Tag Archives: Russia

WORLD WAR THREE!!!

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

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

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

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

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

-Supply non-lethal, then lethal aid to Ukraine

-Accidentally bombing Russia’s Syrian allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Advertisements

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I Did It…

So as some of you may have heard, Bellingcat, or for you RT fans out there, “Soros/State Department-funded regime-change SmellingCIAt,” blew the lid on the second Skripal suspect. SPOILERS: He’s not “Alexander Petrov,” the totally unassuming fitness supplement salesman and church spire enthusiast who might be secretly gay. Turns out he’s actually Alexander Mishkin, a military doctor with the GRU, and like his colleague Anatoly Chepiga, a winner of the easily-traceable Hero of the Russian Federation award. What more can you say except:

Where did they go so wrong? Journalist Andrew Roth put it succinctly on Twitter today:

This sentiment, which I too expressed in my earlier post about Chepiga, is confirmed by Bellingcat in their expose of Mishkin.

“The starting point for our research was a passport photograph of “Alexander Petrov,”as well as security camera photos and video footage from this person’s interview on RT.”  

Some might suggest that the interview was just another example of Kremlin trolling, like when Putin spoke about “local” self-defense militias in Crimea shortly before openly acknowledging they were Russian soldiers (the military vehicles and latest Russian uniforms and kit were a dead giveaway), or when he denied any involvement in the U.S. election but then made a quip about “patriotic hackers.” I can agree that perhaps this was the initial intent behind the RT interview, but it seems they were phoning it in from the beginning and everyone could see it. It’s almost as if they just ran out of energy to lie, even in the typical unconvincing way that they do. It’s almost as if they’re going to stop trying to conduct counter-narratives where MI6/CIA/Russian liberals/Pravy Sektor/White Helmets are possible culprits and instead just continually repeat “PROOFS! SHOW US PROOFS!” incessantly until you go away.

 

Seriously though, this is too big a screw up to attribute to trolling. If they were smart, they never would have let these men give an interview, and certainly not with Margarita Simonyan, who is the editor-in-chief of RT. As I suggested in a previous post, the smartest thing to do, if you can call their usual approach smart, is to continue putting out the endless alternative narratives while publicly announcing that the FSB and Investigative Committee are interviewing the two men to get to the bottom of these “totally boundless accusations from our British colleagues!”

There’s precedent for this as well. In December 2014 the Investigative Committee announced that it had an anonymous witness who was former Ukrainian military and stationed at an air base at the time of the downing of MH17 (i.e. 17 July 2014). Somehow this witness saw a Ukrainian Su-25 pilot (Captain Vladislav Voloshin, who committed suicide earlier this year) take off from the base and return with one air-to-air missile gone. Much later on, the Investigative Committee later revealed the name of this witness, but of course this was around the time Russia switched to swearing that their “investigation” (carried out mainly by Buk SAM manufacturer Almaz-Antey) conclusively determined that a Buk missile shot down the airliner. Of course if you missed those latest Russian claims which are totally true and accurate, RT and Sputnik got you and any other fans of the idiotic Su-25 theory covered, because in the end all that matters is that you believe anyone but Russia was responsible for this tragedy.

Something similar could have been done with Chepiga and Mishkin, AKA Boshirov and Petrov. The Clown Committee could release a typical boilerplate statement about how it is opening a criminal investigation into the matter of Boshirov and Petrov, and Putin could have said he was ordering them to take the matter under “special control.” Basic elements of the story we saw in the RT interview could have been published in a “report” a week or two later, without all that bullshit about the spire and the roads choked with snow.  Maybe, a very short, much better-rehearsed interview could have been shot with an ordinary employee of Rossiya 1 or First Channel.

And with that- you’re done. It’s still largely bullshit, it’s still not exonerating anything, but just enough plausible deniability that you won’t force the Kremlin apologists who still give a shit about appearing to have a shred of credibility to wear themselves out doing mental gymnastics.

Damn. It really tells you how badly Russia’s intelligence and propaganda agencies have screwed up when I’m the one practically giving them free advice on how to do their jobs.

