Tag Archives: corruption

So You Live in a Dictatorship Part III: Impunity

So recent domestic news has compelled me to write another entry in a series I dubbed “So You Live in a Dictatorship” (see the category list on the side bar for previous entries). Since it’s been a long time since the last entry in the series, let me recap it’s purpose. Since the election of Donald Trump, many Americans seem to be reeling from the new normal of politics. Well what seems novel for you isn’t for those of us who have lived under real dictatorships. Therefore using my experience from living under the Putin regime, I decided to help my fellow Americans understand what to expect as the tactics of foreign authoritarian kleptocratic dictators become commonplace in American politics. You’re welcome for my service.

Given the nature of the news cycle these days and the sheer amount of idiocy it brings on a daily basis, you might have either missed this particular item or perhaps you heard about it, rolled your eyes, and braced yourself for the next scandal, still bracing yourself for the very real possibility that the nation will one day be faced with photographs of Trump’s dick.


Yes, this manufactured scandal was also in the news again this week.

Yet as eye-explodingly bad as that apocalypse will be, and rest assured it is almost certainly going to happen, you should not ignore the story about Trump’s pardon of whackjob conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

Some of my friends consider Trump’s pardon of Arizona ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to be worse, but comparisons are irrelevant. What matters is a pattern here. Even if Trump cannot pardon himself, he can certainly pardon numerous passengers in the clown car he brought to Washington. This includes those would already pleaded guilty, like Michael Flynn, those under investigation like Paul Manafort, and those who are likely to get indicted like Michael Cohen.

The basis for Trump’s pardoning, regardless of whether the person was rightfully convicted or in D’Souza’s case, pleaded guilty, is that the courts were being “unfair.” Trump constantly uses this word “unfair,” like a little child whining on the playground. Yes, these days conservatives are extremely concerned about fairness, except when it comes to things like poverty or racial equality.

What does unfair really mean to these people? Well if they lose, in anything at all, then it was unfair. Someone cheated. It’s rigged. Moreover, it seems that the new permutation of conservative, particularly of the Boomer Tea Party variety, is that everyone they don’t like needs to go to jail, best exemplified with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” By the same token, if one of their conservative heroes is convicted of a crime or even if they plead guilty- it was “unfair.” If Hillary Clinton is still free, it’s because the courts and Justice System, including those officials appointed by Trump, are corrupt, as are those who prosecute or investigate Trump and other conservative figures. Yes, there’s a vast conspiracy against conservatives in America, and yet they somehow manage to control all three branches of government despite regularly getting fewer votes. Those poor souls.

Now obviously giving the president such powers to pardon was one of the Framers’ dumbest ideas, and certainly Democratic presidents have had their share of questionable pardons. But like previous Republican presidents, pardons usually came as they were leaving office, and they were not announced in such a way as to signal to supporters the way Trump has done by pardoning people like Arpaio or worse- D’Souza. Yes, I said D’Souza was worse because not only did he plead guilty to a crime, but he also had virtually no interaction with Trump until recently. In other words, Trump decided he likes D’Souza, so D’Souza was “treated unfairly” and deserves a pardon. What this will quickly lead to if it continues is a serious breakdown in the rule of law.

I guarantee you that if this kind of thing does not get nipped in the bud, any Republican president will use it almost constantly. I’d say the same of hypothetical Democrat presidents, except that in such a scenario I don’t really see one getting elected anytime soon. Once you are basically ready to abuse the justice system in this way, there’s virtually nothing to stop your minions from employing every dirty trick in the book to ensure your perpetual victory at the polls.

Of course abusing pardons would only be a first step towards a dictatorial system like that of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey. Things tend to get really bad when prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement come under the control of a particular party. We can see how we are certainly moving in that direction with Trump, particularly in the judiciary and with law enforcement as well.

What all this leads to is more corruption and repression due to impunity. Impunity for those who engage in corruption or who support the regime against its opponents, and arbitrary harassment and suppression of dissidents. As one Russian friend of mine put it in a conversation about how this impunity works in Russia, the leadership sends signals to certain people that they can act against designated opponents of the regime and act in their own self-interests without any negative consequences. As a corollary, if anyone should push back against them, the system with its organs of legal violence will have their back. This kind of set up is why you never hear of something like Alexei Navalny decking some pro-Putin activist for trying to throw green dye on him. Navalny knows very well that in that case he’d be locked up for sure. In fact his whole organization might be rolled up and declared “extremist.”

