Tag Archives: Cold War

80’s Nostalgia Without BS

Hey remember THE EIGHTIES?! Remember Nintendo? Remember 8-bit Mario?! Remember Ghostbusters?! Remember the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! Well, do you remember? Do you, you consumer son of a bitch? REMEMBER?!  

Seriously though, of course you remember all that. Everybody who lived through that decade remembers those things because they were immensely popular. And yet lately it seems that the entertainment industry has got the idea that things as mainstream as Star Wars and Ghostbusters are examples of “geek culture” that can be used to sell virtually anything. As you might have gathered, I’ve got a bone to pick with the industry.

This all came to a head around the time I heard several reviews for Ready Player One, which seems to be the perfect example of the weaponization of 80’s pop culture. In fact, if you think that film and the novel it’s based on represent a horrible one-off, you’d be wrong. Apparently the author, Ernest Cline wrote another novel, one that’s basically a ripoff of The Last Starfighter, but guess what- it has pop culture references! From the 80’s! I’ve spoken about this topic with friends a couple times in the past few months, but what finally triggered me to write on the subject was a trailer I saw recently for a sequel to the Creed film, part of the Rocky Cinematic Universe that’s apparently a thing now. It ends with a reveal of the antagonist and get this- it’s the son of Ivan Drago! Yes, that Drago, the one who killed Apollo Creed in the ring all those years ago. You remember that, right? REMEMBER, AND SEE OUR FILM!!!

Look, I don’t hate the 80’s- I love nostalgia as much as the next person. I also like a lot of the aesthetic that’s coming back into style. I like synth music. I like uzis. I also get that a lot of this is just plain marketing- my generation is the one with disposable income (or it’s supposed to be, at least). But I feel like this is going to wind up being a big missed opportunity to shine light on things from the 1980’s that aren’t universally recognized. That and I can’t stand this obvious pandering whereby makers of pop culture pretend that we’re in some super-exclusive “geek” club because we both remember Ghostbusters, an insanely popular franchise at the time.

We live in an era that gives people far more access to produce their own media and entertainment content. Hell I’m doing it right now. And while I cannot influence Hollywood, I can at least hope some content creators of my generation see this blog, and perhaps take my plea to heart. If you want to take the route of 80’s nostalgia, do it with passion. Don’t reference the things everybody remembers, reference the things you remember because they were special for you. Sure, many people won’t immediately get it, but the interested will head to Google and Wikipedia and actually learn something. Art is about making an emotional connection with your viewer or reader (at least I read this somewhere), and one way to do that is by sharing a part of your own personality or experience with them. The media that mattered to you personally, even if it faded into obscurity, can perform that function. And I’d argue that this would reach readers on a much deeper level than “Hey! Remember Back to the Future?!

To set the example I’d like to share with the reader some things from my 80’s childhood that I’m nostalgic for- things which didn’t necessarily make it into our era or achieve widespread popularity. If I were going to make a film packed full of 80’s nostalgia or otherwise inspired by it, these are the things I’d reference or draw inspiration from, even if only as a joke.

Bad Dudes

“The president has been kidnapped by ninjas. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?” 

This is all the mission briefing you get after dropping a quarter and pressing start in the arcade game Bad Dudes, also known by it’s full title Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja in case you’re one of those arcade consumers who wants to know exactly who’s fighting whom in any game you might play.

I used to play this game religiously in a bowling alley in Texas when I was about six years old. At that age, on a good day I could get to the boss of the third level. Might have beat him once or twice.

The concept is pretty simple- fight your way through an army of color-coded ninjas who have an extensive division of labor, and defeat a boss at the end of every level until you finally rescue the president, who incidentally is clearly based on Ronald Reagan. If you succeed, president “Ronnie” invites you and your bad best friend for a burger and I assume you get a couple post offices named after you or something.

Most of the time you’re punching and kicking, but you have a couple special moves such as a spinning jump kick and, if you hold down the attack button, your heroes arms burst into flames and you can release a powerful flaming punch because…80’s. Occasionally you can pick up nunchaku or a knife to ease the killing of color-coded ninjas. Whenever you beat a boss, your character raises his hands over his head and proclaims: “I’m bad!” Honestly I felt that was a bit pretentious. I mean being “bad” is something that other people should say about you; you can’t just claim the title for yourself unless you’re Michael Jackson.

Looking back, it’s the plot that sticks out to me most when it comes to this game. See when I was a little kid I dreamed of making video games (that dream really worked out well!). To be honest, most of “my” games were basically just mish-mashes of other games I liked at the time, only done in the way I thought they should be done. Now in those days, a lot of games had a simple plot device- someone’s kidnapped the hero’s girlfriend. Other times you’re trying to avenge some family member’s death, such as your father’s in Ninja Gaiden.  Bad Dudes raised the stakes by having the president getting kidnapped, and that had an impact on my 6-7 year old mental game design. The way I reckoned at the time, a hero could get in serious legal trouble if they engaged in vigilante violence and destruction of public and private property just because their girlfriend got kidnapped. You’re expected to contact the police and file a missing persons report. But, little me reasoned, if the president is the one being kidnapped, then the authorities would probably let you slide for beating ninjas to death on top of a moving cargo truck with a pair of nunchaku. Extreme times demand extreme measures, after all. Based on this child-logic, I made sure that all my “game” plots that took place in our world involved a kidnapped president, so the hero wouldn’t be bogged down with criminal charges and legal fees should he complete his mission.

Looking back as an adult, imagining this plot playing out in real life is even funnier. I hate to bury the lede about the president being kidnapped by ninjas, but the emergency meeting on what to do about it would have to be pretty amazing. I’d imagine you’d have the National Security Council with the heads of all the intelligence agencies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and everyone in the line of succession.  The army’s recommending Delta Force. The Navy recommends SEAL Team 6. And then there’s this guy, a White House aide, perhaps, who meekly pipes up with his suggestion:

“Guys, I know this is going to sound a bit unconventional, but I know just the people who can handle this situation. They’re the best martial artists in the world. A couple of real bad dudes. I think we should give them a chance.” 

And with that, a legend is born.

For people like me, Bad Dudes is a piece of nostalgia, but for younger people, I think it resonates differently. Whereas once it was considered a nightmare scenario, these days the idea of the president being kidnapped by ninjas is actually a message of hope, and I don’t think anyone, bad or otherwise, would bother to rescue him. If anything the ninjas would be trying to foist him back on us within a few days of holding him in captivity.

Ninja Gaiden 

Ninja Gaiden had a reboot of sorts on the XBox around the mid-2000s, but from what I gather the modern game had little to do with its predecessors. I first became acquainted with Ninja Gaiden in the arcades, where it was a side-scrolling beat-em-up with one of the most notorious continue/game over screens in arcade history, such that it traumatized me any time I saw it.

Soon, through Nintendo Power magazine, I learned that this was also a game on the NES console (I didn’t own one at the time), and while that version is very different from the arcade version, it quickly became clear that it was the better game. In fact, in recent years I’ve seen virtually every incarnation of Ninja Gaiden game from that era and I can state with confidence that the original NES trilogy was in fact the best incarnation in every way.

Ninja Gaiden is an extremely tough game, but more or less fair. I was only able to beat it around 1992, when I finally had an NES console of my own and a friend lent me the game. Your protagonist is Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja who comes to America not to kidnap the president, mind you, but to avenge the death of his father, thus making all his activities in the United States extremely illegal.

Seriously though, what was great about Ninja Gaiden was its plot. For it’s time, this was a sophisticated game in terms of its music, graphics, gameplay, but the real novelty was in its story that was told via cinematic cutscenes (but you can skip them!). For a game of that era it had a pretty decent story that becomes far more fleshed out than just “kill the guy who killed your father.”

Basically your dad was an archaeologist, presumably after leaving the no-longer lucrative field of being a ninja,  and he and his colleague Walter Smith uncovered these ruins in South America along with two statues of a grotesque horror (shades of Call of Cthulhu). After coming to America and killing tons of street thugs and their dogs you learn that the light and dark statues hold the spirit of a world-ending demon and they must never come together. You get where this is going now- an evil cult gets one of the statues and then Ryu is tapped by the CIA, yes, the CIA, to go to the same ruins his father found and get the statue back. And by the end of the game, you’d better believe those two statues come together and you get to fight Mr. Demon himself.

