Pyotr Romanov’s crappletastic article in The Moscow Times is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever read. I literally don’t even know where to begin with this moronic article. Romanov manages to hit almost every meme on the Russian sanctions bingo card. Russians don’t really care about the sanctions. They don’t even think about them. They aren’t worried. The sanctions barely affect them. The sanctions are utterly useless. The sanctions aren’t working. But could you please just remove those sanctions that are totally ineffective?
Even Russians are starting to joke about how much energy and time some of their countrymen dedicate to telling anybody and everybody how little they care about Western sanctions on their country. On the Russian internet, plenty of people remind us daily of how little they care for the sanctions. Sanctions? Are those even a thing? Who could have predicted that sanctions which were mostly levied against specific individuals, banks, and companies wouldn’t have an immediate affect on Sergei Kuznetsov, a security guard at a toy store in Nizhny Novgorod? How infuriating this knowledge would be to the leaders of America and the European Union, were they even aware of his existence, let alone his personal statement of defiance!
Getting back to Romanov, I could pick his article apart almost line by line in terms historical inaccuracies, but given my limited time I decided to focus on the main idea of this unholy duck orgy of an article. Romanov explains how Western leaders, brace yourselves, don’t understand the Russian national character, and therefore their sanctions will be totally ineffective. Indeed, so ineffective and insignificant are these sanctions that the West would be better off just removing them and letting Russia do what it wants. Not that it matters if they don’t remove the sanctions, because Russians don’t care. They really don’t. Trust Mr. Romanov. Come on. Remove the sanctions. They’re useless. Nobody cares. Might as well get rid of them.
Romanov’s first mistake is assuming that Westerners don’t understand Russia’s national character. Yes, once again it’s the attack of the “we’re so special and mysterious, you couldn’t possibly understand” meme. Aside from making that typical mistake, Romanov is also making the idiotic mistake of believing that the West is somehow only concerned with economics, to the exclusion of cultural features. This is par for the course with Kremlin supporters and their foreign flacks. The strawman argument is that Russia has this “special path” because it’s just so unique, doncha know? Foolish Western eggheads think every nation is the same.
Of course this is sheer idiocy of the highest degree. Who could travel from Canada, through the US, over to Ireland, down to the shores of Great Britain, across the channel, through Germany, and all the way into Ukraine, all the while not noticing the profound cultural, political, and economic differences which exist between all the countries one would necessarily pass through on such a journey? Yes, France and Germany are both republics in the European Union. Yes they both espouse a liberal doctrine of democracy. Does that make the French and Germans the same? Absolutely not. It’s not that Russia’s powerful elite is afraid of losing Russia’s unique cultural attributes should the country establish a more democratic form of government. After all, these people have forked over billions of dollars of their country’s wealth so as to surround themselves with Western luxury and make themselves and their children into what they imagine Europeans to be. What they are afraid of is Russians having more opportunity to hold them accountable. While political participation in other nations varies significantly from country to country, in nearly all cases it far exceeds the capacity of Russian citizens in this respect. Many Europeans, Britons, the Irish, Americans, etc. do not hold to a worldview which says one should be obedient and ever-trusting of one’s own government, because it is allegedly on their side. For Russia’s ruling elite, this attitude plus a greater expansion of that oh-so-fashionable “civil society” would be an utter tragedy.
Does Romanov add anything to the usual clap-trap about Russia’s “national character?” No, he only claims that Russians will endure these economic hardships because they think they are right. Oh did I mention that Romanov is supposedly a historian? I bring that up now because while he mentions revolutions in Russia’s past, he never seems to notice that these revolutions upset his whole thesis. The two revolutions in 1917 were connected with food and fuel shortages. The fall of the Soviet Union was largely caused by a failing economy ravaged by the bone-headed policies of Perestroika. In other words, the idea that Russians will just sit tight and endure any hardship has been put to the test, and as it turns out it’s false.
Good for the Russians for not putting up with that bullshit, in fact. The main problem with Romanov’s thesis is that he treats eternal patience as though it’s this wonderful virtue when it isn’t, at least not inherently so. We admire rebels and revolutionaries because they do not simply lie down take it. On the contrary, they stand up and say, “No more!” This is the same sentiment RT loves manipulating with its endless Guy Fawkes’ mask bullshit.
Do Russians have more of a capacity for endurance than Western people? We often assume this must be the case, because Westerners are thought of as being surrounded by luxury and consumer goods. We are, supposedly, “soft.” Yet few Russians today could handle the hardships their ancestors fought in the Second World War, or something much worse- Tsarist times. Indeed, the Soviet people showed boundless endurance for the hardships of war which were forced upon them from without, but this was because the alternative was literal extermination or at best, enslavement. This was a true act of defiance.
