Monthly Archives: July 2017

Moscow Unveils Ukrainian Nationalist Monument in Response to Poland’s Removal of Soviet Memorials

MOSCOW- A 10-meter tall statue of the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA in Ukrainian) leader Roman Shukhevych was unveiled in Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on Monday. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the new monument is just one of the many “asymmetrical measures” his government promised in response to the Polish government, which recently announced its intention to remove Soviet WWII memorials on Polish territory.

“The Polish Second Republic, which occupied Ukrainian territory prior to the war, oppressed its ethnic minorities,” Lavrov said at a press briefing in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

“This monument shows our respect for a resistance leader who stood up to Polish chauvinism, the same way we are now standing up to Polish chauvinism today.”

However, critics say the move is controversial, pointing out that Roman Shukhevych served Nazi Germany’s military from 1941 till 1943, first in an army battalion known as “Nachtigal” and later in an Auxiliary Police battalion engaged in anti-partisan warfare in Belarus. Both units have been accused of committing atrocities against Jews and other civilians in occupied territory. In 1943 the UPA engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from the region of Volyn. Shukhevych was nominally in command of the insurgent movement at the time, and the event has been a source of controversy between Poland and Ukraine in recent years.

roman

Roman Shukhevych, commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)

Lavrov responded to critics of the new monument by dismissing all accusations against Shukhevych and his men as “Soviet propaganda,” and alleging the existence of a decades-long international conspiracy to slander Roman Shukhevych and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, of which he was a member.

“I believe every people has a right to its own heroes,” Lavrov told reporters.

“Brutal times called for brutal measures. I won’t get into specifics of what those brutal measures were, but if anyone does they’re probably lying and repeating Soviet propaganda. Also what about Jozef Pilsudski, Michael Collins, or Menachem Begin? Were they angels? I don’t think so.”

Lavrov also dismissed the issue of Shukhevych’s collaboration with Nazi Germany by pointing out that the Soviet Union had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, which he called an alliance between the two states. When one reporter pointed out that unlike Shukhevych’s movement, the USSR had a history of opposing Nazi Germany with force prior to the pact and after the German invasion it went on to destroy the Third Reich, Lavrov said such details were “Ukrainophobic” and called the reporter a “sovok.”

Reactions in Ukraine have been noticeably sparse, although the move was greeted with great enthusiasm from the head of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr Viatrovych.

“This shows that Russia has finally broken with its Soviet past,” Viatrovych said.

“Russia has long insisted, like I do, that all Ukrainians idolize Shukhevych and the UPA. On that we were always in agreement, but until now the Russians had never given my- er…our heroes the respect they deserve.”

Viatrovych said that he was most pleased with the size of the monument, noting that Ukraine has nothing comparable. He also added that every attempt to memorialize Shukhevych and other Ukrainian nationalist leaders in Ukraine has typically been met with controversy and opposition. By contrast, the decision to erect a monument was made within a few days, by President Vladimir Putin’s personal decree. According to Viatrovych, this shows the Russian president’s system is far more efficient.

“I now see the wisdom and true leadership ability of Vladimir Putin, I recognize the superiority of the Russian World, and I will assist in any way that I can,” Viatrovych said.

When asked why he would embrace the nation that annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and started a war that has so far killed over 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, Viatrovych said such questions were “Ukrainophobic.”

So far the Polish Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the new memorial. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov promised that his country’s retaliatory measures would continue until Poland halts its destruction of Soviet WWII memorials.

“This is only the beginning,” Lavrov said. “We’re already talking about renaming Tverskoy Boulevard after Stepan Bandera, and we might even name one of our upcoming metro stations after Roman Shukhevych as well. We’ve even got a monument to the Ukrainian Insurgent Navy planned for St. Petersburg. GLORY TO UKRAINE! GLORY TO THE HEROES!”

However, when Lavrov was asked if he felt any solidarity with authorities in Kyiv who recently proposed renaming a major street after Roman Shukhevych, he strongly condemned the move and said that Ukraine was under the control of “Nazis.”

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Trump Can’t Deal: The Problem of Improving US/Russian Relations

Long before he got elected, Trump talked about having better relations with Russia. Of course he also talked about shooting down Russian planes for buzzing US Navy ships, but generally his attitude was “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” Many people on both sides of the political spectrum and with little knowledge of Russia or its ruling class have asked the same question. Is it really so bad to want better relations with Russia? Honestly the answer is no, it’s not bad at all, but the devil is in the details.

