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Now THAT’S What I Call Russophobia! Vol. II

I have often written in the past (or at least I’m pretty sure I have) that most of the time what pro-Kremlin Russians call “Russophobia” is bullshit. In almost all cases, the Russophobia they’re talking about is in fact a natural and logical reaction to Russia invading someone’s country, claiming their nationality and language are fake, and generally acting like imperialist assholes. This, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t real examples of Russophobia, if defined as an irrational fear of all things Russian.

The first and most harmful incarnation of real-world Russophobia is the attitude held by Russia’s elite toward their own people. According to this attitude, the vast majority of Russians are passive cattle, lazy incompetent, and somewhat criminal. The whole country would descend into utter chaos without the rule of a strong leader and his elite. This is called Russian “civilization,” although for some reason the strong ruler and his elite always seem to prefer the fruits and sometimes surroundings of “degenerate” Western civilization, particularly London, New York, Miami…you get the idea.

The other type of real Russophobia is…well…this:

If you’re wondering what those enlightened, woke liberals are responding to, it’s this story:


First of all- this isn’t news, nor is it exclusive to Russians. Here’s an article about birth tourism in the Marianas islands from 2013. Birth tourism in the United States appears to be popular with the Chinese as much as it is with Russians (wealthy Russians, that is). Basically NBC News found a way to work the Trump/Russia angle in order to present an old story as news. They could have just as easily written about the global network of international dating sites, some of which are basically designed to help foreign men and women find a path to legal immigration via marriage.

Of course it’s not the story itself that is real Russophobia, but rather the reactions of some of the “woke liberals” who called Trump a bigot while clearly possessing the very same xenophobic nativist attitudes as his supporters. And just in case any of my Ukrainian readers think this doesn’t affect you- forget it. These are exactly the kind of people who say things like “Ukraine? Isn’t that like, a state of Russia or something?” All Slavs are “Russian” to these enlightened individuals, so you’re just as screwed whether your name is Oleg or Oleh.


This is the future liberals want! 

Of course in reaction to the idiotic ravings of “Resistance” liberals about “little agents” being born in the US, I’ve seen some leftists bend over backwards to “apologize” to Russians as a whole. Don’t bother. This kind of gesture will just get picked up by low-level Kremlin propagandists and twisted for their purposes. It is enough to say that there are plenty of Russians inside and outside of Russia who reject the imperial myths and propaganda of the corrupt regime in the Kremlin, which is itself objectively anti-Russian and leading the country and its colonized peoples to inevitable chaos and destruction.

Sometimes folks who are not familiar with my background or work accuse me of Russophobia because I do things like make fun of vatniks– make no mistakes, however- being a vatnik, like supporting the Putinist regime in general, is a choice. To me, riffing on vatniks is no different from riffing on the vast demographic of American morons, many of whom are directly responsible for electing a complete and utter spongebrain clownshoe as president. In fact, in the past I’ve even made the argument that Russian vatniks are in many cases more intelligent and dignified than our homegrown self-proclaimed “patriot” class.  In short, I make a distinction between Russians and their governments and over the years I have, to the best of my ability, tried to make my writing reflect this with terms like “pro-Kremlin” or “pro-Putin” instead of “pro-Russian.”

While Russian interference in the 2016 election is an established fact (debate surrounds the extent and efficacy of that interference), and the Trump family and campaign’s Russian connections do smack of conflict of interest and at least attempted shady deals, it is entirely fair to say that a significant portion of the American opposition to Trump has taken the basic facts and run them into the end zone of conspiracy theory for a touchdown of stupidity (yeah I haven’t been writing for a while, bear with me). The fervent hope that any day now the Russia investigation will reveal some smoking gun that magically makes Trump go away has made many of these people positively deranged. And now, it’s bringing out their racism as well. But of course that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise- they learned from mother.


Countering Russia’s Cyberthreat

Nowadays we hear a lot about the need to counter Russia’s information and cyber-warfare. We hear very few actual solutions, however. Most of the time it’s just “more fact checking!” or “more cyber-security!” I’ve only seen one suggestion as to how to fight back, and it was predictably lame (in involved exposing Vladimir Putin’s hidden fortunes, as though ordinary Russians aren’t well aware of his wealth). I’m here to change that. There are ways to fight back against information threats from Russia and other world powers, and I’m going to lay them out here.