Romanov, however, prefers that the Russians submit and obey a ruling class who treats them with utter contempt, and makes little pretense otherwise. He’s quite happy if they are fully aware of this, yet out of fear they hold their tongues and salute the flag. Let the make the sacrifice so that their tiny rich elite can stay rich. Some of them may have been sanctioned, but they can still send their children abroad to study. Meanwhile poor Ms. Ivanova has to shut up when she receives a notice that her precious, who was conscripted to the army, was killed…somewhere, somehow.
Proof of Romanov’s support of this view can be found in this quote:
In order to hold and defend Russia’s vast territory — from the Baltic region to the Pacific Ocean — Russians have needed a strong state and a strong leader, and they had to exhibit an “exceptional resilience” in their own lives. Over the centuries, those conditions for survival have shaped the Russian character.
To be sure, very small states have had very strong leaders. At the same time, the US, Canada, and China are all very large states which don’t seem to need a strong leader such as the one Russia supposedly needs now. Yes, Russia is bigger than any of those countries, but much of that land is sparsely populated and always will be. Moreover, one could argue that Russia had strong leaders when it wasn’t anywhere near the size of the Russian Federation today. When Romanov says that Russians have a national character which requires a strong national leader, he is truly saying only one thing- Russians are stupid. Let’s formalize that, shall we?
Pyotr Romanov believes Russians are stupid.
I’m sorry but there really is just no other way to explain that. Americans don’t need a “strong leader” like Putin. Obama faces daily attacks from both left and right. RT still operates an affiliate in the US. America doesn’t need to ban people from leaving the country or constantly legislate more and more restrictions on media. If anything we don’t have enough rules regarding media ownership. Obama will be gone, come January of 2017; nobody is suggesting we need him to stay so as to deal with this “new Cold War” that has arisen. As my friend often asks his students on this matter- Are Americans smarter than Russians? If they are not, why are they permitted these freedoms, which must be denied to Russians. It’s not “national character.” Romanov and his cronies think Russians are stupid. There’s really no way around it.
Romanov reaches critical moron mass with this passage:
And finally, while Westerners are accustomed to operating within the framework of clearly defined laws, Russians are more attuned to the idea of justice. That is why most Russians care little about arguments that Moscow annexed Crimea in violation of international law.
Romanov’s understanding of law and justice is seriously flawed to begin with. First of all, Romanov treats the two concepts as though they are two vastly different things. There is St. Augustine’s concept that an unjust law is not law at all, but there is nothing just about the annexation of the Crimea. Furthermore, the idea that Russians have a keen sense of justice is simply laughable to anyone who reads the daily news in this country, or who lives here and simply has functioning eyes and ears. The mothers of soldiers who mysteriously died are labeled as traitors by people who buy their sons’ way out of the army. People who live in luxury bought with stolen wealth demand that the people they stole it from tighten their belts. Is that justice?
Russian diplomats and politicians, by virtue of their job descriptions, are prepared to debate that issue, but the overwhelming majority of Russians would simply assert that the annexation restored historical justice. Like Cicero, they hold that whatever is most fair is also most right.
No, Mr. Romanov, Russian diplomats and politicians don’t really debate that issue, because they cannot. Within Russia, when they don’t want to debate something they simply label any argument to the contrary “propaganda” or a “provocation,” and then pass a law banning it. Of course they cannot use the power of the state to control foreign politicians and journalists, ergo they do not debate. What is the best argument they assert? They put forth Kosovo’s referendum on independence as a precedent which legitimizes the annexation. So do they then recognize Kosovo, as would be just? No, they do not. Did they recognize the justice of Chechnya’s decision to separate from the Russian Federation? Of course not.
There is no historical justice or fairness in the annexation of the Crimea. The Crimea was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR by the Soviet government, for good reasons. Russians today idolize the Soviet Union, cry about Ukrainians smashing Lenin monuments, and love Stalin, or at least a highly distorted version of him who never actually existed. And yet we are to believe that there is one issue you’re allowed to criticize when it comes to either of those men or the USSR in general- that is the transfer of the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR. I’m terribly sorry, Russians, but you cannot have it both ways. I would happily prefer you to go full Tsarist on all of us. Show your true colors and stop dragging the working class’ red flag through the mud. Stop pouring shame upon the graves of over 25 million people who died defending a socialist country of not only Russians, but Ukrainians, Belorussians, Tatars, Uzbeks, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Buryats, and so many more. If you want to go back to the near-medieval mudhole that was Tsarist Russia, go there alone without dragging others with you. Either you accept responsibility for the Soviet Union or you don’t. You do not get to steal its accomplishments while rejecting those things that you think were “unfair” to you.
