Tag Archives: Donbas

What did you expect?

So I was reading this RFERL piece about a Russian businessman who claims to have rendered crucial assistance to the Russian government in the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent, aborted “Novorossiya” project. The reader is free to question the veracity of the witness, who remains anonymous, but I will say that for the most part, his story fits what we know and his attitude is exactly what one might expect from a disillusioned Russian imperialist. One particular line caught my eye, however:

“The Russian World that I dreamed of, that the people of Crimea expected, that the volunteers who died in Donbas believed in, crumbled into dust before my very eyes,” he recalled.”

Since 2014 we’ve all heard of this so-called “Russian World” (Русский Мир), but nobody’s been able to really define it. Earlier in the interview, the businessman laments what went on in the Donbas, where some people tried to make the Russian World a reality:

“In the pro-Russian zone [in Donbas], weapons were handed out to criminals and drug addicts who robbed people, ‘commandeered’ businesses, homes, and cars,” he said. “The situation for the Russian World project became more and more catastrophic. That romantic of the Russian World, Girkin, could not cope with the anarchy that was developing around him.”

Sounds to me like he got the Russian World right there. To be fair, it’s not so much exclusively the Russian world as it is largely the post-Soviet world, but of course a lot of that world happens to be Russia.

Honestly, what exactly was that Russian World he dreamed of? How was it supposed to be different than the actual, existing Russian World? Did these morons actually put their life on the lines believing that by carving out a portion of Ukraine, Russia would suddenly cease to suffer from massive corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and absence of rule of law?

The Donbas turned out exactly as we should have expected. It was a haven of organized crime, and then a government run by criminals hired those local criminals and sent some of their own criminals to start a war, and SURPRISE! The territories under the control of criminals are basically rife with, well, crime. How utterly unpredictable. Were I a Game of Thrones fan this would be the place where I write some joke referencing the unexpected death of a beloved character. But since I’m not I’ll just sarcastically say that turn of events was as unpredictable as the episode of BBC’s Fall of Eagles when Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf killed himself along with a woman of ill repute.

Joking aside, this question of the Russian World or Russian civilization is a pretty serious one. Increasingly we hear Russian politicians and their supporters claim that theirs is a unique civilization, as good as if not better than the West. Now I don’t believe in “Western” superiority, but I and millions of others can’t help but notice that this degenerate West, which was supposed to be on the point of collapse for at least 100 years and still managed to come out on top in spite of two World Wars, seems to be doing significantly better than Russia according to almost every indicator.

Point this out, and the Russian World fans will tell you that what their country lacks in material wealth, they make up for in “spiritual values” or “moral values.” First of all this makes no sense, because Russia doesn’t lack material wealth. On the contrary, Russia’s unbelievably rich. And yet somehow that wealth barely filtered down to the majority of the population. While there were definitely concrete successes under Putin’s long reign, some of which haven’t yet started to rapidly roll back toward 90’s levels, there are many other indicators which beg the question: “What did they do with all that money?” And the answer to that question can largely be measured in yachts, luxury cars, palaces, property in New York, London, and the South of France, for starters.

On the topic of moral values, we must first conclude that both lying and stealing are both immoral and roundly condemned by virtually every religion and value system the world over. So those are two strikes right there. But of course the vatniks like to claim they have some kind of morality based on “traditional family values,” which just as it does in any country, turns out to be a really bizarre obsession with sexuality. And here too, Russia doesn’t really have leg to stand on when condemning Western countries. They attack tolerance for LGBT people in the West, but this is not a moral argument. If you think it is, just consider that the Mormons, for example, believe masturbation to be highly immoral. See how that works? In any case it’s a moot point because contrary to the stated beliefs of Russia’s leaders, Russian LGBT people exist whether they want to acknowledge them or not, and I think some of them know very well that homosexual activity takes place all the time in their country behind closed doors. Oh yes, I think some of them are authorities on that topic.