Russia’s “troll factory” has gotten a lot of publicity in recent years. What you don’t hear people talking about, however, is counter-trolling. Think about it- not only does the US have more resources to spend on troll factories, but American comment trolls are far more vicious and most of all- pedantic. Could you imagine St. Petersburg operatives trying to troll a conversation on Twitter, only to be mass attacked by sixty professional basement-dwellers all beginning their responses with “ACTUALLY…?”


If you’ve ever dealt with Russian paid trolls, you know that they can never really uphold any semblance of a real “debate.” Our home-grown variety can at least accomplish that much. Plus, they have a lot of refined tactics, such as “sea-lioning,” the act of asking endless entry-level questions while hiding behind a mask of “civility.”


Wondermark by David Malki. Origin of the term “sea-lioning.”

Just imagine the confrontation:

RUSSIAN TROLL: Obama used the CIA to overthrow the legitimate government of Ukraine and replace it with Nazis!!!

AMERICAN TROLL: Excuse me, but do you have evidence that the previous government of Ukraine was “legitimate,” as you say?

RUSSIAN TROLL: Viktor Yanukovych was elected! He was legitimate!

AMERICAN TROLL: So according to you, being elected means someone was legitimate. How do you define elected or legitimate?


AMERICAN TROLL: Yes I’m serious. I’m trying to have a serious debate about the definition of political legitimacy. I feel this is a perfectly fair question and I don’t see why we can’t have a reasonable debate about it.

RUSSIAN TROLL: Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine!

AMERICAN TROLL: I see. And do you have any evidence that this “Ukraine,” as you call it, actually exists? I’ve never seen it.

RUSSIAN TROLL: AH HA! So you acknowledge it is fake country!

AMERICAN TROLL: Hmmm…Curious how the US government could overthrow the government of something you claim is a fake country.

RUSSIAN TROLL: What are you even talking about?!

AMERICAN TROLL: Actually I’m asking the questions here if you don’t mind. I have reasonable questions and have asked them in a civil manner. There’s no need to be upset.



Wikipedia defines shitposting as “the act of posting large amounts of content of “aggressively, ironically, and trollishly poor quality” to an online forum or social network, in some cases intended to derail discussions or otherwise make the site unusable to its regular visitors.”

This might make you think shitposting is bad. Under the right conditions, it can be quite amusing. Here are some examples:






Pic a fandom or subject and chances are there’s a Facebook group for shitposts dedicated to whatever it is.

Now imagine large communities of professional shitposters making deliberately poor photoshop memes about Putin and his cronies. Oh wait…They’ve kind of done that. Meet Pynia.



“Why do they call Putin Pynia?”



Now just imagine that, but like, times one million, drowning in shitposts forever.


These are just two possible ways to fight back against Russia’s information war. Yeah, they’re not particularly good ways and are in fact deliberately stupid for the sake of parody, but lately this is the topic where people with incredibly stupid suggestions get a lot of attention and in some cases, money. Because after all…


Eric Garland’s Merry Meltdown Christmas Special!

It’s a Christmas miracle! Santa dropped off an early present and now I’m passing the joy along to you!

Fast Company recently published an article about fake news in 2017, in which it criticized the “work” of Deza Destroyer Eric “Game Theory” Garland. Naturally, Gardland didn’t like it one bit. What ensued next was a Twitter meltdown of epic proportions, culminating in this masterpiece:


You will rue the day you crossed this Deza destroyer! Face the wrath of GARLAND! To fuck away from, Vlad!

Naturally Twitter responded, and every time a new twist on this memorable threat was posted, an angel got its wings. Enjoy.


I hope you enjoyed Garland’s Merry Meltdown. I have been informed that recently, US President Donald Trump legalized the phrase “Merry Christmas” via executive order, therefore I am wishing you all a Merry Christmas without fear of legal repercussions!

Another Take on Stolen Valor

I’m too lazy to dig up the link now, but I’m pretty certain in the past I’ve written about how much I hate Stolen Valor. But mine is not the only perspective on it, which is why I’d like to discuss an article by Alex Nichols (fast becoming one of my favorite opinion writers) on the right’s Stolen Valor obsession.

When Stolen Valor videos first appeared on Youtube, I used to find them rather amusing because the targets were almost always wannabe tough guys trying to impress people at airports or bars. They ranged from young guys going out to clubs, ROTC students pretending to be the real deal, and of course- middle-aged dads living out a fantasy to compensate for their lack of an actual life. But over time, I started to notice a trend, one which Nichols points out in the article- a lot of the people who appear in these videos are homeless, and some of them are clearly mentally ill. That’s a problem, folks.