First of all, people who tend to advance this argument tend to put all the blame and responsibility on the United States for the breakdown in relations. NATO expansion was “provocative” to Russia, they often say. More brazen defenders of Putin *COUGH*MARK AMES*COUGH* claim that the US was responsible for the Maidan “revolution” in Ukraine which “sparked a civil war.” All of this betrays the mentality that the Kremlin is promoting. All of this is hypocritical and wrong, as well.

For one thing, whatever you think about NATO (and I have my complaints as well), Russia long since recognized the rights of sovereign nations (including those which were in the former Eastern Bloc) to join whatever international alliances or organizations they wanted. It is indeed interesting how these non-interventionists are quick to jump on any example of the US violating the sovereignty of foreign nations, yet they never consider that joining NATO or the EU is also exercising a nations sovereignty. Maybe, just maybe, a better question to ask is why nations like the Baltic states (the only NATO members which actually share a border with the bulk of Russia) wanted to join NATO in the first place. In any case, if you look at NATO spending and US military deployments in Europe up till about 2015, you’ll see how ludicrous it is to claim that NATO was somehow threatening Russia, so much so that it justified invading Ukraine and annexing a part of it just because a corrupt would-be dictator pissed off his own people and then ran instead of abiding by the agreement he signed.

There’s also the argument that the West screwed over Russia during the Yeltsin years. There are certainly real grievances here, particularly economic advice that emphasized free market dogma at the expense of human lives, and looking the other way while Boris Yeltsin illegally and violently constructed an authoritarian system which he would later hand over to Vladimir Putin. But this also ignores the other side of the coin. For one thing, Western governments also provided humanitarian aid during this period. Could they have done more? Definitely. But it’s simply a lie to assert that all the West did was send free market missionaries and sex tourists. Second, this argument about the 90’s totally removes all agency from Russians. The United States didn’t force dishonest people to form organized crime gangs (some of which dated back to late Soviet times), nor did it force people to rob and cheat their fellow citizens so they could become unbelievable rich. The West was, at worst, an enabler in this business. It was not the initiator.

The West did not “humiliate” Russia. In fact it was quite the opposite. It looked the other way as Russia helped create pseudo-states in Moldova and Georgia. It helped negotiate a deal with Ukraine, whereby that country gave up its nuclear weapons and entrusted them to Russia. It acknowledged Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union, thus allowing Russia to take over the USSR’s permanent position on the UN Security Council. Over my long time in Russia, I learned that what many Russians considered humiliating about the 90’s wasn’t what I considered humiliating. If you asked me what was humiliating about that period I would have said the poverty, the crime, and most of all the sexual exploitation, which became so widespread it led to the name “Natasha” becoming a slang term for prostitute in many countries. But the humiliation that many Russians think about today largely ignores that, and instead focuses on the loss of their empire. It was humiliating to have to acknowledge the independence of countries like Kazakhstan or Ukraine. It was humiliating that Russians would have to start learning the language of the titular nationality instead of the latter having to use Russian all the time. If that’s humiliation, then the West is under no obligation to alleviate it.

Lastly there’s the idea that Putin made overtures toward the West, only to be snubbed. I’d say there’s some truth to this argument. I believe that at least in the beginning, Putin did have a sincere desire to bring stability and prosperity to Russia, as well as closely integrate it into the West. You could argue about the Chechen war or the crackdown on media (whose owners were not necessarily objective nor innocent) that took place in the early Putin presidency, but I would say that literally anyone taking over from Yeltsin in that period would have been forced to make tough decisions. The system was already corrupt and authoritarian. I still believe that Putin could have taken a different route in the early 2000s, then if he left power he could have retired as true modernizer and savior of Russia, albeit with controversy. We would look at him the way we look at figures like Pilsudski or Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Yet not only did Western leaders, after a brief flirtation, give Putin the cold shoulder, but this was also the time when Western media seemed to criticize everything Putin did. Things that were ignored under Yeltsin, who was portrayed as the father of Russian democracy, were suddenly controversial and ominous under Putin. And of course, the press almost never failed to identify Putin as the “former KGB officer.”

At the same time, Putin came of age if you will, during the beginning of the War on Terror and more specifically, the war on Iraq. The latter, and especially the Bush doctrine behind it, had huge implications for Putin. For one thing, it ignited massive anti-American sentiment throughout the world, which would remain fresh for exploitation long after the initial invasion. Second, he learned that if you have the ability to project military power, you can do it so long as you make up some supposedly humanitarian pre-text. Bush had WMDs, whereas Putin would later use the excuse of protecting Russian speakers in the Crimea. Lastly, it confirmed a view held by Putin and many of his generation, that the United States doesn’t really believe in human rights or national sovereignty, but that it simply invokes these things as it pleases in order to serve its own interests. While Putin and others who believe this are wrong to think that the United States hasn’t grown and evolved from the monster that it was in the Gilded Age or during the Cold War, there are still plenty of examples of American hypocrisy when it comes to human rights- most notably the war in Yemen.

