RF Sitrep 20150423


PUTIN’S Q&A SESSION. Here. Rather boring this year I thought: a lot of minutiae about small farmers’ problems, medicines, local train services and so on; much agreement that things must be improved. Something important on the Western sanctions; “we must benefit from the situation with the sanctions to reach new development frontiers. Otherwise, we probably would not have done it. This goes for import substitution policies, which we are now forced to implement.” Many of the people whom I talk to (with, I might say, a much better track record of assessment than the usual “experts” that fill the MSM: Kraus, Auckland) agree that import substitution will be of great benefit. Nothing on foreign matters that he hasn’t said many times before: open for cooperation, but won’t be pushed around. When asked why he does these sessions he said they were a sociological poll: “Millions of questions have arrived though different channels and they offer an opportunity to see what people are really concerned about.” 3 million phonecalls and SMS messages, in fact. It is a window into concerns.

HAPPINESS. Russians are a lot happier than they used to be; read this. Some US data. Interesting.

NEW NWO. Putin lifted the ban on the sale of the effective S-300 AD system to Iran. The Lausanne talks are expected to bear fruit; Iran will probably be soon welcomed into the SCO joining a security alliance with China and Russia. India is also expected to formally join. Another piece in the new order.

OLYMPICS. The Russian Audit Chamber says 324.9 billion rubles (US$6.2 billion) was spent on the Olympics and Paralympics with revenues of 85.4 billion rubles (US$1.6 billion) in revenues. That’s about what I said at the time. Hostile Western media confused the other large sums spent on developing the Sochi-Adler complex altogether. Here are some reports of what’s happening there now.

JIHADISM. It is reliably reported that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate amir was killed in a special operation in Dagestan. Here’s Gordon Hahn’s informed take.

MEDIA TRUST. Way down in Europe on Ukraine disaster coverage. It’s not “Putin’s troll army” but the basic implausibility of the message.

INTELLIGENCE. One of my long-held suspicions is that this whole sorry mess is being run by the amateurs of the State Department and White House. People who actually know very little and think they can BS their way out of trouble. We already have evidence that German intelligence does not confirm what NATO says. We have the strong clue that the US intelligence service actually has no information on MH17. The latest is the head of French military intelligence who said there never has been any evidence of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Instead we have social media, “mountains of evidence” blurry satellite photos taken somewhere and fake photos. This is, to put it mildly, dangerously vapid.

WESTERN VALUES™. The Wiesenthal Center condemns the rehabilitation of the OUN. A Polish general has “completely withdrawn” his previous support of military assistance; his uncle was murdered by them. Unlike most of the WMSM, La Repubblica noticed the rash of deaths of government opponents. The “Ukrainian Insurgent Army” claims responsibility. A Ukrainian security official helpfully advises “Ukrainophobes” to keep quiet. A Polish politician says the Maidan snipers were trained in Poland.

TRAINING. US, British and Canadian soldiers are now training Kiev forces in Ukraine. Canada’s Defence Minister answering the question about whether they will be training neo-nazis naively answered: “We will only be training units of the Ukrainian National Guard and army recognized by the government of Ukraine.” He obviously didn’t get the memo about Yarosh joining the MoD.

THE FLEXIBILITY OF TIME. 30 days after the Germanwings crash, we have a theory supported by the black boxes. 280 days after the MH17 crash…..

US MILITARY. More concerns: concerns that US nuclear triad is becoming obsolete; Russian and Chinese military capabilities expanded “faster than we anticipated.” Morale is low, too.

A DEPRESSING READ. “In a sane world it is quite impossible to imagine that a country which lost every single war it fought in the past 70 years would decide to top off this series of defeats by taking on the country which defeated both Napoleon and Hitler.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. Remember all the Russian submarines in Sweden? Three or four at one time? A civilian boat, but they’re still sure there was something at some time, somewhere.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada Websites: ROPV, US-Russia, Russia Insider

Washington: Masters of the Universe, or Masters of BS?


This is a response to Vladimir Golstein’s essay on “Politics, BS, and Ukraine”, originally at antiwar.com and now on our very own RI. A serious piece of thinking which I urge you to read right now (but do come back when you are finished).

The essay set me to thinking and I am hoping that my little effort will set up a discussion on these pages.

I re-read the original essay by Harry G Frankfurt which inspired Golstein. To my mind, this is Frankfurt’s key insight:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false.