Ask yourself this question- Suppose Ukrainian leaders suspected that Russia would attempt to annex the Crimea after Yanukovych left. Imagine they had communicated these fears to NATO, and in response, before Russia could react, an American-led NATO force landed in the Crimea to bolster security around Ukrainian military bases and airports. Suppose there had been a nationwide referendum on this occupation, so as to legitimize it, and the measure passed. Would Russians call that fair and just? Of course not. They’d be screaming about an invasion of the Ukraine, interference in internal affairs of sovereign nations, and violations of international law. That right there tells you about how keen their sense of justice is.
There was nothing unfair about the Crimea being a part of Ukraine either. When that was the case, it was far more accessible to Russians than it is now. My wife visited the Crimea via train and did not even so much as get a stamp on her passport. Of course there was one downside, but a downside for Russia’s criminal elite. They could not control the lucrative port facilities, often a scene of all manner of smuggling and trafficking. Prior to the annexation of the Crimea, one rarely heard Russians expressing so much enthusiasm about the Crimea. If they had been there and enjoyed it, yes, they talked about it, but Russians were more interested in vacationing in Europe, the United States, Egypt, Turkey, India, or Thailand. Even after the annexation, I’ve seen few Russians who are interested in actually going to Crimea. They don’t want to go there, but it’s important that it’s “theirs.” Of course that change in ownership is turning out to be the iceberg which will sink the Russian Titanic, which brings us back to Romanov’s ideas about economics.
What’s more, a recent survey by the Levada Center found that while in September 60 percent of Russians felt affected by the sanctions, only 47 percent felt that way by November. Interestingly, 80 percent of respondents also noted the sharp rise in prices and the worsening of Russia’s economy in recent years. Isn’t that strange? Don’t these people get it?
No, Pyotr, they don’t get it. First of all, there’s no reason for the sanctions, many of which are aimed at specific individuals, to have an immediate and profound effect on the ordinary Russians who answer that survey. If any sanction has had a serious effect that they might feel, it would be those that Putin has effectively levied against his own people, namely the foodstuffs import ban. Of course another reason why people answer that way is because they simply don’t understand economics or what is about to happen to them. This isn’t particularly unique to Russia- America is full of people who have wacky ideas about economics.
Actually, it is the West that doesn’t get it. Russians take it all in stride: “Yes, life has become more difficult,” they say, “but we will survive.” It is nothing new for Russians to have to tighten their belts and ride out the problems with a few extra bags of potatoes and an extra jar or two of pickles from their dacha gardens.
No, they do not take it in stride. When they aren’t constantly complaining about it or quietly exchanging their rubles for dollars as fast as they can, they’re treating one another like shit. This is hardly taking things in stride. Even their rants about America are nothing but a safe way to let off steam. Romanov’s ideas about pickles and potatoes from the dacha just show how out of touch he is with Russian reality. Speaking of which, not all Russians will be tightening their belts. If there’s been one direct effect of the sanctions, it’s that all Russian citizens have paid to bailout the sanctioned Rotenberg brothers. Looks like they aren’t interested in living off those extra pickles and potatoes from the vast dachas they undoubtedly own.
That, my friends, is the whole tragedy of Russia’s supposed “national character.” Russia’s oligarchical elite caused this mess, and the people are forced to pay for it. Even when Western leaders tailor their sanctions to target those responsible instead of the ordinary Russian citizen, it’s the latter that pays. There is nothing admirable in accepting this.
Also I really hate to go here, but remember when I said Romanov’s thesis has been tested and refuted? Well let’s just remember that we’re talking about a country where women in vast numbers sold their own bodies for Western consumer goods, including cosmetics, shoes, and handbags. Many Russian women still willingly go abroad to work as prostitutes, or marry men strictly for the prospects of a life outside of Russia. Did they forget about the pickles from the dacha? Please spare me your nonsense about Russians being more attuned to non-material things. Consumerism is far more rampant in Russia. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Russia is the way it is because the small elite wants to continue robbing from the nation. What do they then spend that wealth on? Western products, from cars, to clothes, to education for their children. This country suffers because of the rampant consumerism of a small minority of people. Russians can pretended to be stoic about this all they want. It isn’t admirable, it isn’t a quality. It’s submissive and humiliating. I’m actually embarrassed on their behalf. Americans would never tolerate one quarter of the bullshit the Russian government subjects its citizens to.