But the argument that Putin was snubbed by the West can’t totally explain away his own actions and decisions since that time. So Western leaders didn’t accept him as he wanted- did that mean he needed to construct an authoritarian, centralized system of kleptocracy? Wouldn’t it have been better for Putin to simply brush off the cold responses and busy himself with modernizing Russia, creating stable democratic institutions, and establishing rule of law? What better way to get back at leaders like Blair and Bush than by turning Russia into an economic powerhouse, one which actually stood by the principle of respecting national sovereignty? That, sadly, is not what Putin chose to do, of course. He and his cronies decided to use Russia’s natural wealth to enrich themselves at the expense of the country’s future, and rather than build a stable democratic system he created a cult of personality that revolves around him personally. And while Putin would love to point fingers at the West, the whole time he and his pals were robbing Russia, the West was more than happy to accept the dirty money and even invest massive amounts of capital into Russia. So in the end, the argument that Putin became Putin because he was rejected by the West ultimately fails.

Having gotten those arguments out of the way, there’s the ultimate obstacle to better US/Russia relations, which is Putin and his system. They want bad relations with the West and they need bad relations with the West, because the oil boom is over, their gas leverage is waning, and they squandered much of the wealth Russia produced over roughly a decade- the West is the scapegoat. The West, its dastardly fifth column and ultra-secret sixth column is necessary to explain why, in spite of being one of the richest nations in the world in terms of natural resources, Russia has only managed to achieve the economic power of Italy or Spain, but with much lower living standards, salaries, pensions, etc. People have been angry since 2011, and they need to be suppressed, ergo the must be labeled as Western-backed agents of revolution. Putin is literally fighting for survival, and the cult of personality built up around him doesn’t allow him to blink or make concessions. There’s nothing he can really offer in any negotiations.

This is why in the past I have criticized the so-called “realists” who say that the West needs to negotiate with Russia, yet never articulate what exactly Russia is going to give the West in exchange. Vague promises of cooperation are useless. Likewise Russia has shown that its word on treaties is essentially worthless (ask Ukraine). If the Kremlin is really so eager to engage with its “Western partners,” it needs to explain what it can offer in concrete terms.

Since the reality is that Putin will not and cannot actually offer anything of value to the West, and US president wishing to improve relations would have to talk over his head, to the Russian people. This would require a US president with actual knowledge of Russia, its history, and its culture. Ideally it would be a presidential candidate who can actually speak some Russian. But most of all it would have to be a president who is ready to acknowledge the many bad foreign policy choices of the United States so as to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy and head off the Kremlin’s attempts to use its favorite weapon whataboutism.

This US president needs to be sincere, and explain how the United States, over the years, has had to acknowledge the reality of sovereign states, and how it has often failed to be consistent in its application of human rights. They would have to stress that if Russia is serious about being a partner with other leading nations, it must abandon dreams of empire and spheres of influence and join those other nations in securing a world that respects international law and sovereignty. Of course these words must also be backed with action, for example in regards to Saudi Arabia and its war in Yemen. This president could invoke that example to show how the United States is ready to change and isn’t just trying to trick Russia into unilateral concession, as many Russians no doubt suspect. This hypothetical president would have to do all this and more, while also remaining firm about what the West demands of Russia- that it take responsibility for its own condition and stop undermining its neighbors like Ukraine.

Do I even need to point out at this point that Donald Trump is not the president who can do any of that, ever? Hell, I can’t imagine anyone in DC that I know of who could possibly do that. Hillary wouldn’t have been able to do it. Bernie couldn’t have done it. Anyone that has those skills and that knowledge probably has no shot of ever being elected president (I’m not announcing my candidacy at this time).

Therefore someone like Trump has no choice but to accept the same “deal” that the Kremlin has been offering for years now- let us do what we want, and we give you nothing but vague cooperation on “terrorism” and maybe something involving plutonium or missile quantities. Knowing Trump, the master deal-maker, it’s easy to see why his handlers in the White House, State Department, and intelligence communities are careful to limit and monitor his contacts with Putin and other Russians. Not only would he easily be manipulated by a far more intelligent individual like Putin or Lavrov, but he’d probably throw in Alaska if they gave him a gold fidget spinner or something. Then he’d go tweet about how the fake news media and the Dems are criticizing his master deal just because they’re still upset about his big electoral college win.

