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An Announcement: Change of Format

So I have a big announcement. Recent events have made me come to some important decisions about the direction of this blog. First of all, following in footsteps of the site Tumblr, I will no longer be hosting hardcore porn here. Tasteful erotica only from here on out. Secondly, and more importantly, I’ve decided to change the format of the blog.

From here on out, it will still focus on Russia and Ukraine, but instead of serious analysis and long-reads it will be primarily dedicated to entertaining content, mainly satire. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up writing on serious topics, it’s just from now on those writings will be published in other venues geared toward certain audiences. I’ve often had to moderate how I present my own views on this site to give it more mass appeal, and now that I have other avenues for publishing my work, I prefer to present my views more directly on sites that cater to a more receptive niche. Naturally I will still post links to any important works on Twitter, the Facebook page, and Patreon for anyone who is interested in that content.

When I began this blog, it was about writing something I knew in order to stand out and eventually transition into entertainment writing. Unfortunately, I never fully got the opportunity to make that transition, so instead of waiting for that opportunity I’m just going to start doing it here. This means I’ll be doing a lot more Onion-style satirical pieces as well as other humorous articles and lists. Hopefully no more of them end up on Johnson’s Russia List. I’m hoping this will boost readership but also make it possible to post much more frequently as I am free to further exercise my creativity.

Of course none of this applies to Twitter, where there is no line between serious analysis and shitposting. I’m definitely not leaving that hellsite no matter how much I wish I could.

Anyway, prepare for an even more light-hearted Russia Without BS that takes the daily news of our current Hellworld and makes it a little more palatable with a dash of that absurdist shitposting style I’ve managed to craft over these past few years.

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WORLD WAR THREE!!!

So something has been bugging me today. Since 2014 we’ve seen a familiar pattern of responses to Russian aggression. It goes like this:

  1. Russia commits flagrant act of military aggression.
  2. Western leaders insist there’s no military solution, call for restraint, express concern, etc.
  3. Pundits come up with responses.
  4. Other pundits warn that these responses could lead to World War III.
  5. REPEAT

Russia seized the Crimea, but Western leaders urged the new Ukrainian government to maintain restraint. Russia put about 700 tanks and armored vehicles in Ukraine, but selling Ukraine Javelins would “escalate the conflict” that Putin already escalated on several occasions in the past. Russia attacks and seizes Ukrainian naval vessels, but any show of force, such as sending a few more NATO ships to the Black Sea, would provoke World War III. It’s really strange how responding to Russia’s aggression is the thing that’s going to provoke World War III, but nobody’s warning Russia about doing this when they make their aggressive moves on their own initiative. It’s almost like some kind of bias.

Let’s take a moment to remember some of the things which were sure to provoke WWIII with Russia, yet didn’t:

-The downing of a Russian Su-24 by a NATO state (Turkey) for briefly crossing its airspace

-Supply non-lethal, then lethal aid to Ukraine

-Accidentally bombing Russia’s Syrian allies

-Intentionally bombing the crap out of Russian mercenaries near Deir-ez-Zor

-Several large-scale NATO military exercises near Russia’s border

-Ukraine sending armed patrol boats to protect a tugboat from Russian coast guard vessels

Now if Russia is going to launch World War III over some NATO ships coming to support Ukraine’s right of passage through the Kerch strait (guaranteed by a bilateral treaty with Russia from 2003), then perhaps Russia, and not NATO, is the aggressive party we should be worried about, right?

See the thing about appeasement of aggressive military powers is that the logic of avoiding war only goes so far. By tacitly encouraging or ignoring further military aggression, the aggressor advances further and further until there is no more buffer zone and war becomes inevitable. We have the perfect example of this in 1938. At that time, the Third Reich could have been totally wrecked had Britain and France stood with Czechoslovakia, whose army was one of the largest and well-equipped in Europe. Czechoslovakia also had potential backing from Poland and the Soviet Union, which was offering up to 1 million troops to defend the last democracy in Central/Eastern Europe (though getting transit rights was an issue at the time). Most people are unaware of how weak the Third Reich actually was in those days, and how many of their famous war-time accomplishments had more to do with taking bold risks and capitalizing off the mistakes of their enemies than a highly advanced war machine. In fact, one of the things that war machine depended on in the early years of the war were weapons, particularly tanks, captured from Czechoslovakia when they invaded and broke up that country in the spring of 1939. The Third Reich survived to commit its unprecedented atrocities because no one was willing to call its bluff.

