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.



34 thoughts on “Trump Can’t Deal: The Problem of Improving US/Russian Relations

  1. AndyT

    Absolutely: even if the U.S. somehow managed to mend its relationship with Russia, the latter would have to find a new rival – “Gayropa”, probably.

    Shoring up your position by having people rally behind you against an external enemy is an old trick, which also doesn’t always work – the Falklands war began that way, and we know what happened to the Argentinian junta.

  2. Chukuriuk

    “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.”

    Very true, and very well put.

    1. Jerzy

      errr..No. Russia has excellent relations with Kazakhstan who aren’t run by a bunch of idiots like Ukraine are. The west is under obligation to ensure that people’s cultural heritage rights aren’t infringed upon…that’s obvious to anybody who is sensible

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Russia is clearly run by idiots, because they squandered roughly 15 years of high oil prices and pissed off a lot of their neighbors. Now there’s no successor to Putin and he can’t even openly announce his candidacy.

  3. mariinskyrose

    The burden is not on the US to have a Russian speaking president. Though i will say, American people of every political stripe need to model what it means to be citizens of a democracy before the watching world. Russians and Chinese people who visit the US should arrive and discover that all the whatsboutism their governments feed them rings hollow when actually confronted with American society firsthand.

    The burden is ultimately on Russians and the opposition movement to incorporate American civic virtues into their culture.

    Putin might not be in power for much longer.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The only burden is on those who say they want better Russia/US relations without waiting for some kind of regime collapse or matching Russia in terms of dirty tricks.

      1. mariinskyrose

        I do not find the latest round of bipartisan supported sanctions to be “dirty tricks” but ok — what is your hope for Russia then if not the success of the opposition forces represented in the recent March 29th and June 12 protests?

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        That’s just it- the sanctions aren’t playing dirty. There is a lot more the US can do.

        I don’t really see these recent protests as leading to any revolution in the near future. They’re worth following but I think we really need to see what happens with the upcoming election. Last time I checked, Putin still hasn’t announced his candidacy. That is odd.

      3. mariinskyrose

        Yes I think we may be in for a surprise. A non violent one. And either way, the protests show that in the long term– the upcoming generation may create a Russia that might be much easier to deal and cooperate with. These are kids who grew up on the internet, many speak English and other languages, etc…so not everything is a doomsday scenario.

      4. gbd_crwx

        Re the lst round of Sanctions, aren’t there a dose of making sure Trump can’t Remove then there too?

      5. Jerzy

        “theres a lot more the USA can do” just shows how clueless you are. If the US goes further than it will actually hurt more the poddle countries of the USA like Ukraine,Georgia,Moldova and the Baltics because,despite their brainless comments…their economies have a big part that relies on Russia and millions of their own citizens work there

      6. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Many of those countries are weening themselves off of that dependence thanks to Russia’s actions. Putin has been not only the best friend of NATO by revitalizing the alliance, but he’s also helping these countries achieve more energy independence.

  4. Richard

    It’s simply not true that Russia has nothing to offer the US/West in security/geopoltical terms. Russian-US cooperation on fighting terrorism has actually been quite substantial in the past. For example, Russia provided passage to US troops and materiel going to fight al Qaida and the Taleban in Afghanistan, and Russia was one of the first countries to tip off the US to the plans of the Boston bombers. Russian cooperation would also be crucial to finding a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict, as well as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. Last but not least, Russian cooperation could be enormously helpful in containing a rising China, which is one of the key worries of the US and its allies in the Pacific.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      It’s about what concrete things they can and will offer. “Cooperation” might have been good enough pre-2014, but now it’s not. Like I said, Putin wants and needs bad relations. If it were otherwise the state media would have spent years preaching nothing but hatred and contempt for the West. They wouldn’t make all their accusations about NATO envelopment because not only did they know they weren’t true, but as you point out- Russia has helped NATO before (Russia nearly opened a NATO logistical base on Russia soil back in 2010).

