WHAT ABOUT WHATABOUTISM?

(First Published Strategic Culture Foundation Picked up by JRL,)

Vladimir Putin has made a national sport of what-abouting. In 2014, when a journalist challenged him on his annexation of Crimea, Putin brought up the U.S. annexation of Texas. The American invasion of Iraq is constantly what-abouted on state television, to excuse all kinds of Russian behavior.

– Dan Zak: “Whataboutism: The Cold War tactic, thawed by Putin, is brandished by Donald Trump“. Washington Post, 18 August 2017

“Trump Embraces One Of Russia’s Favorite Propaganda Tactics — Whataboutism”

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR, 17 March 2017

Essentially, it’s an appeal to hypocrisy ― a logical fallacy also known as “tu quoque.” Instead of proving that your opponent’s claim is wrong on its face, whataboutism argues that it’s hypocritical of the opponent to make that claim at all.

And, the author helpfully goes on to explain: “Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the Trump administration’s murky ties to Vladimir Putin and his associates, whataboutism is viewed by many as a Russian import.” Trumputin again! (Written, of course, before Mueller crashed.)

The author is half right: it’s hypocrisy, but it’s not an appeal to it, it’s a revelation of it.

As the quotations above show it’s a real meme: Google has thousands of hits on “trump putin whataboutism” – accusing someone of whataboutism, as apparently routinely practised by both, is supposed to be a final, complete and crushing response. Whataboutism is “a constant diversion away from actual relevant news items, facts, and arguments into constant accusations of hypocrisy” and a commonplace of Russian propaganda.

In a court of law someone who is accused of murder cannot defend himself by saying that his accuser has a dirty nose or, even, that he is himself a murderer. And neither is it accepted that the defence against an accusation of a dirty nose is saying that the accuser is a murderer. In a court of law the charge, whether dirty nose or murder, has to be proven to the satisfaction of the judge or jury; the personal behaviour of the accusing lawyer is not relevant.

But we’re not talking about a court of law here – we’re talking about an information war in which accusations are crafted to sway public opinion. In that “court” it is relevant to point out when the accusing dirty pot is calling the accused kettle black. Not to do so is a “diversion away from actual relevant facts” by changing the subject and pretending that the only subject is your crimes, not mine.

For example. Russia is routinely accused of violating the “Rules-Based International Order”. (What a great name: who wouldn’t want to live in a Rules-Based International Order and shun those who tried to overturn it?) A quick search turns up these accusations: “The Russian government wears its disdain for the rules-based international order as a badge of pride“; “What can the West do to keep Russia in check, when the country’s state policy is fundamentally at odds with the rules-based international order“; “It is Russia’s actions which threaten the international order on which we all depend“; “Today, I will set out how the Russian government under President Putin is taking steps that are weakening the rules-based order“; “Russia – a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council – has repeatedly attacked the global rulebook of normal behaviour.” Lots more examples can easily be found. Said Rules-Based International Order is praised as having kept world peace, as a “cornerstone” and other kinds of goodnesses. So, clearly, Putin & Co, by trying to overthrow it, are committing a crime.

But, actually, the accusation is only another propaganda shot at the contumacious Putin. Leaving aside the self-satisfied hype, we’re supposed to agree that this “order” is worldwide although few in, say, Africa or Asia would have happy feelings about it. But, most significantly we are required to not listen to what Putin actually says; over and over again, year after year: (this month): “Let me reiterate: truly mutually respectful, pragmatic and consequently solid relations can only built between independent and sovereign states“, or his essay in the NYT in 2013 when he said “The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus”.

But enough of reality, back to whataboutism.

Many of these fulminations cite Crimea as the moment when Putin’s Russia irredeemably breached the Rules-Based International Order but the accusation was commonplace long before Putin appeared. Russia wanted “the right to do what it pleases in its own backyard” in 1994; was probably not going to be “an equal and fair player” and believed that “countries become strong only by making other countries weak” in 1996; was “subverting its neighbors’ independence” in 2006. In short “Russia is remarkably resistant to progress, material and moral“. In other words, fashions change but Russia is always the enemy: Russia wanted to dominate the energy reserves in the Caspian in 1997, but signed on to an equitable division in 2019. Never mind that accusation (and who remembers it now?) on to the next accusation! In 1997 we knew Russia wanted to trash the Rules-Based International Order, in 2019 we still know but fresh accusations replace the worn-out ones.