Upon seeing how Hitler had hoodwinked him by taking Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain and his French allies were forced to try to draw the line somewhere else, this time in Poland. Of course they knew they would not fight for Danzig, as did Hitler. Once again, appeasement encouraged aggression, and at this point Britain and France had no choice but to declare war or be totally discredited. Imagine, if they had stood firm for Czechoslovakia. Imagine if they’d stood up for Austria, or even better- stood up for Austria in 1934 when Hitler didn’t even have Mussolini on his side. But because the British and French couldn’t fathom a local European war, they ended up with a world war, the most destructive in history.

Those who have read my work know that I don’t believe anyone can win Ukraine’s war for it. I do not want NATO or other foreign troops fighting in Ukraine. Support and aid is fine, but this is Ukraine’s fight. That being said, I do still believe that had one U.S. Army Brigade Combat Team or a USMC Regimental Combat Team arrived in Ukraine with air support as soon as the Little Green Men showed up in Crimea, things would have gone a lot differently. Ditto with the Donbas. Remember, Putin denied they were Russian troops. Nothing wrong with the US helping its ally deal with some armed “separatists,” right? Putin would be forced with an ultimatum- fight and risk war with NATO and everything that entails, or run and avoid the humiliation of Russia’s best troops getting trounced by a small force of American professionals. Remember, this is an empire built on narratives and propaganda. Putin had a big flank in the wind and yet he got away with everything because the West immediately decided there was no military solution when he had already decided there was.

Of course we don’t want war. Nobody really wants it. But what do you do when war is at your doorstep? What do you do when an aggressor shows you time and time again that they will continue to act in an aggressive manner toward your country or its allies? And if responding to that aggression may escalate the conflict, isn’t that primarily the fault of the side who started it in the first place? If a man is walking around a bar punching people, shouldn’t someone stop him, or do we engage in pearl-clutching and whine about “escalation” and the possibility of drawing more people into a brawl?

If we’re going to keep worrying about WWIII every time Russia embarks on another military adventure, we might as well just surrender every country they would claim as Russia’s sphere of influence and allow Putin and his cronies to further corrupt our system with money-laundering and organized crime. Sure, we’ll end up living in a neo-feudal dystopia and the Earth will become unable to support our species a few decades after that, but hey, at least we’ll have only had two world wars.*

So please, if you’re concerned about provocative military gestures that could spark a third world war, please direct your complaints to the side initiating them first and foremost.

 

 

*Assuming you don’t count the dozens of multinational conflicts that will inevitably break out due to the lack of resources and the promotion of xenophobia and nationalism.

 

Escalation

As planned I deliberately held off writing anything about the recent crisis involving the Kerch strait and the Azov sea in order to size up the situation. While Russia’s response to a non-threatening, unarmed tugboat was ridiculously over-the-top, eventually involving several air assets including Kamov attack helicopters, at the moment it does not seem as though the big open Russian invasion is coming. I suspect this is just the latest chapter in a long-running story of Russia trying to assert full control over the Azov sea while simultaneously putting more economic pressure on Ukraine. Since that entails blocking Ukrainian vessels’ access to the Kerch strait, it makes sense that they’d start with some provocative gesture like the one on Sunday. Of course being idiots, they released a video of the event that clearly shows their coast guard ship acting in a needlessly aggressive manner.

The day’s events were soon followed by a panic over the declaration of “martial law” by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. I put that in quotes because while the term is in fact “martial law” in the 2015 legislation, even his initial proposal was pretty weak by the usual measure of martial law. He wasn’t even going to declare war or mobilization. After some wrangling from the Rada, more limitations were secured, most importantly the limiting of the “martial law” to 10 regions and the reduction from 60 days to 30 days. In any case, I’ll be in Ukraine during part of this “martial law” so if I get picked up for breaking a curfew, you’ll know about it. In any case, a lot of this hysteria could have been avoided had the government used some more appropriate term like “state of emergency,” but “martial law” was the term they went with so there it is.

