US-sponsored “Maidan.” But alas, they decided to cover almost anything but this, including a helicopter crash in Ukraine. Of course.

Lastly, I’m now in a position to better gauge Ukrainian reactions to the protest, and while some of my friend were at firs highly skeptical and critical of the protests before they took place, that attitude changed somewhat when they saw how many Russians came out in spite of the threats and arrests. Ukrainians are understandably upset because most Russian opposition figures, including Alexei Navalny, typically tip-toe around the question of the Crimea and the Russian occupation of the eastern Donbas. What I would remind them is that first of all, there’s often a big difference between Russia’s opposition leadership, which has many ideological problems beyond the Ukrainian question, and the rank-in-file. Anti-war messages and Ukrainian flags were more visible at the past two Nemtsov memorial marches. In fact, this year’s march apparently had a lot of Crimean Tatar flags, which is even more controversial as it directly highlights the Crimean issue.

Ukrainians have every right to feel betrayed by the Russian people, including opposition supporters, but there comes a time when you have to ask yourself whether you’re going to remain bitter towards everyone or start forging ties with those who are closest to your side. Let’s not forget that at Maidan, a number of political groups with horrible ideas were tolerated and even respected because the brutality and corruption of the Yanukovych regime deliberately forced disparate groups into one camp. If it is wrong to associate Maidan as a whole with those marginal groups (a mistake I was once guilty of), it is surely wrong to pretend that Russians willing to risk arrest and much worse for the sake of standing up to the regime are no different from a pro-Putin vatnik just because they haven’t yet accepted the reality about the Crimean annexation and occupation. These are the people who you can actually dialog with, but not if you just dismiss their protest offhand, the way you were all dismissed as neo-Nazi Banderites by the Russian media back in 2014.

One more important thing to keep in mind on this point is that while it is true that many anti-Putin Russians still hold imperialist views on the Crimea, you’re unlikely to find any who support the war and occupation in the Donbas. In fact, I’d say very few Russians in general actually support the war in the Donbas. While it is important to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity in total, it is the Donbas that is literally bleeding Ukraine at the moment. A new democratic regime in Moscow may be unlikely to hand over the Crimea without a struggle, but they’ll happily end the war in Ukraine to stop wasting state resources and lift the most hard-hitting sanctions. Also, if Putin feels threatened at home he will have to cease or at least greatly scale back his military adventures, and that includes in the Donbas.

So from the Ukrainian point of view, it’s important to realize that a seed has been planted and it needs to be nurtured. Just three years ago it seemed like all resistance in Russia was dead and buried. Now Putin and his cronies are waking up to reality- that the opposition they thought they’d all but stamped out is not only alive, but actually growing and spreading in places they never expected. Given the fact that non-political labor protests and strikes have been increasing throughout provincial Russia in the past few years, it’s only natural for them to eventually become politicized as more and more formerly regime-loyal people wake up and realize that the problem isn’t the “bad boyars” but the Putinist system itself.

It may go slowly or quickly, but one thing’s for sure- it’s only downhill from here for the Kremlin regime.

 

 

 

 

An Onion of Stupid- The Philosophy of Fakes

One need not spend much time analyzing fake Russian news stories to notice that many of them were made with virtually no effort. Such fake stories are so horrendously bad that they fit the definition of “not even wrong,” which is what you call something that would require considerable improvement simply to achieve the status of “incorrect.” As such, dealing with such fakes is an exercise in philosophy. You must question and debunk every angle, and some answers only raise more questions.  To a thinking person, a fake story on this level is like an onion of stupidity; peel back one layer and there’s another below it.

As a case study let us look at a recently debunked fake story from the outlet that excels in producing effortless fakes- Zvezda, the Russian Ministry of Defense network. At first glance, it’s a pretty straightforward fake story. It posits that Ukraine has become so impoverished that it is threatened by mass hunger. So much so that people are actually stooping to the level of trying to steal bread crumbs from pigeons.

Let us begin with the general theme of the article, the skin of the stupid onion, if you will. We should already be suspicious about the fact that this article is about mass hunger in Ukraine. See, Russians have a habit of not caring about real mass hunger in Ukraine stretching back to tsarist times. That they are suddenly concerned now sets off alarm bells.