The Ties That Bind

If there’s one common theme we hear from grifters narrative architects about Russian influence operations, it’s that the object is to “divide” American society in order to weaken it. The proof, we’re told, is in the fact that much of the material put out by Russian soft power organs like RT and Sputnik, as well as the social media content from the St. Petersburg “troll factory,” is aimed at both far-right and far-left audiences. This allegedly means the Russians want to divide society by promoting polarized narratives. I’m sorry to say, but this is bullshit.

This delusion lives on because it is pleasing to certain people among the political class. It speaks to their unrealistic vision of an America where people may disagree on a few core issues, but at heart share much in common. In other words it’s Obama’s “there’s no red or blue America” speech. In reality, America has been very divided for quite some time, and while it may seem like Russian propaganda is aimed at further polarizing society, I’d say it’s more about unifying certain elements more than anything.

Over the past few years, regular readers have noted my increasing concern over red-brown activity, i.e. the coordination, both witting and unwitting, between the far-left and far-right. Historically the far-right has always tried to appropriate concepts from the left and co-opt leftists movements, but since the end of the Cold War certain actors have strove to embrace and advance this convergence for a number of aims. Where Russia is concerned, the neo-fascist Alexander Dugin appears to have made red-brown organizing a conscious strategy, one that has become a pillar of Russian soft power.

In short, Russian influence operations do not, in fact, aim to divide society in other countries, but rather unify certain elements against others. Where it cannot create actual alliances, it aims to get disparate groups to agree on certain talking points even if they may espouse them for different reasons and with different intentions. The fact that the propaganda being put out has polarizing messages is beside the point; it is designed that way simply to find a loyal audience. The main goal, once people of certain political views are hooked, is to turn them toward the Kremlin’s position on certain foreign policy goals.

We see this constantly not only in America but in other countries as well, such as Germany. Whether far-right or far-left, even in those countries where such people are often involved in bloody streetfighting, we see curious uniformity when it comes to certain issues that are near and dear to the Kremlin. Supporting Ukraine is a “proxy war,” brought on by a NATO-inspired “coup.” It matters little whether the person receiving and hopefully regurgitating the message believes that Ukraine has been taken over by neo-Nazis or liberal crypto-Jews; all that matters is that the audience is hostile to Ukrainian independence, identity, and territorial integrity. Similarly, it is irrelevant whether the same person supports Russia’s claims on that country because they identify it with the Soviet Union or as a champion resisting the neoliberal hegemony or because they see it as the last hope for the “white race” and “Western civilization.” What is important to the Kremlin is unity- unity around that key point.

No doubt the best example of this unity is in the case of Syria, where many leftists have so easily bought into the Kremlin/Assadist narrative that they find themselves in bed with literal fascist parties and even neo-Nazi icons such as David Duke. Again, from the Kremlin point of view it is utterly unimportant whether the reason for backing Assad or at least opposing his removal is “anti-imperialism” or the belief that he fights against a “Zionist New World Order.” All that matters is that the talking points are repeated- Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate ruler of Syria. The rebels are either all al Qaeda-linked Salafist jihadists or at least such people would surely dominate any future Syria without Assad.

Of course when it comes to the extreme right and left in many countries, they will often come close to such positions on their own, typically due to reasons inherent in their respective ideologies. But without direction, these groups might not always find their way to positions that benefit the Kremlin’s foreign policy aims. For example, while Russia clearly won the battle for hearts and minds when it comes to neo-Nazis and Ukraine, easily wooing more far-rightists to fight for their pseudo-states in the Donbas than the Ukrainian far-right was able to win to their side, the latter did manage to get some recruits. Were it not for the Russian propaganda machine, the split might have been more even. The same goes for recruitment of the far-left, as many more open-minded leftists around the world were supportive of Maidan for its revolutionary, anti-corruption aspects. Russian propaganda aimed at both ends of the spectrum helps guide disparate, even diametrically opposed sides to the same conclusions on key issues, though they may take different paths.