Still, I can’t help but say “I told you so” to those slavish bootlickers who believe that sticking up for Ukraine means fanatically defending its leaders, as though the state is the highest expression of Ukrainian self-determination. Apart from holding a view not very far removed from the predominant ideology of Putin’s Russia, i.e. that citizens exist to serve the state and must not question their leaders, the government’s panicked and ultimately ineffective response to this crisis shows how ill-prepared they are to deal with a Russian escalation. After all, if Russia decides to claim the Azov sea as its own internal waters as it may be planning to do, what will Poroshenko or anyone else in Ukraine’s government do? And we’re not even speaking about an outright Russian invasion here. I’ll tell you what the various factions will do. The liberal centrists will cry for the West to solve the problem for them, the pro-Russian and secretly pro-Russian factions will call for “peace,” and the nationalists will beat their chests, burn a few more tires outside the Russian embassy, and commit some acts of petty vandalism before going back to their usual routine of attacking innocent LGBT activists, feminists, and Roma. The Kremlin knows this, and it has their number.

So what are the alternatives? Well some things are best left unsaid in public, but suffice to say here that things like hearts and minds, living standards, fighting corruption, and tackling far-right activity matter. You win hearts and minds and increase living standards to show Ukrainians under Russian occupation as well as those bordering those areas that they will have a better future with Ukraine. You fight corruption because corruption undermines the war effort in a myriad of ways and you must show that the post-Maidan Ukraine will not be more of the same with a new coat of paint. You tackle the far-right because they provide grist for Kremlin propaganda mills, they are a stain on Ukraine’s international reputation, they routinely liaise with and invite in members of pro-Kremlin or Kremlin-linked organizations and parties, and first and foremost because their ideology is contrary to a prosperous, free Ukraine whose people live in harmony.

You do these things even though they me be difficult or sometimes unpleasant because more than anything they are necessary. And those who dismiss these things are traitors, shirkers, or con artists, rest assured of that. And if the current Ukrainian state is incapable of doing these things in the face of an existential threat after a certain amount of time, then it has forfeited its right to govern, and the people of Ukraine would do well to seek a better form of governance.  I’m not going to pretend that these tasks are simple, but at least the concept is.

USA Not Really

In case you didn’t know, USA Really is a Russian propaganda site which can’t decide if it wants to pretend to be American-made or if it’s Russian but “that doesn’t matter.” The site is of such poor quality and tone it makes you suspect that for many people associated with the Internet Research Agency (AKA “Not the cool IRA“), the trolling industry is nothing but a big grift.

Laziness doesn’t even begin to describe USA Really’s problems. For example, the site just had an overhaul and yet look at its search page:

usareally

Type an “epic” there? Are you sure I can fit the entire Mahabharata into that search bar?

Sometimes the site seems like an extremely lazy version of Sputnik News or RT. For example, most people are familiar with the way those two media outlets carefully tack between far-right and far-left, subtly encouraging a red-brown alliance. USA Really, on the other hand, has no use for subtlety. It’s political tone is as if someone smashed together a conservative boomer Facebook page with a “Resistance” one just to see what sticks. RT’s format tends to work better because most people only consume it via Youtube videos and individual shared articles. As such, they’re likely to only see those things that appeal to them, meaning for example that the leftist only sees Chris Hedges, Seymour Hersh, or Lee Camp. Meanwhile the far-right viewer is likely to only see the right-leaning material. On USA Really, it’s just a mixed grab bag where anything goes.

And that brings us to their head editor, one Alexander Malkevich. Apparently the Russian Embassy in the US is claiming that he was detained at Reagan National Airport.

Yes, that’s just the Russian Foreign Ministry whining about other countries persecuting journalists. I’d suggest they start their campaign for press freedom at home, but what more can be said about Russian government hypocrisy that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?

In the Talking Points Memo story, it says there is no mention of his detention outside of the embassy’s claims and the Russian news agency TASS. However, since that article was published, USA Really posted a story about the claim. As usual, it is full of the typical bullshit one comes to expect from that site. Interestingly, USA Really claims it was Dulles International and not Reagan, although that could just be a mistake from the Talking Points Memo piece. The USA Really post contains what’s purported to be a photo of a search warrant for Mr. Malkevich, but I must confess I’m not informed enough on the local legal system to say anything about its authenticity. In any case, the article is full of hilariously idiotic claims about what supposedly happened in the interrogation, such as this:

“I believe that USA Really has been successful as a project, as during the first part of the interrogation I was asked questions, like: “Who are you, guys?” and “Why are you undermining the foundations of American democracy?” Malkevich said. “The whole first set of questions was devoted to “Why did the USA Really News Agency even come to American(sic), since it had been good “for us without you?”

I’ve seen stories on Tumblr more convincing than this one.

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the matter in the near future, but till then I’d say the only major inaccuracy in the Talking Points Memo story was the line where they describe USA Really as “RT/Russia Today on steroids.” In fact it is RT on Krokodil. In any case, based on past statements from Alexander Malkevich, I’d say he’s either a very lazy grifter or completely delusional. Take your pick.