So, setting aside the fact that the Ukrainian constitution was nullified with the violent overthrow of the elected President, ignoring the fact that violence against Crimeans had already started, forgetting that the first action of the coup was to outlaw their language, ignorant that Crimea had the status of an autonomous republic, never mentioning there were already Russian troops legally there, pretending that the referendum was done at gunpoint, shedding crocodile tears over the suddenly discovered Crimean Tatars, carefully refusing to visit the place to see whether reality conforms to illusion and all the rest of it, let us do a little whataboutism.

If the return home of Crimea – that’s what the Crimeans call it – is to be considered a violation of the Rules-Based International Order, what was the smashing up of Yugoslavia? A popular expression of the self-determination of peoples or a foreign intervention for less shiny principles? What was the invasion of Afghanistan? Rules-Based or not? If the invasion of Afghanistan was “Rules-Based” on self-defence principles (still – 18 years later!) what was the “Rules-Base” for the invasion of Iraq? How about the destruction of Libya? By what principle of the Rules-Based International Order are US and allied troops in Syria? Especially “guarding” the oil fields? Where’s the “Rules-Base” that says Washington should care about what Maduro does in Venezuela, or is it a fundamental principle of the Rules-Based International Order that “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela“?

I reiterate that we are not in some courthouse in which, say the case of Crimea’s incorporation into the Russian Federation is being tried in Courtroom Number 1 and the NATO attack on Libya in Courtroom Number 2, the NATO presence in Syria in Courtroom Number 3 and so on. In that case the Russian defence team would not be justified in saying that the other guys are in court too; it would have to argue the case at hand (relying no doubt heavily on Article 1.2 of the UN Charter); in the other courtroom the defence would be relying on… good question.

We are in the “court of public opinion” and here it is relevant that NATO & Co accuse Russia of doing things without admitting that they do much worse. After all, in Russia’s so-called sins – Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia – we can find solid majority support from the local population. NATO would have a harder time finding that support in its various post Cold War interventions. Or, to put it more plainly: Ossetia, Abkhazia and Crimea are pretty peaceful places; the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya etc etc are not. (To say nothing of the departure of US troops from Syria being hastened with jeers and stones.)

Occasionally Western news/propaganda outlets will confess to “the long history of the US interfering with elections elsewhere” but only to airily dismiss the issue because “the days of its worst behavior are long behind it”. (Ukraine, Venezuela, Russia and Hong Kong are not, we must assume, “interferences” and it would be “whataboutism” to suggest that they are somehow worse than the imaginary Russian intervention in the US election.)

In short, what is dismissed as “whataboutism”, and therefore unworthy of discussion, is reminder to the listener of reality; in a world of moralistic accusations that Russia has violated the sacred Rules-Based International Order it is a pointer to the West’s hypocrisy. If we are supposed to think that Russia did something bad and unlawful in Ossetia or Crimea violating the so-called Rules-Based International Order why is it wrong to point out that NATO this century has never paid a moment’s attention to the UN Charter or any other part of the, admittedly feeble, structure of international law?

The Bible advises us not to obsess about the tiny speck in the other person’s eye while ignoring the big hunk of wood in our own: “For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And if that’s not “whataboutism” what is?

 

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME: CRAZIESTER AND MORE CRAZIESTER

Remember the Spinal Tap scene where the witless band member explains that because their numbers go to 11 they can always get that little bit extra? Putin Derangement Syndrome went past 11 a long time ago: we need a whole new set of superlatives, “craziest” just won’t do any more

After writing this compendium of nonsense about Putin from Western sources in 2015, I ran a short series on Putin Derangement Syndrome; I gave up when Putin Derangement Syndrome and Trump Derangement Syndrome merged into a crescendo of craziness, far past what I could have imagined.

(And Trump Derangement Syndrome is also past 11 – “Why Ivanka Trump’s new haircut should make us very afraid“.)

In the past, American hysteria campaigns against the enemy-of-the-moment ended when their target did. Noriega went to jail, Milosevic died in jail, Hussein and Qadaffi were killed, bin Laden was killed, Aidid – but who remembers him? The frenzy built up and up and stopped at the end before it got to 11. But Putin is still there and growing stronger by the moment. And the frenzy therefore has to go past 10, past 11 and ever upwards. One of the craziest (to say nothing of disgusting) things was this absurd cartoon from the (formerly) staid NYT. But that was a whole year ago.

No longer bare chests, Aspergers, big fish, gunslinger walks – in 2015 they were laughing; today Putin has super powers. Two events sent it past 11. Somebody leaked e-mails from the DNC showing that it was rigging the nomination for Clinton and she lost a 99% certain election. Immediately, her campaign settled on blaming Russia for both.

That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. [9 November 2016] Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument. (From Shattered, quoted here.)

