PROJECTION AND DEFLECTION: RUSSIA’S INFRASTRUCTURE

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

One of my most reliable guides to finding subjects to write about in these essays is to see what crimes the West is committing. It’s a very good bet that Russia will be accused of them. If the US “accidentally” destroys an MSF hospital in Kunduz, then Russia must be routinely and intentionally bombing hospitals in Syria; if American officials pick the future prime minister of a foreign country, then Russia must be doing it more often and bigger; if Washington condemns reporters on dodgy evidence than Russians must do worse things. Likewise, Western deficiencies are minor at home but huge in Russia. (Admittedly it’s getting harder to say that – especially with the West’s dismal situation with COVID-19 but that doesn’t stop the trying; vide “US takes the top spot on Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking as vaccine rollout speeds up return to normal.”) And so on: it’s all projection to deflect your attention.

It’s a simple rule that works either way: see what they’re accusing Russia of and it’s a pretty good bet the Western pot is calling the Russian kettle black; note the West’s crimes and misfortunes and expect Russia to be called worse and, if at all possible, twisted to all be Putin’s fault.

Infrastructure is today’s subject and here is Victoria Nuland telling us that

[Russia’s] citizens have grown restive as promised infrastructure spending never appears, and their taxes and the retirement age are going up.

I have written about her pallid effort elsewhere, because it and its companion piece demonstrate the sensational level of ignorance of Washington’s supposed Russian experts and policy-makers. No wonder they get everything wrong and are always surprised: they are only experts in wrongness.

But they’re not alone. Here’s the hoary old chestnut “duraki i dorogi – fools and roads” hauled out: “After a thousand years, the Russian state still has not learned how to build safe and solid roads. Judge a government by its roads.” The rest of the piece is rather incoherent but the impression is left that Russian roads are still pretty bad. RFE/RL took the occasion of the accident at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power station in 2009 to tell us that “Creaking Infrastructure Evident From Siberia To The Streets Of Moscow” and “The accident has highlighted Russia’s faltering infrastructure and the government’s faltering attempts to deal with it.”

Others repeat that Russia hasn’t “reformed”, whatever that it is. (Parenthetically, in thirty years of hearing this, I have never ever heard anybody specify exactly what this “reform” is and precisely what Putin & Co have to do to do it. Other than resign, of course.) Today this “failure to reform” is often, following the “gas station masquerading as county” line, presented as failure to “diversify”. And, here we are in 2019:

While some might blame the vicissitudes of global oil markets, the real culprit is Putin himself, who has done little to diversify the Russian economy, or to tackle the rampant corruption that chokes entrepreneurship, investment and, ultimately, growth.

A variation on the decrepit gas station meme is that Russia is squandering money on weaponry instead of more useful things: Here’s’ the Moscow Times in 2015:

Against this background, Russia’s recent military spending binge is all the more notable, for it suggests that the government, desperate to retain popular support amid declining economic performance, is less interested in investing in the most modern equipment than in showing its support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, even at the price of further economic hardship.

More: Russia Chooses Guns Over Butter, Is the ‘World’s Deadliest Tank’ Bankrupting Russia? Russia’s Defense Industry Finds Itself in a Tailspin.

Poor old Russia: under Putin’s mismanagement, its infrastructure is “creaking”, its unreformed economy is not “diversifying” and it’s blowing its patrimony on guns. Russia’s pretty doomed. As usual.

Or maybe not. It’s not difficult to see the projection and deflection: “America’s Infrastructure Scores a C-“. “US manufacturing: Why 2020 was the bottom of a long decline.” “The spectacular and expensive failures of the U.S. military.” “How To Waste $100 Billion: Weapons That Didn’t Work Out.” As I said at the start: an enormous percentage of Western “analysis” about Russia is the mechanical projection onto it of the West’s “crimes, follies and misfortunes” in the hope that the audience will look over there and miss what’s right here.

So let’s have a look at Russian infrastructure – the military spending and its results are a subject for another paper but there doesn’t seem to be very much waste and ineffectiveness there: Russia has, in twenty years, stepped into the lead in a number of military areas as even Washington is starting to realise. But this spending has not been at the expense of infrastructure.

Let’s consider roads. An Awara report summarises the state of play as of the beginning of 2019. In twenty years expressways have grown from 365 kms to 2050 kms, the plan is that this number will have increased to 7600 kms by 2024. An impressive increase. Local and secondary roads have also seen great improvement. Russia is an enormous country and there is still much to do but no one can say that Putin & Co are ignoring roads. Even ten years ago things were better than the Western “experts” thought: two Russian men made a video of their drive from Moscow to Vladivostok; here’s the first day’s drive. Certainly not four-lane all the way but good two-lane for almost all of it (and where there isn’t, our drivers pass teams and equipment working on it). Roads need bridges and Russia has been constructing a lot of them too. Here is another Awara report on that subject with lots of illustrations. The Crimea railway/road bridge is the standout, of course, but there are plenty of other new bridges in Putin’s Russia. Here’s a list of the ten “most impressive” bridges – six of them built since 2000. If we are to judge governments by their roads, in the USA “40% of the system is now in poor or mediocre condition“. Projection and deflection. But who has the time to drive across such a huge country? Here’s the Awara report on all of Russia’s new airports. Moscow and St Petersburg of course, but also Kazan, Rostov and Sabetta.

Public transit has seen development too. Moscow’s Metro has seen a completely new line built in the period and construction on another new one has begun. Current rolling stock averages 15 years old and new trains are in process of construction. 63 new stations. The St Petersburg metro is also growing. Kazan has acquired a metro system since the fall of the USSR. (Even Russia’s fantasy metro lines are growing!) So there is certainly no lack of infrastructure renewal and construction in Russian’s underground transit systems (and many of them are remarkably decorated and immaculately maintained). Above ground, here’s a suburban train and one of Moscow’s spiffy new trams and not so spiffy trams in Nizhniy Novgorod.