      1. Richard

        I think Putin did want good relations with the US at some point, but that the US hasn’t been able or willing to give him what he wanted, so he decided there was nothing to gain by playing nice. And to be fair, it is not like the US is even capable of forming a coherent Russia policy at the moment, considering the full-on McCartyist meltdown that occured in the political establishment after the election of Trump and the accusations of Russian meddling. I would actually turn your argument on its head and say that it’s rather certain US polticians and members of the political establishment that want and need bad relations with Russia (or don’t care that the relations deteriorate) in order to further their own private agendas and score domestic political points.

        With regard to NATO, it’s not that Russia fears an imminent invasion by NATO of Russian territory (the chance of that is low, partly thanks to Russia’s nuclear arsenal), but that NATO can be used as the long arm of the US to undermine Russian security and room for maneuver on a more strategic level. The more countries that join NATO on Russia’s periphery, the weaker Russia becomes in a potential confrontation with the US, and the more space the US has for pushing initiatives like missile defence and intelligence collection close to Russia’s borders.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        There is certainly a certain core in the Democratic establishment that is hyping up the Russian meddling to cover for their own incompetence, but on the whole the two situations don’t compare.

        It’s not the US constantly censoring Russian media sources, as the Kremlin has done with Western broadcasts since about 2012. It’s not the US going after anonymizers and VPNs, as Russia recently did.

        In the US there are certain politicians or grifters who, on an individual basis, need these bad relations with Russia to further personal agendas, as you say, but for Putin, the bad relations with the West are a matter of survival for the whole system.

        As for the NATO concerns- NATO often consulted with and received help from Russia under Putin, who almost opened a NATO base on Russian territory in 2010. Does that sound like the actions of someone who was extremely afraid of any NATO expansion? Of course not. Of course Putin had a right to be concerned, interested, and involved in NATO affairs, but he doesn’t have the right to dictate foreign policy to other countries.

    2. Oopa Too

      Those are your two examples? A slightly shorter transit for US planes (to Manas, presumably) and something about ‘tipping off’ the US about the boston bombers after the bombs had gone off?

      I think you’ve managed to undercut whatever point you were trying to make.

  5. mariinskyrose

    And with regard to Putin kicking out nearly 800 diplomats, my question is: why are so many American diplomats in Russia in the first place? Bureaucratic space fillers much? Waste of tax money if you ask me – money that should go to things NASA and initiatives like collaborating with Russians on things like the International Space Station.

    I think we need quality over quantity in terms of the representatives we have there. Jon Huntsman was a good pick for ambassador.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The staff cuts are supposedly mostly local hires. Once again this is going to hurt ordinary Russians more, at least those who can apply for a US visa. It means that wait times for interviews will be much, much longer. Not that I approve of the US visa system in the first place.

      1. Jerzy

        yes…because when Americans kick out Russian diplomats no Americans have cleaning or other menial types of jobs at the Russian Embassy in the US…why yes,,,,,”obviously”

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Moron, do you realize that people have already checked as to what staff are getting cut in the US consulates? It’s mostly local Russian hires.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Now because you’re just going from post to post leaving ignorant, unsubstantiated comments, you’re banned. Congratulations.

  6. A.I.Schmelzer

    Modern Ukraines founding document, its declaration of state sovereignity, says it will be permanently neutral.

    Ukrainian nationalists (although Kravchuk is now a moderate, due to Maidan Ukraines massive shift towards the right) also made several specific guarantees concerning language rights during the 90s.
    Btw. the Kivalov language law was drafted in close cooperation with the Venice commission and was the most European, in a positive sense, law active on Ukrainian territory.

    There is a big difference to the Baltics there who did not make such guarantees or declarations.

    And no, while Russia is far from blameless, the US massively interfered in Ukraines sovereignity directly violating its obligations under the Budapest memorandum. Russias also massive violation happened after that.
    This violation ensures that North Korea will stay nuclear forever, and that Iran will likely move towards nuclear weapons as well (if the US does not honor non regime change pledges towards Ukraine, which has not hostility whatsorever towards the USA, it is illusionary to assume that they will honor such pledges with nations that actually dislike them).
    The US ruling circles, by their actions, see denying Ukraine to Russia as more important then the Iranian or North Korean nuclear questions.