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Eyes to See

What is the worst combination you could possibly imagine? Skittles on Chicago-style pizza? Mayonnaise Pop-Tarts? Automatic weapons for toddlers? I’ve got a pretty good contender. How about the worst film genre in existence, i.e. romantic comedy, and Russian propaganda about the Crimea? Not sold just yet? What if I told you this very real rom-com was scripted by none other than RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan? Yes. You read that correctly. Yes, I am going to subject you to this. I know about it, so now you must know about it. This is happening.

I realize some readers can’t fully understand that trailer, but rest assured it is a delightfully romantic romp that involves flagrant violations of international law as well as human rights! What’s next? A German rom-com where two star-crossed lovers are reunited in East Prussia when the Third Reich invades Poland? After all, Germany was merely trying to protect the German civilian population from a right-wing nationalist Polish government whose troops attacked several German border posts and a radio station!

But if this weren’t bad enough, the film apparently contains a subplot about the Crimean Tatars, and, as you might expect, it’s pretty ugly. Here are a few excerpts from the above-linked article.

“The film offers an unlikely take on the issue of Crimean Tatars. It opens with a young Crimean Tatar boy named Damir recalling how the original Kerch Strait bridge, a temporary wartime construction, was destroyed by winter ice in early 1945.

The scene is improbable at best, since the entire Crimean Tatar population was ruthlessly deported from the peninsula in 1944 by Stalin. In fact, Simonyan’s masterpiece was filmed just a few dozen kilometers from the Arabat Spit, where the last pockets of Crimean Tatars who had escaped deportation were loaded onto a boat that was then scuttled in the Sea of Azov, drowning all aboard.

Damir, however, grieves because the destroyed bridge separates him from his wartime love, a Russian girl named Raya, who has gone missing.

Damir is a forgiving type. At one point, discussing his own family’s fate under Stalin, he says simply, “They were sent away — that means it had to be.” At other points in the film, he has approving words for Stalin.”

Needless to say, not only was the situation for Crimean Tatars in the past very different from what is portrayed in the film, but the present is as well. Since the annexation Crimean Tatars have been subject to all manner of human rights violations, including torture and in at least one case, death. The whitewashing of both eras is a perfect example of how the Muscovite chauvinist regime views non-Muscovite nationalities within its grasp. “You will have your history dictated to you, and you may keep your culture and language so long as it doesn’t offend us.” 

The word ‘disgusting’ simply doesn’t suffice to describe this subplot.

As for the rest of the film, let’s just say this isn’t Russia’s first rodeo when it comes to feature length propaganda films about the Crimean annexation. There was also this piece of shit:

As bad as this may be, at least it’s not a rom-com; it’s clearly just a comedy. On the other hand, that 2017 film wasn’t written by Margarita Simonyan.

Now I know a lot of people, Americans included, will chime in with something about propaganda in Hollywood films. Sure, they certainly do (although in my opinion it’s more a matter of steering clear of certain taboo subjects more than anything), but rest assured modern Russian cinema blows them out of the water in terms of on-the-nose messaging. And whereas Hollywood will often liberally reinterpret real events to tell a better story, films like this basically invent a story out of thin air. If the examples above don’t convince you of this, check out the trailer for this upcoming Russian film, seemingly trying to capitalize off Ukraine’s Cyborgs, called Balkan Line.

In case you’re too young or not familiar with the 1999 Kosovo conflict I’ll help you out- none of that shit happened. It’s as if the Russian producers looked at Cyborgs, saw how well it did, and decided they just needed their own war film about an airport under siege. And since they couldn’t find a real one, they just made one up. In real life, the Russian airborne contingent who rolled into Pristina airport was totally isolated, and the whole situation was defused with the help of James Blunt. Yes, James “You’re Beautiful” Blunt. And it’s a good thing the Russians didn’t try anything because if you’ve ever seen Blunt on Twitter you know he’s no pushover.

But yeah, American Sniper sucks, but just imagine that almost every Hollywood film is American Sniper x 100, and your tax dollars are used to churn them out. Sounds great, right?

Honestly though, I’m wondering how far Margarita will go in the world of screenwriting. At the same time, I wonder how far the Russian film industry will go in the world of making up shit that never happened. Perhaps next we’ll see a film about how the Soviets actually landed on the moon first. The sky’s truly the limit when your film industry is a state-sponsored money laundering vehicle!

