RIAN AND VOR. The state-owned RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia radio will be absorbed into a new media conglomerate called Rossiya Segodnya with Dmitriy Kiselyov as its head. (Western propaganda line on him laid out here for easy re-typing. Note that what he said isn’t actually controversial in many countries – although it might be in Russia. But, hey, it’s Russia: say what you want.) The stated reasons were that the new organisation would be more efficient, save money and better present Russia’s image in the world. Well, Russia could certainly do with something that did a better job of getting its POV out and I was personally quite disgusted when I caught RIAN repeating the lie that Putin had called the USSR’s breakup the “greatest” geopolitical catastrophe: a state-owned news outlet should get it right. So we’ll see. As usual, the Western line is that Putin has crushed press freedom. But, feeble in 2003 and non-existent in 2008, what’s left to crush?

CORRUPTION. The Investigative Committee Head gave us some official numbers. In the last two years corruption has cost 9 billion RUB (US$271 million) (sounds low to me) of which 4 billion was recovered. More than 1600 lawmakers and local government officials were prosecuted (sounds ballpark correct to me). Putin has just created an organisation in the Presidential Administration to focus on corruption. A Sisyphean job and not to be completed in his lifetime. Or ours. Or, in truth, in anybody’s anywhere.

AMNESTY. Putin has submitted a draft resolution on an amnesty to the Duma. In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution, it is said to affect about 15,000 people, 1500 or so of whom are in jail. Lots of rumours: Khodorkovskiy, Pussy Riot, Navalniy; but only rumours at the moment.

PUSSY RIOT. The Supreme Court ordered a sentence review; not all mitigating factors were taken into account.

RUSSIA INC. The Economy Ministry has cut its 2014 growth estimate to 2.5% from 3%. Sounds bad eh? But a Eurozone forecast is 1.1% and a USA forecast 2.8%. So not so bad. Do you expect this context to be reported? Of course not. (Check the URLs out, Dear Readers: it’s a real clue to the way Russia is reported. The headline should read: “Russia cuts growth estimates, but still expects to do better than most anyone else in G8”. If “Putin’s rule is falling apart”, what’s happening to the rules of others?)

CUBA. Moscow will write off $29 billion of Cuba’s Soviet-era debts. As I like to point out, when the Russian Federation took over the USSR’s assets and debits, the debits were real (the Paris Group expected – and received – full repayment). The so-called assets, on the other hand, were some valuable real estate but mostly worthless obligations like Cuba’s debt. So Moscow paid 100 cents on the dollar and received a penny or two on the dollar. So, if we add this small net income to the huge capital flight (for a brief, exciting, moment Estonia was a major oil exporter – I personally saw hundreds of Russian oil tanker cars in the Narva trainyards in 1994) and put it against Western aid (much of which had to be paid back), who was subsidising whom in the 1990s? And that doesn’t even add in all the cheap energy to Russia’s neighbours. One can understand why many Russians do not consider the 1990s to be some lost paradise that Putin has stolen from them.

EU. Georgia and Moldova signed association agreements with the EU in Vilnius. I guess we’re supposed to believe that Moscow can bully big Ukraine but not little Moldova.

GAS WARS. Not the least of the problems in Ukraine is that it is broke. Naftohaz has just announced that it has agreed with Gazprom to defer payments for winter fuel deliveries to next spring. But the only way it can pay is to pry some money out of Brussels, Moscow or… Beijing.

UKRAINE. The Western destabilisation of Ukraine continues. Why it wants to do so I don’t understand. But a lot of what the West does I don’t understand – what was the Libyan intervention about? Not to improve the “human rights” situation there, that’s for sure. Ukraine is tense, divided and angry. A poll at last: 46% for the EU, 36% for the Customs Union, 19% undecided. (English). But also see this: 30% think the EU deal would be beneficial, 39% don’t and 30% are undecided. Much more complicated than the propagandistic picture the Western media paints.

SYRIA CW. The OPCW confirms all unfilled Syrian CW munitions containers have been destroyed. A private source informs me that the destruction is “field expedient” (sledgehammers) but effective. Meanwhile Seymour Hersh has a piece arguing that the famous attack was, as Putin maintained all along, a false flag operation.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Ukraine in the Mirror of the Mind

As the world knows, Kiev backed out of an association agreement with the European Union at the last moment, probably as a continuation of its long game of trying for a better deal by playing Moscow and Brussels against each other. This is a common strategy for “in-between” countries; it won’t work forever but, if well played, it can leverage a better end deal. If poorly played, however, it can produce nothing but bad feelings. The Kyrgyz Republic played the same game with Russia and the US over the Manas Air Base, eventually winning a better payment from the US. Egypt is doing the same today.