    Other big difference to the non Latvian Baltics is that Ukrainians enthusiastically and succesfully participated in Soviet Politics at the highest level, they even had 2 different Mafias (Chruschevs from Donbass and Breznevs from Dneprepetrovsk) which both made succesfull goes for general secretary. Chernenko was ethnically Ukrainian as well.
    The latvians were similiar early on but lost pretty heavily to Stalins Georgians.

    And no, having to say “Herojam Slava” is a humilation. Its like expecting Blacks to honor confederate flags, only more so. Having to live in Shuskevich street as opposed to Vatutin prospect is a humiliation as well. Not just for ethnic Russians, but also for the majority of Ukrainians whose ancestors fought with honor and distinction in the Red army (and in the horrible early phases of the war the fought arguably better then the Russians. Kiev and Odessan military districts retreated mostly orderly and inflicted comparably more casulties then Central or Baltic districts).

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      No, the United States didn’t violate the Budapest Memorandum. This is based on the conspiracy theory that US support for NGOs that might have had something to do with Maidan were somehow a form of regime change, which is nonsensical. Yanukovych brought Maidan on himself (so did Russia, by threatening him in September as well).

      As for the stuff about Shukhevych, Russians don’t really have much of a leg to stand on because contrary to what the UPA fantasizers believe, the UPA actually killed very few Russians. Most of their victims were other Western Ukrainians. The OUN cult is a stain on Ukraine but just as they were in the past, they have been immensely helped out by Russia’s actions. Russia’s occupations have removed millions of voters who could have opposed things like de-Communization (at least in the form it took). They could have counter-balanced the ultra-nationalists in order to force the creation of a new, unifying idea. Granted from a Ukrainian POV, these populations also would have been subject to Russian influence as well, but the overall result would have been much better that what we actually got, for both Ukraine and Russia.

    2. Oopa Too

      Ukrainians were the equivalent of Confederates while Russians were the slaves/blacks?
      Seriously? Jim, why the hell do you tolerate this muppet? I’m all for free speech and am aware of what a metaphor is, but that’s really quite rich. and. as usual, russianist outrage is unprincipled and one-sided… ukraine has long had place names imposed on it of and by red butchers – can you show me your history of princpled oppositon to those?

      Nearly every country in the world has a divided history to some degree or another. A monument to crazy horse is an insult to the descendants of the fetterman massacre. ‘penny lane’ of beatles fame is named after a slaver. the reality of ukraine, as in most civilized countries, most people have made a sort of peace with their history. the city was called dneprodzerzhisk – named after a soviet sociopath responsible for plenty of extrajudicial murders – up until the point where the russian invasion made a point of it and placed it beyond the pale.

      sorry i have to go the inspectors are here to count my daily ‘slava heroiyam’s.

      you muppet.

  7. gbd_crwx

    “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.”

    So what Platform will you be running on in 2020? What about the rumours that you will only allow Puerto Rico to join as a state if named Kovpakistan? 😉

  8. Richard

    Hostility towards Russia in the US political elite seems to have broader appeal than you think, given how the new Russia sanctions received overwhelming, bipartisan support in Congress – a rare case of agreement in an otherwise polarised political environment. It is quite likely that most of the congressmen decided they couldn’t afford to look weak now in light of the allegations of Russian meddling in the US electoral process, and that this in part motivated them to vote for the sanctions.

    I don’t agree with your dichotomy that Putin needs poor relations with the West or else his regime will collapse. Putin has many other legs to stand on for securing his regime, including appeals to patriotism and Russians’ fear of political instability, elite patronage networks and an increasingly effective repessive apparatus. However, Putin cannot afford to pursue good relations with the West while having his concerns repeatedly ignored. This will weaken him in the eyes of his power base/electorate.