Whether its corruption or sexual promiscuity, the Russian World advocates always have a way out. “Oh no that’s not us! That’s the Western influence!” The extreme version of this is the so-called “National Liberation Movement’s” hilarious thesis that Russia has been “occupied” by the United States since 1991. But to whatever degree, the claim is idiotic. If the Russian soul has this inherent value, if the Russian World is so unique, it should have manifested by now. It should look different.

Imagine for a moment: Someone recommends you check out a diet plan to lose weight. You meet the person who developed the diet, and notice they are grossly overweight. You meet numerous people who swear by the diet and they’re all morbidly obese. You never see a single person adhering to this diet who is not overweight. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something wrong with that diet.

The bottom line is, the Russian World is what the Russian World does, and not what delusional dreamers such as Alexander Dugin or  Igor Girkin think it should be. If these figures thought that carrying out the Kremlin’s will would lead to anything other than the perpetuation of thievery and corruption, what can we call them but ridiculous naive? This is why their whining about “disillusionment” just like the source in the article is so pathetically laughable. You help a criminal in his crimes and expect something other than more crime? These people are either cynical liars or utter morons.

 

Messing with Texas

Those of you with enough morbid curiosity to watch the Kremlin’s bizarro-world reality show in the Donbas might already be familiar with the “American volunteer” who goes by the name of “Texas,” supposedly because he’s from the capital, Austin. I don’t for a second believe this man is “fighting” at all, knowing the nature of pro-Russian propaganda and its habit of using reality TV techniques to create “heroes.”

So who is this American volunteer who so willingly makes himself a mouthpiece in a conflict he clearly does not understand? Well when I first saw him in a video he describes himself as a “Communist,” one with a long history in the movement. He claims he came to Donbas to fight “Nazis,” but if you know your DNR/LNR facts, the rebels have their share of “Nazis.” Not only does he not seem to show the slightest grasp of Communist theory (which only makes him fit in even better with other pro-Russian “Communists”), but my connections in American Communist/Leftist circles haven’t managed to find anyone who knew “Texas” or knew of him. A lot of the language he has used on social media debunks the idea that he was ever a Communist or leftist. For example, in this video, he refers to Obama as a “monkey.”

From the moment I heard of this guy something was very fishy. Turns out I was right. Remember yesterday’s post about how pathetic the Russian “information war” really is? Well here’s another example of how they tried to create another fantasy that quickly unraveled.

“Texas” is in fact Russell Bonner Bentley. Here is his Facebook page, and here is some more info that includes his associations with far rightists such as the German Manuel Ochsenreiter, and everyone’s favorite American Duginite, Mark Sleboda. I’m sure anyone with more knowledge of the European far right can look at those names and find even more fascist friends of the guy who says he came to Donbas to “fight fascists.” Conspiracy theorist Pepe Escobar is there, as is RT Crosstalk host Peter Lavelle.  But it just gets better and better.

Turns out Bentley is a convicted drug dealer/smuggler. Here’s a news story about his sentencing, and here are the court documents. To be totally fair, the drug he was convicted of smuggling was marijuana, so it’s not like he’s Scarface or something. It’s just another example of Russian propaganda making a “hero” out of someone who doesn’t deserve it, and using them to regurgitate their propaganda. This also says a lot about the kind of people who are attracted to the Kremlin’s cause. Put simply- they aren’t exactly winners. Oftentimes these Russophiles support the Kremlin specifically and paradoxically because they benefit from the effects of corruption and degeneracy which Putin’s system maintains. Occasionally you get someone who’s at least clever and senses the government’s willingness to throw money at any foreigner, particularly a Westerner, who is willing to repeat their message. All you have to do is show up and write a few paragraphs, liberally sprinkling in words like geopolitics, neocons, neo-liberal, BRICS, and color revolution. Incidentally, I don’t think Russell is one of those people.