The bogus – bogus because most of the people on his team were part of the conspiracy and knew there was no collusion – Mueller investigation dragged on until – despite the endless “bombshells” – it finally stopped. But the crazies insist… not guilty but… not exonerated! And Trumputin’s principal conspiracist rants on.

Wikipedia tells us that “A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful actors, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable.” The CIA, referring to the Kennedy assassination, is said to have coined the expression in 1967. The “trusted source” media (an description it likes to award itself) is dead set against “conspiracy theories” and quick to denounce them as crazy, prejudiced and criminal. For example, Trump’s statement that Mueller was a hitman, is a “conspiracy theory” as are Trump’s ideas about the Bidens and Ukraine.

Everything I mention below comes from “trusted sources”. Therefore we must assume that all of them – Putin wants Trump to buy Greenland, Russians want to get Americans arguing about pizza, Russians have no moral sense and all the rest – are not “conspiracy theories” but honestly “more probable”.

Mere evidence – for example that the DOJ Admits FBI Never Saw Crowdstrike Report on DNC Russian Hacking Claim… or No Evidence – Blame Russia: Top 5 Cases Moscow Was Unreasonably Accused of Election Meddling or U.S. States: We Weren’t Hacked by Russians in 2016 or The Myth of Russian Media Influence by Larry C Johnson.. or Biden admitting to doing what USA Today insists is nothing but a conspiracy theory invented by Trump – makes no difference. The dial is turned up one more and we are solemnly and (incoherently – Paul Robinson again) warned that Russia might/could meddle in Canada’s forthcoming election.

Anti-Russia prejudice can have unhappy consequences. We have just learned that Putin phoned Bush a couple of days before 911 to warn him that something long-prepared and big was coming out of Afghanistan. Other Russian warnings had been dismissed by Condoleezza Rice – supposedly a Russia “expert” – as “Russian bitterness toward Pakistan for supporting the Afghan mujahideen”. One is reminded of Chamberlain’s dismissal of Stalin’s attempts to form an anti-Hitler alliance because of his “most profound distrust of Russia” (see Habakkuk comment). In some alternate universe they listened to Moscow in the 1930s and in the 2000s, but, in the one we live in, they didn’t. And they don’t.

Or maybe (foolish optimism!) this is starting too end: after all, it’s been a complete failure. I especially enjoyed the NYT, that bastion of the Russian-conspiracy/Putin-superpowers/Trump-treason meme, solemnly opining: “That means President Trump is correct to try to establish a sounder relationship with Russia and peel it away from China. But his approach has been ham-handed and at times even counter to American interests and values.” Ham-handed! – here’s the NYT’s view of the Trump-Putin “love affair” again if you missed it the first time. And now it’s Trump’s fault that relations with Russia aren’t better! French President Macron has recently said that “I believe we should rebuild and revise the architecture of trust between Russia and the European Union.” And Trump rather brutally delivered the message to Ukraine’s new president that he ought to talk to Putin.

Well, we’ll see. Russophobia runs deep and the Russians have probably got the message. As long as we’re stuck in a mindset of “Nine Things Russia Must Do Before Being Allowed to Rejoin the G7” it’s not going to change. An arrogant invitation is not an invitation.

THOUGHTS FROM URBAN’S SKRIPAL BOOK

Just finished (very) quickly skim reading Mark Urban’s book on Skripal.

I learn four things (the first two of which Rob Slane had already told me).

  1. Skripal was still doing work with the SIS and his house had been bought for him by it. Slane covers the deductions from that here.
  2. Skripal spent a lot of time watching Russian TV and did not believe Russia had invaded Ukraine (Urban has a minor case of the fantods about that, obviously can’t believe that anyone would doubt the Beeb). This supports the possibility that he was ready to go back to Russia (plus his aged mother was quite sick and he wanted to be with her) and that he was still a “Russian”.

The other two are

  1. The Russians had been watching Skripal for several years and it’s possible that they were feeding him fake information. Which leads to the interesting speculation, when he’s being interrogated by the Russians, that he’s told that although he didn’t know it, he was actually working for them all along. And, upon release, he still could be.
  2. The “NGO” Igor Sutyagin was giving information to did have a connection to SIS. (Urban idiotically says this was a case where Russian “paranoia” was justified.) So another big brouhaha in the Western media turns out to be wrong. Is it really going to turn out that Russia has told the truth every single time and the West has lied every single time?

Apart from that, everything in the book is what you would expect to see (although I do love his mention that an Army nurse was one of the first responders – try Colonel Alison McCourt, Chief Nursing Officer of the British Army! Quite a coincidence, eh?)

But these nuggets are worth the hour of skimming.