So in the future let’s put aside the idea that the aim of Russian disinformation is to divide society- our societies are divided and in many cases for very good reasons. After all, we cannot have unity with political groupings or tendencies that seek to strip away the civil rights of others. The key to understanding Russian influence operations (and doubtless those of other countries), is to understand their unifying aim. What are they trying to get disparate political tendencies to agree on, one way or another?

Devil’s Dictionary

One of my more popular pieces on this blog is the Russia Watcher’s Field Guide, which is why it occupies a permanent position as a page rather than a post. Today I’d like to induct a few new concepts into the parlance, though rather than just add them to the field guide I’d like to describe them at length. So, without further ado…

The Gerasimov Gambit

“I see the Team Deza is deploying all its active measures against my recent Tweet, where I called out Medicare-for-all as a Kremlin ploy to divide America. You always get the most flak over the target!”  -Some imbecile on Twitter

So there’s this logical fallacy often invoked by morons called the “Galileo Gambit.” This is a technique whereby some crank uses the fact that their theories are ignored and/or ridiculed by “the establishment” as proof that they are right. “After all, they laughed at Galileo, did they not?” 

Naturally this is dumb, and people who use this formulation are dumb. You know what’s also dumb? When you’re some 2016-minted “Russia expert” whose response to any criticism or question about credentials is to accuse your critics of being agents of the Kremlin, or at best, useful idiots.

There are people who attract hostility from paid Twitter trolls and Kremlin media because their work is actually a threat to the regime’s agenda (e.g. Bellingcat), and then there are people who attract the same hostility and harassment simply because they are low-hanging fruit, and when you’re a propagandist defending an indefensible regime you need that fruit to be as low as possible.

So yeah, maybe you get the most flak over the target, but that might not necessarily be the best military metaphor to describe what it is you’re doing. Are you really a B17 pilot flying on a mission to bomb a torpedo factory? Or are you an infantryman running towards a hardened machine-gun nest waving your arms and screaming?

gerasimov2

He is everywhere! He is watching you, hybridly!

Dictatorship Tourist Syndrome (DTS)

“Our mainstream media is constantly telling us that this country is an authoritarian dictatorship where nobody has any human rights. But I, an American, have been here for a whole week, speaking to teachers, policemen, and workers in state-owned enterprises with the help of my government-provided interpreter and I don’t feel oppressed at all! In fact I feel as free if not freer than I do at home, and for that I’m overwhelmingly grateful to the government organization that invited me on this press junket they organized!”

-Useful idiot

I’ve seen many examples of this over the years, but lately there was a bit of a cluster of such cases during the recent World Cup in Russia. In fact, this isn’t at all exclusive to Russia. You see examples of this shit all the time in countries run by differing degrees of dictatorships.

Some time ago I wrote an article about expat privilege, but this goes way beyond that. Expats are often aware of the problems in the country they live in, even if they don’t face the consequences or at least not to the extent that natives do. If you’re a tourist in a country, you probably don’t know dick about real life there. This goes double if you’re on some state-organized press junket like those that Russia and Syria have offered in the past.

Back in 2011 I went to China and I can still say it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. Yes, I was a bit shocked by things like the lack of central heating and doors (seriously what is the deal with that?), but in general everything was great. I can’t honestly tell you I saw signs of authoritarian oppression or corruption. The thing is, though, I’m smart enough to realize that just because I don’t personally witness something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

The fact is that dictatorships, even some of the most authoritarian ones, have never been incapable of showing some guests a good time. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany pulled it off all the time (Nazi Germany even dressed up one of its concentration camps to make it seem like a veritable spa resort). Modern dictatorships like Russia are nowhere near as restricted, and thus it’s even easier for visitors to get the idea that all this talk of human rights violations and repression is “just propaganda from the mainstream media.” Don’t do this. Don’t think “everything you’ve heard is a lie” just because you weren’t arrested and shot in the face after two days in the country.

Kremlin Koncern Troll

“This new Cold War is ever so awful! It’s so terrible how there’s so much misunderstanding between the West and Russia now, and it’s really dangerous too! If only more Westerners knew the truth about Russia. The West is really spreading so much Russophobic propaganda! Such a terrible misunderstanding!” 