The only thing that really pisses me off about this guy is that he appears in videos and calls himself a Communist. He clearly isn’t a Communist and most likely never was, and yet he had to say that, thus giving ammunition to status-quo supporters who have been working very hard for the past decade or so to equate the far left and far right. Russia, of course, has done a fine job of helping them in that effort as well. If Russell hadn’t made  these claims, I would have dismissed him as another confused American right-winger and I wouldn’t have even cared to learn anything about him.

Sadly for Russell, there’s a lot of rumors flying around that the DNR and LNR are not doing so hot, and might not last to the end of the year. Remember that Russia is basically footing the bill for virtually everything in these quasi-states, and the Kremlin knows that there’s bad economic news on the horizon. Let’s hope that in the event of a collapse, the Russian authorities at least remember to grant “Texas” a Russian visa so he can fly back home to anonymity from Moscow rather than get left behind in Dontesk to explain himself to the Ukrainian authorities.

Stolen Shame

Yesterday evening I noticed a young man heading down the escalator of my metro station dressed in modern military gear and sporting a Novorossiya patch on his arm. Today in a nearby supermarket, I saw another man in typical Donbas military dress, wearing a cossack papakha. Even on my way back from the supermarket I saw a guy wearing what looked like super-modern(i.e. Western-designed) military clothing with a Russian flag patch.

Now to be sure, all three of these people could be airsoft enthusiasts.But what are the chances they could be volunteers returning from the Donbas? Pretty slim, I’d say. For one thing, Russia has a problem with fake veterans just like in the US, if not maybe worse. After all, military-worship in Russia exceeded that of America years ago. In spite of this, there is a much wider gap between the military and the civilian population. Many males spend a great deal of money so as to have nothing to do with the military, while females typically have no interest in it whatsoever. This, plus a strong disdain toward dissent, creates a perfect environment for fraudsters.  How perfect? Well Russia actually has its share of phony WWII vets. Yeah. WWII.

King Michael I of Romania is the only man who can wear a Soviet Order of Victory, and you're not him, buddy.

King Michael I of Romania is the only man who can wear a Soviet Order of Victory, and you’re not him, buddy.

Given the unqualified worship towards “veterans” in contemporary Russia, and the staggering lack of critical thinking skills, this is prime time for young Russian men to pose as Donbas volunteers. Due to the secretive, irregular nature of the conflict, calling them out would be hard even for Russian army veterans. “Oh that’s not how you did things in the Russian army? Well I was in a volunteer unit. We did things differently. Who are you do question me?”

Oh yes, cowardly scumbags everywhere can take advantage of this cowardly, immoral war in Ukraine to bask in attention, con people out of money, and of course, score all kinds of tail in discotheques and courtyards all across Russia. In this climate, you’re unlikely to see anyone calling them out the way they do in the States. There they call it stolen valor. With this war, it’s stolen shame.

What ought to happen.

News Roundup 20 January

Curiously small anti-fascist rally

With all the screaming about fascism we heard from Russians since the beginning of Maidan all the way to the present, one would think last night’s anti-fascist march in Moscow would have drawn as many people as the Charlie Hebdo rallies in Paris.  One would think that, if they didn’t know Russia better. In reality, most of those who screamed themselves hoarse are only concerned with fascism in Ukraine, and of course their definition of fascism is anti-Kremlin. In Russia, they quite like fascism. They support state-imposed religion, the curtailment of human rights and values, militarism, national chauvinism, racism, “traditional” roles for men and women, essentially the whole fascist platform. The differences between them and the actual fascists in Ukraine such as the Svoboda party or Praviy Sektor are superficial at most.

This being the case, last night’s march only attracted a few hundred leftist protesters, which I have to say was pretty impressive given how dangerous it is in Russia to proclaim oneself an anti-fascist(unless you’re going to fight in Ukraine). Of course, there were counter-protesters and attempts to disrupt the march, but last time I checked nothing serious happened.

Bottom line- If you hear a Russian screaming about fascism, most often than not it’s basically the same as a Tea Partier calling Obama a socialist. The words don’t mean what they think they mean.