I don’t see anything to harm Michael Anthony’s theory (Urban does raise the possibility of Skripal having something to do with the Dossier but airily dismisses it.)

 

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME AFTER MUELLER

First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by ZeroHedge, Russophile, Southfront

The West – its governments and its governments’ scribes – are obsessed with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Obsessed” is probably too weak a word to describe the years of impassioned coverage, airy speculation and downright nonsense. He is the world’s leading cover boy: military hats, Lenin poses, imperial crowns, scary red eyes, strait-jackets, clown hats; anything and everything. He’s the avatar of Stalin, he’s the avatar of the Tsars, he’s the Joker, he’s Cthulhu, he’s Voldemort, he’s Satan. He’s the palimpsest for the New World Order’s nightmares. Putin is always messing with our minds. He weaponises information, misinformation and sexual assault accusations. Childrens’ cartoons, fishsticks, Pokemon and Yellow Vests, “Putin’s warships” are lurking when they aren’t stalking; “Putin’s warplanes” penetrate European airspace; “Putin’s tanks”, massing in 2016, massing in 2018, still massing. His empire of rogue states grows. All Putin, all the time.

In an especially imbecile display in 2015, Western reporters (unable to find his website) thinking he hadn’t been seen for several days started a contest of speculation about coups, death, wars, plastic surgery, secret births and other nonsense; when he “re-appeared”, the story went down the Memory Hole.

For some reason, Americans personalise everything. In meetings with US intelligence agencies I was always fascinated how they would reduce every complicated reality to a single individual. But it isn’t Saddam, or Assad, or Qaddafi, or Osama, or Aidid, or Milosevic, or Maduro, or Castro or any of the other villains-of-the-day, it’s a whole country: these people got to the top for good reasons. Removing the boss makes some difference but never all the difference. They go but they never leave a Washington-friendly country behind and Washington does it all over again somewhere else. This peculiar blindness drives Putin Derangement Syndrome and has infected everybody else.

But Putin is much worse than the others. The other enemies had relatively weak countries but Russia could obliterate the USA. But worse, Putin’s team has steadily become more powerful and more influential. And worst of all, he’s still there: huffing and puffing has not blown him down, sanctions strengthen the economy and there is nothing to suggest he won’t be succeeded by someone who carries on the same policies. It’s a whole country, not just one man.

Vladimir Putin is the biggest man on earth.

Except that he’s short and can’t hide it. He’s a megalomaniac because he’s short; he’s trying to prove his bigness; napoleon complex says some shrink. Just another in a long list of crackpot “expert” opinions. From a list I complied in 2015: Asperger’s Syndrome, cancer of the spinal cord, personality disorders, gayness, Parkinson’s Disease, psychopath, people don’t like him so animals have to, sinister, lonely life, fears his own people, envious of Obama. Remember the gunslinger walk“? Oh, in case you hadn’t heard, he was in the KGB and that explains everything: “Once a KGB man, always a KGB man”. Nothing is too absurd.

But laughing has passed – Putin Derangement Syndrome has become dangerous.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton lost a sure-fire election to Donald Trump and, looking for an excuse, jumped on the Russia claim. Putin Derangement Syndrome was ramped up to a much more dangerous level. War-level dangerous.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder said President Donald Trump’s administration is doing nothing to stop Russians from interfering in the 2018 election cycle, comparing the lack of action on the part of the president to the 9/11 and Pearl Harbor attacks that killed thousands of Americans.

A popular actor made a video to tell us were were at war. “Warfare” says Haley, “act of war” said John McCain, could be says Cheney, 911 says Clinton, disappointed CIA guy agrees, Pearl Harbor says Nadler. Diplomatic expulsions and sanctions and more sanctions. These are much more serious than gassy op-eds about Putin’s gait or fish weights, these are actions: actions have consequences. Moscow doesn’t find war talk very funny.

Clinton’s victory was 99% certain until it wasn’t and excuses were needed. Clinton went through a lot of them but “Russian interference” was always the big one.

That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. [9 November 2016] Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument. (From Shattered, quoted here.)