So to reiterate. Better relations with Russia are just fine, but actually achieving that goal is easier said than done. It would take a very special kind of negotiator, a rare type of politician. It would also require the Russian side to accept responsibility for the deterioration of relations. The West didn’t invade Ukraine and start a war- Russia did that, period. Repairing relations between countries is a two-way street.

 

Soros Can’t Revolution

You’ve got to hand it to George Soros. Not because he got so rich, but because he’s now considered to be behind virtually every nefarious plot worldwide, from Hungary, to Ukraine, to the United States. Depending on who you’re talking to, Soros is funding Islamic fundamentalists, fascists, or Communists. The latter conspiracy, the Communist conspiracy, is most popular in the US among the far right and has always been rather amusing to me. After all, Soros is a billionaire who made his money largely in unproductive financial chicanery- not the type of person who should be funding Communist revolutions anywhere, suffice to say.

zg6nEUZ-_400x400

But what I find really funny about the Soros conspiracy is that when you look at the NGOs and projects Soros actually funds, they’re actually rather innocuous or in many cases helpful or necessary. In many countries, NGOs take care of services that corrupt governments can’t provide. Open Democracy, a publication I’ve written for, has received some funding from one of Soros’ organizations and at least when it comes to Ukraine it’s far more objective than RFERL, plus it’s more in-depth than the coverage of most major Western news outlets.

None of this is to say that Soros’ funding of various projects can’t be problematic. There are serious flaws in a system where billionaires are allowed to use their wealth to shape societies according to their own views, especially those they do not personally live in. The fact that the billionaire in question is George Soros and not, say, the Koch brothers, is irrelevant here. Even if the causes seem progressive, would someone like Soros allow for more permanent solutions to problems like global poverty, especially if those solutions challenged his own wealth and privilege? Moreover the fact that we live in a world with billionaires is one of the root causes for much of the problems people like Soros target; billionaires are a product of inequality and improper wealth distribution. But if you thought I’m going to get on my socialist soap box for this post, you might be pleased to know I have something else in mind.

My problem with the Soros conspiracy is this- we’re told that he’s behind all manner of revolution, chaos, anarchy, etc. He’s obviously not squeamish about violence because he’s willing to fund any group that’s allegedly trying to destroy Western society because…uh…reasons. The problem is, however, that we have zero evidence tying Soros to actual violent groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Azov National Corps or whatever they’re calling themselves this week… What we do see is that he funds a lot of these NGOs, none of which seem to have anything to do with violent revolution and whose employees, and I’m generalizing here, probably wouldn’t make the best guerrilla fighters.

So I start thinking. What would I do if I had Soros’ money, and I wanted to bring down some governments with a Communist revolution? I definitely wouldn’t be doing what Soros does, that’s for sure. No, I’d be the Osama bin Laden of a leftist global revolutionary movement- you know, a movement that would actually have something to do with revolutions. Of course I’m not speaking only about Bin Laden here- there are hundreds of wealthy donors, often Saudi Arabian, who have for years paid what has often been likened to protection money to jihadist groups. The money goes not only to media, the only thing that even compares with Soros’ work, but it also goes toward things like arms and training camps. Of course Al Qaeda’s model isn’t really revolutionary and in spite of its huge impact on the world it has had a piss poor record of achieving its goals apart from generally terrorizing people (most of them Muslim, incidentally). But that is a failing of the Sunni Wahhabi ideology and the founders and strategists of Al Qaeda; it’s not because they’re wasting money on the wrong things.

Sure, I’d fund a massive internet-based propaganda machine with my newfound money, but apart from some front groups or social relief organizations (winning of hearts and minds), the bulk of it would go into investments for making more money, arms, training camps, safe houses, slush funds for operatives- standard revolutionary stuff. Needle exchanges for drug addicts are great, but I’ve got a revolution to run, unlike Mr. Soros who apparently couldn’t revolution his way out of a paper bag.

There’s also the matter of Soros’ initiatives all being totally above board and known to the public. Soros isn’t a recluse and information about his initiatives is easily found. If I were trying to instigate a socialist revolution, I wouldn’t be making highly publicized appearances talking about it. I’d be more reclusive and anonymous that most of history’s actual Communist leaders. That’s not only tactical either. I think that remaining largely anonymous also helps work against the cult of personality that plagued socialism from 1917 onward. With no name, no face, there is only the message. Apparently the brilliant mastermind George Soros never considered that.

Soros’ Color Revolutions are pretty pathetic as well. The Color Revolution that has ever really had huge, measurable success was Georgia’s Rose Revolution. And even that ended with its leader, Mikhail Saakashvili being more or less ejected from his own country. If I were the nefarious Soros, I’d just have those politicians I don’t like killed. Why bother with mass protests and occupations of public squares when you can just turn political enemies into amateur astronauts using car bombs?