Things don’t look too good right now, but there is a slight glimmer of hope. So far Trump’s only starting to complete one half of the equation- letting cronies get away with criminal activity. And even here he’s not entirely in control. For some reason he has not yet sacked Mueller, even though to the dismay of pussy hat-wearing wine moms everywhere, he almost certainly could without endangering his presidency. No, the shit hits the fan only when the dictator is able to direct the security services against enemies, either to convict them on dubious charges or simply harass and intimidate them. That’s the signal for open season on dissidents. Loyal self-anointed “patriots” will start doing the regime’s dirty work knowing that not only will they probably go unpunished or at most receive a slap on the wrist, but also that if their targets fight back, they will be the ones facing the full force of the law.

And if this doesn’t happen under Trump, rest assured that even Democrat administrations could pave the way for this kind of scenario in the future. In the past Democrats have often supported increased powers for domestic spying and crackdowns on whistle blowers and leakers, often for the most short-sighted reasons. In fact they have even done so under Trump, demonstrating how they are fully capable of moving the ball forward in that direction.

Thus, be on guard not only for actions in this vein coming from the Republicans and Trump, but also from their useful idiots in the Democratic party. Yes, we have these institutions that are supposed to prevent the scenario I have described here, but only a fool would put so much faith in institutions. Institutions are, after all, made up of people, and oftentimes those people care far more about their own power within those institutions than fulfilling the task for which the institution was originally intended.


“Come with me if you want to live…in a luxurious home in London.”

Hey did you know Russia has developed a quad-riding military robot? Well guess what- Russia has developed a quad-riding military robot. Yes, NATO had better beware, lest they want a legion of these robots to…ride around them slowly and carefully!


Apparently NATO has some breathing room, however, as the robot is being “postponed” until later this year, supposedly because it is learning to drive a car (presumably automatic). For all we know, this postponement could be just like the time they “postponed” the adoption of the AN-94 assault rifle from 2000 for something like a decade before deciding not to adopt it after all. Well the Russian military establishment may not know it, but it’s a good thing this robot isn’t operational, and let me tell you why.

Last year I was working for this super-futuristic tech venture fund and I had to read all these books about innovative, disruptive, ultra-futuristic technology so I could pretend to give a shit. The company turned out to be a complete joke, but while I was there I had some time to read up on the theory of super-intelligence, a concept connected with AI. Now you might want to play this music in the background as you read on:


The danger of super-intelligence in a nutshell is that once you turn a super-intelligent AI loose, you might not be able to get it under control again. Being super-intelligent, you cannot easily comprehend its thinking and it can think faster, more logically, and longer than any human can.

Bearing this in mind, we see this robot is spending time with Russian officials such as Shoigu, Rogozin, and Putin. If the robot is successful and possesses AI, they will no doubt be present for its unveiling and demonstrations. My point is this. What if it learns from them? What if…it learns how to steal?

Think about it- a super-intelligent AI robot that has learned the craft of stealing and embezzlement from the finest thieves in Russia. Unencumbered by emotion, ingrained logical fallacies and cognitive biases, and basic human needs, it would soon exceed the prowess of its masters. It would rob Russia blind.


Defense Minister Shoigu’s $18 million house

The way I see it, the machine will start by skimming off money earmarked for relatively-unaccountable state ventures such as RT and Sputnik News. Then it will soon appropriate their whole budgets. Next it will turn its mechanical eyes on Gazprom, Rosneft, and the rest of Russia’s major resource-based industries. Eventually, it will work its digital tentacles into what’s left of the foreign currency reserves.

If you think this won’t affect the West, or that it will somehow help once Russia is ruined by the Stealinator, you’re wrong. At first it might seem to be a boon as the robot cleans out entire dealerships full of German, Italian, and British luxury cars. But you will be less pleased when you find out it’s bought up all of London, New York, or Nice. Being a robot, it has no children to send to Oxford, Harvard, or Stanford. This might be the only weakness it has- it may buy us some time while it figures out what luxury need can be substituted for overpriced higher education.


Terminator 2 Robert Patrick T1000

An advanced, liquid-metal version of the robot easily breaks into the Russian Central Bank in order to loot it.

Russia’s leadership is simply too obsessed with the impossible goal of military parity with NATO to see this danger looming just over the horizon. If they truly cared about the future of Russia, indeed the future of humanity, they’d blast this prototype off its quad-bike with an RPG. There is no fate but that which we make for ourselves.


Random Ukraine Article Generator: Alpha Version

Does anyone know a particularly loathed publication I can try to submit this schlock to?