    Likewise, there is no contradiction betten Putin opposing potentially threatening NATO policies such as enlargment and missile defence while cooperating with the US/NATO on issues of mutual interest, such as anti-terrorism. Last but not least, it doesn’t matter whether you or anyone else consider Russia’s foreign policy aims to be legitmate or not, as opposing those aims will still have consequences, and consequences have to be borne regardless. The only question is if you (or Ukraine, the West, etc.) are prepared to endure these consequences, or come to some accomodation where Russia’s interest are taken into account.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Appeals to patriotism are pretty worthless in Russia unless they’re backed with some kind of material reward or threats of repression.

      As for accommodating Putin’s concerns, why should he have the right to decide what sovereign nations do? Why should he fear NATO instead of working with it like he was more than happy to do in the past?

      Maidan had nothing to do with NATO and he should have known that. The fact that he decided to start a war instead shows that he is at least partially delusional, and delusional men can’t be accommodated.

      As for the consequences of this confrontation, it’s pretty obvious where they’re going to lead- Putin’s regime will continue to stagnate and eventually it will lead the country back to 1991. Some folks just don’t learn.

      1. Richard

        It’s not a question of whether Putin should have the right to decide what other sovereign states may do, but which consequences those sovereign decisions might have. Any sovereign state has the right to pursue any which policies it wants, but those policies will have consequences. Attempting to extending NATO up to Russia’s borders will have consequences. Placing US missile defences in NATO countries close to Russia will have consequences. Enacting sanctions against Russia will have consequences, and so forth. It all depends on whether or not the West, Ukraine, or any other sovereign entities are prepared brave those consequences, or find some accommodation with Russia.

        The Maidan might not have had a pro-NATO goal as such, but the new regime that came to power as a result of the Maidan was definitely pro-Western, and might have taken up the case for NATO membership in due course, something that the previous regime had made a moot point. Putin acted resolutely and effectively to forestall this. By seizing Crimea and sparking the war in the east, he effectively made sure that Ukraine would not be able to join NATO in the foreseeable future, as NATO requires any prospective member states to have peacefully resolved any internal or external territorial disputes before joining the alliance. That also goes for Georgia by the way.

        As for the 1991 analogy, it’s far from obvious that Russia is headed back to a similar state. Russia “returning” to 1991 is in fact impossible, as 1991 was the result of highly specific historic circumstances that were caused by the dissolution of the multi-ethnic, federal Soviet Empire and the collapse of the Soviet command economy. Russia today has no command economy that can collapse, and no federal empire that is allowed to secede according to international law. The conflict in Chechnya has successfully put an end to separatism and stated an example to other would-be separatists of what might befall them. Other than that, Russian macro-economic policies have been prudent in recent years, and Russia is even expected to enjoy modest economic growth this year by most accounts.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        On the topic of consequences, it’s funny how if someone defending US actions said this, most people would readily call it out for what it is- imperialism. Saying “you have sovereignty, but if you make us angry there will be consequences,” is nothing but gangster-like behavior.

        NATO has never done anything actually threatening to Russia. They have accommodated and worked with Russia in the past on numerous occasions. They offered all kinds of cooperation on missile defense, and they avoided garrisoning troops in new member states. Heavy armor and artillery support were also not deployed by the US in Eastern Europe until 2015.

        Looks like Putin’s actions had consequences.

        As for Maidan’s new government, the claim that it was pro-Western is meaningless because there’s never really been an anti-Western Ukrainian government. Yanukovych certainly wasn’t, nor did Putin ever particularly like him. Yanukovych was the one who produced the EU Association Agreement in the first place. In September of 2013, Russian envoy Sergei Glazyev threatened him with separatism and dismemberment of his country -exactly what happened- if he signed the deal. Please explain how this is not imperialism. What if the US acted so brazenly?

        As for 1991, you’re really being pedantic by claiming that it’s not going to go back to an exact copy of 1991. Of course it can’t go back to an exact repeat of 1991, but in terms of economy, chaos, crime, and even separatism- everything is possible.

        First of all, the Chechen war was not successfully ended. Sure, the separatist movement was defeated but at the cost of thousands of lives and giving up Russian authority to a Chechen warlord who now appears to exercise more power in Russia than the nominal president- Putin.