With that out of the way, we can get down to the juicy inner layers. Not the basic facts about the story, mind you, as StopFake has already debunked it. No, let’s ask the philosophical questions here. For example, the basis of the story is this photo of a woman who we’re supposed to believe is trying to steal breadcrumbs from a flock of pigeons. But without any context, does it not look like she is the one who is, in fact, feeding the pigeons? This is still too superficial, however, let us dig deeper.

What we need here is a thought experiment. Suppose we accept the premise that this woman is actually trying to steal crumbs from the pigeons. This one singular account is being used as proof of widespread hunger in Ukraine. But there’s a flipside the wily authors never thought of! Those crumbs did not get there by themselves; someone threw them. That means that Ukraine has at least one person so well-off that they can afford to simply throw bread away on the street. Surely if one person so hungry they need to steal from pigeons can be extrapolated as mass hunger in Ukraine, then one person who can afford to toss bread to pigeons can be similarly extrapolated to support the idea that Ukraine is full of people so wealthy that they are literally able to throw food away without care. Truly in a starving country there would be few willing to throw out still-edible bread.

So which is it? Crushing poverty and famine or middle class wealth and food waste? Truly the woman reduced to snatching crumbs from pigeons is canceled out by the person whose economic situation is good enough to allow throwing food away.

But we can go even deeper! The story goes on. In StopFake’s debunking story, we see that Russian media outlets also alleged that Ukraine is going to implement ration cards for basic food products. However, much of Russia is known to suffer from Soviet nostalgia, and the Soviet Union was forced to turn to rationing several times in its existence. During the Second World War this was quite understandable, but what about during Perestroika in the 1980’s?

Given that Russian families currently spend around 80 percent of their income on basic essentials like food, it seems like it isn’t Ukraine that needs to worry about rationing.

This is all good fun, but seriously speaking- what is the point of such blatantly fake stories? Readers who are less familiar with the Kremlin regime’s tactics and narratives might have trouble understanding why these media companies keep employing writers who put so little effort into their stories. This is what someone who cares about the concept of credibility thinks when confronted with blatantly falsified stories which are ridiculously easy to debunk. There is a strategy behind this, however.

First, one must understand that in the top levels of the Kremlin press there are people who believe that objective truth doesn’t exist. More importantly, they have convinced themselves that all media works this way, especially that media which criticizes the Kremlin or questions its claims. These people want to continually popularize that same worldview among the Russian population, hence stories like these.

It’s not that Russians actually believe these obvious fakes; they’ll often tell you they don’t. But what the Kremlin wants them to think is that all media is the same, and if the Russian state press makes up poorly veiled fake stories, then the foreign media must be doing the same thing. This process is duplicated by the Kremlin in other realms as well. For example, they do not deny that there is massive corruption in the Russian government- they just insist that it’s the same in every country. Censorship in Russia? Here’s a story about censorship somewhere in the West! The message is that free press, democracy, rule of law, etc. don’t exist anywhere.

When you look at it that way, that is when you finally peel away all the layers of the stupid onion, you begin to understand the function that even the most laughable phony story serves.

 

 

The New Opiate for the Masses

Occasionally pop culture has played with the idea that conspiracy theories are actually propagated by the elites in order to cover up real conspiracies. In one famous example, South Park played with the idea that the Bush administration was actually behind the 9/11 “Truth” movement because it made them seem smarter and more competent than they actually were. Of course in reality, we typically don’t see governments propagating conspiracy theories implicating themselves, unless you count Trump’s recent wiretapping rants. Generally governments, if they propagate conspiracy theories at all, direct them at their geopolitical rivals.

But when we look at the proliferation of conspiratorial thinking the world over, it seems as though governments could seriously benefit from propagating conspiracy theories about themselves. After all, as Ivan Krastev points out in a piece for The New York Times, conspiracy theories typically don’t create dissidents. On the contrary, the more radical the conspiracy theory, the more depoliticized and docile its adherents tend to be.

At first glance this may seem very counter-intuitive. After all, many conspiracy theorists seem quite vocal. In many cases they protest, and often loudly. But what ever becomes of their protests? What changes actually occur? It’s very possible to engage in a lot of activism without actually having any real or lasting impact. You can really see what I mean if you ask yourself which famous conspiracy theory has ever been actually resolved or at least concretely proven. Pearl Harbor foreknowledge? No. The Kennedy assassination?  Nope. Moon landing hoax? Nope. Alternate Oklahoma City Bombing theories? Nope. September 11th? Are you starting to see a pattern here?