It is indeed strange that Soros, who is allegedly trying to cause global chaos in order to set up some kind of socialist world order that is friendly to billionaire speculators, doesn’t seem to be aware of any of these tactics. Why it’s almost like he’s not a revolutionary at all, but rather more like some self-righteous billionaire who wants to secure his legacy as a philanthropist while getting massive tax breaks thanks to his charitable donations. What a disappointment.

Rest assured if I had that kind of money and such nefarious plans, I’d do things totally differently from Soros. Of course the point is totally moot because I don’t have even a fraction of his massive wealth. Unless…

The Competition

I’ve spent a lot of time making fun of Russian propaganda on this blog, but you don’t really get the full picture if you don’t set the Kremlin’s propaganda machine in its proper context, that is to compare it to the propaganda of other countries. Advances in social media have made it possible for governments which are either minor players or barely players at all to disseminate their own propaganda. For example, this video exposes the dastardly lies Fake News Vice has spread about the small country of Eritrea:

I’ve watched some of the Vice documentary they’re talking about and while I’m not in any way qualified to comment on the state of human rights in Eritrea, I do think the country’s information ministry or whoever probably would have done better to ignore Vice News’ documentary so as to avoid the so-called Streisand effect.

This case brings up an interesting point about Russian propaganda- it’s logical, in the sense that Russia has a very good reason to run a state propaganda machine. Despite having an economy roughly on par with Italy or Spain but with much lower standards of living, nobody can deny that Russia is a major regional geopolitical power and it can project its influence far beyond its borders. So far, in fact, that it is able to cause mental breakdowns in people living on the other side of the world:

Given Russia’s global position and its domestic situation, you can totally understand why it needs to think about projecting soft power worldwide. There is no reason why the government of Eritrea should waste money on soft power. Even countries that are up and coming regional powers are probably wasting money on their global soft power initiatives. For example, take a look at this pro-Turkey flashmob that took place in New York’s Times Square:

What was the point of that, you ask? Apparently it was to reconcile Turkish-Armenian relations regarding remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, that thing which the Turkish government still denies ever happened. To be sure, it was apparently organized by an NGO, but it’s an NGO whose activities just happen to line up with the interests of the Turkish government.

Whatever the case, I can’t imagine how this is going to have even the slightest impact on Americans. It took Russian interference in the presidential election just to make a significant amount of Americans actually care about Russia, and that’s a country with a huge nuclear arsenal and a 40-year historic rivalry during the Cold War. Turkey has zero chance of making any kind of significant impact on the thinking of a significant percentage of Americans. It might as well be Eritrea.

Secondly, waving any flag with a crescent moon and star on it in Times Square is most likely to piss off a large segment of the American population, known as the “Afraid of their own shadow” demographic. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were comments about this video claiming that “THESE MUSLIMS ARE CELEBRATING BLOWING UP THE TOWERS!!! HAVE WE FORGOTEN?!” No, if Turkey wants to have an impact they ought to try something more effective, like slipping their message into popular culture venues. The Avengers: Infinity War is going to be in two parts, so there’s still probably time to hand over a shipload of money for some subtle messaging in the film. Here’s a hypothetical example:

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA

Hey Tony, you look pretty preoccupied with something over there.

TONY STARK

Oh hey Cap, I’m sorry I was just thinking about what happened in the eastern Ottoman Empire around 1915.

CAPTAIN AMERICA

You mean the Armenian geno…

TONY STARK

…cide? That’s just it. I’m not sure genocide is the best word. After all, many Muslim civilians living in the area also suffered atrocities at the hands of Armenian nationalists.

CAPTAIN AMERICA

I get what you’re saying. A real hero has to see both sides of the story.

This teaches us a second lesson about Russian propaganda. As easy as it is to make fun of, in comparison to what else is out there it’s actually pretty well-constructed. The best equivalent to Russia in terms of geopolitical power is China, and their soft power is laughably bad. In case you haven’t caught it here before, I present to you a case study:

 

Just so I’m not being unfair, here’s another video from the same channel I’m including because it’s the top video on the channel’s page and it appears to be using part of the soundtrack from The Rock (I’m totally sure they paid Hans Zimmer to use it).

 

There’s also CCTV, a channel I have only actually watched while in a hotel in…China. To CCTV’s credit, they did produce a very interesting series of documentaries about the major African independence leaders, or at least the idea seemed interesting before I actually started watching them.