In What Happened, Clinton also says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for Trump was driven by his own anti-women sentiment, stacking the deck against her: “What Putin wanted to do was…influence our election, and he’s not exactly fond of strong women, so you add that together and that’s pretty much what it means.” At press events for her memoir, Clinton continues to warn Americans against Russia’s power over Trump and the country. “The Russians aren’t done. This is an ongoing threat, and that is one of the reasons why I wrote the book and one of the reasons I’m talking about it,” she said on Sunday at Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival. (Newsweek)

Her claim is, to put it mildly, unproven; the so-called “all 17 agencies” report notwithstanding. (The first premise that it was hacked is here disproved: downloaded by someone in the building). Her accusation moved Putin Derangement Syndrome away from the realm of mere craziness into war talk. Taking the hint, Western politicians, under attack for their lacklustre performances, were happy to push the blame onto Putin. He’s attacking democracy! Western media weighed in until it became completely accepted by some people that anything that spoiled the happy complacency of the Western world must be a result of Putin’s interference: gilets jaunes, “assistance provided to far-right and anti-establishment parties“, he’s the poster boy of the dreaded populism, his populist tentacles reach Hungary and Italy. And the next thing we knew, Putin was mucking around in everybody’s votes: Brexit; Catalonia; Netherlands; Germany; Sweden; Italy; EU in particular and Europe in general; Mexico; Canada. Newsweek gives a helpful list. Sometimes he loses elections: Germany, Ukraine but he goes on, unstopping. But his greatest triumph was said to have been in the US election: he “won” because Donald Trump was his willing puppet.

(None of these “experts” ever seem to wonder why Putin’s influence, so decisive far away, is so ineffective in Ukraine or Georgia. But then, it’s not actually a rational, fact-based belief, is it?)

The entire ramshackle construction is collapsing: if Mueller says there was no collusion then even the last ditch believers will have to accept it: Robert Mueller Prayer Candles are out of stock, time to toss the other tchotchkes, it wasn’t a Mueller Christmas after all. Clinton’s fabrication had two parts to it: 1) Putin interfered/determined the election 2) in collusion with Trump. When the second part is blown up, so must the first be. And then what will happen to all the loyal little allies crying “ours were interfered with too!”? The two halves of the story had the same authors and the same purpose: if one dies, so must the other. Now that Trump is secured from the obstruction charges that hung there as long as Mueller was in session, he is free to declassify the background documents that will show the origin, mechanics, authors and extent of the conspiracy. And he has said he will. In the process, both halves of the story will be destroyed: they’re both lies.

(For those who now realise there is something they have to catch up on: Conrad Black has a good exposition of the overall conspiracy and here is a quick round-up of the mechanics of the conspiracy. This may show its very beginning, three years ago).

Will the exposure of the plot and the plotters end the war-talk stage of Putin Derangement Syndrome? In a rational world, it would (but can its believers be embarrassed by the exposure of their credulity? Can they be made to think it all over again from the beginning?). It is true that Russia stands in the way of the neocons and liberal interventionists who have been guiding Washington this century, but that hardly means that Putin is the enemy of the American people. Because, properly considered, it’s the neocons/liberal interventionists and their endless wars burning up lives, money and good will that are the enemies of Americans; in that respect Putin (unintentionally) stands with the true best interests of the American people. But the propaganda is so strong and the hysteria so unrestrained, that anyone who suggests that blocking the war party is in the best interests of Americans would be run out of town on a rail. (As the attacks on Tulsi Gabbard show.) The USA is far down the rabbit hole. (Although I should say US elites: a Rasmussen poll shows that slightly more Americans think Clinton colluded with a foreign power than think Trump did. Considering the news coverage of the last two and a half years, that’s a very interesting finding.)

So, the sad conclusion is that Putin Derangement Syndrome will probably endure and the best we can hope for is that it is dialled down a bit and the “act of war” nonsense is quietly forgotten. Derangement was strong before the interference/collusion lie and it will exist as long as Putin does: the war party is too invested in personalities ever to realise that it’s Russia, not its president, that’s the obstacle. Let alone ever understand that much of what Moscow does is a pushback against Washington’s aggression.

Let The Onion have the last laugh at this dismal matter:

“What the hell? I worked so hard on this—if I wasn’t colluding with the Trump campaign, who the hell was I colluding with?” said the dumbfounded Russian president, growing increasingly angry as he scrolled through his email inbox and recounted his numerous efforts at covert communication with individuals who he had thought were high-ranking Trump officials, but now he suspected were bots or anonymous internet trolls.

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.)

Scientific researchers say Russian social-media trolls who spread discord before the 2016 U.S. presidential election may also have played an unintended role in a developing global health crisis.

From the US state broadcaster RFE/RL

The biggest measles outbreak is in Ukraine which hardly has a state-of-the-art medical system.

And yet………….. it’s the RUSSSSSSHUNZ wot dunnit.

The anti-vaxx notion was given real impetus when the Russian trolls that run the British (but actually Putin-controlled) medical (but actually GRU propaganda outlet) journal Lancet (real name Ланцет) published a paper in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield (real name Эндрю Уэйкфилд) suggesting a link between certain vaccines and autism. The paper has since been retracted.