        As for other separatist sentiments, you’ll be amazed how motivated people can be toward separatism once they find themselves on a sinking ship and independence appears to be a lifeboat.

        While the economy is expected to enjoy some growth (of course we can’t predict for external factors like more sanctions or boneheaded military adventures) this year, the long term projections are all negative. High level corruption still eats up as much as a quarter of the GDP, for example, and the government is expected to exhaust its reserve fund by the end of this year.

        Nothing about Russian policy since 2013 can be called prudent. They’ve dicked up their relationship with the West in hopes of a pivot toward China that isn’t working (and to the extent that it does work, China will hold the advantage).

        At the end of the day, Russia is led by men who have zero sense of responsibility toward their own people (on the contrary, they show blatant contempt), and who are disconnected from reality. No country led by such people for so long can succeed.

  9. Bill Malcolm

    “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.”

    What a load of twaddle! You certainly run on and on.

    Take your mind back to 2005. Ukraine wasn’t paying for the Russian natural gas it was getting from the pipeline that passes through its territory to Europe. Hadn’t been for years. It was so egregiously far behind on payment that Russia threatened to cut off the pipeline, which got Europe all worried, since much of its gas came through Ukrainian territory. Then in 2006, Russia did cut off the pipeline for three days. Couldn’t get those Ukrainian freeloaders to pay! Two more years go by with Ukraine farting around not paying and there were various disruptions in the supply to Europe. In 2009 it was still bad, but Russia agreed to not press the issue until the 2010 Ukraine elections. Etc, etc, blah blah blah.

    I don’t care how Ukraine runs itself or ran itself or what the stupid politicians argued about there or whether whatsisface was a would-be dictator. They acted like bad teenage gangs and with as few morals with each other (the acid or whatever throwing ruining one guy’s face). The fact is Ukraine ripped off Russia for years, hoping against hope that the gravy train of free Russian gas wouldn’t stop because Russia wouldn’t dare to cut off the main customer – Europe. Brinkmanship basically and not of a high ethical standard. The IMF et al gave them $1.7 billion in free money in 2009 and it still isn’t clear whether they paid off the Russian debts or kept the money. Judging by what I’ve seen from afar, I have no reason to trust any Ukrainian government of any stripe, they’ve been navel gazing squabblers of the first order influenced by corrupt business.

    And in 2014, both the US and EU somehow decided that it wasn’t Ukraine to blame for all the utter BS it was pulling off on the gas situation, and backed them against Russia. Do you know why? It’s never been clear to me other than as politics that “free” Ukrainians had “voted” for the “West” and sent that “dictator” who had agreed to actually pay his country’s bills packing. Some justification.

    The US is always sticking its fork in where it isn’t needed and takes any chance to weaken what it sees as its “enemies” – the US never has mere “opponents”, and Ukraine had been trying to play off leaning towards Europe and the EU as a way to stiff the Russians for not paying for its natural gas for years. So the Russians signed that deal with Ukraine in 2013 to buy their bonds and lower the price of gas in an attempt to get payment over future years and years and I suppose in a bid to stop Ukraine from joining the EU until it paid up. The following month Maidan happened as the EU leaners decided they weren’t going to pay for all that Russian gas they’d stolen since the 1990s in any manner whatsoever and Yanukovich ran from his pitchfork-wielding non-paying countrymen. That’s about the size of it from my perspective. Not many high-minded motives behind all this crap. And the opposite of the narrative you spin.

    From my POV living in another country, Canada, used to Western propaganda BS emanating from the next door geniuses with an ancient social outlook, who could have been surprised that those unmarked Russian soldiers moved into Ukraine shortly after? Non-paying cretins who pull off political manoeuvres to get the US on side for a spot of Russia-bashing, feeling safe, needed a swift boot up the behind. And they got it. I don’t buy the “annexation” of Crimea was opposed by anyone there but the Tatars – Crimea had had its own run-ins with the Ukrainian gas companies itself during the oughties. I think Ukraine has been a bad actor for years, quick to squeak and complain and wriggle out of its obligations. Little honour there, and the US always wants to stick its oar in where it sees political advantage.