The New Default

Lately I find myself writing more and more about how modern America is starting to resemble Putin’s Russia. Yesterday seems to confirm a new milestone.

As some of you are no doubt aware, on Friday authorities arrested a man suspected of mailing package bombs to a long list of Fox News rogues gallery villains such as George Soros, the Clintons, and Barack Obama. Now even before the suspect had been arrested, it became pretty clear based on the targets alone that the guy was clearly a right-winger. Occam’s Razor in this situation would tell us that if a man shows open support for Trump, belief in right-wing conspiracy theories, and targets the main villains in those conspiracy theories, he must be a true believer who has become radicalized, i.e. a home-grown, right-wing terrorist.

But this, of course, is 2018, and Occam’s Razor has been totally thrown out the window by a huge segment of the population. Now, when someone actually acts on all these conspiracy theories by engaging in some kind of violence or threat of violence, the default for all the other chuds that spread this bullshit is, you guessed it- FALSE FLAG!

Mass shooting? False flag! Terrorist attack? False flag, unless it can be used as an argument against immigration or Muslims. Chemical attack? False flag! Once again, another sign that modern-day America is becoming more and more like Putin’s Russia. There, for many years, whenever some scandal leads directly to the Kremlin, the state-press repeats the mantra, Кому выгодно? (Qui bono?)

Again, just another sign we’re sinking deeper and deeper into unreality, where the truth is whatever you want it to be at any given moment so as to preserve your sense of identity. Strap yourself in, folks. This isn’t going to end well.

They Mad

Long time readers know that I’m not a big fan of religion, so you might be surprised to hear me say that Ukraine’s recent achievement of autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church is a big win for Ukraine. To the untrained eye it might seem like another one of those pointless symbolic gestures, the kind where some street is named after a literal war criminal and Volodymyr Viatrovych posts on his Facebook that this great achievement symbolizes “Ukraine moving further away from the Soviet past” while life goes on almost exactly as before, i.e. post-Soviet kleptocracy with different colors and symbols. This is not the case with autocephaly, however. This is a big deal, if only for the major infowar victory it has brought.

See, independence for the Ukrainian church is only half the equation. The Russian Orthodox Church’s reaction is what makes this a victory for Ukraine. After the Patriarch in Constantinople voiced his support for Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly, the Russian church announced it would be breaking off ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate. In other words, they are taking their ball and going home after getting humiliated. Even better- they’re doing this because they can no longer control a church in another country. See, countries like Romania, Georgia, Macedonia, etc. all have their own independent Orthodox churches. The fact that Russia’s church would cut off all relations with the Constantinople Patriarchate because they could no longer dominate the church of another country that has been independent from Russia since 1991, does not look good on the international stage. It looks like a tantrum, much like the time they withdrew from the International Criminal Court after it ruled the Crimea to be occupied by Russia and called the conflict in the Donbas an international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Once again, they didn’t get their way so they rage-quit.

This is how you know you’ve won some kind of victory in the information war with Russia- when you upset them so much they do something incredibly stupid and embarrass themselves. Another example is when you hit them hard in such a humiliating way that they just stop talking about the incident altogether. The trouncing of Wagner mercenaries in Syria by US air and artillery assets is the best recent example of that. Apart from a few denials about Russian citizens killed in the engagement, the Russian government and its state press seemed to forget about the whole mess shortly thereafter. The fact that the Russian Ministry of Defense most likely sold these guys out, and that these tough Russian warriors got pathetically owned by…gasp…America, was just too much for them to take.

Naturally, the recent church split also carries some inherent risks. Russia has made veiled threats about “protecting” Orthodox believers, and they could try to provoke violence in order to justify doing something worse, although I doubt they’ll use that as the excuse for a new military offensive. More likely they’ll just drum up more propaganda narratives and continue the covert war. So bearing these risks in mind, I’d say Ukraine really came out on top in this information battle. You might argue Russia did the work for them when its church decided to throw a hissy-fit, but at the end of the day, results matter.

This kind of thinking has to be behind every attempt to counter Russian aggression, whether we’re talking military action or information war. Optics matter. The narrative matters. Most of all they matter to the Kremlin. The Putin regime is a rickety empire propped up by a narrative. It has little to offer most of its citizens and no firm ideological justification for its existence. The more you wreck and subvert the regime’s narrative, the more damage you do. In some ways, I’d argue it’s even more effective than sanctions at times.