Any workable system of ethics has to be situational, not black and white. For example, there’s the thought experiment on lying. Lying is considered to be an inherently negative action, but if you are living during the Second World War and lying to protect Jews in hiding or resistance members it’s virtuous. Circumstances matter, context matters. What virtue does one need in order to determine when something normally immoral such as lying becomes moral? It’s called judgement, and these people making Stolen Valor videos out of mentally ill homeless men on the street corner apparently don’t have it.

Why do I personally hate Stolen Valor? It’s not like I had some illustrious military career, served in combat, or had buddies die in my arms (perhaps some people I know died in Iraq when they were deployed there long after I’d got out but I don’t know for sure). Since I’ve been back I’ve had two people thank me for “my service” when I mention my time in the army and I’ve always been quick to point out that my service consisted of standing around in a parking lot and the only terrorists I killed were in PS2 games. Nevertheless I hate Stolen Valor because more often than not it’s some right-wing yahoo bragging about all the “hajjis” he killed with his .50 cal sniper rifle. Worse still, you’ve got this person claiming something that you did, that you struggled to earn, when they in fact didn’t experience and have no idea what you had to go through. Yeah I was just a 31R and went to Ft. “Relaxin'” Jackson, but that takes a lot more effort than sleeping on your parents’ couch or going to college parties after you graduate high school. That’s doubly so when you’re a nerdy 17-year-old who was never known for athletic prowess at the point. So yeah, I get a bit pissed when someone who couldn’t even handle Ft. Jackson or any basic training in any branch tells me to my face that he was a decorated Navy SEAL sniper/team leader (yeah, that’s based on a specific case and the guy knew that my friends and me were in the army at the time).

But there’s another reason Stolen Valor bothers me- it was almost like a warning of what this country had to come with the Trump administration. See one thing about Stolen Valor types is that even the Call of Duty-playing military enthusiasts don’t seem to bother to do much research before crafting their military persona. When you watch those videos and you see the non-homeless, non-mentally ill guys getting tripped up, you’ll notice that they fold almost immediately under the most trivial of questions. A guy asks “what’s your MOS” and almost immediately they get this “Oh SHIT!” look in their eyes. If there’s anything worse than lying to someone in this manner, it’s being so lazy about it that you’re insulting people’s intelligence. I’ve always been amazed at how surprised these people are when they encounter someone who was actually in the military. It’s like they’re thinking: “Wait…Those ranks they keep talking about actually MEAN something? How could this happen?!” 

It’s this kind of lazy, don’t-give-a-shit-if-it-sounds-even-remotely-believable aspect that makes the lies of Trump, his party, the alt-right, or the Kremlin state media so infuriating. What’s worse is when you press them and they give you this hint that even they don’t fully believe it (this was a feature very present in Eurasianist thought, as documented in the book Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism).

So yeah, that kind of lying where the liar makes zero effort to sound convincing is what pisses me off about Stolen Valor. That being said, if you can’t tell the difference between some right-wing wannabe warrior bragging about his “confirmed kills” at the gun show and some mentally ill homeless man panhandling at an intersection, and encountering the latter inspires you to go try to humiliate him for the whole internet, you seriously lack judgement and you’re a bully. I don’t give a shit if some mentally ill homeless man is claiming something I earned. I’m angered by healthy people who had every opportunity to “serve,” didn’t, and then lie to my face telling me they did more than me.

Sadly, there’s another aspect of this which Nichols could have hammered on but didn’t. As I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, part of the irony of the right’s obsession with Stolen Valor is the fact that even when they are not directly participating in it, they are largely responsible for creating it. Think about what motivates young, healthy men to lie about military service and combat. Sure, part of it is just patriarchal values and the desire to be seen as more masculine, but who is saying that military service is the pinnacle of masculinity and who constantly puts “the troops” on a pedestal? That would be the right. It’s always been then. If society and pop culture didn’t lavish such unqualified praise on any and every service member, and especially on high-speed “operators,” maybe people wouldn’t feel tempted to appropriate that life and bask in some of that attention. Obviously these people are responsible for their own actions, but we can’t pretend that society doesn’t influence our decisions.