Collateral Damage

After some Twitter arguments yesterday I think I need to make some clarifications yet again. First of all, I do not particularly like the Ukrainian government. After much examination I accepted it as legal and I’m glad to see that the extreme right was almost entirely excluded from its composition. That said, one of the reasons why I’d support Ukraine over Russia is that no matter how bad the former’s government is, it can be changed. Russia will not have any change in its corrupt, oligarch-dominated government without a fair deal of bloodshed and early-90’s style humiliation, and after that I’m not sure there’ll be anything left to rebuild the country. At least Yeltsin and Putin could count on oil. My fear is that in the aftermath of collapse eventually the same batshit-insane reactionaries will coalesce around another group of political con-men who will assure them that the catastrophe only happened because Putin was a puppet of the Americans, the Jews, or the Illuminati reptiloids. What happens then, however, is a subject for another article.  Long story short- Ukraine’s probably got at least one more revolution in store before the demographics situation destroys the country, so let’s hope they get it right next time(HINT: Stop listening to nationalists).

That being said, I want to talk about the subject of Ukraine’s use of artillery against populated areas in the Donbas. Long-time readers know that I have condemned this in the past, and rhetorically asked why we don’t hear people in the media saying Poroshenko is “killing his own people.”

The problem is, however, that I am not detached from the world around me and I get pissed at constantly hearing Russians shedding crocodile tears over civilian casualties of artillery bombardment when they never cared about the effects of such bombardment in Syria, Libya, Grozny, etc. To me this is no different than the way US officials would always deflect criticism over civilian casualties with terms like “collateral damage” and accusations that their enemies were using “human shields.”

Look, regardless of one’s politics, can we all just be honest for once and admit that we are all aware of the fact that bombardment of populated areas frequently leads to civilian casualties, and that people from various countries are inevitably going to highlight this fact in conflicts when it suits them, while denying it in conflicts they support?

Another reason why I’ve been hesitant to speak out more against the Ukrainian prosecution of the war is because I don’t have many sources of reliable information. I don’t like the idea of playing armchair general and saying what they should do. I’d probably lean towards the ideas of H. John Poole on this matter, who considered heavy use of firepower as immoral and ineffective, and who instead advocated rigorous training in small-unit tactics and techniques like short range infiltration. I also think the Ukrainian army could learn a thing or two from Rhodesia’s Sealous Scouts when it comes to counter-guerrilla warfare. The problem is, however, that these tactics are probably not very feasible for the Ukrainian military. H. John Poole was recommending tactics to the best-funded military in the world, which has plenty of time and resources for training. I know the US Army sure as hell has the time because I spent most of my time in the army standing around in what is essentially a parking lot.

The Ukrainian armed forces, on the other hand, are probably more comparable to those of maybe Romania or Bulgaria at best. That and the fact that they have a unit called the “Cyborgs” tells you that we’re not exactly dealing with military geniuses here.  Do I personally believe this war is not being conducted in the best way, both morally and tactically, yes. Am I going to spend time writing on a blog about how they should be doing this or that? Hell no.  My information is too limited to make those kinds of calls, and there’s no reason to believe that the Ukrainian armed forces even have the capability to carry out any recommendation Armchair General Kovpak gives them.

Oh look, I’m right again.

An article in The Moscow Times highlights what I pointed out some time ago about Russia’s inability to attract people and allies. I’ve often likened Russia to one of those stereotypical “nice guys.” He tries to attract a girl with some cheap gestures(oil and gas deals in Russia’s case), and when she rejects his offers he goes online or to his friends and unloads on her with white-hot hatred. She’s just a slut who will bend over backwards for any jocular douchebag! She can’t appreciate an intelligent, classy, gentleman! Sure he’s a bit overweight and continually wears the same gaming shirt several times per week without a wash, but why does she have to be such a shallow whore?  In Russia’s case, any country that doesn’t want to submit to Moscow’s domination must be a puppet of America, the only other independent country in the world. With some small, not so powerful countries this might seem more or less correct, but in the minds of many Russians big economic players like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Belgium are also American puppets. The only way you can avoid being an American puppet is to become Moscow’s puppet.