The venerable Trans-Siberian Railway and the BAM line are both being improved to take more traffic at higher speeds: tonnage on the two is up about 50% since 2012. A century-long planned rail line to Yakutsk has opened making a train trip from London to Yakutia a possibility. The first high-speed rail between Moscow and St Petersburg has been operating for some time and a line is being built between Moscow and Kazan. Other links have been improved so as to be faster..

And that’s just transportation. We could equally mention the 19 COVID purpose-built hospitals, or the quick development of the Sputnik vaccine. Or the constriction of the world’s largest icebreaker, growth in shipbuilding, the world’s only operating floating nuclear power station. New power stations in Crimea – Russia’s “newest Potemkin village” as the usual “experts” call it. Housing construction has been about 80 million square metres a year for some years. Here’s a new housing development in Yekaterinburg. There’s a video series “Made in Russia“: it’s in Russian, but you’ll get the idea, Lots of things are going on. But enough enumeration: there is plenty of improvement and development of Russian infrastructure and Russians can see it. So much so as to make the America “expert’s” opinions proof that they are, after all, only expert at getting it wrong. But, as I said, it’s projection: “Amtrak’s flagship high speed service” averages 113.1 kph; the Sapsan averages 180 kph. (neither anything like China, of course.) Can’t have Russia doing better than the USA can we? Except, of course, for sanctions-proof rocket engines.

For those who are interested, there are lots of videos in which one can get an impression of the state of things. For example Spassk-Dalny, local Moscow store, “Russia’s poorest town“, a series on a small town Fryazino, a village store, a grocery store in Siberia. There’s a series of videos by an American Orthodox priest who’s moved to Russia and a blog by an American living there that talk about the situation they find. The picture is very far from a decaying clapped out and sagging structure in which the government, obsessed with buying guns, lets the whole thing decompose. Even the Moscow Times, when it’s not banging on about the “military spending binge”, “declining economic performance” and “further economic hardship” knows about “Russia’s Massive Infrastructure Overhaul, in 5 Examples“. Projection and deflection again.

Or we can maybe sum the whole thing up by saying that Putin drove a Russian-designed and -made luxury car along a newly-constructed highway.

Now this is not to dismiss the possibility that a good deal of what Russia is doing today is coasting along on Soviet left-overs. Anatoly Karlin argued, with much evidence, something along this line in 2018: Russia’s Technological Backwardness. Perhaps this is the case, but it certainly cannot be said that there has been no infrastructure built. We will learn over time whether Russia is just coasting along or gathering pace, but it certainly does seem that the West is slipping behind in infrastructure maintenance and construction – especially the USA. So, I repeat: when you see some Western piece saying that Russia is deficient in this or that, it’s wise, as a first step, to see it as nothing but a projection of the West’s shortcomings to deflect from facing up to them. These pieces are not really about Russia at all.

THE GOOD NAZIS AND BAD NAZIS OF WESTERN MEDIA

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

In the Western media universe there are good nazis and there are bad nazis. Good nazis look like nazis but aren’t really nazis and bad nazis don’t look like them but actually are nazis. For example, there are no nazis in Ukraine or Belarus and, if there were, they would be good nazis. The Kremlin, on the other hand, is packed full of bad nazis, even if they don’t look like nazis. Take Alexander Motyl, for example: Ukraine’s Democracy Is (Almost) All Grown Up and Is Vladimir Putin a Fascist? “Putin and his Russia fit the bill perfectly.”

Trump doesn’t have a moustache, but if he did, it would be a Hitler moustache (although, as we see here, it would probably be orange). Likewise, the unmoustached Putin would have Hitler moustache and here is the photo to prove it. Or, perhaps, he and Trump would have symbolic Hitler moustaches. Nazis often have worship rooms or relic rooms where they have banners and books and other paraphernalia: here, for example, is Trump’s. Putin’s has not yet been found. Putin/Hitler comparisons are common. Is Putin the new Hitler?; Uncomfortable Parallels: Hitler and Putin; Is Vladimir Putin Another Adolf Hitler?; Hillary Clinton’s Putin-Hitler analogy. One might observe that, as most of these talk about the “Munich precedent”, Putin/Hitler is very much behind schedule. And then there’s Trump/Hitler: Trump’s Big Lie and Hitler’s; Thirteen Similarities Between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler; Just How Similar Is Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler? and 100-year-old Holocaust survivor compares Trump to Hitler. But Trump/Hitler is out of office; he didn’t “subvert democracy to remain in power” after all. You’d think that the fact that Putin hasn’t invaded Poland or that Trump has left the White House would have calmed things down but none other than Rachel Maddow informs us that “Putin joins pro-Trump chorus in making excuses for January 6th rioters” and someone else saw the “latest evidence of the active coup efforts orchestrated by Russia’s Putin against the U.S.” just this month so the danger is clearly still there.

Or consider torchlight parades. In Kiev they are a minor event; but in Charlottesville an enormous event which gave rise to one of the anti-Trump lies Biden campaigned on. The Atlantic points to the significance of torchlight parades in nazi Germany and KKK USA but says nothing about contemporary Lviv. Some nazi-style torchlight parades really are nazi and some are not. What about marches of people wearing nazi uniforms that they themselves or their forebears wore? The Latvian SS commemoration march has not had official support for some years but the same cannot be said of the Galician SS division commemorations; frequently held in Lviv, this year for the first time there was a small march in Kiev. How about memorials to actual nazi collaborators – such as this one attended by the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine? These events receive little coverage in the West because the subject is rather embarrassing. For example, there is a monument to the Galicia Division in Canada; its recent defacement was first called a “hate crime” and then embarrassingly walked back to “vandalism”. Canada does not especially want to remember that it admitted many of these people after the war. But these were presumably good nazis.