Perhaps Stolen Valor isn’t the real issue anymore. It’s been rolled into the larger problem, which could be dubbed “people being full of shit and getting away with it on a regular basis.” In any case, homeless people need homes and the mentally ill need access to treatment- not humiliation for foolishly donning a surplus military uniform in an effort to help them get by day to day. And if you don’t like healthy people running around claiming to be military personnel, don’t just call them out- call out society and pop culture’s worshipful, unrealistic portrayal of military personnel. People in the military aren’t all virtuous incarnations of Captain America. Some of them, even your vaunted Navy SEALs, are downright criminals. A lot of them are just confused, awkward kids who are trying to make the transition to adulthood after jumping in the deep end. I should know- I was one of them.

Fun With Russian Military Opsec Posters

Opsec (Operations security) is crucial in our modern, interconnected world. The Russian military seems to have just figured this out after several years of having its claims about the war in Ukraine blown to pieces thanks to Pvt. Ivanov’s selfies on his VK page.

This being the case, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a set of posters aimed at discouraging behaviors that could pose security risks (for comparison, think back to those “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters of WWII). While they’re not as incredible as Russian/Ukrainian sci-fi pulp novel covers, they can still be amusing. For this bit I’ll be ignoring the Russian text and providing my own commentary.


“When Dima needed mission critical information, Sergei was too busy arguing about Star Wars with some pedantic fanboy from NATO. Don’t be Sergei!”



“To all the people back home, hello from the country we definitely haven’t invaded and aren’t currently occupying!”



“Don’t waste valuable time trying to recreate the famous “tank man” photo from Tiananmen Square!”



NATO SOLDIER: “This just gets better and better! Now he says he wants her to dress up like Judge Dredd and beat him while he’s tied to a chair and wearing a ball gag!”



TOP HALF: “Don’t take selfies while you’re in a hot LZ!”

BOTTOM HALF: “Don’t take dick pics during mission briefings!”


“Don’t leave your shit everywhere, especially when you’re trying to impress some woman with the dick pics that you took at an appropriate time, i.e. not during a mission briefing!”



“No, we’re not interested in your Book of Mormon, even the electronic version on your smart phone. Leave those things at home!”



“Remember, you will have plenty of time for yearbook signing AFTER WORK!”



“It pays to be a smug blonde asshole, but you may end up being stalked by a strange man wearing a Canadian tuxedo.”



“Don’t use work computers to run a Youtube gaming channel. You suck at World of Tanks anyway.”



“Somebody in this picture has his own doctrine. Can you point to them?”



“Where’s the money, Lebowski?!”



“Hello, Colonel? Yeah it’s Klimov here. That Bond guy is back again. He’s in the pump house this time.”



Yes, Silly Liberal, Bush WAS That Bad

One of the worst side effects of the Trump administration is how it has kindled  #TheResistance’s love for things like the FBI (you know, that organization that used to spy on Martin Luther King Jr. and tried to get him to kill himself) and George W. Bush.

As the Chapo Trap House crew has said in so many words, liberal centrists have a strong affinity for procedure and typically don’t disagree with their Republican opponents on matters of foreign policy, particularly bombing the shit out of other countries. Therefore they are inclined to look back on Bush II with nostalgia because for all his speaking gaffes and pandering to religion, he observed the norms and decorum that liberals love so much.

In reality, the politics of George W. Bush led directly to those of the Tea Party revolt under Obama and to Trump, and that ought to be obvious for anyone who can remember anything past the last decade or so.

Growing up conservative in the 90’s, I heard plenty of conspiracy theories about the Clintons. Yes, sometimes the word “socialist” was thrown around. But in general the rhetoric against Bill Clinton centered around the rather tame (by today’s standards) Republican charge of “tax and spend.” Apart from this,  it was all culture wars- Clinton was allegedly friendly to the LGBT community, his Surgeon General wanted to teach teenagers how to masturbate (which was absolutely evil, because teenagers couldn’t possibly figure out how to do that on their own), and so forth. Of course there was the fringe that said Clinton would bring about the New World Order, UN invasion, etc. but that was still just fringe. You’d even hear conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh make fun of such people. The were an embarrassment to the conservative establishment and thus had to be sidelined.

Then something changed after 9/11. Liberals weren’t just about tax and spend or same sex marriage. They wanted to surrender to the enemy in the War on Terror. They wanted to make America weak. They hated Christianity and Judaism but loved radical Islam. Hating the liberal was no longer about policy- they were an existential threat to the United States and the American way of life. We were at war, after all.