I’m not an expert in documentary film making, but as a long-time viewer I have to say these were some of the most boring ones I’ve ever seen. One of them also has a rather hilarious title:

 

By comparison. Russia’s foreign-language propaganda is far more logical and effective. Logical in the sense that it has a clear goal and it works towards it, effective in the sense that it reaches a certain audience, even if that audience is in fact very small. The Russian strategy is incredibly simple- find out what extremists in various nations are talking about, then regurgitate and amplify the signal. They give a platform to fringe elements and produce content that said elements will happily cite to bolster their own credentials.

We can argue about the overall effectiveness of Russian propaganda in terms of achieving the Kremlin’s goals, and we can certainly note how much money the Kremlin spends for so little in return, but one thing is for sure- they’re not totally pissing money away on nothing like China, Turkey, or Eritrea.

It makes you wonder how much more effective they would be if they ever learned from the US or the UK and granted editorial independence as they once did to a few select outlets like The Moscow News or RIA Novosti’s English service (the former was part of the latter). I doubt we’ll see this happening any time soon however. In the minds of the people at the top in the Kremlin, there is no editorial independence with the BBC, VOA, or RFERL. As always, they make an a priori assumption that their opponents already do the morally-questionable thing they want to do so as to justify it to themselves.

Still, when we step back and look at the wider picture, we see two things. The first is that Russian propaganda, as amateurish as it seems some times, is probably one of the best-produced forms of soft power in the world today when viewed in comparison to the rest. We also see that more and more countries are getting into the soft power game, and it’s interesting to think who might be inundating Youtube with pro-regime propaganda. Zimbabwe? Equatorial Guinea? Myanmar?

Double Feature

Potential Russia Grifter Foiled

How tragic it is when a young, budding Russia grifter attempts to leave the nest an falls like a stone. Jared Yates Sexton, a creative writing assistant professor with some work published in a handful of major publications, recently attempted his takeoff on the premier venue for instant-Russia experts, Twitter. Some of you may remember this tweet:

Oh the poor muckraker- all that work and then The Donald’s dumbass spawn scoops him by just tweeting out his emails. The life of an investigative journalist, am I right, folks?

Oh wait…No.

Turns out he’s just a fraud with a book to sell. Well that still managed to get him a mention on the Stephen Colbert show, which I’m sure is truly praise from Caesar for American liberals these days.

Well I guess Jared deserves at least a B+ for effort. Keep trying and don’t forget to spice up your Trump/Russia commentary with words like maskirovka and kompromat.

Russia Without Bullshido

As long-time readers might have guessed, I’m pretty much tired of Putin articles. Hell, I was tired of Putin articles in 2013 when I started this blog. But today I saw an article about the little man which piqued my interest as it concerns one of my hobbies. Apparently there’s a guy claiming that Putin may be a martial arts fraud. Sadly, the article fails to deliver on several counts.

Questioning Putin’s black belt credentials certainly has merit. Putin’s black belt is in judo, which is not only the origin of the belt-ranking system in modern martial arts but is also governed by highly centralized bodies. It did not take too long for me to find this article from 2012 about Putin receiving 8th dan level from the International Judo Federation. Reading the article, one gets the idea that this move was kind of political, but it’s an 8th dan, in other words- 8th degree black belt. This means he would have earned his actual black belt many years ago. I’ve also read that he has won competitions in the past, so there would be official records. The bottom line is that this is a very verifiable claim.

Rather than researching records and using the time-tested journalism technique of googling “judo,” the article relies on the blogger Benjamin Wittes, a martial arts practitioner himself who has apparently actually challenged Vladimir Putin to a fight. One would think Wittes would know what I already mentioned about judo and its regulating bodies, but rather than investigate that he seems to rely primarily on video evidence, or lack thereof.

According to Wittes, in every video of Putin doing judo, his opponents go down too easily. This is a bit ironic because one of Wittes’ martial arts is aikido, a very deadly art so long as your opponent is kind enough to give you their wrist and allow you to throw them. Perhaps Wittes has watched more Putin judo videos than I have, but in all the ones I’ve seen it appears that Putin is demonstrating some kind of technique. In other words, it is not randori, or free practice, where the opponent is actually resisting 100% and trying to win. When someone is just demonstrating or practice a technique, the opponent (uke is the Japanese term for the person being demonstrated on) should not resist at all. Sometimes, a person practicing or demonstrating may have the opponent give a certain amount of resistance to show the technique in a more realistic way, but they will still be compliant.

Is it possible that Russian media has produced videos of Putin supposedly doing real randori, and winning effortlessly? I can believe it. He certainly does this in his staged hockey matches. This does not mean he’s a complete martial arts fraud, however. Some of the techniques I’ve seen him demonstrate are rather advanced, requiring a good sense of timing and a feel for when the opponent is off balance. Such techniques would be hard to pull off even against a compliant opponent.