Take for example the fearless journalist/blogger who was hijacked out of the air recently over Belarus. Here is a photo of him and fellow journalist/bloggers working with the tools of the journalist trade. To say that these are actually the tools of soldiers would be confessing to be a tool of the Kremlin: Roman Protasevich is a journalist blogger – his assistant in the centre photo is presumably carrying his laptop; on the right he’s wearing a Greek helmet and the Greeks, after all, invented democracy. And as for this picture, he’s holding what Al Capone would have called a Chicago typewriter.

And, to readers of the Western media, that’s the story: “act of piracy… political hostage“; dissident journalist”; 26 year-old journalist and activist“; “26-year-old journalist”; “main editor”; “cameraman, journalist and blogger“; “Belarusian dissident”. The fact that none of the standard Western story actually fits the facts doesn’t matter: it fits the propaganda requirements.

But it quickly became apparent, thanks to lots of pictures on his cell phone, that Protasevich had a strong connection to the Azov Battalion whose ubiquitous symbol is the wolfsangel. A old German symbol, it was adopted by the nazis and widely used in nazi heraldry, it was banned in post-war Germany. However, with a straight face, RFE/RL writes “The group claims it is an amalgam of the letters N and I for national idea.” But, in Ukrainian that would be written Національний Ідея which would be HI, not NI. Another certainly-not-a-nazi-symbol used by Azov is the Black Sun of Himmlers’ castle. To remark upon or to draw conclusions from the blogger-journalist posing with guns, uniforms, nazi symbols and Azov members would be quite wrong. We can trust these judgements because Western reporters are so acute in their perception of what is and is not a nazi symbol that they find this to be a story: 7 Days to Nomination Lock: Donald Trump Says He’ll Reconsider Raised-Arm Loyalty Pledge That’s Been Compared to Nazi Salute.

The Western media cannot always pretend not to notice that the good nazis certainly resemble real, bad, nazis: here’s a DW documentary that sees reality. Israeli publications and Jewish organisations are not quite so blind, as one might expect. Haaretz shows much of the nazi symbology that conventional media reports pretend not to see in this piece. David Pugliese in Canada appears to be permitted to write one piece a year on Ukrainian nazi collaborators: here he says, correctly, “But in this case the Russian tweets aren’t ‘fake news’ or ‘disinformation’. They are accurate“. And Poland remembers the Volyn massacre.

But these nods to historical reality are drowned out by a now-formulaic recitation; the standard two arguments that nazis in Ukraine, if indeed they exist at all, are insignificant are here given by Alexander Motyl:

  • The nazis get few votes: “Left- and right-wing extremists who reject the democratic rules of the game garner only a few percentage points of the popular vote—far fewer than their counterparts in Germany and France.”
  • The president of Ukraine is Jewish “And contrary to the Kremlin’s depictions of Ukraine as anti-Semitic and ethnically intolerant, the Jewish, Russophone Zelensky won 73 percent of the vote…”

It’s not just the admittedly one-sided organ Euromaidan Press that insists that nazis in Ukraine are an insignificant figment of Putin’s imagination – How Russia’s worst propaganda myths about Ukraine seep into media language, No, Belarusian dissident Protasevich is not a neo-Nazi. But the Kremlin sure wants you to think so – even the staid and semi-official Foreign Policy solemnly warns Russian Disinformation Distorted Reality in Ukraine. Americans Should Take Note. In it we find an exquisite ballet of balance:

On the one hand, it’s true:

The government-funded Institute of National Memory, run by the historian Volodymyr Viatrovych, produced a steady output of revisionism, obscuring the racism and anti-Semitism of Ukraine’s wartime ultranationalists and falsely recasting them as democratic partisans who rescued Jews.

On the other hand, it’s not true:

Russia initiated provocations intended to create the impression that Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leadership was continuing in the violent and racist footsteps of the Bandera movement at the very first stages of the conflict.

It’s now a meme: Behind Russia’s ‘Neo-Nazi’ Propaganda Campaign in Ukraine and Russia’s Nazi Propaganda against Ukraine’s’ Army. And we hear, over and over, Motyl’s arguments that Zelensky is Jewish and the nazis don’t do well in the polls. Well, Zelensky has had little effect (as Motyl himself admits here) and the nazis have a lot of guns. Here’s the Azov battalion’s guns today, here are its tanks, here its artillery, here its masses; not bad for

one of the many local militia units which sprung up to stop Russia’s invading forces in 2014/15. Now incorporated into the Ukraine’s National Guard

Who needs votes when you have all those guns and summer camps for kids too?

The whole “X is a nazi and Y is not” routine as practised in the Western media and academia is nothing but propaganda. In fact it’s propaganda for idiots: the most ignorant clunk knows that nazi=bad and thus Hitler’s moustache can be stuck on any face and the cheap point will be got by even the dullest: Assad, Xi Jinpeng, Merkel, Bush, Obama, Qaddafi, Kim Jong Un, It’s a quick and easy way to pretend to say something – here’s the template.

Nonetheless, it is amusing (in a contemptuous way) to watch reporters in service to the Borg twist themselves into contortions finding nazis where they aren’t (Trump’s silly pledge skit) and no nazis where they are (Hs become Ns).