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The US government is allegedly full of people who would happily organize the murder of thousands of American citizens, but nearly two decades later no individual or faction has considered using this inside knowledge to seize near total power in Washington while simultaneously becoming the biggest heroes in modern American history. Curious.

Seriously the behavior of people who believe in such theories is both contradictory and confusing at times. I can remember when I was about 9 or 10 I watched a video called The Clinton Chronicles. See in those days, even though Bill Clinton had just taken office, some folks that some people in my family took quite seriously were convinced that he was the literal anti-Christ. Things like sexual harassment allegations or marijuana use weren’t enough for these people; in their mind Bill Clinton was a murderous drug trafficker, and they supposedly had documentation of all this.

As a kid hearing these conspiracy theories on AM radio and religious TV got frustrating. The evidence is all there! The liberal media must be deliberately ignoring it because they’re in league with the Clintons! Such was my thought process at that young age, but it was basically the same thing the adults around me were saying. And yet, for people who believed that drug-dealer/mass murderer Clinton was just one inciting incident away from unleashing the BATF and possibly foreign UN troops on us for being white, heterosexual Christians, we didn’t really act accordingly. Hell, most of the time we were discussing these things while on the way to the Saturday morning swap-meet or at Sunday brunch. These just aren’t the sort of things you do if you sincerely believe that the president is about to unleash full-scale terror to establish himself as undisputed dictator.

Now to be fair, all those family members were Republicans, and one thing is for sure- Republicans vote. They may believe Obama is a Kenyan Marxo-Islamo-Fascist who plans to confiscate their children and teach their guns about how to choose their gender (I think that’s how it’s supposed to work), but for some unknown reason they also believe they can stop this Communist takeover by voting. Apparently Soros keeps forgetting about elections. I’m sure he was behind those 3 million illegal votes in the last election, but still he forgot to get about 77,000 of them in three key states so as to actually win.  But I digress.

The more people tumble down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, the less they actually get involved in politics. Sure, we saw Alex Jones throwing his weight behind Trump, but let’s face it- Trump was a very unusual candidate who actually pandered to the conspiracy idiot demographic. That and he was running against Hillary, which many conspiracy theorists on the right have hated with a passion since she was first lady. I’m pretty sure if Cruz or Rubio had won the nomination, they would have been portrayed as a continuation of the “neocon globalist establishment” or whatever the morons are calling it these days.

I’m not going to exempt the left from this either. For one thing, even moderate leftists don’t seem to vote much. That’s a bit irritating because as much as I loathed the Democratic candidate this year, I made it a point to actually vote just so I could say I did the mature thing if only to stop Trump. As it turns out, it may be safe to say that a good portion of those people posting Trump = Hitler all over the internet didn’t actually go out and try to stop Trump in the easiest way possible.

 

Second, I’ve noticed a trend of leftists buying more and more bullshit conspiracy theories, and it’s no longer just about GMOs. One Bernie Sanders supporter found himself banned from a Bernie site just because he tried to alert its members about how they were sharing fake news stories from conspiracy sites. Think about that for a second. A guy warns them that they’re being lied to, provides concrete proof, and the reaction of the supposedly more rational liberal or leftist community is to ban him.

It’s not hard to understand why these conspiracy theories are so popular. They reduced complicated issues down to simple black and white ones. They require no actual research or understanding of any topic. They make you feel like you’re the protagonist of your own movie- a rebel standing up to the system. But in reality these people aren’t really rebels at all. They may make some noise, but the powers that be may rest soundly at night knowing that far more Americans are watching conspiracy videos on Youtube than actually digging into the finer points of campaign finance or laws regulating offshore tax havens. And those that do probably aren’t actually planning to contact any representatives or party officials to discuss their concerns.

Truly conspiracy theories are the new opiate of the masses. The more “woke” someone says they are, the deader they are to the world around them. As such, it’s unlikely that politicians will take any serious measures to counter-act them. Doing so would entail teaching critical thinking and media awareness at younger ages, and that would endanger their actual business. Far better to let people slumber in their own fantasy world.