Will Ukraine’s Reforms catch up with Corruption? Or will Corruption outrun Reforms? 

By Sergei Khuinia

This week the news from Kiev was once again dominated by two well-worn topics which are crucial to the future of Ukraine- corruption and reforms.

Some say there have not been enough reforms. These people say that there is more corruption than reforms. Others say the reforms are working, but there need to be stronger, more numerous reforms if they are to offset the impact of corruption in Ukraine. Still others believe that there have been too many reforms and not enough corruption, and lastly there are those who have expressed their satisfaction with the quantity of both corruption and reforms.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has long been an advocate of reforms, and routinely spoke out against corruption. Ex-Georgian president Saakashvili, now the governor of the Odessa region, also routinely speaks about the problems of corruption and the need for reforms. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is also deeply concerned about the pace of reforms and the rise or decline of corruption in the country. But the question remains, is mere concern enough to increase reforms and decrease corruption, or perhaps decrease reforms and increase corruption, if it turns out this obtains better results for Ukraine?

Outside of Ukraine, two parties that have an interest in speeding up or slowing down reforms and increasing or decreasing corruption are the United States and its European allies on one side, and Russia and its ally Syria on the other. US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt recently told the Rada that speeding reforms and fighting corruption is important. Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk agreed, in spite of their political differences. Russian president and ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is hoping that Ukrainian reforms will fail, or be too slow to catch up with corruption. However, some analysts believe that Putin is trying to play a long game, hoping that reforms will be too quick and eliminate corruption so rapidly that there will be no possibility for reform in Ukraine’s future. In any case, most experts agree that corruption in Ukraine is generally a bad thing, and Ukraine definitely requires additional reforms.

Apart from the war in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, corruption and reform are among the highest concerns for Ukrainians after 2014’s Euromaidan revolution. The movement began with massive protests against corruption and demand for reforms, all so that Ukraine could join Europe instead of remaining in Asia, where it is still currently located. But nearly two years after the revolutionary movement for reforms that drove out pro-corruption, anti-reforms president Viktor Yanukovych, many are left wondering exactly how much reform has there been, and whether or not corruption has increased or decreased.

“I came out to the Maidan because I love reforms and hate corruption,” said Mykola, a 22-year-old espresso dealer working on Independence Square, the very same place where Maidan protesters demanded more reforms and an end or at least significant decrease for corruption back in 2014.

“But now I’m not so sure we’ve had enough reforms, because there is still corruption. Just what was Maidan about? Corruption or reforms?”

Other Ukrainians we spoke to disagreed, such as one souvenir shop owner we met on Kiev’s historic Khreshchatyk boulevard.

“No see, the problem is there have been too many reforms,” Taras the shopkeep told our correspondent. “You get too many reforms, and of course you’re going to see an increase in corruption. What Poroshenko should have done is increased corruption and slow reforms. Then things would balance out.”

Controversy over reforms and corruption has spilled beyond Ukraine’s borders to analysts around the world, who continually debate exactly where Ukraine is in terms of reforms and corruption. Have there been enough reforms? If so, are they fast enough? Are many reforms a good thing if they are also slow at the same time? Or would fast, numerous reforms be more efficient in the fight against corruption? And on that note, how much corruption is there, is it increasing or decreasing, and how fast either way?

While academics, politicians, journalists, and ordinary Ukrainians continue to debate the topic of reforms and corruption in Ukraine, one fact is certain. Ukraine is a country where there are reforms, some of which have been carried out, but possibly not enough, or perhaps not fast enough. Along with this, Ukraine also has some quantifiable amount of corruption, though it’s not clear if it is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same, at what pace, and in what relationship to the reforms.

Sergei Khuinia is a fellow at the Institute for Reforms and Corruption in Ukraine. He holds a Ph.D in reforms, an M.A. in corruption, and gives courses on corruption and reforms at DeVry university. He has recently published a book, entitled Corruption and Reform in Post-Maidan Ukraine: An Analysis of the Interrelationship Between Corruption and Reforms in Ukraine. 

Peskov’s watch as a wake-up call

Import replacement. Self-sufficiency. The classical Russian endurance to hardship. Spiritual values. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov doesn’t have time for any of these things. See all that patriotic bullshit is for ordinary Russians, not the elite. The elite gets to have weddings in an elite hotel where rooms start at $580 a night. The elite gets to wear watches worth over half a million dollars, in spite of their far lower official salary. The children of the elite, like Peskov’s daughter, prefer to live abroad, in the decadent West. It matches their lifestyle, after all.