THE GREAT AMERICAN DELUSION – JUST THAT ONE GUY

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

In my career I used to participate in regular meetings with an American intelligence agency. I – we – were always fascinated by their obsession with individuals. One time they proudly presented each of our group with a chart showing the Boss’ associates distributed into three groups. I’m sure creating this had cost a lot of time and money, but what use was it? Did it allow us to predict better, understand better? Of course it didn’t. Quite apart from the absurdity of thinking that an individual was 100% in one group and 0% in the other two – least one fitted two groups equally well – the truth was that they were a team which made decisions and outsiders had no idea what went on inside the process. The three-group division just led to more ungrounded speculation – if some decision were imagined to be to the benefit of one group, then a flurry of speculation about who was up and who was down would erupt. Theorising in the absence of data: a labour of crackpots. Lots of money, time and promotions but very little understanding. On another occasion their predictions at a leadership change were entirely personal – if X, then this, if Y, then that. (And the person who actually did succeed wasn’t on their list.) My group’s approach was to try and describe what constraints the as-yet-unknown successor would have to deal with. We were trying to work out the context; they were talking personalities. But there is an objective reality: and the most powerful and strong-willed individual can only shape the future within the existing possibilities. The American assumption seemed to be that the boss had unconstrained choices. Now it’s true that they thought of the country as a “dictatorship” but never even in the greatest tyranny has the ruler been able to do anything he wanted to. No wonder they have, over the ensuing twenty years, been invariably wrong. The simple-minded and ignorant obsession with personalities leads nowhere.

Did it begin with the Calvinists of Plymouth Rock and their division of humanity into the saved and the damned? Was it reinforced a century and a half later by the conviction that King George single-handedly caused “repeated Injuries and Usurpations” and urged on “the merciless Indian Savages”? Or is it of more recent origin? Hollywood’s rugged individuals saving the day at the end of the movie? Who can say, but it seems to be hard-wired into the American view of the world – or at least their view of the rest of the world. And the news media play along every time: the problem is Leader X, if we replace him, all will be better.

I have just finished a book about the CIA which mentions the Kennedy Administration’s obsession about Fidel Castro. “‘We were hysterical about Castro,’ Defense Secretary Robert McNamara acknowledged”; there were innumerable assassination plots. The missile crisis seems to have brought Kennedy to his senses and, a couple of months before his assassination, the CIA principal had to tell the mobster he had picked to organise it that the plot to kill Castro had been terminated. None of it amounted to anything and, in the words of one player “so much of the goddamn stuff was really juvenile.” Sixty years later, Fidel Castro is gone but Cuba remains – still defiant.

Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran was a problem; after he was overthrown Iran was not a problem for a while but today it’s an even bigger problem; and they still resent his overthrow. Ngô Đình Diệm in Vietnam was a problem; but his death just led to more war. Mohamed Farrah Aidid of Somalia was another who had to go, but after the Battle Of Mogadishu it was the Americans and NATO who went; Somalia, much now as it was then, has faded from the news. Slobodan Milošević was the Butcher of the Balkans until a court found that he wasn’t so guilty after all. Saddam Hussein was a pretty comprehensive problem, the NYT informed us; now he’s gone and Iraq is still a problem – can’t win it, can’t leave it. Kims in North Korea come and go; it remains the same. And so on and on – Assad, Maduro, Qaddafi, Arafat, Daniel Ortega and Yanukovych; all individuals who were imagined to be the single roadblock in the path of… The Better, Progress, Democracy and all other Good Things.

But the two biggest are Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinpeng. I have written enough about the crazy American obsession with Putin: five years ago I wrote A Brief Compendium of Nonsense About Putin. Since then he has grown in monstrosity: election rigger, computer hacker, serial poisoner, “Russia under Putin poses an existential threat to the United States and other countries of the West, Russia’s neighbors, and his own people” is a typical effusion. Note the personalism: the “existential threat” is “Russia under Putin”, not “Russia”. If only Putin could be got rid of…

The author of this piece goes on: “China will be at the top of the to-do list”. And the Atlantic Council has emitted The Longer Telegram: Toward A New American China Strategy written by Anonymous. Clearly it is supposed to echo Mr X’s (George Kennan’s) Long Telegram. But some differences: this is longer – much longer, grinding on for seven times the length of Kennan’s essay. Secondly, Kennan himself didn’t think that his recommendations had been well followed and was utterly opposed to NATO expansion and Western triumphantasies. I will certainly not waste my time reading this midden of prolixity (one wishes an ex-PFC Wintergreen had binned it), the summary is more than enough – and it’s longer than Kennan’s essay. The very first sentence puts us on familiar ground

The single most important challenge facing the United States in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping.

“China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping”, “Russia under Putin”. Back to personalities.

…Xi has returned China… quasi-Maoist personality cult… systematic elimination of his political opponents…. Xi has used ethnonationalism… Xi’s China… Xi has demonstrated… China under… Xi is no longer just a problem for US primacy. He now presents a serious problem for the whole of the democratic world…

He is the problem and “All US political and policy responses to China therefore should be focused through the principal lens of Xi himself.” No Xi, no problem; no Putin, no problem; no Saddam, no problem; no Qaddafi, no problem. Away we go again.

Better informed people point out that Xi Jinpeng’s policies have a context: we start with Deng Xiaoping’s strategic guideline “hide capabilities and bide time”. Once capabilities could no longer be hidden, they moved to Hu Jintao’s “Actively Accomplish Something”. That something – or rather, those many somethings – are being actively accomplished by Xi Jinpeng. Far from a polity captured by a personality, China has a collective leadership focussed on a long-term strategy.

But that is only one voice in the background and the personality-obsessed (Very Much) Longer Telegram comes from the Atlantic Council which has a far greater influence on US and NATO activities. As it is engummed in personalism, so are they.

What do the personality-obsessed suggest be done to get rid of Xi? Well, this is a little more difficult than other cases: bombing got rid of Saddam and Qaddafi but China is too strong. Economic measures, as even someone as dim as Anonymous realises, might hurt the USA more than China. Stripped of nostalgianism (the US must “retain collective economic and technological superiority”), delusion (“Dividing Russia from China in the future is equally [critical]”) and degraded touchstones (“current rules-based liberal international order and, critically, its ideological underpinnings, including core democratic values”), the strategy offered is pitiful.