 

They Protest Too Much

Last week a new friend in Kyiv related an anecdote. He was discussing the topic of Ukraine online when one individual came in spouting off all the usual Kremlin talking points. In spite of regurgitating said talking points virtually word-for-word, he insisted that he doesn’t consume Russian state media. For me it was a familiar story- person spouts off every Kremlin-crafted talking point while swearing that they don’t consume any Russian or Russian-aligned media. In fact, I’ve encountered similar behavior in America.

A certain family member of mine back in America would often espouse the same viewpoints that one typically gets from conservative talk radio, Fox News, and conservative news websites. Yet when I’d bring up the fact that their worldview seems to perfectly align with those media outlets, they would swear that they don’t rely solely on conservative media.

This is quite a strange scenario. After all, if one doesn’t consume a certain media that is known for touting a consistent line, how does one end up toeing that line almost to the letter? If you gather your news from a variety of sources, it stands to reason that chance alone would lead you to take different, sometimes conflicting positions on various issues. Ideally, you’d be more nuanced in your talking points. I for one have certainly encountered such people with more varied opinions. We sometimes agree, sometimes differ, and sometimes debate. This is normal because we’re not forming our opinion based on one very specific set of outlets that is pushing a certain line.

Going back to our original example, all this seems to cast doubt on the protestations of those who espouse Kremlin talking points and insist that they don’t consume the media that is typically the only possible source for talking points. I’d go so far as to say they’re lying, which leads us to another question as to why they feel the need to lie about what media they consume.

If you buy into the idea that the poorly defined “mainstream media” is so biased and phony, and that the Russian “alternative” media is supposedly more objective or truthful, then wouldn’t it make more sense to defend that media instead of disowning it? To be sure, there are those who do defend it, yet I can’t help but notice their defense always seems to be pointing the finger at some past transgression of particular Western news networks and say that this justifies a deliberate, consistent propaganda line like what we see from outlets like RT and Sputnik. The funny thing is that I never see people who consume the BBC, CNN, NY Times, and other such “mainstream” media defending such outlets with that kind of fanaticism, nor do they deny consuming their news.

And speaking of Western “mainstream media,” I can’t help but notice how often consumers of “alternative news” eagerly announce that “even the mainstream media reported this!” On those occasions when the news report actually says what they claim it does, a troubling question arises. Why did the mainstream media, which we’re constantly told is in the pocket of the corporations, the shadow government, Deep State, or whatever, the mainstream media that is totally untrustworthy and responsible for zombifying most of the population, even report this story in the first place? What editor screwed that up?

Are we supposed to believe that the same people who are allegedly responsible for keeping the population in a trance-like state of consumption and docility would somehow regularly let “the truth” slip onto the front page of a major publication? There are plenty of people in America alone who believe that the powers that be in their country engineered the murder of roughly 3,000 of their own citizens on 11 September 2001. The same people allege that the media played a key role in the conspiracy and the cover-up. So with that in mind, what reporter would be stupid enough to write anything that seemed to support the “alternative news” point of view?  If the reporters don’t know the terrible secret, what editor would risk letting out anything that contradicted the government line?

Of course I’m really indulging these conspiracy theories far too much for the sake of illustration. It’s clear as to why those who consume “alternative news” and state propaganda lie about consuming it, just as it’s obvious as to why the same people are only too happy to tell you about a “mainstream media” report or how the Russian state media puts so much weight into “Western media” when it suits their purposes.

The answer to the first “why” is that many of those who consume alternative news know, on some level, that their sources of news are not respected, and I suspect a great many of them harbor doubts about their sources that they try hard to suppress. They know that they’re espousing a specific, consistent political line and if others were to note that this just perfectly synced up with the editorial line of say, a certain state propaganda outfit, they would come off a dupe, a gullible rube.

As for the reason why such people and alternative media outlets put so much stock in “mainstream media” reports, that is quite simple. This is a tacit recognition of the fact that certain media outlets, in spite of their flaws or mistakes, are simply more reputable, more respectable. Those outlets don’t need to constantly refer to other outlets for comparison.

And having answered that, I want to address my conclusion to any of those “alternative news” consumers who might have stumbled upon this column somehow, possibly because you saw my name in an alternative news report that claims I’m funded by the CIA, George Soros, Willy Wonka, or the Keebler Elves.