For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

The official voice of the US State Department, Jen Psaki, is a outstanding practitioner of bullshit: “As a matter of long-standing policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means.” As a recent example, regarding what has been called “the most blatant coup in history“, Washington was happy to declare Ukrainian President Yanukovich illegitimate, gone, no longer President, despite the fact that none of the requirements of the Ukrainian constitution had been fulfilled. (Art 108: he hadn’t died, resigned, become incapacitated or been impeached). On the other hand, Washington still recognises the President of Yemen. Listen to Psaki here on video and in the text: after helpfully advising the questioner “to take a look at the Yemeni constitution if you’re interested”, she proceeds to say “I know you like to revise history here in this case, but I’ll just reiterate that president – that Yanukovych left his own country. We all remember what happened here. I’m sure we can provide you with the specific details if you’d like.” “Left his own country” – which in fact he hadn’t done at the time – where’s that in the Ukrainian constitution? What is her statement but the very perfection of bullshit? “Revise history”, “specific details”: the very perfection of perfection.

He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

The student of bullshit must acknowledge that Psaki is neither an idiot nor a liar; rather, she is a very highly skilled practitioner of bullshit.

Here is Marie Harf, her successor, and no mean successor, answering the same question. One must once again describe the question. Washington declared Yanukovich deposed because he fled the country. However, President Hadi of Yemen is recognised as legitimate by Washington despite having fled the country. You might see that as a discrepancy, for lack of a stronger word, but it is no such thing to the skilled bullshitter:

QUESTION: Yes. If you refer to a constitutional process, then you – obviously, you understand where I am drawing a parallel with. So the Ukrainians, right? Was the constitutional process observed in the Ukrainian case?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to draw parallels here. We’ve been very clear how we feel about Ukraine. And it was also – last time I checked, major parts of Kyiv weren’t being taken over by an armed rebel group when President Yanukovych left, so I think it’s pretty different.

I’m not going to draw parallels here. Perfection!

And it’s not just Ukraine that shows her mastery of bullshit: consider the fact that Washington is not evacuating its nationals from Yemen.

Well, we’re certainly not abandoning them, Elliot, but I think the challenge for us is that we have had very strict travel warnings in place for a decade now for Yemen, including multiple travel warnings telling people not to travel there and that if they do, the U.S. can provide only limited assistance, especially now given that our embassy is closed. So we certainly understand the challenge. We are looking at what our options are. But you have to balance what options we have for a possible evacuation against the security situation, against what is feasible, against what kind of assets could do this, and what the risk is to those assets. So it’s just a balancing act situation, and that’s what we’re looking at or the way we’re looking at it.

In short, if the Russians or Chinese don’t get them out, too bad for them. But we’re “certainly not abandoning them”. “Certainly” adds that little extra curl to the pile, don’t you think?

Bullshit abounds in Washington on the Ukraine issue. Here’s a classic example from the Baker of the Maidan, Victoria Nuland herself:

“even as Ukraine began building a peaceful, democratic, independent nation across 93% of its territory, Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine suffered a reign of terror.”

Just say it. Don’t pay any attention to poll findings that a huge majority of Crimeans are delighted to be in Russia, forget the shelling in Donbass (their children holed up in basements), ignore the neo-nazis (suddenly a former NATO cheerleader notices them), assassinations, parliamentary thuggery, the economic collapse. Just say it. Make it up. Whatever.

“He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

(Incidentally, I wondered about the 93%. As it happens, according to Wikipedia, Crimea, Lugansk Oblast and Donetsk Oblast are all about the same size with each constituting about 4.4% of the territory of “Last Summer’s Ukraine“. So all of Crimea and about half of the other two is close enough to 7%).

The essence of bullshit is that there is no truth value whatsoever; truth value is irrelevant. The liar knows, or believes he knows, what reality is: he just wants to persuade you of the reverse. The bullshitter doesn’t care – he has a purpose and whatever advances that purpose, or whatever he thinks will do so, he says. And that’s all there is to it. Ignore Ukraine’s constitution, follow Yemen’s: why? Because our larger agenda (which has nothing to do with Psakian bullshit about constitutionality) is that we want Yanukovich out and Hadi in.

But what we do know is that all this bullshit is emitted to distract the listener from the the one statement that the Psakis, Harfs and Nulands haven’t quite got the courage to come out with. And that is simply this:

The rules are what we want

Afterword: The above are examples of the most common form of bullshit: the flat assertion. Here is illustrated, perhaps – perhaps – another variant. Ask yourself this: is this guy just a dumb cluck: (whaddya mean NATO has moved its doorstep closer to Russia? I don’t unnerstand. Duh). Or is he a Zen Master of BS who has learned how to pretend to be a dumb cluck?

Frankfurt and Golstein have given us a powerful analytical tool and I encourage others to think about his observations. There is much more to discuss.