 

THE CHARGE SHEET

From time to time somebody sets out a list of all the accusations against Russia/Putin. Here is the latest. I won’t waste my time commenting except to say that “from RFE’s point of view” and “alleged” should have been used more often.

Putin omits all the reasons why relations with Europe are strained, so it might be useful to recap some of them: Russian interference in numerous elections and referendums in EU countries over the last decade; Russia’s active disinformation campaigns across the EU; Russian-based cyberattacks targeting numerous EU countries; provocative Russian military flights in and around EU and NATO airspace; Russia’s alleged interference with GPS navigation systems in Scandinavia; Russia’s continued deployment of “peacekeepers” in Moldova despite that country’s repeated requests that Russian troops be replaced with UN peacekeepers; Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia and its continued occupation of some 20 percent of Georgian territory; Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region; Russia’s intense involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine, which the ICC in November 2016 ruled “an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation”; Russia’s obstructionism in implementation of the Minsk agreements to end the Ukraine conflict; Russia’s role in the 2014 downing of a passenger airliner over Ukraine that killed 298 people; Russia’s alleged poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in 2006; and Russia’s alleged attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.

Robert Coalson, Senior Correspondent RFE/RL

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.)

The spy chief said he did not know why Russia was so aggressive, adding: “Perhaps it feels threatened by the quality of Western institutions and Western alliances.”

Alex Younger, head of MI6, 16 February 2019

I’m sure that’s the reason: Putin and his inner circle sit around bemoaning the fact that, as Russians, they just never will have that mysterious quality.

INTEGRITY INITIATIVE: BIG BROTHER’S MINIONS – OR FLIM-FLAM ARTISTS?

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation. Picked up by JRL2019/16/24,  ZeroHedge, South Front, Straight Line Logic, The New Dark Age, Trade for Profit, The Russophile, Viral News, Olduvai.ca, Truth in Our Time,

I’m not sure what to make of Integrity Initiative (what a great gaslighting name: integrity? Hah hah: no, just furtive paid propaganda and opinion steering). But I watch the unfolding revelations with fascination. Certainly, the whole thing is bigger than it seemed at first and all the documents being revealed appear to be true.

On the one hand, it looks like a group of superannuated old gits gassing on about how warfare today involves everything, especially “information warfare”, while last century it was only bullets. (Ever read any, say, Sun Tzu or Clausewitz? Or, speaking of the last century, Goebbels? How about Bernays?) And how we concerned individuals have voluntarily come together (assisted by £2+ million of the taxpayer’s money) to save democracy. Unpaid, unasked and unplotted. Completely conspiracy-free in fact. To individually and unconspiratorially assure you that only Russian dupes would try to tell us, contrary to all reason, that Russia, a nuclear superpower, has interests that we’d be wise to consider. Or that Western NGOs are often US State Department fronts. Or that the West promised Gorbachev it wouldn’t expand NATO (Too late, the documents are out). In short, that the essence of democracy is never to doubt what the Ministry of Truth tells you. There’s a naïve and bubble-like quality to this: they never think any thoughts but their own. So maybe these guys, instead of kveching at the mirror and shouting at the TV set, have figured out how to flim-flam the government into supplementing their pensions in return for pages of conspiracy-babble.

Or are we looking at something rather bigger? As John Helmer points out, there is a long history of British intelligence operating behind such “independent” and “disinterested” cover. Did they help start the Russia hysteria in the USA? Did they not only play up the Skripal affair but actually create it? Did they have an effect on Spain and Catalonia? Infiltrate Sanders’ campaign? What’s this “impose changes over the heads of vested interests. NB we did this in the 1930s” stuff? Is that a reference to the Zinoviev Letter forgery? (1924 actually, but they don’t look like people who bother to check details). Corbyn, of course, they see as another Kremlin stooge: is it time to “discover” a Dear Jeremy, How can I help you win? Your friend Vladimir letter? There is a danger these “clusters” of like-minded (and paid) flacks pose: in a time when the “news” media solemnly informs us that Putin has weaponised humour and Pokemon, to say nothing of killer squids, a group of “expert” “concerned citizens” who “voluntarily” appear can ratchet the hysteria up to further heights. (Although only a Russian troll would “emphasise the dangers of war in Europe (!!)”) They are trying to establish a base in the USA (“challenging the ignorance of, tolerance of or sympathy for the Russian activity” – tolerance!!?? the US media Russia-bashes 24/7!) So, no matter the temptation, we can’t write them off as silly old fools.

Here’s their website. And here’s some of their output, most of it written straight off the top of the head. Bellyfeel, as they say in Newspeak.