My message to you is this- if you’re really a critical thinker, someone who forms their opinion based on cold hard facts, you shouldn’t have to lie about your sources of news. More importantly, you shouldn’t constantly have to cherry pick stories from media outlets you insist are utterly untrustworthy propaganda outlets in order to defend your claims. If your alternative news outlet is really engaging in actual investigative journalism and coming up with the facts, their findings will eventually be reported by other, reputable outlets. Lastly, if your favorite media outlet spends an unusual amount of time insisting that all the other major media networks are engaged in some kind of conspiracy to conceal the truth from you, you might want to exercise a little more skepticism when it comes to their news.

I May Have to Retire

Indeed, my posts have been rather few and far between in recent months. Obviously moving to another country entails a lot of hassles, but aside from that there’s the fact that I’m in Ukraine and no longer in Russia. What is more, I’m in the process of changing professions. Does that mean I’m going away for good? No, not a chance. Now is the time to work on my book and explore other forms of media. That being said, I recently saw an article that made me think I could retire- it was that good.

The article in question is by Keith Gessen, and apart from a few comments I might add here and there it is spot on. It’s not just that it’s so right, it’s that it reminds me of a post that I did in the early days of this blog in 2013, when virtually no one read it.

Back in those days, several months before Maidan, this blog wasn’t intended to be political. I, in fact, had already largely given up on politics and retreated into my own world of traveling with my wife, movies, history, video games, all buttressed by that seductive but dangerous expat privilege that lulls you into complacency with its siren song. There will always be work. There’ll always be next month’s salary and your end-of-contract bonus. The blog was just catharsis, a late reaction to past years of poor Russia journalism which would rapidly improve in 2014.

One of those early posts was about Vladimir Putin, who had long been made the embodiment of Russia both by Western and Russian state media. My logic was that if people were going to be obsessively writing about Putin, they should write about the actual man, not the myth- be that myth one of the brave national leader standing up to Western hegemony or the evil KGB-agent Bond villain.

Looking back I think I got one major thing wrong (something which I’d write about in years since then), and unfortunately I didn’t see it mentioned in the article linked above so I’ll add it here. It is the myth of Putin the “moderate,” the idea that Putin is necessary because he is holding back dangerous nationalists who mustn’t be allowed to get control of Russia and its military arsenal. For me, this was the only myth about Putin that survived my conversations with emigres and expats just before moving to Russia.

It is important to understand the context of those days. This was 2006, the boom, the peak of collaboration between Russia and the West. While there were certainly some hiccups during those years, in general Western business was thrilled with Russia and vice versa. This is when all that bullshit you hear now about Russia opposing the West or rejecting material comfort for spiritual or ideological values would just provoke side-splitting laughter. The Russians, headed by Putin and theoretically by Medvedev, were enthusiastically inviting Western investment (and in a way, they still are, which is why they rail against the sanctions). Russia under Putin had become a sort of semi-colonial state, with Putin as the local collaborator extracting its resources and pimping out its population.Looking back on that relationship, I sometimes wonder what might have happened had the two lovers, the European Union and Russia, not had their historic falling out over Ukraine.

It is in that context that Putin-as-moderate seemed to make sense. After all, this was a man whose circle of close friends were exploiting their own people essentially for the sake of the West. As such it was only understandable that opposition to Putin would take on an anti-Western character. In those days, I wasn’t aware as to the extent much of this opposition was managed, sometimes even created by the Kremlin.Some of these opposition groups had politics so unsavory that you actually hoped they’d never succeed in overthrowing Putin as much as you hated him…and that was the whole point.

That’s also the problem with Putin-as-moderate. Sure, there are a lot of scary, supposedly ideologically-driven people in Russian politics who espouse dangerous and aggressive ideas, but none of those people would ever get into power. Probably the only one who could even conceivably hold a position of leadership would be Dmitry Rogozin, who at the moment is fiercely loyal to Putin and thus could only come to power upon his master’s absence. As for people like Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, I highly doubt they ever seriously think about being president of Russia. That ship has long since sailed. And as for scary folks like Dugin, Kurginyan, Strelkov, et al, they’re even further from the circle of power. There’s no evidence that Dugin has even ever met Putin, and it’s hard to imagine the president having a serious meeting with a man who basically looks like a hobo who found some slightly better clothes. Many Russians, even ones who are quite politically-minded, don’t even know Dugin’s name (yes, I’ve checked). That being the case, I think it’s pretty obvious that we won’t be seeing President Dugin after Putin kicks the bucket.