Since I didn’t have an NES at the time and because few of my friends that did had the game, I mostly became acquainted with the game via Nintendo Power magazine, which ran several feature stories about it which typically came with beautiful illustrations and random trivia about ninjas. In other words, crack for seven-year-old boys.

The illustrations are particularly noteworthy because in the days of 8-bit graphics, you really had to use your imagination. Illustrations in gaming magazines or instruction manuals helped give you an idea of what things were supposed to look like. As it just so happens I managed to track down some of those old magazines shortly before I moved to Russia in 2006, and a friend of mine kept them safe all this time. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what it was like in that era:


In case you’re wondering, yes, that is my actual hand.



When a magazine intended for children gives tips on ninja weapons.

The sequel, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, came out in 1990 but for all intents and purposes is still an 80’s game. It is arguably the best of the original trilogy and in terms of art the people at Nintendo outdid themselves with a special strategy guide I had when I was about nine. In it, nearly all the game’s cut scenes are beautifully drawn in comic book form throughout the guide. While I did find a copy on eBay, I was not able to locate it among my old library when I was in Phoenix. However, I did some googling and managed to find a blog post someone made about the guide, complete with some shots of the illustrations to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.


In case you haven’t noticed, we liked ninja shit in the 80’s. Shinobi was a game series started by the then-rising star Sega company and usually encountered in arcades.

The game was ridiculously hard but introduced some really novel concepts. For starters, your character was a ninja, but they did not wear a mask and you could use a gun sometimes. Also, while you would die in one hit, the game had a somewhat more realistic system. Typically you die only if you get hit by an enemy’s weapon. If you just touch the enemy you get knocked back but are otherwise unharmed.

In 1989 a sequel came out which was only released on the debut Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe) home console. Revenge of the Shinobi, as it was titled, changed the formula by giving players a health bar but also limiting the supply of shurikens, the game’s main weapon. Although it deviated wildly from the format of the original, it was a major hit and is remembered not only for its gameplay and graphics but also its music and copyright infringement, as earlier versions often used popular film and comic book characters as bosses in the game.

To give you an idea how good the soundtrack was, many of its songs have been remixed by people today.

One could argue that the third game, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, is the best game in the series, but that came out a little too far into the 90’s for this survey of 80’s culture.

It’s worth noting that there was an arcade sequel called Shadow Dancer which I did not encounter until later, in the early 90’s, at Circus-Circus in Las Vegas. This was more in line with the gameplay of the first arcade game and while a version of it was ported to the Sega Genesis, it was essentially a different game. While the arcade version initially looks better, the Genesis version has a much better soundtrack and is ultimately a better game (though arguably not as good as Revenge of the Shinobi). For comparison:


Game Tapes

The explosion of home gaming took place concurrently with the explosion of home video. As anyone familiar with Red Letter Media’s Wheel of the Worst series knows, anything that could possibly be put onto VHS was recorded and shoveled out the door. Anything.

Home gaming was accompanied by strategy guides, typically in the form of magazines like Nintendo Power, shown above. But it didn’t take long for someone to figure out an even better way to show someone how to not suck at video games- game tapes. Now technically I never owned any of these until the early 90’s, but I was aware of them in the 80’s. There was a series from a group called Game Players, and I had the one that featured games by Ultra (actually a division of Konami) such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the ridiculously hard one) and Metal Gear. It also features intro music that may rupture your ear drums (or compel you to do the job yourself with a pencil). On the positive side, it got me interested in playing Metal Gear, but then again that just set me up for disappointment in 2001.

These tapes were pretty lame, but also the only way you could see significant gameplay from a game neither you nor any of your friends had (unless you lived by one of those Nintendo stores).

Another tape I found at a flea market (again, early 90’s so doesn’t quite count) boasted that it featured the “World Video Game Champion” Skip Rogers (so I guess he’s like Captain America if Captain America sucked). The writer Sean Baby already did a hilarious and thorough review of Skip’s work some time ago, but I’ll post part of the video here to give you an idea.

The main difference between the tapes, from what I could see, is that whoever was playing on the Game Players tapes was far more competent than the World Video Game Champion. I’m sorry, Skip, but someone had to say it.



This section is going to be a bit shorter but for a very good reason. In keeping with the theme of this article, I’m naming things that had significance for me personally, and most of the 80’s movies I liked were the big popular films that everyone remembers. Of course some of them I wouldn’t appreciate until later. For example, I first saw part of Aliens on cable when I was maybe five, and naturally it scared the shit out of me. Imagine you’re five and you think you’ve found some kind of futuristic war film, like live-action G.I. Joe. Then you suddenly come face-to-face with H.R. Giger’s living nightmare (it was the scene where the alien kills the dropship pilot- you never forget something like that). So while Aliens is easily one of my favorite all-time films, I can’t pretend like I get nostalgic for it, nor did I ever watch the whole thing in the 1980’s.

It’s really hard to think of a film from the 80’s that I liked but wasn’t insanely popular, and the films that weren’t so popular I either didn’t like or didn’t see until I was much older. But there is one film that is very relevant to this blog. In fact, you might say it altered my entire destiny (still not sure for better or worse). That film is Russkies, from 1987.

To understand it’s influence on me let me provide some context. I was maybe still six or seven and I started to get interested in Russian stuff. See the Cold War was going on and Russians were always appearing, obviously as bad guys, nearly all the time. Of course kids don’t understand politics and at that age, things like ushankas and greatcoats just looked cool. I also liked how everything the Red Army had was like an exotic version of our own military equipment. We had the sleek, modern-looking M16 and they had the unusually-looking, wood-and-metal Kalashnikov that still got the job done. We had the Abrams tank with its angular lines and they had T-72s and T-80s with rounded shapes. Obviously I couldn’t make this comparison at the time, but it seemed like two sides in one of those old real-time strategy games where the difference between the two playable factions is mostly just cosmetic.

Now as you might imagine, being into Russia while living in Cold War-era Texas doesn’t make you the most popular kid, but it’s not like I engaged people in political discussions. I just really loved those ushankas. So one day I’m in this convenience store that has video rentals and I see on the shelves this film, Russkies, with a Soviet submarine on it. It’s basically a family movie so my mom rented it and I proceeded to watch it roughly two dozen times or so until we had to return it.

To understand what kind of film it was, I would call it the anti-Red Dawn. In fact, that other film, which came out three years earlier, is referenced in Russkies by one character. But overall the film is mocking that kind of Cold War paranoia. It features a Russian submariner who falls overboard and washes ashore on Key West. He’s discovered by some local kids, some of whom initially believe he’s a spy and try to catch him. The rest of it is wacky fish-out-of-water hyjinks, standard fare for the time. I think Russkies can be categorized in that genre of Perestroika-era Hollywood films that promote cooperation and understanding between the East and West. This was a time when, for example, G.I. Joe teamed up with the Soviet special forces team October Guard. Unfortunately it also transformed into a genre that could be called “Let’s put aside our differences and gang up on the Arabs,” but that’s another article.

As I write this, I have never seen the film since I watched it back when I was little. I had trouble locating a suitable version online for years. Now it appears the whole thing is on Youtube (always the mark of a great film!), so I plan to watch it again. If it is totally lame, keep in mind I was six or seven the last time I saw it. Whatever the case, this film kindled my interest in Russia, one which would wax and wane until the point where I had to take a foreign language course in high school and Russian was available. That led to my first trip to Russia, which in turn led to me moving there after that. Yes, it has been rough at times, but it’s better that little me was obsessed with something like Russkies and not something like the Death Wish series, which glorifies murdering random people on the street, or Rambo III, which might have led me to idolize waging jihad in Afghanistan.


This section is a total fraud, because I’m just using it as an excuse to post a video of “Africa” by Toto.

But if you’re looking for something a bit more obscure and rooted firmly in that era, I recommend the work of Ian Hammer for the TV show Miami Vice. 

Also, while I can in no way claim this has any nostalgic value for me, I present to you what may be the synthiest song of the whole decade, from the soundtrack of the TV movie Manhunter (this was based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon and is the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter).