But such a simple explanation will not do for the anti-Russia brigade. It’s all about The Chess Masters in the Sky. And we see Kiev’s choice cast in Manichean terms: it is a “principal[led], some even say civilizational, choice between Europe and Russia, democracy and dictatorship, sovereignty and subordination, prosperity and poverty, modernity and mayhem. Indeed, the contrast between what Ukraine can expect from her Western and Eastern neighbors could not be starker.”. All this may be Gospel to most Westerners, but in Kiev they have to seriously ask themselves whether the EU is really the best path to Ukraine’s future. And, a sub-question: is last week’s offer the best we can get?

The other assumption is that it’s all Moscow’s doing. “EU leaders Friday revived Cold War rhetoric Friday, accusing Russia of bullying Ukraine into ditching a landmark deal so the former Soviet republic would stay locked in Moscow’s orbit.” (Sic and much repeated: does anybody read this stuff before re-typing it?) This Tartuffian fanfarade was soon followed in the report by real evidence for Yanukovych’s motives: “Yanukovych complained that the EU hadn’t offered enough in financial incentives to secure his signature.”. But ils ne passeront pas!We may not give in to external pressure, not the least from Russia” said one EU “president” (there are three of them). But the assertion that Moscow made them do it is directly contradicted by many Ukrainian spokesmen: Prime Minister Azarov said the IMF’s conditions were “the last straw”; an official statement declared the EU had not paid enough attention to “Ukraine’s needs”; many feared costs would go up; concerns about Ukraine’s independence were expressed; the EU’s moralistic additional demands were rejected. Nonetheless Russia “blackmailed” Ukraine; Putin is holding the police line in Kiev; Yanukovych “gave in to Russian pressure”; it’s Russian “blackmail” and so on.

So, the established view is that wicked Russia dragged helpless Ukraine away from the light of civilisation and back into barbaric darkness. The argument is founded on the arrogant assertions 1) that the EU represents the first and Russia the second; 2) that Russian conditions are threats but European threats are conditions; 3) that Russian financial incentives are bribes but European bribes are financial incentives. This conceit could not be more baldly put than in this New York Times editorial: “Europe’s use of trade leverage to encourage democracy is constructive and reasonable. Russia’s attempts to bludgeon former vassals into continued economic dependence are not.” In truth 1) the direction is not so obvious from Kiev in 2013; 2) are consequences of choosing one and not the other; 3) Kiev wants money. Kiev has a hard decision to make especially since Brussels refuses Kiev what it recently allowed Ottawa: a foot in two camps. (Vide Armenia).

Well, maybe 20 years ago, when the EU had a future and Russia did not, Kiev’s choice would have been easy. But that’s not the way it looks today. I invite the reader to consider the figures given by Mark Adomanis (who adheres to the curious practice of discussing such issues with facts rather than assuming the answers). The EU’s GDP/capita has been flat for a decade and its unemployment rate is getting worse. Russia, during the same time, is getting steadily better in both respects (yes, from a lower base than the EU but a higher one than Ukraine. Which is what is relevant in the circumstances). The economic part of the choice is by no means so obvious. The values part of the choice is not so obvious either to a country not enamoured with the latest European human rights diktats.

The next observation to be made is that all this is rather contemptuous of Ukraine whose leaders who are assumed to have no will of their own. Of course we have seen this common trope of the anti-Russia lobby before. The Ossetia war, for example, was described as between Russia and the West – Georgians were pawns and the Ossetians not even mentioned. From the viewpoint of “stratospheric analysis” there are no small players; indeed there are always only two players; the others are mere pieces moved by The Chess Masters in the Sky. But, in the actual world they are actors and good analysis should take their calculations into account. One would have thought that the collapse of the “Orange Revolution” and “Rose Revolution” would have taught somebody something about what pawns feel about their pre-arranged futures.

Ukraine is a divided country: I speak of “Russian Ukraine” and “Polish Ukraine” to conveniently describe its two different influences. And, as long as people are not willing to let Ukraine be what it actually is – part of each – these divisions will be perpetrated and strengthened. First the West demanded it join NATO – although few in Ukraine actually wanted to; now it demands that it turn its back on Russia and become the EU’s next reserve of cheap labour and cheap real estate. But Ukraine faces both ways: it is unnatural to expect it to face only one way. It didn’t work during the so-called “Orange Revolution”, why would it work any better today? Especially since the Western option is much less attractive now than it was then. And, after government replacements in Greece and Italy and bank raids in Cyprus, who can honestly say that the sovereignty cost for Ukraine would be higher in the Customs Union?

Amusingly, what is missing in these spins of Russia the bully trying to hold onto its crumbling empire is the fact that Moldova and Georgia did sign agreements with the EU at the Vilnius summit. But how could that have happened? How is it that Moscow’s “bullying” only works on its biggest neighbour but not on its smaller ones?

It surely couldn’t be that Kiev quit the agreement for its own reasons, could it?

In all likelihood, the game is not over and Kiev is calculating its next move in its attempts to leverage money out of Moscow or Brussels, or both; Yanukovych is back talking to Brussels.