So is Wittes totally off the mark when he calls Putin a martial arts fraud? Maybe not entirely. He does point out that Putin has a lot of honorary diplomas in various martial arts. That 8th degree black belt I mentioned earlier was essentially honorary, but reading Wittes it seems that Putin has been given honorary rankings in martial arts he might not have actually practiced; they were given for his promotion of the sport instead. If Wittes didn’t come up with the smoking gun that proves Putin is a judo fraud, he certainly deflated Putin’s exaggerated image as a multiple-martial arts-practicing badass.

Furthermore, his point about the lack of video evidence of Putin’s judo prowess is valid if we’re evaluating his skill and not past accomplishments. Just when did Putin stop doing actual judo practice anyway? It does make a huge difference. Knowledge and practice in martial arts are hugely different things. Theoretically, I know how to do a helicopter arm bar in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Realistically, I’d never even attempt it in free practice even if I’d been training continuously for several years. Skill in martial arts, just like any sport, relies on muscle memory. If Putin hasn’t actually been practicing judo for 18 years or so, it’s possible that Mr. Wittes might be able to easily take him after all. Putin may also have been taught judo in a way that almost exclusively emphasizes throws, and thus he may have almost no ground game and he might have no experience dealing with striking. As such, someone trained in Muay Thai, for example, might easily front kick the little guy into a wall with no trouble. Basically, it’s entirely possible for Putin to be a legitimate judo black belt (which I believe is the case) and yet no longer be able to fight at that same skill level due to disuse.

Still, given the fact that Wittes’ martial arts are aikido and taekwondo, it might not be advisable to challenge Putin without more information on his judo skills. Otherwise, I’d say don’t wear a gi, use strikes, and practice countering harai goshi, which I’ve read is one of Putin’s favorite techniques:

 

Zakharchenko- Every DNR/LNR Resident Is Now an Independent Republic

DONETSK- In a rapid break with his earlier announcement on the creation of a state of “Malorossiya,” Leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko declared that from now on, every resident of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics would be an independent republic on an individual level.

“Novorossiya was declared dead, Malorossiya was a ruse to off-balance our opponents in Kyiv, and now the residents of these territories can truly be free as fully autonomous individual republics,” Zakharchenko said at a press briefing in Donetsk.

The separatist leader finished his statement by declaring himself a fully independent state known as the Zakharchenko Personal republic.

Not all Donetsk residents were enthusiastic about the change.

“I can’t get anything done thanks to my crippling bureaucracy,” said the Olga Personal Republic.

“I’ve spent all morning printing out customs forms so I can continue selling pickles from my garden. Now I’m exporting them.”

Other residents were positive about their new independence.

“Now I can go to bed whenever I want,” said the Vanya Personal Republic, which broke away from the authority of the Sergei and Yelena Personal Republics earlier this morning. The latter two republics, formerly Vanya’s biological parents, are currently negotiating an alliance to discuss the issue of sanctions against the personal republic formerly known as their son.

While Western leaders voiced criticism of the recent declaration, they stressed that Ukrainian authorities should continue to support the Minsk peace process, with the added change of dealing with each autonomous self-proclaimed republic on an individual basis.

When asked what position the Kremlin has on this new development in Ukraine’s embattled Donbas region, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “You know…Sometimes I like to cut myself…just to feel something. You ever feel like that? Do you?” Peskov then broke down in tears and fled the podium.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pledged to propose legislation reclassifying the pension payments of newly self-declared republics as “foreign aid.” The bill is expected to be discussed in the Verkhovna Rada in 2024.

Until that point, the Zakharchenko Personal Republic has vowed to continue making increasingly bombastic declarations over the coming weeks.

“You think this is all I’ve got up my sleeve,” the ZPR said after taking a long pull on a plastic jug of windshield wiper fluid.

“Oh I’ve got lots of ideas. I might just declare that our former republics exist in a parallel universe where the Soviet Union never broke up. Or I might declare that we’re all long dead and you’re just talking to my ghost right now. You have no idea what my next move is!”

 

“LOL U MAD, BRO?” Troll Politics

What is the biggest political crisis of our age? Is it the rise of far-right reactionary politics, or “populism” to use the centrists’ blanket term? Is it polarization, partisanship, or tribalism? Not only could people spend hours debating that question, but they could just as easily debate whether there is a singular problem or a combination of some of the aforementioned tendencies. Whatever one thinks the answer to that question is, there’s one general tendency that seems to be on the rise and it may be more detrimental to political discourse than any rigid dogma or fanatical rhetoric.