So there you have it- a slice of my own personal 80’s nostalgia. To be fair, my childhood was split rather evenly into both the 80’s and 90’s, so this is only a fraction of a fraction. I also acknowledge that a film like Russkies is probably too obscure to use as a reference in any other work of art (I’ve literally never encountered anyone who’d heard of the film or saw it), but if I were going to make some kind of art that references the 80’s in some way, those video games are examples of things I would reference. If you get it, great, it’s a bonus for you. If not, no big deal. That was what made things like the original Simpsons great- it appealed to everyone but the references were a bonus for people who were more knowledgeable or who did their homework. Now references have replaced jokes and good writing entirely, and apparently you’re supposed to be entertained simply because you recognize something.

If you’re a creator reading this, break the mold. By all means embrace this 80’s nostalgia trend, but make it your own. Don’t let Hollywood shape your memories. If you remember anything I’ve mentioned in this post fondly, or have some of your own examples to share, by all means tell me in the comments.

Also here’s “Africa” by Toto again in case you missed it.

Encore- The Fall of Romanov

There’s still plenty of time before my flight, and wouldn’t you know it- I saw something that I just had to address. I guess there’s a shortage of op-ed writers submitting to The Moscow Times as of late, because they’ve been running a lot of columns by Russian comedian Pyotr Romanov. If you’re not familiar with Romanov’s work, I tackled several of his pieces in the past. Here’s one, here’s another, and here’s a satirical piece I did based on his work. Turns out just like fellow comedian Louis C.K., Romanov has new material all the time.

Surprise, surprise, the piece is about “the new Cold War!”  That term certainly hasn’t been used to death. First I will summarize- Guess what! There’s a new Cold War! Romanov says it’s really bad, and the West needs to deal with it. And as always, dealing with it means basically letting Putin do whatever he wants.

The thing I find so hilarious about Romanov is that he keeps invoking this Cold War meme, totally forgetting that his side lost the Cold War, and that was a conflict where the Soviet Union had a far stronger foundation economically, demographically, and ideologically. The fact that this is coming from a guy named Romanov is pretty hilarious as well. Remember what happened the last time a Romanov went to war with some Western powers just to prove how great Russia was? It didn’t end well.

“The Russian people will endure ANY hardship! They have pickles from their gardens! PICKLES!”

For readers with heart conditions or who are pregnant, I present you with some of Romanov’s highlights of hilarity.

“And, blindly ignoring the harm that Russian counter-sanctions have already wrought on the economies of Italy and many other European countries, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni spoke in the subjunctive mood to suggest that a new Cold War would be “an absolute disaster.

This might be a good time to point out that the economy of Italy is actually slightly stronger than that of Russia. That’s without vast reserves of oil, gas, and other natural riches. Living standards are much higher as well. Italy’s main problem is unemployment, which isn’t really related to the hilarious “counter-sanctions,” and when you look at Russia’s minimum and average wages you can clearly see why Russia’s high employment rate isn’t the wonder they’d like you to think it is.

The funny thing about Romanov is how he constantly insists that Western sanctions, aimed at major pillars of the Russian economy and banking system, are useless, while sanctions on foodstuffs from countries which are no longer primarily agricultural are supposed to be devastating. Sure, farmers grumble. That’s what businessmen do. The richest people in America scream about things like food stamps and minimum wage- but does that mean these expenditures are ruining the economy? No, silly libertarians- they aren’t.

An expression in both English and Russian says that if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. All the signs of a new Cold War have long been present and a simple glance out the window at the nasty political weather should convince anyone of that fact.

Well there are a few major factors that are missing. For example, during the Cold War, the US and the USSR were both major military and economic superpowers that maintained a rough parity in many cases. Russia is not such a power and has no hope of attaining that parity with the US, not to mention the enlarged NATO alliance. Russia’s CSTO and “Eurasian Economic Union” are not actual alternatives or equivalents with their Western counterparts, NATO and the EU.

Are you starting to see why it’s so hilarious that people like Romanov relish this idea of a new Cold War, as much as they claim they don’t? They’re likening this to a “war” they lost, when they had a position many times more advantageous than they do now. Imagine it- You train till you’re at your peak condition. You go into the ring with an evenly matched fighter who is as conditioned as you are, who in fact has a light advantage. You lose. So then what do you do? You spend the next year and a half sitting on your sofa eating cookie dough straight out of the tube while smoking three packs a day. Now when you’re considered morbidly obese and just a few pounds away from the point where you’d need an electric scooter to get around- you demand a rematch. Imagine Ivan Drago doing that after he lost in Rocky IV.

The point is that Russia, at the behest of Putin, is deliberately marching into this new Cold War they apparently want (based on polls), because as we know anything less is bending over for the West, and there is absolutely no sign whatsoever to suggest that they have any chance at winning.

You can argue all you like about how much time the regime has left and how rapidly the economy is deteriorating, but it’s going down one way or another. Those things that were supposed to bring hope proved to be fleeting, and in some ways the Russian economy has performed even worse than the predictions earlier this year. This is why some of the most desperate Team Russia expats have had to resort to the saddest sort of mental gymnastics and wishful thinking, such as hoping for “black swan events.”

The real sad part here is that Russia’s only option is to draw down, and yet there’s virtually no way to do that without losing face now. This is what happens when the only way you can prop up your corrupt dictatorship is by running around with your chest all puffed out and practically demanding that NATO responds to your antics. The Russian government could have avoided all this easily if they’d just worked harder to establish rule of law and root out corruption. Hell, they could have just given Medvedev one more term and that might have changed outcomes radically. Medvedev serving a second term as president would, at the very least, help prop up the illusion that Russia isn’t a dictatorship. If Putin wanted to return after that so he could be president for life, he still would have bought himself four years of plausible deniability.

Enough of that though, there’s more fun ahead!

Russia and the West are locked in a war of information and propaganda. Mutual sanctions are in place. Both sides have dramatically increased the number of military exercises. In a return to the past, Russia demonstrates its latest military hardware during Victory Day celebrations and the West strengthens its eastern borders with heavy military equipment.

Again Romanov implies parity where it doesn’t exist. Russia is the one that started this information war crap. The “West’s” media is largely privately owned, and even where it isn’t, it operates on different principles. Do I have to compare Dan Rather’s firing with the “Crucified Boy of Slovyansk” again? Increasing the military exercises is also correct, but NATO’s exercises came months after Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, their pseudo-insurgency in the Donbas, and their constant snap drills and exercises in the Baltic and other regions.

As for Russia’s latest military hardware on display for Victory Day…well…


Also, note how Romanov points out NATO’s strengthening of the eastern borders while totally ignoring the question as to why those heavy NATO forces weren’t stationed there before. We’re constantly told how everything Putin does anywhere is justified by hostile “NATO encirclement,” and yet the hard facts show this just wasn’t the case until Putin decided to play tough guy. Even then, the US army is still cutting its force by 40,000 personnel in the next two years, and they continue to close bases in Europe.

Hell, just look what those “war mongering neo-cons” told their “junta” allies to do when faced with the Russian invasion of the Crimea. Russophobes, the lot of ’em!

The two sides will likely use nuclear blackmail in the current Cold War, although it is almost certain tensions will not escalate to the point of an actual nuclear exchange. However, that “almost” carries considerable danger. As history shows, the risk of human and technical error increases whenever the situation markedly deteriorates. It is therefore unwise to bury our heads in the sand and deny the obvious fact that the current state of affairs is both very serious and dangerous. It is better to confront that truth than to indulge in illusions.

Oh shit! Nukes! Russia’s “n-word!”

I’ve already talked about the question of which side keeps talking about using nuclear weapon. Romanov is using a Russian concern troll tactic that some have called “dismay.”  Here they act like some impartial third party that is observing both sides, and they imply that failing to please Russia’s leadership could lead to nuclear war.

Those who are unwilling to admit the existence of a renewed Cold War argue that the two sides have no irreconcilable ideological differences as the West and the socialist camp did in the past. That is true. However, the free market and democracy are at different stages of development in Russia and the West, and that alone creates a great deal of tension. The primary danger now is rooted in the distant past.

You know this argument about not being at the same stage of development in terms of capitalism and democracy might have had merit as little as three years ago, but it doesn’t now. Readers know I’m not a fan of the free market dogma that dominates the world these days, but the fact is that Russia had plenty of time and plenty of resources to develop in both these spheres. In fact they could have had something much better- a robust welfare state where the vast natural wealth of the country went to the people and not a handful of oligarchs and their friends. Putin and his pals didn’t want that though.