    I mean, the transparently obvious jiggering of the IMF’s standing rules on not loaning more money to countries who weren’t paying off their debts was blatantly put on display by Lagarde in late 2015. The previous huge loans by the IMF to Ukraine, which demanded austerity in the usual dumb fashion employed by right-wing bankers everywhere like in Greece, had gone nowhere except into the pockets of Ukrainian oligarchs. Those kinds of people are never much interested in their own country’s fate just so long as they’re going fine – the US is the best example of this pure greed. So Ukraine defaulted on its $3 billion loan from Russia, which even the IMF said was a legitimate loan as it forked out $3 billion more to Ukraine specifically NOT to pay its Russia bill. It still owed for all that gas used in the past, still owed other foreign creditors billions and to me basically seems out of control, beset by the major creditor Russia on the one hand and aided and abetted by the US, in for fomenting unrest against Russia, on the other.

    But are you going to deny that Ukraine didn’t bring all these problems down on itself? If you can’t pay your primary bills (not loan interest) for things like energy, allow corporate jiggering to override in the extreme any attempts to run a straightforward government, no wonder the place is a mess.

    I have about zero tolerance for the US, Russia and China running around the world trying to checkmate each other one way or the other. Since the US has the world reserve currency it’s the biggest player and quickest to send special forces to every nook and cranny of even the meanest poorest African country, and China is battling against that the strongest these days, purely in its own narrow interests of course and bugger everyone else. Apparently leaving other countries alone to just get on with their own thing is not allowed by these movers and shakers, and that’s where I get annoyed.

    NATO not threatening Russia? What world do you inhabit? Military bases all around its borders, fleet exercises in the Baltic where it’s OK for US planes to buzz the Russians, but when Russia does the same thing The US reacts with outrage as if it isn’t fair – why they just quiver in rage at the insult. Much like the BS about Russia “meddling” in the US election. The US has been meddling in foreign elections everywhere since 1945, even Obama came out and overtly told the Brits to Remain.

    Now, in a face-plant worthy of a C grade thriller, we, Canada, have sent 400 soldiers to patrol the Polish border with Russia, you know, just to be in tune with NATO policies. I suppose we sent them to stem the tide of hordes of sabre-rattling Cossacks about to invade Poland yet again where right wing is the name of the game and xenophobia abounds. Nah, it’s just the usual NATO pressure against Russia. And symbolic in the extreme. We have a nutball foreign minister of Ukrainian descent who is persona non-grata in Russia, just wonderful for a diplomat on the world stage, and a squirt in the eyeball for Russia – about as unfriendly as you can get as a mouse hiding behind the big feet of Uncle Sam. Dumb. But we do it so the Americans won’t squash us. We’re poodles.

    The stuff you put out on Ukraine strikes me as omitting its obvious past sins and glorifying it instead, while giving a double dose of Putin-bashing as a side show. I have no illusions about Russia and its conformist-enforced society where any real opposition is squashed, and enjoy your expose in this essay of Putin and cronies absent in building up Russia’s economic power but for Christ’s sake, Ukraine stole from them for years as if it were their right. I call BS on that score for the free ride they got and which they have wriggled out of paying for. And you claim “Likewise Russia has shown that its word on treaties is essentially worthless (ask Ukraine).” I see it the exact opposite on the Ukraine issue. Sorry – I cannot see how you can possibly come to that conclusion unless you decide to be completely blinkered for whatever reason, maybe ancestry who the f knows, like our dear Ms Freeland, Minister of Global Affairs Except Russia.