-The Kremlin Koncern Troll

I want to clarify something about this term. When I use the term Kremlin here I am only implying that these people promote a certain kind of Kremlin narrative with their rhetoric. I do not mean to imply that these people work for the Kremlin or the Russian state in any way. Most of these people hold sincere beliefs and a lot of times they fall for such narratives because they have personal relationships with ordinary Russians so it’s only natural to acquire some biases.

With that out of the way, one must understand the concept of a “concern troll.” This is an old internet term for someone who shows up in online discussions and pretends to be on the same side as the majority of the posters. They typically couch their rhetoric as constructive criticism or playing Devil’s advocate. However, over time it becomes clear that the concern troll seems to take more issue with the ideas of their supposed allies than their perceived opponents. Concern trolling can often be expressed via things like false equivalencies or “both sides” arguments, constant worrying about “our methods,” etc. In any movement, groupthink and cult-like behavior is bad, naturally, but when it seems someone takes more issue with the group than anyone else, it’s fair to ask whether they’re actually supporting the same cause or the opposite.

From time to time I encounter these would-be peacemakers, Westerners, who assure us that they just want to clear up all the misunderstandings we see between the West and Russia right now. First of all this is kind of disingenuous because the fact is that the number one reason for the breakdown in Russian-Western relations is neither the West nor Russian people but the Putin regime, plain and simple. The truth is that apart from some tough talk and the extremely limited Magnitsky Act, the West was more than happy to look the other way and defer to the Kremlin while Putin and his cronies robbed Russia’s citizens and stashed the money away in Western banks and luxury real estate. Hell, when Bashar al-Assad launched a major chemical weapons attack, Putin took credit for the proposal to work with the US in disposing of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, and the supposedly hell-bent-on-regime-change US government went right along with it. And of course after that Assad never used chemical weapons again. Oh wait. Shit. What was the thing that led to a real breakdown in relations? The annexation of Crimea by Russia. And even then, the really serious sanctions didn’t come until Russia’s proxy forces shot down a civilian airliner killing 298 people. So no, this wasn’t exactly mutual.

Look, I have no problem examining the West’s blunders toward Russia, whether in the 90’s or the early Putin era. But that only goes so far. Of course Russia is allowed to have security interests, but if those interests including getting a privileged sphere of influence where it gets to approve the presidents of other countries and determine their constitutional order (as they clearly have wanted to do with Ukraine), well I’m sorry that just can’t be accommodated. Still, while there are many Russians who agree with these policies and narratives, I must reiterate that the problem is the actual policies of the Kremlin, and the people had no say in that.

Of course the KKT doesn’t stop at “both sides” when it comes to clearing up this horrible misunderstanding they call the New Cold War. No it always seems to turn out that the problem is Westerners not knowing anything about Russians and never the other way around. They start off acting like there’s this mutual misunderstanding, but they end up explicitly or implicitly telling you that it’s the West’s fault for not being understanding enough. Realistically, Russia is a rather xenophobic country (caveat- it seems every country has been getting more xenophobic as of late). Russians have just as many inaccurate stereotypes about Westerners as Westerners have about them. But this is somewhat irrelevant because the situation we see in terms of bilateral relations with Russia isn’t because Americans think Russians sit around drinking vodka with bears or because Russians think Americans can’t find anything on a map and think they won the Second World War singlehandedly. It happened because of specific actions either ordered or condoned by the Russian government, actions which are hostile to the West and its citizens. And again let me reinforce the point that the Kremlin took those actions because it sees them as conducive to remaining in power, and remaining in power means continuing to rob and pillage the peoples of the Russian Federation.