But what if we imagine that there really is some extremist threat that Putin’s supposedly holding back, does that justify Putin-as-moderate? Well no, because the fact is that the presidential administration deliberately cultivates and manages many of these groups. Russian football hooligans and nationalists were once coddled by the Kremlin, especially when they were beating up opposition activists in the mid-2000s. Over the years, however, they started to become a liability. Putin’s apparent subservience to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov drove many far-rightists into the opposition around 2011 and 2012. The war in Ukraine created a split in Russia’s far-right, where many reactionaries again rallied to the Kremlin’s imperial colors, but those who failed to do so have once again faced a crackdown. It is pure fantasy to think that the Kremlin is done playing games with far-right nationalists, however. When they are necessary, the Kremlin will use them as it sees fit. Thus Putin is not holding them back- he’s basically keeping them alive.

The same can be said for every bombastic, aggressive figure in Russia’s political scene. Thus if Putin were somehow overthrown by a coup that puts worse people in power, it lesson wouldn’t be that Putin was a moderate holding back the tides- he created the tides. But that’s not the only problem with the Putin-as-moderate theme.

Let us imagine, for the moment, that all of the above was not the case. The far-right, aggressive forces in Russian politics came into existence naturally and organically, without being groomed by the Kremlin. Let us imagine that Putin really was trying to be a moderate, an internationalist, a liberal, or whatever. If this were the case, and if Putin were actually competent, why would he even be in such a situation? When we look at the horrors of the 90’s, it’s kind of understandable as to why Russia faced the threat of extremist groups coming to power. The Yeltsin government revealed itself to be rather extremist itself if you count what happened in 1993 and the 1999 apartment bombings. But what about the boom time? What about the Putin fanboys’ claim that he raised Russia from her knees, out of that 90’s torpor? Why would the extremist elements, whose existence was understandable in the context of the 90’s, still constitute the same threat more than a decade into Putin’s allegedly wise rule?

Of course that is just a hypothetical scenario, but it demonstrates how even when you accept a certain number of Putin apologist assumptions, you still come around to the same conclusion- Putin is incompetent.

These days one hardly hears the Putin-as-moderate defense. Since his annexation of the Crimea that load of bullshit has become harder to sell, particularly when Putin himself has taken to spouting the same rhetoric as the extremists who allegedly oppose him. To be sure, there is a threat that Putin may be replaced by a more reactionary, aggressive faction upon his death or should he be incapacitated and unable to rule, but if that happens it will be the fault of his administration. Through its state-run media, through the schools, and its many manipulated organizations and front groups, the Putin administration has fueled xenophobia, paranoia, and reactionary ideology. Democracy, human rights, and tolerance have been made dirty words. In such an environment, is it any surprise that the most likely successor to Putin or his regime might be someone who takes those reactionary values to heart and sincerely believes in them?

The Evidence is Piling Up

 

Last week it seemed like every morning I’d wake up to find that another member of the Trump administration or his campaign team has been linked to high-level officials in the Russian government. We’ve already had one resignation because of such connections. It’s hard to tell where the fire is, but there’s definitely smoke.

Readers will remember that when the topic of the so-called Trump-Putin “bromance” surfaced during the election, I urged caution. Talking about Trump and Putin is kind of like a spectrum where you don’t want to ignore the connections, but at the same time you don’t want to overstate them. On one hand, there are legitimate concerns about Russian meddling in the election (which nevertheless did not win it for Trump), but on the other if you go around connecting every possible “dot” you might end up going paranoid and inventing some kind of bizarre conspiracy where Trump became a Russian puppet long before the rise of Vladimir Putin. And that, of course, would be just plain nutty!

Oh. Uh…Okay then. Let’s move on.