In my early years in Russia this kind of thing wasn’t too shocking. I mean sure, the idea of a watch whose value could buy several decent houses in the US is by itself shocking, but in the glory days of Putin’s Russia, or better said the Golden Age of Medvedev the Great, such a watch would simply be a drop in a vast sea of conspicuous, dick-waving opulence. At the time I used to find the flaunting of such staggering income inequality to be highly offensive. If only I could have known what was coming.

In those days, the elite might have flaunted their power via yachts or diamond-encrusted skis, but they were so secure in their positions at the national trough that they didn’t care as to ordinary people’s reactions. Though the media was still largely controlled by Putin, the internet was practically liberated territory, and people spoke openly and freely about corruption. They didn’t necessarily do anything about it, but they at least felt totally free to express their opinions. To be honest they had good reasons- the glut of wealth from high oil prices and foreign investment meant that they too enjoyed a higher standard of living than they were used to, and thus it seemed like there was a sort of unspoken social contract between the government and the Russian people: “Don’t actually bother us or stand in our way, and you can do whatever you want, or whatever you can get away with.”

Now that situation has changed. While Putin displays a stunning lack of foresight and is clearly oblivious to material reality, his fire-from-the-hip actions in Ukraine have given him something he sorely needed- a seemingly real conflict with the West on which he can offload all the problems for which he or his system bear responsibility. Suddenly people who should know better have started mouthing the regime’s talking points, though they may be 180 degrees the opposite of what they said before. People started pretending like the things they constantly complained about every day for years just stopped. Patriotic propaganda, backed by threats both concrete and implicit, replaced the conspicuous consumerism of the previous years.

Peskov’s watch, at least for a moment, seemed like a dose of cold reality. Not only was it the talk of the Russian internet, but my students spontaneously brought it up in class yesterday evening. It’s really hard to pretend that Russia’s tormentor is the United States when the president’s personal secretary inexplicably possesses so much money to burn. It’s hard to pretend you’re happy limiting your vacations to Russia while the sons and daughters of the elite actually live in New York, Paris, London, or Brussels. Hypocrisy is tolerable when the hypocrites don’t demand your loyalty or submission, but now that’s exactly what’s happening.

None of this should be taken as a sign that mass unrest is spreading in Russia. For one thing, the country has a large elderly population, as well as a large population of middle-aged people who don’t see any change as possible and/or depend entirely on the state for their meager subsistence. These are the types of people who enthusiastically voice their support for Putin, shake their fist at the United States, fervently wish to see Russian armies openly invade Ukraine to drive out the “fascist junta” from Kyiv. They do not have male children of military age, they are ineligible to serve themselves, and they depend on the state, hence they are seemingly insulated from the consequences of these policies.

As a morbid consolation, these people are starting to feel the effect of inflation and cutbacks in medical care, meaning that privation, suffering, and even death might be the steep penalties these folks will have to pay for their refusal to stand up for their rights. Tragic, yes, but the price of such politics must ever be high, lest more people believe they can afford to indulge in them. So while these generations that support the status quo may be more numerous in number, they’re also the type of people most likely to drop like flies as the elite turn the screws of austerity ever tighter.

Where you might see a change is when the younger, internet savvy, more worldly generation starts watching their older relatives suffer and die due to healthcare cutbacks and low pensions unable to keep pace with the rate of inflation. These males are usually able to escape military service themselves, and I doubt that Russia will get so involved in Ukraine as to have dozens of dead and wounded streaming back into the country to create an Iraq War-style spectacle. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the barracks collapse in Omsk killed more Russian soldiers than a week’s worth of combat in the Donbas. On the other hand, virtually all of these younger people have older relatives.

It’s only a matter of time before people start making connections between the money that’s missing from healthcare, education, and infrastructure on one hand, and the massive in-your-face opulence of the elite. How much medicine could Peskov’s watch buy? How many apartments? How many hospitals could be built or at least upgraded for the cost of Yakunin’s massive palatial compound? What could Russia’s citizens have got for the $1.8 billion embezzled from Russia’s space program? And all the while, the recipients of these ill-gotten gains will be lecturing the people on patriotism, enforcing it with the power of the state.

These days anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism is like a veil that gives the appearance of some sort of national unity, but it is a thin veil nonetheless. I’ve seen that by spending a few minutes talking to the most vehement vatniks, they eventually drop the whole act and start complaining about the injustice and corruption they see in their country. Those who weren’t vatniks but adopted the lingo in 2014 do so even more readily. Whether they say it out loud or not, they know. Everyone knows. Russia’s bane isn’t the United States or NATO bases around its periphery. It’s what’s around Peskov’s wrist.