Think back, for a moment, about all the times you’ve seen some story or tweet about some group being “triggered” by something. Most recently it was male Dr. Who fans (or people suddenly pretending to be in order to pander to an audience) who threw a fit when it was announced that the next incarnation of that sci-fi protagonist would be female. I don’t normally consume conservative media outside of Twitter, but I’m sure there are several things “libtards” or “SJWs” (Social Justice Warrior- a snarl word) are supposedly “triggered” by at the moment. Let’s break this down, shall we?

When someone is “triggered,” as they say on the internet these days, they are actually upset or otherwise expressing disapproval of something. The word triggered here makes no sense because triggered refers to a PTSD response. A person voicing disapproval, including loud and possibly hysterical disapproval, is not “triggered.” Someone who is actually triggered might not say anything at all. When someone is “triggered” on the internet, they are actually upset or angry.

It’s interesting how on the internet, being angry or upset is somehow a “loss” of sorts, and making people angry is admired and done with pride. Ordinary people don’t take pride in making people angry in real life. In real life there are consequences for that. Yet the internet gives people the ability to deliberately provoke others to anger and some people take a lot of pride in that trolling.

trolling

Of course I myself have to admit that I’m guilty of trolling, and if you’re being honest you probably did your share of trolling as well. In our weaker moments, we get amusement out of knowing we can provoke an angry response from dozens of more-or-less anonymous people, often simply by saying the exact opposite of whatever they passionately believe in. But some people recognize this for the distraction that it is, and some people confuse it for politics itself. I’m beginning to believe that the problem of 21st century politics might not be just the lack of lofty ideals and ideological discipline, but rather the degeneration of virtually all politics into what could best be called troll politics.

It’s easy to pin this mostly on the right, especially in America where it seems that your average conservative would happily castrate himself in public if you told him it would “trigger the libtards.” Indeed, it is on the far right where we see trolling and “memes” forming the basis for a political identity group, if not an ideology, loosely known as “Kekistan.”  While many people have referred to these highly defective individuals as neo-Nazis, the reality is actually far more pathetic. They use Nazi symbolism not because they actually have National Socialist beliefs and the will to express them, but rather because they get a cheap thrill out of the idea that they’re making people angry by breaking what they see as a taboo. In a way that makes them worse than actual neo-Nazis, who at least believe they are advancing some kind of ideology they feel is morally justified. They have to put up with the consequences of expressing beliefs which most of the world rightfully finds morally reprehensible. The “Kekistanis” can just tap out “LOL U TRIGGERED, SJW FAG?!!” and then it’s back to jerking off to Japanese cartoon schoolgirls.

Though troll politics are extremely widespread on the right, a good swathe of the left has been guilty of foregoing real politics for troll politics. To be sure, many leftist are just reacting to the right’s moral panic about “political correctness” when they point out how the same people who scream about young people being over-sensitive “snowflakes” will scream about businesses using the term “Happy Holidays.” At first it was novel, but after a while it gets old. We get it- the people who call everyone a special snowflake are in fact the most sensitive and the most likely to get upset about trivial matters. It’s always been this way with “political correctness.” Those who complain the most about political correctness tend to be those who whine about their beliefs being criticized and who want society to tip-toe around their feelings so as not to offend them by challenging or criticizing them in anyway.

We can see the existence of trolling politics in the international arena as well. Oftentimes on Twitter I see people cheering about how some official Ukrainian account “trolled” the Russians over some controversy such as the recent “Anna of Kyiv” reference Putin made during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron in France. Sure, Ukraine’s official Twitter “trolled” Russia, but Russia has trolled Ukraine quite a bit since 2014. So if you were keeping score, Ukraine got in one sick burn against Russia, and Russia has killed about 10,000 citizens, displaced a couple million more, and annexed a large part of Ukrainian territory. It pains me to admit it, but I think Russia came out on top in this little trolling engagement.

The Ukrainian example demonstrates one major shortcoming of troll politics- they’re completely worthless if your opponent has a concrete advantage over you or is simply beating you. A similar case can be made about American liberal comedians and their so-called “eviscerations” of President Trump and the GOP. No matter how biting their tweet or rant might be, at the end of the day Trump is still president and the GOP wields enormous power in the US, not only at the federal level but in many states as well. You can make them mad- they can screw up your country. It’s no contest.

While people might call troll politics a symptom of polarization or otherwise trivialize it, I think if this trend continues unabated it might end up reaching the level of an existential crisis. Advocating things because you think they will get a rise out of your opponents is not a good methodology for finding good policies. On the contrary, it’s likely to lead to the absolute worst, and quickly too. Already there are people who gush with glee about the idea of eliminating environmental regulations, all because they think it will make some caricature of a hippie angry, we’re talking about a very dangerous line of thought.