We are invited to be “laser focused” on the assumption that Xi’s so-called one man rule is resented by many in China; if a wedge can be driven into the leadership, Beijing will return to the happy pre-Xi state when

China, under all five of its post-Mao leaders prior to Xi, was able to work with the United States. Under them, China aimed to join the existing international order, not to remake it in China’s own image. Now, however, the mission for US China strategy should be to see China return to its pre-2013 path—i.e., the pre-Xi strategic status quo.

One is reminded of Napoleon’s delusion that Russia’s nobles could be wedged away from Alexander and the undying conviction that one more targetted sanction will make Putin’s henchmen kick him out. But, enough of Anonymous’ fancies – they have no base in reality: the USA out-sourced its manufacturing to China long ago and won’t be getting it back, wokeism is killing its education system, its politics are broken, its military is losing everywhere and doesn’t realise it, a tsunami of debt has built up. Most absurd of all, after years of needless hostility to Russia, Washington has no hope of separating Moscow from Beijing. And Xi Jinpeng is not some rogue who seized control – he is the top of a robust pyramid.

The only significance of this paltry effort is that it gives us another – and depressingly influential – example of the curious American obsession with personalities – everything in Chinese-US relations was going along swimmingly until Xi. But actually, as anyone capable of seeing reality knows, China is much, much more than one man.

China/Russia/Iran/Iraq/insert-name-of-country was happy to accept its place in the Rules-Based International Order until that nasty Xi/Putin/Ayatollah/Saddam/insert-name changed everything; get rid of him and it will all fix itself.

When are they going to understand that it’s a whole country, not just one guy?

RUSSIA THE ETERNAL ENEMY QUOTATIONS

Fascinating to watch the world of disinformation at work. The Trump campaign last year was the first to disseminate the idea that Biden is senile. That was picked up by Russian disinformation and amplified by its bots, RT, and state media. Now that Putin is giving it more fuel by challenging Biden to a debate (even though Putin refuses to participate in political debates at home in Russia) the information operation has come full circle with Fox News now amplifying Russian propaganda. It’s a small world, isn’t it?

From someone who pretends to be a friend to Russians but hates their political choice.

Any disagreement with the proposition that Biden is as sharp as a tack has to be the work of a Putinbot, doesn’t it? BTW, half of Americans don’t think he’s running things. I guess they’re all Putinbots too.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Russia stole the AstraZeneca formula to make the Sputnik vaccine so it’s weird that the EU thinks Sputnik would be better than AstraZeneca.

Some twit on Twitter 15 March 2021

REALLY STUPID THINGS SAID ABOUT RUSSIA

There are at least two reasons for Putin to be thinking about similar big and bold actions today. One is strategic and abiding: glory for himself and his Russia, the two by now entwined in his mind. The other motive is tactical: He is working toward a lifetime presidency—a six-year term in 2024, at 72, and perhaps another in 2030— in a country where the economy and incomes have stagnated for over a decade and the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic has left deep scars. What’s more, the arrest of pro-democracy leader Alexei Navalny has ignited waves of protest rallies in over 100 Russian cities for the first time since anti-Putin demonstrations in the winter of 2011-12.


Could Putin Launch Another Invasion? By Leon Aron Politico, 15 March 2021

The very first words are: “A trained KGB agent…” and it goes on in the same vein.

Of course, the reason why people like myself are talking about another war in Ukraine are because of things Kiev and NATO are doing; not because of trite imaginings about what goes on in Putin’s head.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms, they illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of reality. I post from time to time when I see them, spelling mistakes and all.)

Libyans ousted a dictator, but an ensuing civil war has
drawn in Russia, Turkey and others with a thirst for control

Washington Post

NAVALNIY AND TREASON

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

(Thanks to John Helmer who, as far as I know, was the first to suggest that Moscow is preparing a treason accusation against him.)

On 1 February RT published a video taken by the FSB of a meeting between Second Secretary Ford of the British Embassy in Moscow, identified by the FSB as an SIS officer, and Vladimir Ashurkov at a restaurant in Moscow. The video was filmed some time in 2012. Ashurkov is the Executive Director of Navalniy’s Anti-Corruption Foundation; he is presently living in the UK where he sought refuge after being charged with embezzlement. In the video he is making a pitch for financial support to the tune of “10, 20 million dollars a year” not, he assures Ford, “a big amount of money for people who have billions at stake”. In short, invest in us us and, when we take over, we’ll pay you back. With interest. Big interest. In the meantime, perhaps Ford could get him some kompromat for use inside Russia. In a word, he’s trying to sell Russia to a foreign power. Which, by any standards, is treason. Ford is non-committal and merely suggests that Ashurkov look to one of the foreign NGOs that the British fund. (It should be understood that the “N” in “NGO”, is silent like the “p” in “pseudo”.). But, given that the video was made six or seven years ago, we don’t know whether the British or others took up Ashurkov on his offer. But we can be reasonably sure that the FSB knows the answer to the question.

I believe that the publication of this video marks a major step towards the Russian government charging Navalniy and his organisation with treason. Note that RT attached to its report a discussion of the famous “spy rock”. Utter nonsense: “alleged… allegedly… allegations”, a “fabrication”, more “pressure against Russian NGOs” RFE/RL assured us in 2006; “they had us bang to rights” admitted a British official in 2012. The FSB has cleverly disarmed the expected cries of fake! setup! lies! and other denials from the West by reminding everyone that it was the FSB that told the truth that time.

Security services hate revealing anything. Their unvarying intention is to hang onto information because a little bit of information can be nursed into a lot of information: a seed revealed is just a seed, but a seed kept and nurtured can grow into a forest. I recommend Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America to show how the ancestors of Russia’s security organisations nurtured every little seed until they grew so big a network in the American government that they were probably better informed than the White House. So, to get them to give up a seed is a big step. It doesn’t happen, as they say, by accident.