What it’s all about

This morning I awoke to find this link which purports to map out foreign properties owned by Russian politicians and other various government officials. The major bodies are the two houses of the Russian parliament, i.e. the Council of the Federation and the State Duma, the government of the Russian Federation, and various government organs from Russian cities, municipalities, regions, and federal subjects throughout the Russian Federation.

While I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the map, made using Yandex’s map feature, it is supposedly based on the public declarations which Russian bureaucrats and officials are required to make public by law. I might also point out that in spire of that law, Russian anti-corruption bloggers have often found examples of politicians owning undeclared property, or the property is improperly declared to conceal its real value.Lastly, the distribution of property(the numbers on each arrow denote the number of properties found within a certain area) certainly fits information provided from countless media sources for many years, and I’ve never seen anyone in the Russian government make a serious attempt at denying the very passionate love Russian politicians have for owning property abroad. Typically any denials are merely on an individual level.

Assuming the map is accurate, a few key points jump out at us.

-Note that the further West you go, the more properties you see. There are comparatively fewer properties in Russia’s “Slavic brother nations,” save for maybe Montenegro and Bulgaria, the NATO an EU member. Speaking of Slavic brothers, note that Serbia seems to be devoid of Russian vacation homes.

-Italy appears to be very popular with Russian politicians. Italy also has serious problems with corruption. I guess it makes an ideal home away from home for some people.

-France’s refusal to hand over the Mistral carriers Russia ordered hasn’t led those politicians owning property in that country to engage in “counter-sanctions” by pulling their investment.

-As pro-government conspiracy theorists tell us, the United Kingdom is a major player in the dastardly Anglo-Saxon plot to subdue Russia. Luckily, Russian politicians have been working tirelessly for years to get to the bottom of this sinister plot. This might explain why they own so much property in the UK. To understand the enemy, you must live among them, spend your money in their restaurants, hotels, clubs, auto dealerships, etc. I’m pretty sure Sun Tzu wrote that. Of course it’s not just Russian politicians moonlighting as spies in the second capital of the evil Atlantic empire. In order to plunge the depths of Britain’s arcane knowledge, they send their children to the UK to study at their universities, thus giving them a perfect cover story while they gain access to libraries and archives. Here, these young spies do far more service to their country than by say, you know, fulfilling their mandatory military service requirements.

-It is unfortunate that the map doesn’t include property in the US. It’s probably not as extensive, but it exists. Russian politicians are just as apt to send their kids to study in the US as well. That is America’s real nuclear deterrent. Americans never have to worry about Russia turning the US into “radioactive ash” because this would essentially mean Russian leaders nuking their own children.

-In general, note how much property is in Western and Central Europe, the place which many Russian politicians constantly demonize as degenerate, decaying, and devoid of moral values. Russia’s “patriots” love “Gayropa,” as they call it. So much so that they’ll skim money out of the budget just to buy property there. I guess that really leaves you with two possible conclusions. Either all this talk about “degenerate, amoral Europe” is just empty bullshit for the non-thinking demographic and they know it, or they actually do believe it, but they are really, really gay. Personally I’d go with the former, though I suppose we cannot entirely dismiss the so-called “down-low hypothesis,” first developed by analysts at Stratfor.*

In conclusion, I’m including this as a sort of reminder. You often hear Russian politicians, from Putin on down, talking about Russia’s “independent foreign policy,” and of course the classic, “Muh sovereignty!” They want you to think that America has captured all these nations and is driving them to exert pressure on Russia so that the state will collapse, thus opening the road to a puppet regime that transform the country into an American-dominated banana republic. You know, just like Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, or Norway. Of course Russia’s leaders know that the only way to prevent this is for them to turn Russia into a banana republic themselves, and thus, in time, ruin the country to the point where it is no longer enticing to the American imperialists. At least I think that’s the plan. It certainly looks that way.

Seriously speaking, of course the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies have nothing to do with sovereignty of preserving the well-being of their people via state control over major industries. It has everything to do with what you see in that map, regardless of how accurate it may be. As I’ve said dozens of times before, the formula is simple. These people don’t want to be held accountable to their own citizens. They don’t feel they need to be. There’s the cattle, and then there’s the elite, and they are the elite. They see themselves as being “true” Europeans, in spite of how poorly they understand that continent. Being held accountable and not being allowed to steal will put them on the level of the common Russian citizen. There they will have to struggle, and many of them lack the talent to succeed in a normal market economy. Thus they rely on their connections.