As we tumble down Trump’s Russian rabbit hole it’s useful to listen to a voice of reason, which when it comes to Russia topics is typically Mark Galeotti. In a blog piece Mark points out the roots of this Russian influence:

“The steady drumbeat of Russian contacts with Trump’s team on one level should not surprise. The Russians – like most real and wannabe global powers – assiduously network, hoping to gather insights and make connections that can later be parlayed into access and impact. This is, however, a case study of the way that the dirty little vices of modern democracy, from the inter-connectivity of transnational and untransparent business interests to the use of money and flattery to buy a voice, all the ways in which democracy becomes distorted by money, serve as a force multiplier for predatory authoritarian kleptocracies.

In fact, my view is that for the West today, the greatest security threat is not Russian tanks or Russian disinformation, it is our own corruption – and the ways Russia seeks to use it.”

I for one am just thrilled to see Mark drawing ever nearer to the conclusion that we must overthrow the capitalist system, and welcome him as a comrade in the glorious struggle! Seriously though, Mark’s pointing out the thing a lot of these status-quo think tank liberals don’t want to admit. For them it would be lovely if this is all a sinister plot cooked up by former KGB officer Putin driven by his proto-fascist Ivan Ilyin-inspired ideology. Because if that were the case, there’d be no need to indict the “Free-market-uber-alles,” managed democratic capitalist system we live in for being so wonderfully accommodating to kleptocrats, dictators, and war criminals (or in Putin’s case, all three!). In that case, it would be only a matter of bad people with bad ideas, people who could theoretically by displaced by good capitalists and good liberals who play by the rules and maintain the status quo.

But if Trump’s Russia connections aren’t necessarily some sinister plot, and he’s not a puppet of Putin being held in check due to fear of blackmail (which I highly doubt- see previous post), does it make sense to keep digging deeper into the case? Will anything be found that warrants such scrutiny, will it be worth it? My answer is…Wait for it…Yes.

Yes, there are good reasons to get to the bottom of this case, and I will enumerate them below:

First, Trump has, perhaps mostly unwittingly, helped Putin advance his foreign policy goals with his refusal to seriously criticize Putin at almost every conceivable opportunity. He has helped Putin by being an incompetent moron, thus paralyzing the US government and public and keeping them too occupied cleaning up the domestic mess he has made to worry about what Putin is doing abroad. You know how the administration suddenly reverted to supporting the status quo on sanctions over Ukraine, and specifically the Crimea? I don’t think for second that this had anything to do with the administration finally recognizing the need to get tough on Putin. They simply reverted to the status quo because they’re too occupied with the grease fire they’ve started at home and that status quo was never that tough to begin with. Putin has engaged in several aggressive actions in the Donbas recently, no doubt feeling secure in the knowledge that Trump is unlikely to make any move against him for the foreseeable future.

Second, even if Trump never intended to make conciliatory deals with Russia, the way he talked no doubt told certain Russian officials that there would be a possibility of concessions. This would have emboldened them. Had Trump been as bellicose about Russia as he was about Mexico during the campaign, the Kremlin might have preferred a much more cautious approach.The fact that they haven’t been cautious at all suggests confidence.

Third, let us imagine for the moment that all of these connections we see, while unethical, never led to anything seriously illegal or compromising to national security. If that turns out to be the case, who’s to say the next administration doesn’t do the same thing with a foreign government, only that time they go further and cross the boundary from highly questionable to straight up illegal or even treasonous? If Trump’s Russia connections are nothing but smoke with no fire, the only way we’re going to know is after a thorough investigation. If that investigation never happens, it basically opens up such relations to both parties, and from there it’s only a matter of time before someone pushes the limit further. Coming down hard on the Trump administration is how we hopefully nip this kind of thing in the bud. We already have enough problems with our government carrying on friendly relations with unsavory regimes.

So yeah, this is definitely worth looking at. It is an investigation best left to professionals, both in and out of law enforcement. That means no journalists or “game theorists” connecting dots on Twitter, and yes, it rules out a serial shitposter such as myself.

You and I can do two things in this fight- push representatives, investigative journalists, etc. to keep digging, and then sit back with a big bowl of popcorn and watch the Trump administration go down in flames. If we’re really lucky, Trump’s clothes may one day match the color of his face. But if not, at least every American politician will be afraid to walk within ten meters of any Russian government official.*

 

*Except Dana Rohrabacher, because he’s an utter imbecile.