    (Foreign Policy magazine shows the usual banking blunders applied to Ukraine in this article from September 2014. – so we know the US isn’t really on the Ukraine’s side either. It’s just part of their overall plan for ruling the world as per their Project for a New American Century, PNAC, available online if you want to gawk at how the US considers itself superior to everyone else. Live next door to these people and you get the full effect even from dull tourist citizens venturing out of their safe hidey-holes into the big bad world beyond. Nevertheless, if Ukraine had demonstrated some sound fiscal policy in the past, it wouldn’t be a pawn on the world stage like it is now. Corporate greed and corruption wasn’t checked and I bet it’s just as bad now as it ever has been in the last quarter century. The trumpets of patriotism and love of country blah blah don’t override reality and silly excuses with zero merit. How about getting down to some brass tacks? The question is, how is the country going to get out of its current parlous state in the future without handouts? I don’t see why I should be paying out money in foreign aid if it just gets diverted into the pockets of already rich people, and the same applies to Greece)

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      “The following month Maidan happened as the EU leaners decided they weren’t going to pay for all that Russian gas they’d stolen since the 1990s in any manner whatsoever and Yanukovich ran from his pitchfork-wielding non-paying countrymen. That’s about the size of it from my perspective. Not many high-minded motives behind all this crap. And the opposite of the narrative you spin.”

      Wrong. Ukraine most likely would have paid for the gas had Russia not invaded and annexed part of the country. Russia’s state pretext for invasion was the supposed danger to Russian-speakers (which is laughable if you know anything about Ukraine).

      That Ukraine is still ruled by extremely corrupt people is beyond dispute. The implication that this somehow justifies Russia dismantling the country and starting a war is nonsense. Russia has been interfering in Ukrainian politics since well before the Orange Revolution of 2004.

      Part of Ukraine’s gas situation was due to Russian meddling in Ukraine’s political affairs, mainly trying to get Tymoshenko and Yanukovych to form a coalition against Yushchenko.

      “NATO not threatening Russia? What world do you inhabit? Military bases all around its borders, fleet exercises in the Baltic where it’s OK for US planes to buzz the Russians, but when Russia does the same thing The US reacts with outrage as if it isn’t fair – why they just quiver in rage at the insult. ”

      Do some research on NATO bases and deployments prior to 2015. You’ll learn some interesting things.

      Basically your idiotic point here is that NATO touched part of the Russian border so that makes it alright for Russia to invade Ukraine.

      ” I see it the exact opposite on the Ukraine issue.”

      Well then you’re wrong. It’s pretty simple.

      ” It’s just part of their overall plan for ruling the world as per their Project for a New American Century, PNAC, available online if you want to gawk at how the US considers itself superior to everyone else. ”

      Ah yes…the shadowy cabal bent on world domination! If the US were really running Ukraine, it would be far more effective I would think. People like Tymoshenko wouldn’t even be in politics.

      “Nevertheless, if Ukraine had demonstrated some sound fiscal policy in the past, it wouldn’t be a pawn on the world stage like it is now. ”

      It’s not a pawn. Ukrainians have agency just like you. They’re far more aware of the corruption in their country than you are, and most of them are doing what they can to fight it while simultaneously tying to survive. Russia isn’t exactly helping.

      “Corporate greed and corruption wasn’t checked and I bet it’s just as bad now as it ever has been in the last quarter century. The trumpets of patriotism and love of country blah blah don’t override reality and silly excuses with zero merit. How about getting down to some brass tacks?”

      The same could be said about Russia, but Russia’s also invading another country and it’s ruled by a monolithic reactionary government while Ukraine just has a circus in charge.

      “I don’t see why I should be paying out money in foreign aid if it just gets diverted into the pockets of already rich people, and the same applies to Greece)”

      This part I actually agree with. Personally I’d like to see the Ukrainian state replaced because it is the biggest obstacle to Ukraine’s victory on many fronts. But me being not so “sensible” and “reasonable” as our centrist overlords, I can only advise that all aid to Ukraine be performance-based.

    2. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I should also point out that Putin’s best course of action in 2013 would have been to let Yanukovych sign the EU agreement he himself organized, without the trade war and without the threats in September. If he had done this- his reputation would be far better, he’d exercise far more influence in Ukraine (not a good thing from my POV), and Yanukovych’s incompetence would pretty much make EU membership a laughable joke. Russia wouldn’t have sanctions either.

      But unfortunately after about 2008 Putin basically lost his mind and was obsessed with color revolutions. Thus he screwed the pooch and put Russia on the road to nowhere.


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