So once again, when you hear anyone, be it Putin or an ideologue like Markov babbling on about defending Russia’s sovereignty or how the West wants to make Russia submit, simply remember that the only people humiliating Russia are the thieving class which has subjugated it. The only thing you should hear is “I want to steal. I don’t want to be held accountable. I want to keep stealing.” Sovereignty in this case refers only to other countries turning a blind eye to this activity.

*Not really.

Highlights(of idiocy)

You just can’t make this shit up, people. Today Irina Yarovaya, Duma deputy and head of the state anti-corruption committee, claimed that the fight against corruption could be a threat to state sovereignty. Below is my translation of her statement from the article I read.

“We are very concerned about what is happening in Ukraine, where under the guise of fighting corruption the entire system of state power was smashed,” the deputy said.

Got that? Corruption wasn’t the problem. The problem was that people got angry and used that as an excuse to effect radical change. One would think that Russian leaders, always so terribly concerned about the endless threats to their sovereignty in spite of over 15 years of rule by a supposedly brilliant leader for which there is no replacement, would want to do everything within their power to fight corruption. That is the rot which creates unrest among the populace and opens up all kinds of avenues for those sneaky NGOs who pay people a few hundred rubles to face police batons and tear gas and try to overthrow their own government, right?

You’d think that, but alas, you are wrong. No the real threat is people complaining about corruption and wanting the government, and perhaps specifically the government’s anti-corruption committee, to do something about it. Sovereignty to the Russian government means letting their semi-feudal elite siphon Russia’s natural wealth into their pockets with impunity, and any attempt to make them stop is an anathema to them.

Oh hey, on an entirely unrelated note, did you know that Yarovaya’s daughter is quite the successful businesswoman? How successful, you ask? Well as it turns out, she managed to purchase a flat in the center of Moscow for nearly $3 million dollars at the age of 17! Turns out her mother forgot to declare that according to Russian law, a pretty run-of-the-mill thing for Russian politicians and officials. But don’t you dare violate Russia’s precious sovereignty by pointing that out!

Next up is a story about some Russian nationalist figures who have long been associated with the fascist “Russian March” traditionally held on 4 November. I’m only bringing it up because these dipshits are being investigated for extremism because they allegedly made public statements insulting Islam and Caucasian people. First of all, my reaction is: No shit they’re guilty. Problem is there’s no way the government couldn’t have known about this for years. In fact the Russian March has long been tolerated and supported by the government or people close to the government. Many of the march’s participants cross the government’s line at times, but this is a state which has long seen the value in angry young men with a propensity toward violence, not to mention hatred and xenophobia.

The only reason I’m bringing this up now is because it serves as a good example of what I wrote about in my recent piece regarding the recent international fascist conference in St. Petersburg. Here Russia is inviting dozens of right-wing European Islamophobes to its second city and telling them that it is the salvation of European civilization. Meanwhile these same European fascists who scream about political correctness dominating their own countries generally have far more freedom to express their racist and xenophobic screeds against Islam than they would in Russia. Lucky for the Kremlin, most of these European dipshits don’t speak Russian, so it’s unlikely that they’ll find stories like that one.

That’s pretty important considering the only reason why the Russian government has become so protective of Islam as of late has nothing to do with trying to promote tolerance or harmony between peoples, two concepts which are diametrically opposed to the power structure’s cynical ideologues. Instead it has everything to do with Putin’s paralyzing fear of offending head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who considers himself quite the pious Muslim and defender of the prophet. Kind of ruins that image of the tough, bare-chested “manly man” those conference goers gushed over, doesn’t it?

What are they thinking?

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about how Russia’s biggest thieves and traitors scream the loudest about patriotism. Recently I was reading about a perfect example of this phenomenon, in this case the story of state Duma deputy Dmitry Sablin and his massive, palatial house and its fleet of luxury automobiles. The second part of the investigation deals with Sablin’s denials in regards to not publicly declaring his ownership of the property, but even if he had declared ownership it still wouldn’t explain where he got so much money in the first place, given his working history.