Of course I didn’t link to this article just to talk about puppets. What I like about this article is that once again basic historical facts are brought out to shatter the fantasies of Russia’s “geopolitical experts.” The CSTO is not the equivalent of NATO. BRICS is not an anti-American alliance. The Eurasian Union is not the equivalent of the European Union. They go through the motions and make a lot of noise, but there’s no substance beneath the surface. Good reading.

Wait…What?

Usually when I talk about bad comparisons it’s a case of “whataboutism,” or maybe an inaccurate comparison of two things which share superficial commonalities but which are extremely different just beneath the surface, i.e. Putin’s Russia to the Soviet Union. The bad comparison I found this morning is something else entirely.

“Ukrainian-American political scientist” Alexander Motyl wrote a piece for Huffington Post(Why would anyone do that?!) entitled “Ukraine’s Donbas Is Like America’s Deep South.” Now there are a few things that need to be qualified before the guns open up. First, this comparison is not entirely off the mark, as I will show later. In fact it’s a pretty good analogy. He very correctly smacks down idiotic analogies which compare Russian-speakers in Ukraine to black Americans suffering discrimination. The problem, unfortunately, comes from his lack of American historical knowledge and a possible deliberate attempt to conflate two radically different, even contradictory movements. Then to top this off, his final conclusion is a bit of a mystery. This seems like a pro-Ukrainian article from a nationalist-sympathizer(very common in the US and Canada), and yet the conclusion seems to be that Ukraine needs to just sit there and wait everything out.

First of all I can personally attest to some of his comments about the Russian attitude toward other languages of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. Deliberate suppression of the Ukrainian language in the Russian empire was real. Under Stalin’s Ukrainization, the state attempted to make many people speak Ukrainian, an effort which obtained some success but which  was met with hostility in mostly Russian-speaking urban and industrialized areas. Some of those city names are familiar to us today in this current conflict- Kharkov, Odessa, Donetsk. The problem with Soviet nationalities policy is that it often tried to draw clear lines where they hadn’t been before. The lines between Russian and Ukrainian were as blurry then as they are now.  Industrialization and the fear of the coming war were  major factors in the downfall of Stalin’s “localization”(коренизация) policy and the march toward a more Russian-dominated Soviet Union.*

The Second World War ended with the crowning of a Muscovite Russian-dominated Union which would increasingly alienate non-Russians.  During the war, propaganda glorifying Muscovite Russia, including its tsarist past, was allowed and promoted, whereas patriotic propaganda aimed at Ukrainians, Tatars, etc. were often still officially banned. The only exception to this which immediately springs to mind is the Order of Bogdan Khmelnitsky, an award proposed by Nikita Khruschev for exceptional service in the liberation of Soviet territory, specifically Ukraine. Of course this order existed alongside other orders glorifying tsarist commanders, the orders of Kutuzov and Suvorov. This in an army which at the same time(1943) adopted tsarist attributes such as shoulder boards and gold braid, and shortly after the war went from being known as the Worker and Peasants Red Army(RKKA) to simply the “Soviet Army.”(SA) The Soviet Union began to evolve into Soviet Russia, which is one of the reasons why so many Russian citizens today cannot grasp the contradiction between the USSR and the Russian empire. It’s treated as a sort of re-branding.

My experience is even more personal, having seen Russians who lived in Crimea talk about how horrible the Ukrainian language is though they were never required to speak it. Back in the spring of 2013, one girl in my course aged maybe 21-22 told me she was from Yalta and that she “hated” the Ukrainian language.  Russians constantly complain about non-Russian citizens of the Russian Federation speaking their native languages. Some react with horror upon learning that some street signs in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, are in both Russian and Tatar. The attitude of these people can be summed up in two sentences. “If you’re in Russia, speak Russian! If we’re in your country, speak Russian!”  I should also point out that Motyl is probably telling the truth when he says that he doesn’t know of anyone facing discrimination for speaking Russian in the Donbas or Crimea since 1991. Kyiv, which Russians decided to magically assign to “Western Ukraine” after February of 2014, was always a mostly Russian-speaking city. That is based on my own personal experience and plenty of others can attest to the same.