In spite of all this, looking at Western investment and the role it played in creating the stronger Russia of the past decade or so, it’s clear that this disparity in development wasn’t as much of an obstacle as Romanov would have us believe.

Of course, ideological, political, economic and many other factors are important because they either propel the country forward or else hinder its development. But from the standpoint of world history over the centuries, the most important consideration is the place that Peter the Great staked out for Russia during his reign.

Of course he has to invoke Peter the Great. But seriously, pay attention here.

It is that position that primarily defines Russia’s potential even today — and not the tsarist autocracy, the Soviet State Plan or the free market under President Vladimir Putin. And because the “Russian bear” has not changed its stomping grounds over the past decade, shrunk to the size of a gopher or agreed to become the lapdog of the West as happened under former President Boris Yeltsin — and even went so far as to criticize the West beginning with Putin’s famous speech in Munich in 2007 — distrust toward Russia has only grown.

Okay there’s only one way to deal with this idiotic paragraph:

Russia did change its stomping grounds (very appropriate term when it comes to Russia these days), in case Romanov hadn’t noticed. 

Nobody in the West wants Russia to shrink to the size of a gopher. This and everything that would go along with this would be devastating from an economic point of view, and demographic as well, if the current refugee crisis in Europe tells us anything. 

Nobody wanted Russia to become a “lapdog.” Romanov characterizes Russia under Yeltsin in this manner because like all vatniks, he is unable to fathom a relationship that isn’t one of dominant vs. dominated. If Russia isn’t in conflict with the West, it must be a lapdog. It’s worth noting that Russia’s footholds in the Crimea, Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia were all secured under Yeltsin’s “lapdog” regime.

Lastly, Putin’s criticism in 2007 is rather laughable when you consider how much money the West was pouring into his country, raising its living standards. Oh wait! I forgot! That was all just Putin, waving his magic wand! In any case, Putin and his pals were more than happy to store their wealth, and even their children, in the decadent, Russophobic West.

Okay, we made it through that abomination of an argument. Let’s move on; we’re almost done.

Of course, some might argue that Western politicians’ fears are greatly exaggerated because Russia is already burdened with many of its own problems: negative demographics, pervasive corruption and “sovereign democracy” that only slows its development. However, history provides some basis for the West’s “uneasy suspicions.”

After all, Russia has frequently upset the expectations of the West. For example, back in the time of the Peter the Great, who could have imagined that backward Muscovy would become a great world power in a single generation? And who in the West believed that the Soviet experiment could take uneducated masses armed only with wooden shovels and achieve wide-scale industrialization in such a short time?

I’m sorry but this is starting to get embarrassing. Much like the aforementioned “black swan event” arguments, Romanov is forced to resort to the idea that Russia might pull some surprise out of its ass at the last moment, all because some things like that supposedly happened in the past, and therefore they could happen again. Do I really need to point out what’s wrong with this, from a historical perspective? Yes. Yes I do.

In the case of Peter the Great, he benefited from several factors in the late 17th century. You’ve got the exhaustion of Sweden, the aftermath of the Thirty Years War prior to that. The peak and beginning of decline for the Ottoman Empire after Vienna in 1683. You’ve got everything that happened in the steppe during the Cossack rebellion, including Poland suffering some key defeats.

Probably the biggest factor was the fact that in those days, Europe was full of warring states, empires, and principalities like those that made up what is now Germany. Constant wars and their effects created exhaustion which could be taken advantage of. This is not the case in Europe today. Most of Europe is united in a military and economic alliance. What part isn’t- would easily side with that if it came down to NATO vs. Russia.

As for the Soviet success in industrialization, Romanov of course attributes it all to Russia and Moscow, ignoring the role played by non-Russian Soviet republics. More importantly, the USSR was granted a bit of breathing space by the general weakness of Europe and especially Eastern Europe at the time. Even then, the wars or constant threat of wars had a heavy influence on the USSR, stoking paranoia and spurring a policy of rapid industrialization at all costs, with lethal results. Of course all of this is irrelevant because the USSR collapsed.

Where is the guarantee that post-Soviet Russia will not similarly surprise the West? After all, Russians have not only refused to buckle under the weight of Western sanctions, but have rallied around their leader even more enthusiastically.

How does the fact that millions of people, whose only source of information in many cases is state-run media, claim to support their president compare to the USSR industrializing in such a short period? Large segments of the American population think that Obama is a Kenyan socialist Muslim. Is anything terribly surprising about the presence of horribly misinformed people in large numbers? In any case, what would it matter if the majority didn’t express approval towards Putin? They can’t elect someone else and the media would just call them filthy liberal fifth columnists anyway.

Of course the far large issue here is that Romanov apparently forgot that the sanctions were never aimed at getting the Russian people to rise up against their leaders. This was the mistaken idea behind past sanctions regimes, ones like that in Iraq which led to the death of as many as 1.5 million people, mostly elderly and children. By contrast, these are targeted sanctions aimed largely at men who attained great wealth and superior status at the expense of their own people, and the various banks and corporations they head. One major thing they do is prevent access to the West’s markets whether its hiding stolen wealth in banks or obtaining credit.

Think about that for a second. According to people like Romanov, the West needs to wake up and let Russia’s corrupt businessmen continue doing business in the West, continue storing their money their, and continue borrowing from their banks. If not, then they are being aggressive, counter-productive, and attempting to break the Russian people. As if men like Yakunin, Timchenko, or the Rotenberg brothers have anything in common with “the Russian people.”

Nah I get it, Pyotr. You’ve been over this before. Major financial sanctions on Russia’s most important banks and industry are useless, but the food embargo is devastating for countries with far higher living standards than Russia.

Getting back to Romanov’s warning of a surprise, he’s half-right. There’s no guarantee, per se. What there is, however, is a constant, consistent disadvantage on Russia’s side compared to NATO and the US. Economic, military, ideologically- all across the board. There’s basically no indicator whatsoever that we can look at and say, “Well, if Russia sinks all its efforts into this, they might have a chance.” Hell, even if by some miracle the US is knocked out by a meteor, this would also be devastating for Russia, which has invested heavily in US Treasury bonds. Even if they “win,” they lose.

“But BRICS!” the poor Team Russia pundits cry. No, no sweetheart. China’s not your buddy. They’re not running a charity to give Putin a do-over after 15 years of robbing his country and pissing away all its potential.

Get back to me when the ruble is around 45 to the dollar again.

I could end this here, but his finale shouldn’t be missed.

Is it true, as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once conjectured before the United Nations, that only an alien invasion could speed up a rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia?

Or could we somehow manage it ourselves without any meddling by Martians?

First of all, we know Romanov’s solution to all this. Give up the sanctions (which are totally harmless! Even helpful!), recognize the Crimean annexation, and tacitly let Russia exercise influence in various sovereign countries that used to be part of the USSR. Apart from that, the West is to avoid any criticism over human rights in Russia, and look the other way while its leadership robs its people blind as it has done pretty much since 1991. At the same time, the West must also open its banks, universities, borders, and real estate markets to Russia’s wealthy elite, while Western businessmen aren’t assured the same kind of property protection in Russia. Again, this is the only relationship vatniks can imagine. Someone has to take it- dominant and dominated.

But what about that alien invasion? Oh never mind you that! If that were to happen while the current Kremlin regime is in power, you can be sure that the Russian state media will blame the alien invasion on the US, run documentaries about how the invasion is a false-flag and the aliens are actually mutants created in American GMO laboratories for the sole purpose of destroying Russia. Of course the aliens might not take a liking to the Russian propaganda against them, and the space pundits they brought with them will most likely respond with the mantra:

“Koorrr’aaaax fhlagle hogarrrragh blix toxiu n’gah mareepa kaween’aaa habaquinoto sagreepa ‘nyaghan’ha?!”  

Which in their language means:

“Who are you humans to judge us? What about global climate change, destruction of habitats, World Wars, religious persecution, and millions of starving children?!”

What part of DON’T PANIC did you not understand?

Okay so check out the subheadline of this article.

The likelihood of Putin moves on Baltics and Central Europe is uncomfortably high.