As I said before, I don’t think all of the people who engage in this behavior are active or conscious supporters of the Putin regime. Yes, such people do use similar rhetoric, but they also tend to be far more open about which side they support. The people I’m talking about seem to do it out of a concern for balance, or more often than not, a certain flaw in reasoning that is often common among people on the left. Here I’m referring to the idea that only the U.S. or West acts, while other countries only react to those actions. So when someone on American TV slams the Kremlin for interfering in our election, this gets portrayed as hysteria, “McCarthyism,” or “Russophobia,” while no attention is paid to the fact that Russia’s state media is almost constantly running blatantly anti-Western narratives almost round the clock. Louise Mensch? Eric Garland? On Russian state TV people with that level of credibility are often regular guests on talk shows. And if you think some US pundit criticizing the Russian election hacking is aggressive and dangerous, maybe do a little research to see how often Russian state media openly talks about nuking the West.

This isn’t a mutual misunderstanding. The current state of relations between the West and Russia can be blamed largely on one side, one man, in fact- Vladimir Putin.

 

Trump As Allegory

So I’m packing to go on a trip to NYC tomorrow and a thought just crossed my mind that I had to write about. This past week has been, in general, one giant shitshow as the sponge-brained old racist uncle-in-chief prostrated and cowered next to Putin. From an almost flat-out refusal to acknowledge interference in the 2016 election to a pathetically weak response to Putin’s suggestion of turning over officials such as former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Trump has pretty much convinced every rational-minded person in America that he is, at best, subservient to or afraid of Vladimir Putin.

But what if there’s a lesson in all this? What if Trump’s behavior, as despicable and craven as it is, is just exposing the truth about Russia and the West, in the same way Trump totally debunked the idea that America is a “post-racial” society?

If we look at interactions between Putin and other Western leaders who are considered sufficiently “tough” on Putin, we see that while they often talk a big game about standing up to him either outside of his presence or at press conferences, they rarely back their words with action. Macron living it up with Putin at the World Cup is a perfect example of this. Ditto Merkel and Nord Stream II, although to her credit she seems to have put a damper on Putin’s dream of cutting Ukraine out of the gas network. And while Obama did bring several successful rounds of sanctions against Russia since 2014, it wasn’t enough to deter Putin from getting directly involved in Syria, or more importantly- interfering with the US political system itself.

So the along walks Trump, a man who seems to have a special affinity for the dictator in Moscow. Trump hasn’t actually managed to lift sanctions; he’s delayed on implementing some of them but new individuals and companies still get added to the sanctions list nonetheless. He doesn’t recognize Crimea as Russian, but he doesn’t really do anything for Ukraine. He doesn’t really suggest new ways to deter or punish Russian aggression, but he doesn’t uproot those in place.

In a sense, Trump is just openly doing what the US and Western governments did with Russia for years, if not decades. Whether it was under Yeltsin or Putin, the Western leaders expressed “concern” over conditions in Russia or Russian moves abroad, but they never took any action until Putin forced their hand by unleashing another war in Europe. This kind of deference to Moscow seems to be rooted in two factors. The first is the capitalist system that wants Russian investment and investment opportunities in Russia, a large potential market. The second is the very old inability to recognize Moscow-dominated Russia for what it is- the last European colonial empire. We saw plenty of the former during the boom of the mid-2000s, when the West was more than happy to ignore or at most, pay some lip service to the issue of human rights in Russia while billions of petrodollars were skimmed off and pumped into Western luxury items and elite property in London, New York, Miami, or the South of France. In the case of the latter, note how the West has expressed support for former Soviet republics, yet says nothing about non-Russian territories within the inappropriately named Russian Federation (it’s not really a federation).

I’m not excusing Trump’s behavior or saying it’s no cause for real concern, but I can’t help but notice that in a way, all Trump has done is put an end to the empty lip service and openly embraced Putin as opposed to talking a big game in public while making deals with him behind closed doors.

This is something Westerners need to seriously think about after Trump is gone. So many of the people who today tell us that we’ve experienced another Pearl Harbor or, as Morgan Freeman put it, “we are at war,” either support or worked for politicians who in the past had the same knowledge we have about Russia today, yet still accepted key parts of the Kremlin’s narrative and enabled many of its nefarious actions. Maybe the silver lining of Trump’s recent actions is that people will start waking up to that fact.