Now at this point some liberal defender might chime in and point out that the rhetoric of the Bush administration itself was not so radical. Sure, Bush would say things with disturbing implications, such as “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,” but that was about as far as it went. Unfortunately by focusing only on Bush’s words one misses the the forest for the tree.

Outside the administration was the active right-wing noise machine led by Fox News. This gave the White House a form of plausible deniability. When the administration was more or less compelled to admit it had not found the weapons of mass destruction it sought in Iraq, armies of pundits assured millions of Republican viewers that those weapons had in fact been secreted out of the country before the coalition forces could find them.

At the same time, the Bush administration also directly contributed to the kind of hatred toward the press that would become a key feature of Trump’s administration. Bush himself once insisted that progress was being made in Iraq, but that the American people were not being told due to media bias. This only helped contribute to this idea that news which doesn’t fit your political views is “fake” and can be dismissed.

And while liberals point out how tolerant Bush’s administration was toward Muslims, they forget that most of his base wasn’t getting their ideas about Muslims from the president, but rather from the aforementioned right-wing noise machine. Books such as the hilariously inaccurate Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). In her 2002 book Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right, then rising-star Ann Coulter wrote: “Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.”

Got that? Liberals hate America more than Islamic terrorists do. Post 9/11. Imagine for a second that you’re a person stupid enough to sincerely believe rhetoric like this. If you saw yourself as a true patriot- hell, if you just saw yourself as someone who would rather not see your way of life and standard of living destroyed, what would you do to stop people who you were told hate your country more than the people who literally killed themselves just to take hundreds of your countrymen with them in the process? Would your disagreements with other citizens about politics still be about tax hikes and funding for public broadcasting? Are you going to give a shit when the presidential administration, which you know nothing about apart from the occasional sound bite on cable news, says it’s important not to hate Muslims as a group?

All of this hatred set the tone for the right under the Obama administration. Obama was even worse- a “Marxist,” a “fascist,” and worst of all- a secret Muslim! To some this must have seemed like surrender- a man with the name Hussein in the White House! Bush may have been gone, but he never mattered. The right-wing noise machine that had propped him up and sold his war dropped him like a hot potato and just kept right on pushing a large portion of America further from reality.

George W. Bush, of course, did not run Fox News, but he owed them his presidency. The two went hand-in-hand, just like with Trump today. If we trace the rise of Al Qaeda-style terrorism to the aftermath of the siege of Mecca in 1979, we can trace the Trump phenomenon to Fox News and George W. Bush’s administration, which both collaborated to convince millions of Americans that feelings matter more than facts, and that many of their neighbors, co-workers, and family members are secret traitors who want to see America under Marxist Sharia law.

Oh yeah, there was one other thing Bush did that was pretty bad, even worse than anything Trump has done thus far. What was it? Right- he invaded a country for no legitimate reason, killing at least 100,000 people, destabilizing the entire Middle East which has had violent repercussions lasting up until this day, and severely weakening Americans’ faith in their government and destroying its credibility worldwide in ways that would provide great opportunities for regimes like Russia and China.

So yeah, there’s that.


On Applebaum and the Holodomor

So last night I was reading a piece from The Nation reviewing Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine. You’d think it would be highly critical but in fact it is extremely balanced, acknowledging the genuine research Applebaum did on the subject of the Holodomor while pointing out its flaws (HINT: it has to do with Applebaum’s barely-concealed ideological biases). But just like with articles in other left-wing mags, it strays away from history and into the present, where it can’t help but regurgitate the Russian narrative.

In terms of the history, the author Sophie Pinkham is mostly dead on, though I’d have to dispute her claim that the Bolsheviks didn’t have a Russian imperialist view toward Ukraine. This issue is tackled in painstaking detail by Stephen Velychenko’s Painting Imperialism and Nationalism Red: The Ukrainian Marxist Critique of Russian Communist Rule in Ukraine, 1918-1925. There is a very clear case that Lenin himself had a huge blindspot in regards to imperialism and colonialism when it came to Russia, and that his concessions toward Ukraine were more a matter of pragmatism than sincerely acknowledging his ideological mistake. The chauvinism shown by members of the Russian-dominated Communist Party of Ukraine was even more pronounced.