Deadly “Novichok” is not strong enough to kill you today, but is strong enough to kill someone four months later. Whatever – deadly, shmeadly – you read it, my head hurts.

Its [Russia’s, of course] ongoing lawfare activities have shaken the pillars of the post-WWII security architecture in Europe. Who knew? The very pillars!

Russian state media have succeeded in persuading some parts of the Arab world that Russia intervention is required to resolve the region’s disputes, which appears be the ultimate goal of Russia’s strategy in the region. I don’t think it’s Russian media, I think it’s these guys. Here they are again in Manbij.

The Thesis of Conspiracy: The Kremlin’s current world-view is stark, striking and scary. According to senior leaders, including Putin, America is attacking Russia. Silly Russians! NATO expansion, colour revolutions, sanctions, gas wars, rhetoric, tossing arms control treaties – all done to help you!

Russia attacked Georgia in 2008, lying that it was Georgia which had attacked Russia, absurd though this sounds when one compares the respective sizes of each country. A powerful argument, not heard before. (And not considered by the EU either; even its feeble report understood that Tbilisi attacked.)

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is often presented as the most striking symbol of Russia’s resurgent military power. Really, by whom? I follow this stuff and I know Russians like to talk about Piotr Velikiy or their submarines but the elderly Kuznetsov is just functional. (Although, escort tug, belching smoke and all, it works and the British media gets the fantods every time it appears.) This piece tries to show that Russia’s infrastructure is falling apart. Maybe they should spend more time on YouTube.

The Kremlin lies. Repeatedly and seriously. This is the only conclusion which can be drawn if you accept the view of the British Government that the Russian state is behind the attack using a nerve agent on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yuliya. The Russian authorities have already put out at least 17 different versions of what happened. (47 here). Ah, but the prosecution doesn’t win if the accused can’t prove who did it. Presumption of innocence – isn’t that one of those fundamental principles you’re supposed to be defending? The problem with accepting the “view of the British Government” is that it requires superhuman doublethink and crimestop as this summary of the absurdities shows. The latest being that a bit of “Novichok” on a door handle requires removing the roof of the house while Zizzi’s, old roof and all, is open for business!

However, at no time has the Integrity Initiative engaged in party political activity and would never take up a party-political stance. Spain and Catalonia? Sanders? Corbyn? Stay tuned.

These guys really should get out more. If they were being paid by some private individual for this tripe that would be one thing; but the British government (and others?) is paying – in fact, it’s actually paying these people to influence its own policy. Think about that: that’s rather different. Even leaving aside all the stuff about “we did this in the 1930s”. It’s a bit Deep Stateish – it’s a lot Deep Stateish.

Or maybe it’s just a bunch of retirees swindling the government by writing fluff about how Russia is sapping and impurifying all our precious bodily fluids.

Sarcasm is fun but the big question is: who’s winning: these guys with millions and the support of most media outlets, or us with hundreds and sites like this one? But then we have reality on our side and, eventually, but it can be a long eventually, it bites.

You decide. Here and here are the hacks. Or are they leaks? Interesting question, eh? We owe much thanks to Anonymous for exposing these people. Add Kim Klarenberg to your Twitter feed – an actual reporter doing actual reporting! I think there’s lots more to be revealed.

I’m amused by Donnelly saying that the fact that their stuff has been hacked shows that they must be having an effect; no, there are people out there who are tired of the lies, secret manipulations and managed media campaigns whooping up war fever. They found you and they broke into your files. That’s all.

REAL CRICKETS, FAKE NEWS

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

You’re an American diplomat. Posted to Cuba. You compose yourself for peaceful slumber, as an innocent American dip should… What’s that noise? Whine, buzz. Get up. Lights on. Look. Nothing. Head on pillow. Whine, buzz. We’ve all been kept up nights by some unidentifiable sound. You promise yourself you won’t listen to it. Aha, it’s stopped… no, there it is again. Another night of tossing and turning. Very understandable. The next morning you tell a colleague, heard it too, another hadn’t but can’t help listening. Soon everybody is awake listening to this irritating noise. Doctors come, check people out and find this and that (as ageing apes we all have something. Is there any before and after take on these injuries?) This is happening in Cuba, a country richly furnished with noisy insects. At some point, this irritating sound, that could be insects, morphs into something more sinister: “‘microwave hearing,’ also known as the Frey effect” for example.

The US Embassy in Havana re-opened in July 2015. About a year later, it was reported that some American diplomats complained about strange noises. The Guardian reported the story using numerous variations on the word “attack”. Crickets are mentioned, but only to be dismissed; “But this is Cuba”, wink, wink, nudge, nudge; Russia peeps above the horizon:

In fact, almost nothing about what went down in Havana is clear. Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack: by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.