No. No it’s not, actually. I can’t stand these neo-Cold Warriors who believe that they are resolutely defending Ukraine and democracy more than anyone, while in fact what they are doing is precisely what Putin needs them to do- run around like a scared chicken so his media can tell his vatniy base that the West is afraid of big bad Russia. That’s what all this Ukraine business and all those snap military drills and air patrols are about.

Putin, unable to make good on his so-called May promises among many others, is desperate for an external threat to excuse his failures. The problem is, that for the past few years the US has been getting out of Europe. In fact, that’s still happening to some extent. It’s even in this article too, though it uses this fact to explain why Putin is supposedly being so bold, an assessment I highly disagree with. Those hawkish types who want to see a big military buildup (without actually using these forces to help Ukraine) are essentially giving Putin precisely what he needs.

Another irritating thing about these big bad Russia articles is that they always let Western governments off the hook for creating the Frankenstein’s monster that is Putin’s current regime. Take a look:

There can be no denying that Europe’s overall military weakness has played a role in Russia’s calculus, not only during the annexation of Crimea and the escalation in Donbas but already in its 2008 war against Georgia, Putin’s first direct challenge to the normative security order, albeit not yet in Europe itself. Simply put: Weakness invites further aggression.

Bullshit. I’ll tell you what played a role in this- capitalism and the free-market-as-god ideology is what created this problem. For over a decade, even today to some extent, Western governments happily turned a blind eye as corrupt businessmen and oligarchs around Putin squirreled ill-gotten gains away in Western banks and real estate abroad. Meanwhile the West was happy to invest money in Russia and still does in spite of the massive capital flight as of late. Our globalized world is ruled by the idea that the market should decide everything, and as it turns out the market decided in favor of Russia for several years while oil prices were high.

The other problematic part of that passage is this idea about “weakness” inviting further aggression. It suggests that some countries, particularly Russia, could only be dealt with by force. This totally ignores the Russia-NATO cooperation of the 2000’s, or the fact that Russia was a founding member of US CENTCOM after 9/11. If weakness invites aggression, where do we draw the line when it comes to countries we should be “strong” with? How can we trust Canada not to invade us while we’re downsizing our military? Weakness invites aggression!

Then it just gets worse:

Putin has been successful in moving forward with his project to reestablish a sphere of Russia’s privileged interest in Eastern Europe in large part because the Western response has been weak and contradictory. 

Okay but why is that response weak and contradictory? The reason has to do with capitalism. Russia’s a big market, a lucrative investment opportunity. Every time you hear opposition to sanctions in Europe, where is it typically coming from? Businessmen. That’s the main argument you hear coming from inside and outside of Russia- the sanctions are bad for business, Indeed, I believe wholeheartedly that what the two sides really want is a detente where Putin will be assured the supremacy of his regime in Moscow and the EU will eventually be allowed to continue integration with Ukraine. Right now they’re stuck at an impasse and don’t know how to achieve this without saving face. If they could, no doubt we’d go back to where we were a few years ago as dirty money flows out of Russia and Western money flows in.

To use a term coined by my good friend at The Russian Avos, the Kremlin takes advantage of “the rot.” The rot is partly the corruption in Russia, and partly the amoral, market-dominated neoliberal capitalism of the West. Both are steeped in cynicism. Many years ago, at a time when NATO/Russian cooperation was robust, the West could have made a stand with Putin. This is not to say a show of force or something overtly hostile, just a cold dose of reality. They could have informed him that they weren’t going to serve as shelters for laundered money and real estate. That he would have to transform his country into a functioning democracy with rule of law, but most importantly, that they would help him do this. But that didn’t happen because instead, the West and their Russian partners were growing fat and happy off of each other’s money.

Let’s continue:

But without significant military assistance to Ukraine to arm its military, Russia can contemplate its next steps at leisure, whether that’s another move in Ukraine or stirring up ethnic tensions in the Baltics, either keeping current semi-frozen conditions in place or choosing to escalate.

This is false, Russia cannot do anything “at it’s leisure” given the economic situation it is in and the fact that as it is right now, it is forced to prop up both quasi-states in eastern Ukraine. Escalation means more money, more dead soldiers, more deserters, and more sanctions. Of course the author doesn’t seem to consider this as they go on to write this:

“The risk of a war in Europe is greater today than it was a year ago because the allies have not used the time since the Wales summit to send an unequivocal message of reinforcement and deterrence along NATO’s Russian flank. Putin is still confident the game of escalation and de-escalation is his to play.

It is ultimately academic to try to second-guess Putin’s ultimate goals, and debate whether he will be satisfied with the current territorial gains in Ukraine or move further.”

This totally ignores the fact that Putin is an opportunist who can only think tactically, not strategically. He pulled this stunt in Ukraine because he could. He could have pushed further, at least maintaining the front around Sloviansk in June. Seeing as how at that point no one among his opponents believed that this was a local uprising, he could have said “fuck it” and used his troops to prop up the fight on that line. Instead he let the rebels flee and then trickled his forces in to stave off total defeat. If Putin were stupid enough to escalate, he would escalate in Ukraine, not against NATO member states. This would probably be a strike against Mariupol aimed at creating a land-bridge to the Crimea. This is the only territorial gain that actually holds some potential value.

Attacking NATO is something Putin cannot afford to do. For one thing all those NATO members in which he has friends will have to take a side. That means Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria, etc. That also means an inevitable, visible military defeat, complete with footage of burnt out Russian tanks lining the highways and hundreds of dead within a few days. This is something he cannot afford. Russia has lost very few military personnel in Ukraine but the scandal is such that it has caused dozens of contract soldiers to risk prison and desert.

Of course it doesn’t even have to go that far. Plenty of talk from Russian politicians and ministers reveals that they are extremely concerned about the prospect of being cut off from SWIFT. This would almost certainly happen if they tried to acquire more territory in Ukraine, not to speak of the Baltic countries. If you’re afraid of sanctions, and Russia clearly is despite their claims to the contrary, you’re not going to risk going to war with pretty much all of Europe, the USA, and Canada. Moreover, that kind of war entails strategic thinking, and again, Putin is tactical, not strategic.

So once again we have another chicken-little article that seems like it ought to be sponsored by the defense industry if not the Kremlin itself. It will most likely be picked up by some pro-Kremlin source somewhere, and shown as proof of either A: “The neocon hawks plot war against Russia!” or B: “Look how the West trembles at the rising Russian superpower!” Either is bad.

Look, folks, the Kremlin spends a lot of money on propaganda. You don’t have to do their work for them. What the author seems to be pushing for, a Cold War style build up of forces as a “deterrent,” is precisely what Putin’s regime needs.

We don’t care about your sanctions! Hey, where are you going? Come back! Aren’t you AFRAID of us?

Hey everyone! Remember Pyotr Romanov? Of course you do! He’s the one who told us all kinds of fairy tales about how Russians believe in justice without laws, and how they’ll happily endure any hardship when they think they’re right, as with the annexation of the Crimea. He told us sanctions were useless, but also passive-aggressively suggested that the West remove them, because supposedly the same people who will endure any hardship don’t like “unnecessary troubles.”  Well guess what- because there never seems to be a Bolshevik firing squad around when you need one, Romanov is back with another hilarious article in The Moscow Times.  And this time, he’s upset.

A Russian friend who relocated to London a few years ago responded to a comment I made on Facebook concerning the start of the Cold War. With self-satisfied irony he wrote: “To be honest, the West does not really care much about Russia.”

How strange! Of course, it is very possible that his British neighbors and friends are too preoccupied with their house, lawn, car, children, dentist, etc. to worry about a Cold War with Russia.

Pyotr is dumbfounded at the idea that Westerners, Britons in this case, don’t care about Russia, much less a Cold War with Russia. This is because as is typical for his ilk, he imagines that Russia is this incredibly important center of global civilization. In reality, even now with Russia in the news every night, most Westerners, including Americans, simply do not care about Russia. If this weren’t true, my email and message inboxes would be jam-packed with messages, full of questions about what is going on in Russia. Guess what- they aren’t. Even close friends and family members rarely ask me anything about this country, even during international crises like the present one. There’s a reason why RT barely got any viewers back in its early days when it was actually about life in Russia. It’s the same reason why the all-time record for most views in a single day on this blog was, by far, a satirical post about Gamergate. People in the West just don’t give a shit about Russia.