Consider what seeds and seedlings the FSB gave up with this video.

The video exposed a man the FSB had identified as British intelligence. They could have marked him, followed his career, noticed with whom he associated, where he went, whom he met. Fed him false information, exposed his network, found others, followed them and, who knows, turned or compromised some. Now, he’s blown and probably won’t go anywhere near the Russian world again. The British will be back-checking his contacts and network and making a damage assessment and probably shutting things down. So, the FSB gave up years of exposure and mapping of networks.

The video also reveals the degree to which the FSB is following Navalniy’s organisation. Everyone assumed that it was, of course, but it appears that the surveillance team was waiting in the restaurant. So that gives away another part of the FSB’s modus operandi. For all we know, the restaurant was a favourite place of the Navalniy organisation; not any more: they won’t be going there again.

Note how good the sound recording is. That would presumably reveal something about the technology and trade-craft the FSB possesses. I’m sure that, to those who know these things, other details of trade-craft and equipment were revealed as well.

It is an easy deduction that the FSB has more information that it has not revealed: for example whether Ashurkov’s pitch resulted in a sale. (Note that Navalniy’s organisation receives a certain amount of funds via the anonymous Bitcoin). Neither has it revealed any other videos of similar sales pitches that one must assume it has. One can only assume that the FSB already has a good case and can trace the money.

As everyone knows, Navalniy fell sick on a flight inside Russia and a few days later, wound up in a hospital in Germany saying he had been poisoned with novichok. While the ever-changing story requires the reader to completely suspend disbelief, as usual in the information war against Russia, new variants are rolled out, confident that its targets aren’t paying attention past the headlines that Putin has poisoned someone again. Thanks to John Helmer’s reporting, we know that the doctors at the Charité Hospital found many health problems when it examined Navalniy but no evidence of novichok. The novichok “evidence” comes from German and Swedish military facilities which have declined to publish their findings. Navalniy, for his part, has several times asserted that Putin attempted to kill him with novichok. So, we have evidence from two civilian hospitals that show no novichok; there are assertions that it was novichok, but they’re secret and come from military sources; Navalniy says it was novichok. Does this look like prima facie evidence that Navalniy collaborated with foreign intelligence agencies against his country?

Where did Navalniy get the illustrations for his video on Putin’s supposed palace? We know that the building is very far from finished because people went to see it. So somebody supplied the faked-up interiors (complete with Putin himself). A Germany-USA production? “in early December, the [German] studio received a request from the United States about whether it had free production capacity. In strict secrecy, work began on Navalny’s film”. Perhaps there’s another charge here, given the expected importance of this “proof” of Putin’s supposed corruption for Navalniy’s campaign. (Another silly story for the gullible, by the way: where would he keep his loot and when does he have time to enjoy it?)

The entire Western propaganda structure leapt on the story. I’ll just quote this one thing from the NYT’s resident sage, Thomas Friedman, because of its amusement value:

Putin is not very important to us at all. He’s a Moscow mafia don who had his agents try to kill an anti-corruption activist, Aleksei Navalny, by sprinkling a Soviet-era nerve agent, Novichok, in the crotch of his underwear. I’m not making that up! Russia once gave the world Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Dostoyevsky, Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. Putin’s Russia will be remembered for giving the world poisoned underwear.

“Poisoned underwear”, “mafia don”, “he keeps stalking us”. Plenty more where that came from: if it’s Putin or Russia, the accusation is the proof. Vide Biden’s demand that “He should be released immediately and without condition“. Suspiciously like a coordinated operation; perhaps the FSB can actually show connections.

Navalniy is the latest in a long line of Western anti-Putin heroes. I’ve been in this business for three decades and I’ve forgotten half of them. Reports on protests that carefully avoid mentioning people who would spoil the narritive. Putin is a “moral idiot“. Lots of poisonings of opponents (is the absence from that list of the long-recovered and now-discarded Yushchenko significant?) and even non-poisonings; but no explanations for why the (almost invariably ineffective) poisons change: dioxin, thallium polonium and now novichok. Protests are always about to bring him down. Endless endless nonsense about Putin himself – too much to catalogue. Russophrenia. And so on and on; the people change – Browder and Khodorkovskiy fade to the background, Berezovskiy gives up, begs to be allowed home, kills himself (they say) – but the story never changes. Pussy Riot was huge until it wasn’t. Pavlenskiy does something in Russia, he’s a hero, same thing in France, he’s arrested. Always a fraudulent election in Russia (Moscow should take a leaf out of Washington’s book and call all such claims “conspiracy theories” and block discussion.) Washington says it had the MH17 shootdown on film, but you can’t see it. Nothing is ever proven but it never stops. The audience is assumed to have the IQ and attention span of gnats: Moscow hacked the US election system in 2016 but in 2020 the system was watertight while Russia was hacking everything else. It’s information war; most of it nonsense from proven liars. Maybe Moscow has had enough. The Biden Administration is full of Russia-baiters all fully invested in the Trump/Putin conspiracy theory; there will be no change; it’s time for Moscow to give up expecting anything else.

Maybe Moscow is going to make an example of the latest Western favourite and charge him with treason and prove it. Maybe that’s why this video was released. It would appear to be a case of “providing financial, technical, advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or international organization . . . directed at harming Russia’s security” as the treason law puts it. A revision of the law that came into effect, as it happens, in the year the video was recorded. Collaborating with foreign intelligence structures to create a poisoning narrative would appear to fit the definition too. How about writing a letter to a foreign head of state asking him to sanction your country?

And more hints of evaporated patience: Moscow handed over to the OSCE videos of Western police beating up protesters – Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, the USA, Finland, France and the Czech Republic – helpfully pointing out “For doubters, we have shown a contrasting model. How they do it and how we do it. Feel the difference”. The message is clear: motes and beams; or, as they like to say in the West, “whataboutism“. Moscow then expelled diplomats from three countries, accusing them of participating in protests.