Especially this insight, from Golstein:

In other words, if we really want to debunk a bullshitter, we need to forget the concepts of lies or truths, and concentrate on the “nature of bullshitter enterprise.” Of course, people have been doing it ever since the proliferation of BS began. Such people are known as “conspiracy theorists.” One, therefore, can complement Frankfurt’s observation on the growth of bullshit with the parallel observation on the growth of conspiracy theories.

What is a conspiracy theory, after all, as not an attempt to decipher the nature of a bullshitter’s agenda?

Are we really daring nuclear Armageddon so that Joe Biden’s son can get a job?


RF Sitrep 20150409


WESTERN VALUES™. We’re sure learning the difference between reality and rhetoric, aren’t we? Constitutional order: Yanukovich leaves town and loses his position, Yemen president leaves town, keeps his. “I’m not going to draw parallels here” says Harf as she proceeds to. Freedom of speech: pianist cancelled because of her tweets or, as they might say, “Charlie? Qui est-il?”.

AN ESSENTIAL READ. I highly recommend Vladimir Golstein’s essay “Politics, Bullshit, and Ukraine”. Putin & Co are telling the truth or lying; but in either case they believe there is a factual reality to be addressed. The other side is simply bullshitting: reality is whatever they say it is (vide Harf above). BS engenders conspiracy theories: obviously last year’s coup was not about improving the life of Ukrainians so it must be about something else (my entries here). But read the whole essay, it’s very illuminating.

THE RUBLE. Remember when it was on its way to complete destruction? Well it’s now the best performing currency of the year. The Russian economy is stabilising. Predicting is tough – what you want to see often gets in the way.

CRIMEA. Crimea had a problem in that most of its fresh water came from Ukraine and Kiev could cut it off. Not any more: Russian military engineers have found aquifers and are laying pipelines. One of the biggest mis-assumptions, to my mind, of those who started the trouble in Ukraine (never forget the phone call) was the idea that Moscow was more or-less helpless to do anything. Time and time again, Moscow has out-manoeuvred Nuland & Co. Moscow will be pumping money into Crimea for obvious reasons. Nothing much had happened there under Kiev’s rule (or, for that matter, anywhere else in Ukraine – its GNI grew the least of all the post soviet countries 1993-2012 – not something, I think, anyone would have predicted in 1991). So there’s plenty to be done.

ONE PERCENT. Remember all that stuff about how the neo-nazis in Ukraine got hardly any votes in the elections so not to worry? Here, here, here and here? Dmitro Yarosh is now an advisor to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence and his Right Sector fighters are being taken into them. Even the normally compliant Western media has had its misgivings about Right Sector (in the past, of course): Guardian, Daily Mail, IBT, CNN. But then they fell in line and now treat the issue very circumspectly indeed, vide BBC. Putin’s the Nazi, these guys aren’t. More Values™. Maybe they don’t plan on getting power through elections.

CRACKS IN THE MONOLITH. The 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany is coming up and anyone who thinks about it knows that Moscow should be the principal place to celebrate it (just as Washington would be for victory over Japan). But Washington is making a boycott a Big Thing. The Czech President is going: so will others. Indeed, it’s becoming a test of independence. The foreign ministers of Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey signed a declaration on strengthening energy cooperation; in other words, Russian pipelines. Greek PM Tsipras is in Moscow now, we’ll see what happens. And, a big one: everybody’s joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank against Washington’s wishes; note that Moscow cleverly waited until the Europeans had signed up before joining.

US LNG TO UKRAINE? Forget that one. Istanbul says not through the Bosporus, you won’t. Can’t blame them – an LNG tanker blowing up would make the Halifax Explosion look trivial.

REAL CONCERNS? US military leaders claim the Army is too small, USAF too old, Navy ditto. This with a budget bigger than the next 8 countries. Now, these may be attempts to shake the money tree or maybe, after years of worrying about IEDs, low level infantry activity and costfree bombing of this and that, the mighty US Armed Forces aren’t up to much else. Not the smartest time to pick a fight with Russia and start another war in Yemen. This writer thinks the US Armed Forces may now be hard-wired for failure.

MISSILE DEFENCE. Despite the apparent agreement with Iran, NATO says it will go ahead with missile defence plans. Putin continues to laugh.

NEW NWO. The Chinese Foreign Minister is in Moscow talking about the high level of cooperation. 107 joint agreements on cooperation and numerous long-term construction projects. It gets tighter. They say the two Presidents get along well together. Meanwhile Obama is reduced to boasting about a meaningless emissions agreement.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada Websites: ROPV, US-Russia, Russia Insider

The West Throws a Temper Tantrum: Putin trolls: another jejune NATO fantasy!