The coup de bullshitte in this piece comes near the end, where Romanov pulls his little “I don’t care about sanctions but please remove them” routine.
Even if sanctions succeed in weakening Russia, they will fail to achieve their primary goals. What’s more, they cause a great deal of hardship on those who impose them. I seriously doubt that European voters will want to re-elect leaders who cut them off from the lucrative Russian market and launched a new version of the Cold War.
First we must ask what goals. Romanov acts as though these sanctions are some kind of offensive against Russia, aimed at subjugating and destroying her. Nonsense. The sanctions were levied in response to Russia violating a treaty and invading and annexing part of a sovereign nation. If the West were truly out to get Russia, they could have levied sanctions against Russia during the Georgian war of 2008. They could have hit Russia with sanctions during either of the Chechen wars, when the country was much weaker. They could have sanctioned Russia over its involvement in Moldova. In Romanov’s fantasy land, Russia was just minding its own business when the West attempted to cow Russia with sanctions as though it were some kind of economic Operation Barbarossa. It is Russia who launched the new Cold War, because its exploiting class knows full well that nothing distracts people from their theft than jingoism.
Next, professor dipshit claims that the sanctions will impose hardship on those who impose them. Ah, but Pyotr, do you not know the legendary endurance of Europeans and Americans? Did you forget what the British and French endured in the trenches near the Somme and in Flanders? Did you forget about the near suicidal attacks the Italians carried out time after time on the Isonzo river? Have you never heard of Bloody Omaha Beach, or the Hurtgen forest, where Americans fought so tenaciously? Do you not know the horrors of Victorian Britain, or Depression Era America? I could go on endlessly mocking Romanov’s selective history, but it is amusing indeed that he has the audacity to threaten those countries with economic hardships when his own nation’s economy was already starting to roll over the edge months before anyone was even talking about sanctions.
Also note that he implies that it will be Europeans who elect other candidates in response to the horrible economic effects of sanctions on Russia. Why would it be them, Pyotr? Why don’t the Russians elect some other leader instead of the guy who annexed part of a foreign country and ran the economy into the ground? Pyotr knows that they can’t, though. He knows that only Europeans and Americans get that little leeway to hold their politicians accountable. Russians aren’t allowed that, because of their national character. I know exactly when and how Obama will leave office in a few years. Pyotr can’t possibly know when or how Putin will leave power. Putin is his master.
The only solution is to reach a compromise. Russians are strong-willed and full of character, but they do not want unnecessary troubles. If they have to, they can endure great difficulty, but Russians are not masochists.
Here’s where Romanov does his begging schtick. If Russians are happy to endure any hardship, why are these “unnecessary troubles” considered troubles at all? They’ve got their fresh pickles and potatoes, remember? Let the sanctions go on for another ten years if they must. They’ll endure, right?
This is precisely what I mean when I say that the Russian response to sanctions is so hilarious. They’re ineffective, they’re counterproductive, they’ll only hurt you, but WE DON’T CARE! Seriously though, remove your sanctions. Come on.
Mr. Romanov’s Fantastic Journey through Wacky Land provides a perfect example of the post-modernist world Russia’s leadership lives in. “Sanctions will only help Russia, while hurting the countries that levy them! The ruble’s falling? That will be good for the government! They’ll get more rubles when they sell things in dollars! But of course the ruble is only falling because of speculators, who may in fact be foreigners bent on destroying Russia! Is the ruble still falling? Then the Central Bank must be secretly working with the Americans! It’s always someone else’s fault! Always! Not that any of that matters, though, because the falling ruble will be good for Russia! Sanctions will only help! Who cares about the sanctions? Not me!” This is what they actually believe. They have this idea that their “national character” somehow lends some validity to their delusions, and therefore the rest of the world is bound to respect them.
Well I’ve got bad news for you, Mr. Romanov. The world doesn’t need to respect your delusions, nor matter how popular they are in Russia. Neither do Russians, or non-Russian minorities in Russia, for that matter. Whatever sacrifices the Russian people are forced to make, it will only be for the sake of their own exploiters who have nothing but the deepest contempt for them. You are right about one thing. From time to time Russians have risen up to throw off the yoke of a ruling class who neglected them. You can scream about the West all you want, but eventually the majority of people will realize that it wasn’t America or the West that robbed them blind and pissed their future away- it was their own “patriotic ruling class.” Hacks like you helped them do it with your bullshit fantasies about “national character.” Till that day comes, Pyotr, go eat your fucking pickles.