So where does his analogy go wrong? Comparing the Donbas and Crimea to the Deep South, or perhaps the Confederacy, isn’t too ridiculous. They did secede and use force. They are, as he said, highly intolerant and illiberal. They also didn’t raise the topic of independence or joining Russia until they had lost power in Kyiv, much in the same way that the antebellum slave states weren’t concerned about states’ rights and “tyrannical” executive power until they lost their dominant position in congress and finally the executive branch in the election of 1860. Up to this point the analogy is solid. He should have quit while he was ahead.

Motyl totally destroys his credibility by then likening what he no doubt sees as “real” Ukrainians to black Americans, proving that he knows little of the latter’s history of struggle. Even more monstrously, he compares neo-fascist individuals such as Oleh Tyahnibok of Svoboda and the leader of the fascist-dominated “Azov” battalion to Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. Their movements are compared to the Black Panthers. At this point only two things can explain Motyl’s horrible analogy. Either he is extremely ignorant about history of the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and the civil rights movement, or he is deliberately lying, i.e. purposely trying to mislead people as to the nature of these Ukrainian nationalist movements.

The Ukrainian nationalist movements he inexplicably defends can only be compared to the white supremacist-manufactured caricatures of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. Even today this mainstream myth persists, which portrays these figures and organizations as “reverse racists” who countered white racism with black nationalism. This is as idiotic as it is ignorant. For one thing, the Black Panther party was opposed to black nationalism and it was a Maoist organization. Last time I checked, Svoboda fans aren’t too fond of Communists. More over, anyone who follows the Ukrainian nationalist propaganda and trolls on the Russian-speaking internet can see how racist these people are. One of their favorite arguments against Russia is how non-Russian or non-Slavic it is. Svoboda and its allies’ solution to Ukraine’s problems is to impose their contrived “national idea” on Ukrainian society. This is a textbook fascist idea and it is word-for-word identical to the core concept of Russian imperialist organizations.  In fact Alexander Dugin himself, the man who exhorts Russians to kill Ukrainians and wipe that independent country off the map, also promotes this concept of a “national idea.”

This is why Motyl would have done well to at least Google the Black Panther party before making that idiotic comparison. The irony is that one of the most important Panthers ever, Fred Hampton, totally repudiated the kind of politics of groups like Svoboda when he said: “We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.

No matter how much groups like Svoboda and their allies claim to oppose capitalism, their ideology is incompatible with socialism. There simply cannot be any accurate comparison with the Panthers. The nationalists’ solution involves raising one group above another based on arbitrary features and contrived identities. At the same time, people who are in the “correct” group are said to have a common interest with other group members, even when material reality says otherwise. Like Putin’s pseudo-intellectual circus, the Ukrainian nationalist ideologues promote fantasy over reality. All these things white supremacy did in America, and this is also what the Kremlin’s chauvinistic ideology promotes.  Most Ukrainian-speakers do speak Russian and are tolerant of Russian-speakers, even though the reverse is not true. Svoboda just aims to make Ukrainians as intolerant and monolingual as the imperialists of the Kremlin.

In the end Motyl reached too far and his analogy crashed and burned. The worst part is that he went out on a limb to defend organizations and parties which Ukrainians mostly rejected last October. Sure, they have not fully rejected some of those ideas, but they made it clear they don’t want Motyl’s bizarro-world version of Malcolm X ruling over them in any way. Poor Motyl. He was really onto something there with the Deep South analogy. Sadly, he went too far and ended up looking like a very white bread suburbanite trying way too hard to appear “down” with black America.

*For more information on “localization” and “Ukrainianization” I highly recommend Terry Dean Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union 1923-1939