Mark Ames has brilliantly tracked down the Kremlin troll story and shown that it is the same story over and over again, word for word, time after time. He has traced it as far back as 2013 and, in his search, he kept tripping over RFE/RL which proudly states that it “provide[s] what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.” Or, alternatively, given the fact that it is fully funded by the US government, all the news that Washington wants you to hear. So, not, perhaps, a source that can be fully trusted on this particular subject.

But never mind that, let’s pretend that it is telling us the truth. An entire building in St Petersburg is filled with well-paid Putin trolls labouring away on the Internet. But let us apply a little reasoning (hah hah – what’s reason got to do with it?) to the matter. We here at RI attract a few trolls. We may divide them into two groups. One is the sort of person whose comments are all variations on “Putin sucks and you do too”. These trolls, of course, have a mirror image: “You suck and Putin’s great”. For the sake of discussion we will call this the “monotroll”: he has only one thing to say which is “You’re an idiot” and he says it over and over again.

A slightly (but only very slightly) more interesting troll is what we will call the “cliché repeater”. This one would say things like “Putin sucks because the Russian economy is in the toilet/the population is shrinking/the Ruble is collapsing/Russia is weak” or so forth. Much the same really, as the monotroll except that he understands that some pretence of an argument is necessary.

In Graham’s useful hierarchy of disagreement the monotroll is operating at the lowest levels of Name-calling and Ad Hominem; the cliché repeater has at least got to Contradiction. But the essential point is that neither of these is going to change anybody’s mind.


You can, in other words, have a million people typing into every Internet forum “You’re an idiot” over and over again and they will make no difference at all. But think further: the cliché repeater will have no effect on a forum such as RI. The reason for his failure is very simple: many/most of the people reading RI know that the clichés are false: Russia’s economy is not collapsing, its demographic picture is comparatively healthy and so on. Those who do not yet know that the clichés are false have come to RI because they are starting to doubt the Party Line on Russia. A million trolls regurgitating clichés will have no effect on either.

And the reverse is true: the fabled Putin troll army typing “USA sucks”, “Ukraine sucks”, “Americans are couch potatoes and they’ll lose against the mighty Russians” or “you’re wrong because more people are in jail in the USA than anywhere else” will have zero effect on a neocon discussion group.

So who are these trolls persuading? No one.

So let’s move up Graham’s hierarchy, shall we? Here we find Counter Argument, Refutation, Refuting the Central Point. In short: you say this; I say that: here is my evidence, here is my argument. So, rather than “Putin sucks”, here is what Putin said (with reference to the actual speech, please, not the NYT/BBC/WaPo’s carefully-chosen selections), here is why he is wrong (argument, facts, discussion, examples). You may or may not agree, but there is something to get your teeth into: a logical fallacy, a misstatement. Or maybe not: maybe you will be convinced that you got it wrong. Or missed something. That, as Graham would agree, is how to argue.

No endless variations on “you suck”, no “cliché, cliché. Nya nya nya”. Instead, actual engagement, person to person, of what you said. Respectful, convincing, detailed, factual, logical.

Let us return to Troll Centre St Petersburg and try to envisage two variants.

One variant: rooms full of people re-typing “Putin’s great, you suck” or “cliché, cliché”.

Another variant: the people typing, from an index card pasted to their computer screens, Grahamian Counter Arguments, Refutations, Refuting the Central Points.

Well, the second variant isn’t trolling is it? No matter how many times it’s typed at you the Argument remains. The Argument is the thing that has to be answered. Not the frequency, the Argument itself.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, the Putin-Troll-Army story is nonsense. Real trollery is an irritation and no more. Actual argument has to be answered on its own merits. And the Western troll armies – sorry, fighting lies with truth – would, if they ever get off the ground, be equally pointless.

The Western fantasy of a mighty Putin Troll army ruining A Noble Effort to Spread Truth and Democratically Valid Explanations is yet more evidence that the Party Line knows it is losing its audience. Whingeing on about Putin’s troll army and closing comments sections is the equivalent of a temper tantrum, hands over ears, screaming “I can’t hear you!”.

Lies work for a while – quite a long time – but, eventually, reality bites. On its own. It wasn’t a building-full of people in St Petersburg typing “Putin ist ein Genie, Du bist ein Idiot” over and over again that made the German leadership see General Breedlove’s statements as “dangerous propaganda” any more than “Putin’s a genius and you are an idiot” made the editors at The Guardian feel their heads explode.