They haven’t given a shit since 1991. This is because the conflict which existed between the West and Russia during the Cold War was an ideological conflict, whereas your modern Russian pseudo-intellectual wants to believe there is some kind of eternal East/West divide that drives the conflict. Or I should say it is a Russia/West divide, since these same Russians certainly don’t want to be associated with Chinese, Arabs, or any of the other dozen or so groups they harbor prejudices against. Perhaps they are reluctant to admit it was an ideological conflict because doing so would be an admission that they betrayed that ideology and were thus responsible for the state of their country today- a major no-no for your average “patriotic” Russian these days. That, however, is a topic for another article.

What the reader must understand is that Romanov’s friend, by pointing out an obvious fact, shook Romanov’s little world to its foundations. There is nothing more devastating you can say to someone like him than reminding him that the West not only isn’t afraid of Russia, but that it doesn’t even care. For Romanov and many Russians, they will indeed live in utter shit, with no rights under a government that so clearly has nothing but contempt for them, so long as they have this idea that they are either making someone else miserable, such as the Ukrainians, or that they are feared by someone, such as the Americans or Europeans. Just like an angsty teenager, any attention is good attention, and Romanov and his ilk possess minds which do not develop beyond the level of teens. The tantrum doesn’t take long to begin.

But what will happen tomorrow when the average Westerner finally realizes that his whole life — his house, children, car and even his dentist — is under threat? What thoughts will run through his head when he comes to understand that the politicians he elected behaved in such an unfriendly way toward Russia that the Russian politicians elected by the people of this country made equally unfriendly moves in response? And that everything simply went downhill from there?

Gee Pyotr, I don’t know how to answer that because all those things aren’t under threat from your basketcase, corrupt nation run by thieves, con-men, and imbeciles. Petey, sweetheart, we’ve been over this road before, remember? You continue to lie to your people as reality starts to cave in on them on all sides. Eventually people get fed up and demand change. The system collapses, people start stealing, then some slick, authoritarian figure promises he can give you stability so long as everyone is willing to give up their freedom. You make that bargain, agreeing with him that your nation’s last failure was all the West’s fault. They imposed Putin on you; he was doing the Americans’ bidding! Then your new leader, unable to deliver on his many promises because he only sought power so as to be in the best position to rob your nation blind, begins shrieking about the evil West more and more. This shrieking builds up to aggressive foreign policy designed to provoke the West, Russia gets isolated again, and the cycle begins a new. Some people just aren’t fast learners.  It might happen next year, or it could be two or three years away. How long is unimportant; a state so disconnected from reality is living on borrowed time.

Now this is a bit of an aside, but I love how he talks about these different nations, the collective “West” and Russia, electing their leaders. In the West, leaders change. In Russia, according to the government’s own claims, their country has produced just one qualified national leader in 25 years. One. There is only one person who can actually run Russia, otherwise the whole thing falls apart over night. All of Russia’s natural resources are given to America in exchange for cheeseburgers, and all Russian citizens instantly become homosexuals, thus utterly ending Russian reproduction and by extension, the Russian people as a whole.  No, Pyotr, we’re not dealing with equals here.

Anyway, terribly upset that those decadent, well-to-do Westerners aren’t shaking in their boots about Russia, Romanov turns to passive-aggressive threats, the Russian pseudo-intellectual’s weapon of choice.

Ordinary citizens remain calm because of the simple fact that they typically do not know the full picture — nor do they try to know it. It is easier to live that way. Just the same, it is time to wake up and recognize what is happening. This is no Hollywood blockbuster unfolding outside our windows, but a force majeure of international proportions. True, it is not the first that the world has experienced, but knowing what hardships previous conflicts have brought to mankind should motivate us to try to prevent any more from occurring.

First of all, Mr. Romanov, if you’re so concerned about a massive military conflict, lobby your government to end its support for armed insurgents in Ukraine, and its illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula.  Oh wait, that’s right, you can’t, at least not if you want to keep your job, stay out of jail, or not get beaten by masked thugs outside your apartment building one night.

In fact, the world began living under the real threat of nuclear war long before the Cuban Missile Crisis, although that confrontation was one of the most dangerous moments of the first Cold War. And fortunately for mankind, sensible politicians always emerged who could put a stop to the ambitions of the warmongers.

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen. As is typical for this sort of Russian, he brings up nuclear weapons, as though that’s going to make a difference. The USSR had plenty of nukes, none of which saved it from destruction. Russia’s nukes won’t save it either, especially because nuclear missiles aren’t edible. Romanov, in spite of being a “historian,” doesn’t seem to be familiar with the concept of “mutually assured destruction.” If Russia launches its nuked, Russia is destroyed forever, with far less probability of survival due to its poorer infrastructure and much lower population. China might also flip a few nukes at Russia for attacking its most valuable trade partner, and to help secure whatever land it can in Siberia.  Of course, it would be difficult to tell exactly which parts of Russia got nuked and which did not, as the difference wouldn’t be clear in some areas of the country, but that is unimportant.

Pyotr, stop talking about nuclear weapons. Nobody is afraid of your country’s nukes. Nobody is afraid of your country beyond a few former Soviet republics. If your delusional president ever presses that button, everything you have will be gone. Your dacha, and all your precious jars of pickles will be reduced to radioactive ashes. RADIOACTIVE ASHES!  Seriously, shut the fuck up.

Romanov’s second idiotic article demonstrates the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t nature of trying to communicate with Russian supporters of the state. If you acknowledge that relations are bad and there’s a new Cold War, then you’re engaging in aggression against Russia. If  you don’t, they agitate and rail against the West until people start reacting, and then that just proves their original claims. One should ask, what does Romanov want when he says Westerners should care about his precious new Cold War? Should they band together and take a more resolute stance against Russia? Oh no, of course not! Russia has nukes, remember! No, what they should do, if Romanov’s previous article is any indication, is give in to Russia and let it do what it wants. To use Putin’s metaphor, leave the bear alone in the forest to eat berries, honey, and do some other assorted Winnie the Pooh-style shit.

The problem with that idea is that it implies that Russia was just minding its own business when the aggressive West came in and started slapping sanctions on Russia for no reason. Reality is quite the opposite. For years the West turned a blind eye to Putin and his cronies. Western capital flowed into Russia and Russia’s oligarchs stowed their ill-gotten wealth in Cyprus, the UK, France, and the US. Of course as the consequences of this system continued to mount, the state ramped up its anti-Western rhetoric, which usually went ignored back when times were good. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, the Western response was still too apathetic. Ukraine’s Maidan movement was an embarrassment to the Kremlin, but it brought a double opportunity- win back local support and pick a fight with the West. Nobody can deny that this new Cold War has benefited Putin, at least in the short term. It’s also the nail in the coffin for Russia, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

The moral of this story is that the best defense against Putin’s Russia is not the fear-mongering of Edward Lucas; that only pleases people like Romanov and the other Putin hacks out there. Rather it is best remaining calm and collected, always reminding people like Romanov how insignificant his country really is.  As a good friend of mine used to put it, there are people in provincial Russia who will think about America several times in one day. They know that there is a place called Kentucky. By contrast, there are millions of Americans in major cities like Chicago, LA, New York, or Boston, who go days without ever thinking about Russia. None of them know that there’s a place inside the Russian Federation called Bashkortostan, and few of them could name another Russian city besides Moscow. It’s not that they’re horribly uneducated either. It’s simply that they don’t care, and they’ve never had to care.

Romanov needs to understand that while all his home-spun delusions are really meaningful to him, in the eyes of most of the world Russia is essentially a laughing stock at worst, and at best a wacky, crazy land where up is down and cats chase dogs. It is not mysterious or enigmatic. It is simple.  More than that, people like him must be reminded that this sad state of affairs, which was by no means always the case for Russia and certainly doesn’t need to be, is in fact the fault of people like him. It’s not the Americans, the Jews, the Masons, the British, the fifth column or the sixth column. It’s people like him, with their utter lack of ethics and principles, their laziness, their immaturity, their envy, and their hatred.  People like Romanov must be reminded every day how much richer Russia would be without them.