The idea that national chauvinism still existed in self-proclaimed socialist societies really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to modern leftists, many of whom acknowledge that the struggle for socialism goes beyond the core class struggle to encompass other forms of domination and hierarchy such as sexism, racism and national oppression, homophobia, etc. Also, Applebaum, like many anti-Communists, contradicts herself by acknowledging the Russian chauvinism of Bolshevik leaders. Anti-Communists typically want to claim that socialism always leads to authoritarianism, mass death, repression, etc. By the same token, they are fond of accusing historical socialists of being total hypocrites, not actually achieving or standing behind their stated beliefs, and so on. Thus there’s a bit of a conundrum here for the anti-Communist. If the Marxists of the 20th century betrayed their own values, then all the problems that occurred under those regimes really can’t be attributed to socialism or Marxism since they did not really implement either. If they actually did implement those values (which is a dubious assertion), then they cannot be accused of being cynical liars who would readily betray their stated goals and values just to maintain power. Yeah I know it’s a bit confusing, but blame the anti-Communists; they came up with it.

Apart from this minor flaw (many Bolshevik leaders, including Stalin, were more or less sincere about their beliefs in internationalism and Marxism; the Russian chauvinism was largely a blindspot), the historical aspect of the review is fairly solid. Where things go off the rails is when it comes to recent history, and I think the long-time reader knows where this is going to go- to Maidan.

There is good justification to discuss Applebaum’s bizarre admiration for nationalism, because this affects her analysis of the Holodomor in her book. But rather than tackling the flaws of Applebaum’s opinions on nationalism head-on, the author goes off on Ukraine with the old Russian narrative- “Maidan was a nationalist phenomenon, nationalists dominate the new government, bla bla bla.” Let us look at how she does this.

In an article in the New Republic in May 2014, when Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution had been followed by a war between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern regions, Applebaum argued that nationalism offered Ukraine’s only hope of salvation.

Let’s be a bit clearer here- a war did not simply “follow” Maidan. A Russian invasion and annexation followed. Had Russia not acted as it did, there would be no war in the East- period. To speak about Russian-backed separatists is to pretend that there was some substantial separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine where there was not- even the early incarnation of a separatist movement (totally obscure and marginal prior to 2014) was the creation of Russian “political technologists” and groups like the Eurasianist movement of Alexander Dugin. The war was started by Russia, just as Russian citizen and “Novorossiya” armed forces commander Igor “Strelkov” Girkin admitted.

Now since the quote above does touch on an article by Applebaum which the author thinks is relevant to her work in Red Famine, rest assured I will get to discussing Applebaum’s thoughts on nationalism because they are indeed extremely problematic. But bear with me for a bit while I tackle these nuggets of the Russian narrative that are used to refute Applebaum’s ideas.

Across Europe and around the world, stark economic inequality and the capture of political and legal systems by the ultra-rich have fed popular anger and resentment. In Ukraine, as elsewhere, this anger can be misdirected—often intentionally, by self-serving politicians—into a populist nationalism that encourages hatred and exclusion rather than economic and political reform. Instead of asking why power has been concentrated in the hands of a corrupt elite, nationalists put the blame for social problems on migrants, minorities, and foreign influence. Relatively small groups of extreme nationalists can help stymie political reform.

While all this is undoubtedly true in general, it really doesn’t apply to Ukraine. Even Ukraine’s weak nationalists typically aren’t peddling the usual anti-migrant or anti-Semitic scapegoats on a day-to-day basis. And for those who do, they are easily matched by Russian propaganda that also echoes the same claims, such as “Ukraine is controlled by Jews!” Given Ukraine’s specific and very obvious problems, it’s kind of hard to garner support with anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s a lot easier to join the chorus of slogans against “oligarchs,” “treason,” etc.

By far the worst salvo is to be found here:

Over the years since the Maidan Revolution, it has come to light that right-wing nationalists not only physically attacked unarmed leftists at the protests, but helped to initiate the turn to violence that led to the deaths of some 100 protesters at Maidan Square. Since the revolution, right-wing nationalists have been able to take important positions in government, manipulate policy and the judicial process, push forward a blockade that helped cause a humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine, and harass minorities with impunity.