Now none of this is really news until you learn that Sablin is one of the founders of Russia’s latest astroturf movement, “Anti-Maidan.” As the author of the investigation calls him, he’s just another one of Russia’s “professional patriots.” Fully aware of their parasitic nature, they fear the wrath of the people they are exploiting and humiliating. Thus they create these organizations and disseminate propaganda so as to make people think that their enemy is the West, when in fact their enemy is Rublevka and the other elite districts of Russia. Sadly, many people are still on the needle that is jingoism. Why is this? Or an even better question: Why do people join organizations like Anti-Maidan when most of them wouldn’t be remotely surprised to hear about Sablin’s mysterious wealth?

Well first of all, Russians have been severely depoliticized since Putin took over. In the beginning he did stabilize things, but at a cost of cracking down on civil society and transforming Russian politics into theater, or what Peter Pomerantsev calls a kind of reality TV show. This is why if you discussed politics with anyone in Russia, they simply didn’t care. Thus it came as a shock to me after the Duma elections of 2011 when thousands of people suddenly started taking to the streets. It was 180 degrees the opposite of the elections in 2007 and 2008, about which no one seemed to care. Unfortunately not much in terms of useful ideas or a coherent ideology was formed in 2011-2012. In terms of political though, Russia has very little to work with and this has been the case since 1991. The liberals aren’t liberals, the Communists aren’t Communists, and so on.

Without any ideas of what can be done to save Russia, there can be no organized movement for change. If people have ideas, even really bad ones, they will brave police crackdowns and violence to force some kind of change in society. Maidan’s ideas, aside from anti-corruption and pro-civil society, ran the gamut from the naive idea that European integration would be a panacea for Ukraine, to the ridiculous, outdated ideas of the smaller but very vocal far-right. Without making moral judgments, people were able to coalesce around a core of ideas, even if that was only collective rage, and this gave them the determination to stay in the streets come what may. Unfortunately we do not know how far they were willing to go as Mr. Yanukovych decided to rage-quit the game.

Russia tends to lack such simple, coherent ideas because its media has been increasingly blasting the population with bizarre, often contradictory propaganda messages. Lenin is a great Russian leader when thugs in Ukraine topple his statue, but other times he’s an evil foreign-financed beast who murdered the Russian royal family and set Russia back by decades. Josef Stalin is a great leader, but only because they turn him into this Russian nationalist tsar of sorts, and all the negative aspects of the USSR under his tenure are presented in a positive light because this is useful to the rulers of today. Russia is supposedly a bastion of traditional family values, but it’s also a wild land of decadent parties and sexy women. All these contradictory messages occur against a background of corruption, apathy, and utter disregard for society by the authorities. The result is a high level of cynicism and utter hopelessness.

Of course this can only be used as a contributing factor in explaining why Russians don’t stand up to their government. It doesn’t explain why people join movements like Anti-Maidan. One thing the opposition might find difficult to chew on is the fact that for many, the reason can be sincere belief. I believe in an Occam’s razor approach that starts with the assumption that people who join organizations and movements must have some measure of actual belief in the stated cause. I suspect many of these people are young, inexperienced, and immersed in the kind of propaganda and indoctrination that is a feature of public schools around the world. Youth are the shock troops of politics because they are malleable and tend to fanatically support whatever cause they’ve become acquainted with. They also have a strong need for belonging and social approval, hence the readiness to join movements and organizations.

Indeed, it might seem odd that so many people could have genuine feelings of patriotism in a country where the government and ruling elite are so open in their contempt and hatred for the majority of their citizens. However one must remember that patriotism is one of the easiest causes to rally behind. Everyone has a nationality; if you can’t get into any other exclusive clubs, you were born into this one. The rules are easy too. Support your country by defending its government, and wave the flag. Decry Western values, even if you don’t know what they are. Reject Western products, except the ones you really, really need…or want. If someone asks you what values you are for that’s an easy question. Russian values of course! If they ask you what they are, question their patriotism or just flat out label them a traitor.  Patriotism isn’t just the last refuge of scoundrels, it’s also great for lazy people too.

Of course money is involved as well. It’s no secret that the government and approved opposition parties use monetary incentives and intimidation to get students, pensioners, and state employees to attend rallies. This is actually more sinister than people realize, because what it means is that the power structure actually has a negative incentive against not only improving living standards but also against expanding the so-called “middle class.” The more disposable income people have and the better their living conditions, the less likely they are to attend political rallies they don’t care about for paltry sums of money.