You have had 25 years to make something of this vast, rich country. Instead you have run it into the ground. Obviously you are unable to handle the responsibility. In the words of Oliver Cromwell, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Sky News

I was rather pleased with my first appearance as a talking head on Sky news today. The topic was the question of what threat Russia poses to NATO and its other neighbors, particularly in light of events covered in this article about Russian incursions into foreign airspace. My main antagonist was Edward “Oh God the Russians are Coming to Get US!” Lucas,  who thinks that the West needs to pose a tougher response to Russia, though he didn’t specify what he had in mind beyond reinforcing certain small NATO states such as Poland and the Baltic countries. Now I felt that I fared well against the obviously more sound bite friendly Lucas, and thus I didn’t think this topic merited a blog post of its own.  But then I checked out Lucas’ site, and found that he posted this:

Nemo me impune lacessit!

Nemo me impune lacessit!

Complacency-monger? Did you call me a complacency-monger? You totally did! And… Well… Actually that’s not really that bad, monging complacency. I’ve certainly been called worse. Better to be a complacency-monger than a panic-monger. Speaking of panic mongers…

Prior to today’s discussion I did a little homework on Lucas and found that he has a background of work and education in the Baltic countries and Poland. Right away I grasped the source of his paranoia about Russia. During the discussion, Lucas was clearly espousing the views of the Baltic countries and most likely Poland as well. As I managed to point out, countries such as the US, UK, Germany, and France cannot base their strategic aims and interests off of the perspective of these nations. Let me be clear- I’m not making any comparison between the current situation and the Second World War, but in regards to the latter it has generally been considered a grave mistake of the British to make a late stand in favor of Poland. As Sir Basil Liddell Hart wrote, this put Britain’s fate in the hands of a government that was not connected to reality. Granted, modern Poland is not the quasi-fascist interwar Poland with dreams of an empire “between the seas,” but these states cannot be allowed to determine the policies of NATO leaders nonetheless.

Lucas very adeptly moves between conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine toward hypothetical ones in the Baltic region. The obvious implication is that if Putin has supposedly got away with murder in Ukraine, he’ll move on to  the Baltic next. Of course he ignored one very important distinction- all of the countries Russia has attacked or interfered in militarily are non-NATO countries. Putin’s Russia is opportunist; it attacks when it can get away with it. And unlike all those previous conflicts, in Ukraine Russia didn’t get away with it.  It managed to grab the Crimea, but it’s obvious it will choke on that. It’s also clear that the initial sanctions gave the Kremlin pause about openly supporting or recognizing the separatist territories in the Donbas region.  The world response is also one reason why the Kremlin said it “respects,” but does not recognize the recent elections held in those territories. It’s actually quite pathetic when you watch Russia’s leaders squirm. At home they’re crowing about how powerful they’ve made Russia and how they are defending the “Russkiy Mir”(Russian world). Yet at the very same time they are crying foul, swearing up and down that they haven’t been supporting the “Russkiy Mir” at all.  Ordinary people, even those who support the government, surely cannot help but wonder why a government which supposedly does not care what the West thinks about its actions cannot simply come out in the open and say, “Yes, we are supporting Novorossiya! What are you going to do about it?”

This originally jingoistic political cartoon has been hilariously made over so as to present a more accurate picture of current events. The American eagle is telling the bear to stay out of Ukraine, and the bear is saying: "No, these are all local people! They bought all this gear themselves! Let's be peaceful! etc. etc."

This originally jingoistic political cartoon has been hilariously made over so as to present a more accurate picture of current events. The American eagle is talking about the Russian army being in Ukraine, and the bear is saying: “No, these are all local people! They bought all this gear themselves! Let’s be peaceful! etc. etc.”

None of this seems to faze Lucas however. He was unfazed when I explained that the best service any Westerner can render the Kremlin is to show fear of Russia, acknowledge her as a superpower, and treat her like a credible threat. There are basically two kinds of people who do that- people who actually work for pro-Kremlin media, and people like Lucas. I think his shortcoming in this respect comes from a lack of knowledge about Russian culture. I would think that most British people want the world to see the UK in a positive light, not the bloodthirsty Victorian empire of the past.  Americans might be a little more inclined to see their nation viewed as being strong, but not necessarily belligerent, aggressive, or domineering. Even conservatives will balk at such implications; if they support aggressive military action around the world, these people always propose it as something absolutely necessary, or they ask who else will do it if not the US.  In Russia, especially as of late, a common desire of many is for Russia to be feared, especially by Americans. It is almost impossible to explain to people here how not only do Americans not fear Russia, but in fact they don’t even think about Russia at all, at least nowhere near as vice versa.

Lucas simply doesn’t understand how furiously many Kremlin-supporters and Russophiles will fap to his fear-mongering over Russia. Putin supposedly lifted Russia from her knees and made her a world superpower again. Lucas agrees. There you have it! A Western “Russophobe,” clearly not a biased Kremlin supporter, says that Putin has indeed transformed Russia into a world superpower! Objective evidence of Putin’s leadership! Lucas even said that Putin is “winning.” I guarantee you if anyone at Russia Today had been listening to that statement, they would have needed a change of pants afterward.

Yes, Russia’s war games, passive aggressive as they are, do constitute a safety issue. Contrary to what Lucas implies, nobody is suggesting that the West do nothing about this. A civilian airliner nearly had a midair collision with a Russian reconnaissance plane; something must be done about that. Western leaders would do well not to play Putin’s game, however. Like a teenager acting up in class in hopes of getting a rise out of the teacher, Putin is falling back on the only currency he has left, i.e. the erroneous notion that he is opposing the “West.”

Lastly, if Russia is to be a threat to the Baltic, we must ask what sort of threat. Invasion? With what can he invade? The Russian army is still horribly plagued with corruption and abuse more appropriately associated with life in prison than in the military.  While Lucas warns us about the coming of the Eastern horde, I’m remembering the stories of people I know who actually served in the Russian army, and how they told me non-combat personnel are lucky if they fire more than 5 live rounds from an AK-74M. He’s imagining tanks rolling into Tallinn and I’m remembering the horrible images of Russian conscripts being tormented by their own fellow soldiers which have been burned into my brain. These photos and videos, few of them safe for work and all of them shot by the perpetrators themselves as they have no fear of punishment, circulate freely throughout the Russian internet.

Mr. Lucas, if anyone should be afraid right now it is I, and yet I manage to get by somehow. You may take solace in my assurance that I have not seen nor heard any massive tank columns crawling through Moscow on their way to invade your precious Estonia or Poland.  The Russian army is a far bigger threat to its own soldiers than the forces of NATO. Apart from Ukraine, the only other country Putin is truly threatening is Russia itself. Now if you will excuse me, it’s time to go out and monger some complacency.

"The essence of the Russian army in one photo."

“The essence of the Russian army in one photo.”

The news sucks

Gee, I wonder what news there is from Russia today? Oh shit, it’s the same headlines we’ve been reading for fucking months now!

There’s a new Cold War! 

Wow! How original! And this time it comes from former Soviet leader Gorbachev, no less! This somehow makes it far more relevant than the other 12.6 million “Oh shit it’s a new Cold War” articles dating back to the early 2000’s or something.

Putin and Merkel bla bla bla….

Merkel whines about Russian involvement in Ukraine without considering her own country’s previous interference in Ukrainian politics.  Putin whines and pretends that Germany and all those European countries are under the control of the US. Of course he’s just looking out for the interests and human rights of the Donetskian Novorossiyan people, but he’s definitely not actually doing anything to support their cause. That’s just Western propaganda to justify their sanctions!

Oh no! China and Russia are getting closer together!

Our first story concerns claims that China and Russia are “considering” building a Moscow-Beijing high-speed railway line. First of all, Russia “considers” a lot of things. They’ve been considering this phantom electronic payments system for years now. Or perhaps they’ve been thinking about it but they need six months to develop it. Oh no wait, it’s already built, it just needs to be switched on. You’ll see! You’ll all see!

Second, let me explain exactly what will happen if this actually gets off the ground. Basically within the first phase of the project, the Chinese will get their part of the railway line in place, probably on schedule.  Sure, some bureaucrats will try to skim money off the budget; China is not immune to problems of corruption. But China also has a decent go-to remedy for corruption known as jail time. China will do its part because China gets shit done. That’s why China doesn’t lecture the world about “spiritual values” and other pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

Anyway, the wonderful project will suddenly run into major problems, coincidentally on the Russian side of the border.  Timetables will go awry, budgets shall runneth over many times. Lord help Russia if any significant portion of that missing money comes from the Chinese side.  As this article points out, China isn’t going to go running to some arbitration court if the Russian government tries to pull the kind of shenanigans it does with other foreign investors and domestic businessmen.

