Tag Archives: FSB

Escalation

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

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

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

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

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

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Anatoly Chepizdyets

Anatoly Chepiga, AKA Ruslan Boshirov, just can’t get a break it seems. Ever since Bellingcat identified the self-proclaimed small businessman/tourist as a probable decorated GRU agent, things have just spiraled from there. While Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Ministry officials sound completely dumbstruck, multiple international news outlets (BBC, WaPo, Kommersant,)¬† ¬† have found several individuals from Chepiga’s past, openly identifying him and in some cases confirming that he worked in some kind of covert ops. Recently, some info has surfaced suggesting he might have had a hand in helping Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yushchenko escape to Russia. While there’s no corroboration for the latest story yet, what evidence exists does suggest that Chepiga was at least involved in some kind of covert activity in Ukraine in 2014.

Honestly I’m kind of surprised by how badly the Kremlin screwed up in this case. From the beginning of the Salisbury scandal, they seemed to outdo their past attempts at damage control by kicking it into high gear and putting out a rapid-fire stream of alternative explanations. Estimates range from around 37-38 different alternative narratives, all pointing in every direction except Russia, within the first few weeks of the initial poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. This, incidentally, was some of the best evidence pointing to Russian involvement prior to the revelation of “Ruslan Boshirov” and his accomplice “Alexander Petrov” (Petrov hasn’t been identified yet, though his documents show some key similarities to Chepiga’s). Had the Kremlin and its media just shut the fuck up and kept demanding some hard evidence, they might have got the benefit of the doubt from more people outside the online conspiracy theorist/St. Petersburg troll demographics.

But if they didn’t screw things up by flooding the information space with too many alternative narratives too quickly, the reveal of Boshirov and Petrov in their disastrous RT interview was just icing on the stupid cake.

Had the Kremlin’s information warriors not been complete morons who owe their positions to loyalty and not talent, they might have come up with a far better cover story for these two. For example, they might have claimed that they were being interviewed by the FSB or Investigative Committee, and some of the answers they gave in the actual interview could have been included in a partial report published by Russian authorities. But instead we were told that these guys just rang up RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on her personal cell phone and then in their interview they told the world of their dream to see the 123-meter spire of Salisbury cathedral.

Even Russia’s own propagandists couldn’t avoid showing their own disdain for this idiotic narrative. Several of them, including Margarita herself, subtly implied that Boshirov and Petrov were a gay couple trying to hide a very unusually-booked European getaway¬†(apparently the way it works with assassinations is if you succeed, you become a Duma deputy, and if you fail, you may be protected from extradition but you will be labeled a homosexual). Even Graham Fucking Phillips couldn’t accept the story as told in the RT interview.

Needless to say, the extra visibility provided by the interview no doubt helped Bellingcat and The Insider track down details on the two alleged assassins, and by extension helped them discover the identity of Mr. Chepiga. What I have found most amusing about all this is that Russian officials, and more hilariously foreign Kremlin supporters, have been contorting themselves in ever-more extravagant mental gymnastics in an attempt to explain away all the inconsistencies in their narrative. And yet now it has never been easier for the Kremlin to totally discredit Bellingcat for good.

After all, this Anatoly Chepiga is a Hero of the Russian Federation winner. Although Putin’s regime hands out medals like candy, the title of Hero of the Russian Federation is still rarely bestowed. Plus Chepiga’s name appears on a monument to Heroes of the Soviet Union/Russian Federation. Therefore all Russia has to do to totally destroy this narrative and take Bellingcat’s reputation down at the same time is produce the real Anatoly Chepiga and provide a few details about his award and military career. It could also provide proof of “Petrov” and “Boshirov’s” fitness/supplements business (many Russians run online stores if they don’t own brick and mortar shops). At least some of this could have been accomplished literally within hours of Bellingcat’s Chepiga story breaking, and yet now it has been several days and we have seen nothing of the sort. In fact, Russian official PR flacks like Peskov and Zakharova have been unusually evasive on this issue, leaving foreign Putin fanboys with the burden of having to come up with some kind of plausible explanation.

And to think, all of this happened because they just didn’t know when to shut up.

 

 

Oh shit, here it comes again.

Anyone remember that “reset” button Obama talked about back in 2009? Remember when Romney’s campaign team went ape-shit over Obama being caught telling Dmitry Medvedev that he could be more “flexible” after the election? ¬†Do you? ¬†Well now this is happening:

http://news.yahoo.com/russia-angrily-rejects-us-spying-accusations-124106928.html

Yup, another espionage accusation, this time coming from the US. ¬†I don’t have much to say about this except a comment on this excerpt:

Zaytsev’s case comes amid friction in U.S.-Russian ties, which have been strained over differences on Syria, Moscow’s decision to give refuge to former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden and the Kremlin’s crackdown on the opposition and rights activists.