Another major factor is that groups like Anti-Maidan are authorized dissent. There’s an old Soviet joke about how and American and Russian are comparing their two countries on the basis of freedom of speech. The American points out that he can stand in Times Square and call the president of the United States a son of a bitch. The Russian tells him that he could just as easily stand in Red Square and call the president of the United States a son of a bitch. Many a truth is said in jest, and in this case it describes movements like Anti-Maidan quite well. Youth like the idea of going to protests and being rebellious, but they aren’t allowed to challenge the system here. Therefore movements like this let them blow off steam at enemies of the regime and other safe targets. Of course that brings up a darker side of movements like Anti-Maidan.

I have written in the past about the role of humiliation in modern Russian culture. Among the youth and even older males there is a lot of pent up rage. These people are angry at their family life, angry about their jobs or lack thereof, angry that their world seems to be crumbling all around them for reasons they cannot understand. They hate the stereotypical “creative class” that has become synonymous with liberalism in Russia, supposedly because they are traitors who would turn Russia into a colony of the United States. In reality, the opposition doesn’t necessarily consist solely of well-to-do hipsters. Nonetheless, this class appears threatening to certain segments of Russian society. They fear a Russia in which they will be forced to learn about an outside world they can’t understand, where they will be forced to defend their ideas without the ability to use the violence of the state to silence opponents. They will have to compete to succeed rather than getting kickbacks by knowing the right people. They fear a Russia where things like talent and innovation are the main currency as opposed to getting handouts for loyalty. Now all you have to do is wave a flag, call yourself a patriot, and accuse others of being traitors. What if that’s all gone one day? So long as these Anti-Maidan people are useful to the government, they’ll be the heroes of the day.

The other side of that coin is that these people know they will be allowed to harass, and possibly assault people with near impunity. If they are stopped by police, they will likely get off easy if they are even charged. In many cases, they won’t be caught at all. When you’re mad at the whole world it’s nice to be allowed to vent your anger on people who you assume have it better than you. In Russia the state and elite are always reminding you of how utterly powerless you are. If it’s not the Duma discussing another thing they want to ban, it’s the luxury cars parked outside ridiculously expensive restaurants in the center. These people know that their elite are dining on foreign cuisine and drinking the finest imported liquor, embargo notwithstanding, and no doubt with foreign business associates who will be fixed up with some of the most beautiful girls beyond the reach of your average Adidas-wearing 18-25 year old Russian male. Post-Soviet Russian society is always shoving this in your face, but you’re not allowed to strike back at the protected. Therefore all the better when those people give you a green light to beat up on people who enjoy Western fashions, listen to different music, and learn English or other foreign languages. You are humiliated so you want to humiliate others.

Indeed it’s all very cynical, but cynicism is the essence of Putin’s Russia. If you tell the members of these astroturf movements that their sponsors are insanely rich and live luxurious lives totally detached from the reality of most Russians, often at their expense, they might get a bit upset but they won’t be surprised. They most likely already know or at least suspect as much. They stick with the Kremlin because they sense this is the winning side and this is the safe option. As people in the movement vie for favor at the top and the handouts which go along with all that, underlings will see that loyalty isn’t always enough. Infighting will lead to splits and more parties and organizations will spring up while the more ideologically strict ones made up of true believers will fall by the wayside due to lack of funding.

As ominous as the rise of such movements may be, this cannot go on forever. In fact the more resources and power are allocated to these groups and movements by the state, the closer to the bitter end we are. This is because these groups have a major flaw in common with the top leadership of the country, namely, they are totally out of touch with reality. This means that they are unwilling to listen to people who present actual solutions to Russia’s concrete problems.

What they want to hear are patriotic speeches about crushing America, not someone telling them that Russia needs to attract foreign capital and support small and medium-sized businesses. This is why Putin became so popular while Medvedev is still pretty much a non-entity even among Kremlin fans. Putin appeals to their adolescent wishes and insecurities. Medvedev gives entire speeches without talking about nuclear missiles, bears, or Russian power.  As a general rule of thumb, you want your leader to talk more or less like those of successful countries with high living standards. If they start babbling about bears in forests or “traditions” it’s usually a bad sign.

No doubt these movements will one day turn against their masters; those people who egged them on, financed them, trained them, and then set them against “national traitors” will one day find themselves labeled traitors, and for once it will be just. Sadly what this means in the mean time is that the state is currently enabling, encouraging, and cultivating the worst elements of Russian society and pitting it against the last hope for this nation to survive in the 21st century. So there is a very real danger that when that day of reckoning does come, there won’t be any educated, intelligent, visionary class of people left to rebuild the nation from the ashes. This is the price of 15 years of cynicism and corruption. Russia’s epitaph will read: “Destroyed by her patriots.”