Lot to unpack here. First of all, a lot of people at Maidan had what could be called left-wing views. To date, I have heard one specific story of nationalists attacking left-wing protesters during the march. If the nationalists had been doing this on a large scale, eventually it would have caused a rupture in the camp. This does not seem to have happened throughout the movement. Whether it did or not, it’s important to note that there is evidence to show that Yanukovych and his party had a long history of supporting and even funding the far right in Ukraine as an electoral strategy.

The more egregious claim in the excerpt, however, is that it was the nationalists who sparked the violence during the revolution. In reality, it was the police who turned the protest violent with their brutal suppression of Euromaidan at the end of November. This movement consisted mainly of young students- not right-wing nationalists. Their is no concrete evidence to suggest that nationalists were behind the killing of protesters either (apart from one unconfirmed claim reported by the BBC).

The claim that the radical nationalists have important positions in government is also overstated. As for the blockade- I’m sorry but who started the war? These so-called “republics” declared themselves to be independent and essentially at war with Ukraine. Did they expect friendly trade relations? And if the author actually believes these to be genuine separatists as opposed to Russian puppets, why not spare a word about their nationalism? One could argue that their entire governments are dominated by “nationalists.”

As for harassing minorities with impunity, this is not nearly as frequent as the sentence implies. Ukraine has problems with racism just like any Eastern European country- perhaps a bit less than some other Eastern European countries, in fact (ahem). The problem of attacks with impunity has a lot more to do with shitty police than nationalists being in charge of anything. Just to give you an example, while doing a story on an agency that helps sex workers, the NGO employees told us that one of the worst enablers and beneficiaries of the human trafficking business in Ukraine is…get ready for it…the police anti-human trafficking unit.

And while I agree with the author’s sentiment in the next passage, I must remind the reader that no modern leftist piece on Ukraine seems complete without a reference to Azov.

Having witnessed a torchlight march of hundreds of balaclava-clad nationalists from the Azov Battalion in Kiev last year—their insignia was a modified Wolfsangel that, they claimed, represented the initials of the phrase “national idea”—I am not convinced that more nationalism is what Ukraine needs.

This, folks, is what I mean by regurgitating the Russian narrative, which demands that critiques of Ukraine always need some reference to the Azov battalion. The so-called “DNR/LNR” have battalions made up of Serbian nationalists, Greek neo-Nazis from Golden Dawn, Hungarian members of Jobbik, “cossacks,” Italian neo-fascists, and many other scumbags whose ideology does not significantly differ from that of the more political members of the Azov regiment or Pravy Sektor. Yet when we speak of the war in Ukraine, it seems that right-wing extremism is always made a feature of the Ukrainian side of the war and not the Russian side. The few positions that self-proclaimed nationalists have in Ukraine’s government are used to spread the narrative that post-Maidan Ukraine is dominated by nationalists, whereas people often totally miss the fact that Russia’s pro-Kremlin nationalists (imperialists, really) and their foreign allies are backed by a massive state that is a regional military power.

I really wish leftist publications like The Nation or Jacobin would stop falling for this trope again and again. It’s not that we should be ignoring the far right in Ukraine or pretending there is no problem. Rather it’s that we should talk about the far right when it’s appropriate because it’s the subject of the article rather than shoehorning it into other topics. Moreover, it would be grand if people could stop internalizing the Russian narrative that says any outward display of Ukrainian national or cultural identity goes hand-in-hand with right wing nationalism. Even many, if not most of the people you see waving red and black flags often have no idea what that flag is (I’ve had at least two people tell me they thought it was the “original” Ukrainian flag), and those who engage in apologetics for Bandera or the UPA typically have very little real knowledge about either and believe them to have been anti-Nazi fighters who did not subscribe to exclusionary, genocidal nationalism. The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory doesn’t just engage in the glorification of the nationalist resistance; it has also spent a lot of time trying to convince people that it was anti-fascist and all-inclusive. Now none of this makes that narrative true or justifiable (it is, after all, lying), but you can’t pretend that people who believe these myths are right-wing exclusionary nationalists when their knowledge of the subject is extremely poor and consists of the anti-Nazi, diverse Disney-version of the UPA. That is a completely different issue.

Now to get to Applebaum, Pinkham’s criticisms are rightly damning. Applebaum is basically the darling of the amoral neoliberal community, and as such, she apparently sees nothing wrong with changing her beliefs to suit her needs. When nationalism threatens EU integration or centrist neoliberal politicians or their policies, it’s “populism” and bad. When it supports them, it’s great. The wording Applebaum uses is also curious.