Washington, London et alia will protest in the usual way with all the usual statements about human rights that they themselves are pretty casual about at home (“Почувствуйте разницу”), but I suspect that Moscow doesn’t care much what its enemies say. In this matter it may well be that the idiotic Navalniy poisoning story, coming after all the other evidence-free accusations, was the last straw. And perhaps Beijing’s success in shutting down the equally foreign-inspired troubles in Hong Kong was an encouraging example.

We will see, but it’s another indication that Moscow has had enough. After all, there’s an audience out there that isn’t glued to CNN and the NYT. There’s no chance of changing minds in Washington or London; it might still be possible in Berlin and Paris – Nord Stream II is probably the test – but there are hundreds of millions out there who are listening. Zone B, the Saker calls it.

STUPID, STUPIDER, STUPIDEST

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The British newspaper the Sunday Times, relying on the usual unnamed Western intelligence sources (German this time they say, but as they’re unnamed, who knows?), has just re-animated the Navalniy poisoning story by informing us: “Revealed: Kremlin made a second attempt to poison Alexei Navalny in botched assassination: Russian spies tried to kill Putin’s fiercest critic with the deadly nerve agent novichok before he could be flown to Berlin, western intelligence sources reveal.” This story, picked up by other outlets, presents us with three possibilities. All three involve the word “stupidity” – a word that is becoming gravely inadequate to describe today’s reality. English needs a stronger word to cover this concept.

The simple facts are that Aleksey Navalniy fell sick on an internal flight in Russia on 20 August, the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk where he was taken to hospital, a couple of days later he was flown to a hospital in Germany – at Putin’s urging, we are told – from which he has been released apparently in good health.

And the Gadarene swine of the West rushed straight for the cliff. Poisoned by tea, or was it a water bottle? maybe his clothing. Cancel last! – cocktail the night before. Ignore all rumours about coke or diabetic shock – it’s gotta be Putin’s poison du jour, novichok (has he run out of polonium, mercury and dioxin?) and, what is more, by a variant “more malicious and deadly than all known offshoots of the Novichok family”. Russian doctors found no poison – but who would believe a Russian? Russia gave “no credible explanation” to the accusations. But how could any Russian ever say anything “credible” as Canada’s Globe and Mail wondered: “The Kremlin, predictably, says it didn’t poison Alexey Navalny. So what can the West do?” The West in general, and the European Union in particular, likes to boast about values among which is that “Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.” But not if you’re Russia. Russia must answer questions demands UK, Europeans on OPCW, Merkel, NATO, When Russia was unable to prove its innocence, the EU sanctioned “guilty” Russian officials as did most of the West. That the story was the usual slipshod assemblage of orphic assertions was revealed when the opposition party Alternative für Deutschland forced German government spokesmen to answer its questions: it was “not aware” of many things.

And sillier still: Anders Åslund called Merkel and Navalniy “the two leaders of the free world” and, not to be outdone, John Brennan tweeted “Imagine prospects for world peace, prosperity, & security if Joe Biden were President of the United States & Alexei Navalny the President of Russia”.

Paul Robinson took the trouble to go through the Sunday Times story and discovered that only 100 words of 4,000 mentioned the second attack and they were erected on a flimsy foundation: “the underpants story is just what a single Russian scientist, unconnected to the case, happens to think“. But we can add unnamed scientist to the “unnamed intelligence sources”. Amusingly, the scriptwriters didn’t coordinate this latest twist with the hero of the story and Navalniy himself was quoted as calling the Sunday Times story “very strange”, adding that he was “really surprised” to hear it. On his side of the tale he was busy naming his attackers and Bellingcat, that reliable investigator who uncovers what Western intelligence agencies cannot, assured us that Navalniy had been tailed. But, having caught Bellingcat out on this howler three years ago, I don’t waste my time on him either – falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

In short, it’s all the same old stuff we’ve heard over and over again – Bellingcat, unnamed intelligence sources, evidence we can’t show you, changing facts, weird inconsistencies, amazing coincidences. I’ve been at this business for some time and I remember when Putin poisoned Karinna Moskalenko and I also remember when he didn’t; my trust in these stories departed a long time ago. And that is where the word “stupid” comes in. These stories invite considerations of stupidity. But who are the stupid ones? Putin & Co? The consumers of the stories? Or the story-makers themselves?

The first possibility is that Putin and his team are stupid. They decide to assassinate Navalniy (but why? He’s probably peaked in his effect – in the latest Levada poll he scores a couple of percentage points; a rating little changed in six years; in short, his ratings have never been much above the polling error.) And why now? Anyway, we’re supposed to believe that they decide that now is the moment and, rather than using something simple – a mugging or a car accident – they use novichok. Despite the fact that, as the western media has repeatedly told us, it had already failed in one assassination attempt. To make matters even stupider, the Germans solemnly told us this was a “a variant that the world did not know until this attack, but which is said to be more malicious and deadly than all known offshoots of the Novichok familyThe fact that he is still alive… is only due to a chain of happy circumstances“, “Harder” was another word used. “Harder” than the Salisbury version; but, apparently, not “hard” enough to require decontamination teams, hazmat suits or even to make Navalniy sicker. But back to the story; after it had failed to kill him, rather than sending a couple of hitmen to the hospital with a pillow, they tried again with the same stuff. Some “expert” stupidly tweeted that it’s a “false narrative” to argue that if the Russian authorities had wanted to kill him he would be dead because the “false narrators” are wrongly assuming that Russian assassins are “omnipotent”. No, not “omnipotent”, just normally competent – and do remember that the people who buy the Navalniy poisoning story also believe that Putin has been routinely killing people and therefore ought to be pretty good at it. Anyway, we’re supposed to believe that when the second attempt failed – that’s three failures out of three – Putin let him go to Germany where all this could be revealed to the western media by “unnamed intelligence sources”. Are Putin and his team really that stupid? You would have to be pretty stupid to think that they are.