First off the bat one should eliminate the bit about the “crackdown on the opposition and rights activists” part. ¬†Washington feigned concern but ultimately doesn’t care. ¬†In fact much of the opposition seems to have fallen in line with the Kremlin thanks to the actions of the US in the past year, and that brings me to the second point. ¬†Nowhere in the list of reasons for poor relations between the two countries do we see any mention of the Magnitsky Act, a ridiculous law which basically punishes people without trial or even investigation, and more importantly is entirely selective in the sense that it is aimed at Russia and not countries friendly to the US despite far worse human rights violations on an almost daily basis. ¬†There is also the issue of the US blundering ahead with the “missile defense” shield, a ridiculous plan which costs untold billions and which is designed to counter a threat which does not currently exist.

Of course Russia’s reactions to many of these moves have not been positive, and some like the outright adoption ban for US citizens are absolutely monstrous. ¬†That being said, here we can see a very basic cause of hostility between Russia and the West, and we also see why understanding hasn’t flourished between the two nationalities in the past twenty years. ¬†Western media sources are happy to cite Russia’s reactionary moves without mentioning what they were in reaction to. ¬†You can see this going back to 1999 with the bombing of Serbia. ¬†The truth is that regardless of what they might say in public or on the internet, most people in Russia today, and probably even more so back then, do not truly, deeply, care about Serbs. ¬†I doubt many could even say anything about Serbs other than that they are Orthodox by religion and that they were attacked by NATO. ¬†But what I think deep down many people¬†did care about, and I’m basing this on my own reaction as well, was NATO’s sheer arrogance. Here was an organization which was supposedly created for defense against the USSR(even though NATO was formed in 1949 while its equivalent, the Warsaw Pact, formed only in 1955), and yet for some unknown reason it not only lived on after the “end of the Cold War” but it actually expanded. ¬†In 1999, that very same “defensive” organization basically told the world, Russia included, that it would decide who was right in a civil conflict and if the “wrong” side disagreed it would use overwhelming military force to punish them. ¬†Now if you’re a Gen X-er like me and you remember the years immediately after the collapse of the USSR, you surely remember all the celebration surrounding the end of the Cold War, and the popular idea that now the United States and Russia would be “friends.” ¬†So popular was the idea of US/Russian friendship that it actually appeared in the blockbuster¬†Terminator 2: Judgement Day. ¬†But before the decade was out the US and NATO began to engage in a series of distinctly unfriendly actions.

The obliviousness of both American politicians and Western journalists to this context is quite infuriating, so much so that when responding to certain statements or comments I end up sounding like I’m on Team Russia. ¬†What choice do I have? I can’t just sit by while some politician or idiot journalist launches a salvo against Russia’s “human rights abuses” while utterly ignoring those of their own country and allies. ¬†Regardless of what side it’s coming from, the attitude of “It doesn’t count if we do it,” is something I cannot tolerate. ¬†It’s one of the things I left America to escape, only to find it alive and well here.

The point is that the United States has a lot of choices and luxuries that Putin simply doesn’t have. ¬†Obama can choose to save the US taxpayers hundreds of billions and cancel the missile defense shield. ¬†He could have saved a handsome sum and possibly secured American lives by not lending support and legitimacy to Salafist terrorists in Syria. ¬†He could have not made such a fuss over Snowden, as it was not Russia’s fault he ended up there. ¬†American corporations are making good money in Russia but they’d probably make a lot more if Obama and the State Department stopped prodding Russia with sticks.

The truth is that the Russian regime is not strong, it is weak. This is why it needed to lock up three stupid performance artists for so long. This is why it supplicates in the face of racist rioters who attack police, and does not search for connections between the ensuing property damage and people who might have organized it for their own benefit.  This is why the government bans or at least proposes bans for any speech it finds offensive.  It all shows signs of weakness. Now while these things cannot be justified, we do need to understand why they get such support and garner little opposition.  If the US and NATO, having a clear advantage, continuing prodding and provoking Russia, political liberalization is simply not going to happen.  The regime will clam up and make more appeals to nationalism and patriotism.  It really is this simple. I realize that many political scientists and pundits may say otherwise, but you also have to keep in mind that many of these people are the same idiots who lend to support to infantile notions such as the Democratic Peace Theory.  So you know, take it with a grain of salt.

Of course there always is another side of the coin: Perhaps the reason why the US doesn’t reach out to improve relations with Russia is because the ruling regimes of both countries do not wish such a reconciliation.