This is precisely what the media and the pro-Kremlin Russophiles simply don’t understand about the relationship between Russia and China. First of all, in many of these trade deals China is paying in dollars, not rubles. Secondly, assuming China invests in Russia to replace the massive capital flight from that country, they will expect results. The Kremlin can talk about seizing foreign assets of Western businesses all it likes, but what’s it going to do when it’s China’s money on the line?  There is no “China-Moscow” alliance; it is only China sensing Russia’s weakness and setting up its pieces for the kill.  Don’t believe me? Check out the other “Oh no China and Russia” story:

China Embraces a Russia Cut off From Western Capital

Yeah, embraces.

From the article:

The deepening ties between Russia and China may reverberate throughout East Asia as Putin meets his neighbor’s desire for state-of-the-art weaponry. Russia is likely to sign contracts for the delivery of S-400 missile systems and Su-35 fighter jets to China as early as the first quarter of next year, says Vasily Kashin, a China expert at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow. Russia may also supply China with its newest submarine, the Amur 1650, he says.

Xie xie, tongzhi! Zhe hao! That means that China’s PLA will know all about Russia’s best weapons, and possibly be fielding more of those weapons than the Russian armed forces themselves, seeing as how Russia’s military modernization program has turned out to be a big bust. So I’m terribly sorry but the Moscow-Beijing Axis just isn’t happening. Sorry, Eurasianist dipshits. Sorry, Cold Warrior chicken littles.

And so that’s your news from this part of the world this week. Stay tuned for updates next week, when some other expert warns of a new Cold War, Putin cries about sanctions while simultaneously claiming that they are totally ineffective, and various pundits warn of a Sino-Russian Red Dawn-style invasion of the West Coast.  In other words, same bullshit, different day.

Difficult questions

So I’m a bit late to the party due to the other stories I’ve been working on recently, but in case you haven’t heard, a new law was passed in Russia requiring those who want to use public Wi-Fi services to show their passport and their personal data is to be recorded. Apparently there are some questions as to how this is actually supposed to work, but we’re not talking about a government known for carefully thinking things through.

Of course many of Russia’s bloggers collectively shit a massive brick over the measure, but the Communications Minister calmed their fears with a well-timed lie when he tweeted, “Identification of users (via bank cards, cell phone numbers, etc.) with access to public Wifi is a worldwide practice.” I’ve been to a great deal of European countries, Turkey, and China and I don’t remember going through anything like that just to use public Wifi.  But this is Russia and he said that is the case so that makes it reality.

Now you might ask why this measure is necessary? Luckily the Reuters article gives us an answer. It quotes a Duma deputy who said, “It’s about security. An information war is under way. Anonymous access to the Internet in public areas allows illegal activities to be carried out with impunity.” Sadly he didn’t say what illegal activities he was talking about.

The “information war” he’s referring to is a paranoid fantasy which resides in the heads of Russian ideologues and their followers. Many of them believe that the US military has offices set up in which Russian-speaking personnel post negative comments about Russia all over the Russian web. Those in the know are fully aware that this is a massive case of projection.  Believers in the “information war” are very concerned about propaganda attacks on Russia. For example, a CIA agent could spread a story claiming that Russia doesn’t respect people’s rights to free expression, in spite of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and that the government is trying to deliberately limit the flow of information into the country so as to better control people. Preposterous I know, but that’s the kind of vicious propaganda which people could be exposed to if they are not properly controlled by their natural betters.

Of course this brings up something I shall call a “difficult question” for lack of a more suitable term. Difficult questions can be used to describe those questions which arise from the ridiculously contradictory nature of claims or ideas put forth by the government. No government can exist without creating them, but more effective, responsive, democratic regimes create less, while more exploitative, repressive regimes have a laundry list. Using the current difficult question as a starting point, I’d like to present a few other salient examples.

-If Russia must censor its media and internet in various ways because it is in an information war, why is it that its opponents,  such as the US, Canada, UK, etc. don’t feel the need to do this? Both the US and UK have their own Russia Today bureaus. I’ve never heard of people needing to submit any kind of identification in order to use public Wifi in these countries. Perhaps Russia must take these measures because it is at an extreme disadvantage by comparison. But then that begs the question…

-If Russia has supposedly risen from her knees and the West is crumbling and falling apart, if Russia has truly achieved parity, why would it be at such a disadvantage that it can’t allow its citizens the same rights that its chosen opponents allow their own citizens? Clearly the US government is not afraid that Americans watching RT poses a threat to stability. Is Russia truly able to stand on the same level as the US or not? If not, why not?

-If Western propaganda is totally false and most Russians support the government, why would they be tricked by that propaganda? Again, Western states don’t seem to be too worried that RT or Voice of Russia might corrupt their citizens and encourage them toward illegal anti-government activity.

-If claims about censorship and lack of free speech in Russia are just Western propaganda, why do we see so many proposals to ban and censor everything from TV channels to websites and individual films? Team Russia fans, even those who haven’t spent any time in Russia, will viciously attack claims that the Russian government doesn’t respect the concept of free expression. Yet whenever they are faced with a government initiative to ban something, they are always quick to provide a flimsy excuse as to why this particular thing must be banned.

-If Russia truly is getting stronger, why is it necessary for increased security measures and a crackdown on innocuous activity such as using public WiFi?

-If Russia’s press isn’t totally controlled, why don’t we see mainstream discussion in opposition to these measures? What I mean is if we consider the revelations of Snowden, for example, it isn’t hard to find dozens of media outlets discussing the implications of what he revealed, and there is a national discourse about the danger posed not by Snowden’s actions but by the government spying on US citizens. Where is the mainstream debate about this? Who is Russia’s Glenn Greenwald or Seymour Hersh? I mean this is a free society right?Claims to the contrary are nothing but dastardly Western propaganda, right?

-If it’s just fine that Russia gets cut off from the West and it doesn’t need the European Union, why was it cuddling up to the EU for years? Why were they still trying to negotiate a visa-free regime with the EU even in early 2014? Why were they trying to attract EU investment and why were Russia’s elite buying real estate and doing so much business in Europe?  If Russia was supposed to be some great rival to “Western hegemony,” why were its leaders and businessmen handing so much of Russia’s natural wealth over to the West? They claim they can replace the West with China, but why weren’t they doing this for the last 8-10 years or so, while they were supposedly opposing the West?

-If Europe is a land of degeneracy, why does the son of traditional values advocate and Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina live in Belgium with his own business there? Why do they send their impressionable children to the degenerate West, as Lavrov did with his daughter. Is he not afraid that she will be corrupted by the cosmopolitan, tolerant, gay-friendly atmosphere of New York City?

-If the uprising in “Novorossiya” is so popular, why haven’t we seen any kind of guerrilla activity in areas recaptured by the Ukrainian government forces? We’re told these are bloodthirsty Banderites who oppress Russian speakers, and yet nobody seems to be taking pot-shots at their personnel in the rear, nor sabotaging their equipment.

-Why does the government or its lackeys claim to care about the protection and defense of Russian speakers in East Ukraine, while simultaneously insisting that it hasn’t given the rebels any material support of any kind? It is this state’s media that claims these people are in danger of being exterminated by fascists, and yet at the same time it proclaims to the world that it is doing nothing to help those who are fighting against them. That’s a bit odd, is it not?

Obviously this list could go on and on. As it turns out, when you lie to people and you don’t bother to carefully construct those lies so as to make them at least somewhat believable, you end up painting yourself into this corner because they all compound on one another with frightening rapidity. This is particularly the case when the audience you’re telling those lies to can still easily find the truth, assuming they don’t know it already. Right now Russia’s on a jingoism binge so millions of people are deliberately suppressing their own personal knowledge and experience regarding the things they have seen and those which they see every day. Of course people can only put up with a limited amount of cognitive dissonance. No doubt many insta-patriots are asking themselves similar questions to those posed here, and as the battle for Novorossiya is quickly becoming a total route in spite of Ukraine’s near-failed state status, those difficult questions are going to multiply quite quickly.