Applebaum argued that nationalism offered Ukraine’s only hope of salvation. She blamed political apathy on the lack of “national identity” in post-Soviet Ukraine, a place where, for example, a half-Polish husband and his Russian-Jewish wife—two acquaintances who hosted Applebaum during a visit to Lviv—could look upon the removal of a statue of Lenin with a dismaying lack of enthusiasm. “Only people who feel some kind of allegiance to their society—people who celebrate their national language, literature, and history, people who sing national songs and repeat national legends—are going to work on that society’s behalf,” Applebaum claimed. Of war-torn eastern Ukraine, she wrote: It “is what a land without nationalism actually looks like”

And again:

Applebaum believes that the Soviet destruction of Ukrainian national identity has caused Ukrainians to have “mixed and confused loyalties,” which “can translate into cynicism and apathy.” She argues that ”[t]hose who do not care much or know much about their nation are not likely to work to make it a better place.” But “mixed loyalties”—which could also be called, less pejoratively, “multifaceted identities”—aren’t inherently bad; in fact, they are part of what has made Ukrainian culture so rich and, arguably, what has kept the country relatively open and democratic despite acute corruption and oligarchy.

Pinkham astutely points out that the kind of nationalism Applebaum is talking about fueled the rise of imperial nationalism in Russia, as well as things like Brexit, the Hungarian pro-Putin government, and other things Applebaum wouldn’t approve of. I would go even further.

A lot of the wording used by Applebaum in those quotes could just have easily come from a far right nationalist from any country. Rare is the far right activist who tells you they simply hate people who are different and they wish to subjugate or exclude them by force. No, they are almost to a man “just patriots,” defending their language, national tradition, and so forth. Applebaum, to the best of my knowledge, is no fan of Poland’s right wing Law and Justice party, and yet any Polish nationalist might, with some argument, claim that they are merely proud patriots without Applebaum’s hated “mixed and confused loyalties,” which incidentally is a charge often used against Jews by anti-Semites.

And while we speak about people without roots and loyalty to their native land, what of Applebaum herself? After all, she fled her country to live abroad and married a Polish ex-diplomat. Applebaum is a fierce supporter of international capital, for example when Greece had an outburst of populism due to its debt situation. And of course she is critical of “country first” politicians in both Europe and the US. It’s almost as if Applebaum’s position on right wing nationalism depends on the geopolitical goals she’s supporting rather than any set of concrete principles.

And that really shouldn’t be surprising because neoliberals and their shills don’t really have any principles. If promoting blood and soil nationalism is useful to your sponsors- go ahead and back it to the hilt until your words are indistinguishable from that of a European neo-Nazi. If the same nationalism suddenly becomes inconvenient because it leads to Brexit or the rise of a pro-Kremlin politician, you can suddenly switch back to your cosmopolitanism and pretend to be a defender of human rights and universal values. When you believe that your side has no ideology, just cold hard facts and data, morality or consistency go out the window.

The real lesson of the Holodomor has nothing to do with Communism or Marxism. Rather it was the inevitable result of any state which reduces human beings to a mere factor in its calculations. In the case of the USSR, collectivization was aimed at industrialization and modernization, and human costs were secondary at best. In other words, the USSR did the same thing that capitalist governments have done throughout time and continue doing to this day.  In the logic of Applebaum and her supporters, the Holodomor is also a utilitarian thing, to be used in service of what is essentially a system that also reduces humanity to numbers on a balance sheet. Applebaum’s anti-Communist rhetoric and praise for nationalism obscure this central fact. To her, the Holodomor is useful for achieving geopolitical goals in the present, when in reality it should be seen as a call to the action against any system that results in people starving when food is available. Today, that system is overwhelmingly the one that Applebaum enthusiastically defends.

At the end of the day, it’s a good and balanced review. Where I think it went off the rails is ironic, considering how Pinkham calls out Applebaum’s use of history to support political goals. I’ve often noticed in these Nation and Jacobin articles the authors tend to get the historical criticisms dead-on, while failing to grasp reality in the present when it comes to Ukraine. It’s as if the Applebaum’s and Snyder’s creatively interpret history to support their present political ideas, while many Western leftists get the present wrong because they’re critiquing bad history. Any way you slice it, it’s still doing the same thing- bending reality to fit a narrative instead of looking at all claims objectively and weighing the evidence.