Which smoothly leads us to the second possibility which is that the purveyors of western news stories (emphasis should probably be put on the second word) think their customers are stupid enough to think that Putin & co are that stupid. The customers are supposed to swallow the notion that Putin wanted Navalniy dead, used something that would immediately be blamed on him, failed, tried again with the same thing, failed again and then said, ah… whatever… and let him go. Are the readers that stupid? Only very stupid people would think they were.

Which leads to the third possibility – it’s not Putin & Co who are stupid, it’s not the readers who are stupid, it’s the rather small number of people who control the western media who are so stupid that they think they can get away with this obviously idiotic story.

But, at that level, it’s probably not stupidity, although there is surely the stupidity engendered by arrogance enfolded in sycophancy. It’s probably really about power and control. What better proof of power can there be than to tell a lie and have everyone, knowing that it is a lie, repeat it? Washington had the MH17 shootdown on film, but don’t ask to see it. Russia invades Ukraine regularly, but the invaders can’t get past Donetsk airport. Brexit was a Russian plot until somebody sued and demanded to see the evidence. The Panama Papers were about Putin except that they didn’t mention him and therefore they must have been by Putin. Russia is simultaneously all-powerful and about to fall apart. Russian threatens the NATO border.

We’re actually seeing the process happening right in front of us now while we watch: with a straight face CNN told us that US elections were dangerously insecure in 2006, compromised in 2016 but watertight in 2020. Any moment we can expect the headline: “Putin’s election hackers spread conspiracy theories about election hacking”.

Most of these stories are dictated by “Western intelligence sources who cannot be identified” or by organisations with opaque ownership and that, rather than stupidity, gives us the clue about the purpose of these idiotic stories. It’s not the details that matter in propaganda, it’s the lasting impression. Long after the details – Litvinenko, Yushchenko, Skripal, Navalniy – are forgotten, people will remember that Putin poisons people he doesn’t like. Orwell knew: “the past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth”. Or we can take Captain Jedburgh’s point of view and make things so complicated that everyone has a theory but no one has the facts.

But that also works best with a helpful push from stupidity.

WEAPONISED COURTS

First published at RT with some additions and deletions and hyperlinks stripped out.

A Dutch court has just reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling which reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling. Russia had been sued by a company representing Yukos shareholders. The latest iteration, reversing the reversal and taking us back to the original judgement, demands Russia pay $50 billion. (Yukos was nationalised on the grounds of failure to pay tax arrears after the arrest of its CEO for tax evasion.)

What should Moscow do? It has appealed but perhaps it should think about whether it still wants to play the game. Let’s look at the behaviour of other Dutch courts. Slobodan Milošević appeared at the Hague charged with crimes against humanity, genocide – the full package – in 2001. And quite rightly said most Westerners – had not their media had already named him the “butcher of the Balkans“? In 2016 the International Court of Justice ruled that perhaps he hadn’t been as guilty as all that. Too late: Milošević had died in his prison cell ten years before, the trial still rolling on. The Netherlands is in charge of the investigation into the destruction of the MH-17 flight over Ukraine in 2014. Again we had immediate Western news assertions that Putin and Russia were responsible and the personal assurance of John Kerry that US intelligence resources had watched the whole thing. And it’s been a fact-free Gish gallop ever since. After several investigations, suspiciously dependent on Ukrainian intelligence sources, social media and Bellingcat, with no one asking where the “we saw it” was, the trial of four individuals began in March 2020 and has been proceeding at the same comfortable pace as the Milošević trial. In 2018 Ukraine, without the least suspicion of a chain of evidence, produced some missile parts that it claimed were from the SAM that was said to have shot the plane down. The parts had numbers, numbers can be traced and the missile factory traced them. They were parts of a missile shipped to an AA unit in the west of the Ukrainian SSR in December 1986. The judges decided that the documents were irrelevant because while they “may say something about where the missile was between [19]86 and 91, but they say nothing about where the missile was in July 2014“. (Presumably a daring raid from Donetsk to an ammo dump in western Ukraine had happened; which nobody noticed.)

So one might ask what Russia can expect from any trial held in the Netherlands except an interminable process until the defendant dies.

Russians might then turn their attention to the practice of the rule of law in other Western countries today. Meng Wanzhu is approaching her third year of house arrest in Canada. Julian Assange has been in one of the most severe British prisons for eighteen months and is approaching the second year of his trial. Mariya Butina: in a US prison, often in solitary, on very questionable charges. Venezuela stored its gold in London for safekeeping but can’t have it back (that judgement reversed for now). Or Frédéric Pierucci. Or the EU sanctioning Russia because it couldn’t prove its innocence of the latest accusation. A big fine in a Polish court over the Nord Stream pipeline. The open-ended CAATSA. Russian observers might be forgiven if they regarded this as not rule of law but war of law – lawfare.

Moscow has generally played the game and accepted Western Court rulings: and sometimes, they’ve gone its way: for example the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2011 that the case against Khodorkovskiy had not been politically motivated. But, given the relentless cascade of accusations – redoubled in the past five years – perhaps Moscow should reconsider on the grounds that Western “justice” will never give it a fair shake.

Will it do so? Well, there have been some hints. At the Valdai conference Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia no longer looked to Europe as an example and was not going to be its vassal. The Constitution was recently amended to make Russian law primary. These would appear to be clues that Moscow is at least pondering the conclusion that Western courts are a weapon and. A pity, but there it is. As Margarita Simonyan said:

For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer. We have no more respect for you…