Attacks – the story builds. A recording is produced (verrry irritating; keep anybody awake). “High pitched cricket sound”. That’s because they are insects say the Cubans. The phrasing of the AP report that covered the Cuban findings has to be read to be believed: it’s written in the sneering tone that tells you to ignore them:

Cuba on Thursday presented its most detailed defense to date against U.S. Accusations… Cuban officials attempted to undermine the Trump administration’s assertion… alleged was a lack of evidence for the U.S. Accusations… an exhaustive investigation ordered by “the highest government authorities,” a clear reference to President Raul Castro… Thursday night’s special did not present an alternate explanation for the facts presented by U.S. officials, with one significant exception…

What a dishonest way to cover a report by Cuban specialists saying we compared the recordings with cicada sounds and there was a good fit. Fortunately, as we shall see, honest people did follow that lead.

American tourists are solemnly warned “Exercise increased caution in Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy”. Washington expels Cuban diplomats and the Guardian helpfully tells us:

Cuba employs a massive state security apparatus that keeps hundreds and possibly thousands of people under constant surveillance. US diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. It’s virtually impossible for anyone to take action against an American diplomat without an element of the Cuban state being aware.

So the state of play as of the end of 2017 is this. Facts: noises, medical findings, investigations, expulsions. Speculation: they’re “attacks”, the Cuban authorities control everything and the insect explanation should be laughed at. Next year it’s China’s turn.

But at last, in September 2018, the Russian sun rises over the horizon.

The suspicion that Russia is likely behind the alleged attacks is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence, amassed during a lengthy and ongoing investigation involving the FBI, the CIA and other U.S. agencies. The officials declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence… If Russia did use a futuristic weapon to damage the brains of U.S. personnel, it would mark a stunning escalation in Russian aggression toward Western nations, compounded recently by the use of a military-grade nerve agent to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain.

Love the juxtaposition of “suspicion”, “likely” and “alleged”: how many degrees of uncertainty is that? You have to wonder whether an Integrity-challenged Initiative clusteroid gave that little gem to NBC – the “signals intelligence” will probably turn out to be a five-year-old RT report about insomnia. Also note that the US military “has been working to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats”.

Ensorcelled by this “un-elaborated” “intelligence”, the Gadarene media swine rush straight for the cliff:

Did Russia Attack U.S. Officials in Cuba? U.S.S.R. Used Microwaves Against American Diplomats During Cold War (Newsweek) Russia Is No. 1 Suspect in Mystery Brain Attacks in Cuba and China: Report (Daily Beast) Russia Might Be Behind Those Sonic Attacks on U.S. Government Workers in Cuba and China (Fortune) The U.S. Now Believes RUSSIA May Be Behind Sonic Attacks On Americans In Cuba And China (Daily Wire) So the Russians were ‘sonic-ing’ down in Cuba? (American Thinker) Russia main suspect behind illnesses of US staff in Cuba and China – report (Guardian) Russia suspected in Cuba mystery ‘attacks’ against US diplomats (NBC) Report: Experts Suspect Cuba May Have Had Russian Help in ‘Sonic’ Diplomat Attacks (Breitbart)

Altogether a perfect illustration of how fake news is built.

Step One. Something that could be lots of things but we’ll call it an attack.

Step Two. Attacks have attackers, so who is it? (I find it interesting that they weren’t quite ready to blame Havana, although they expelled a few Cuban diplomats: “‘I still believe that the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end,’ Tillerson added.”)

Step Three: Drum roll… Putindunnit!

It’s surprising, actually, that it took so long; after all, Putin has weaponised Soviet history, Syrian refugees, Photoshop, humour, Pokemon, and Russophobia, why would you think he’d have forgotten crickets? Nothing is beyond or beneath him: “14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin?“.

This happy complacency was interrupted…

by…

a loud…

POP!

The Sounds That Haunted U.S. Diplomats in Cuba? Lovelorn Crickets, Scientists Say.

And, because they’re Western scientists, not Castro’s Cuban Collaborators, we have to believe them. Two honest scientists – remember their names: Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley, and Fernando Montealegre-Zapato of the University of Lincoln in England – on their own it seems, applied human reason to the problem and solved it. Here’s a summary of their paper.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So that’s it; the story’s dead (although the NYT does its best to keep it alive: “That’s not to say that the diplomats weren’t attacked, the scientists added”). Would be nice, though, if State took its warning down. In time the details will fade away leaving a vague sense that Cuba’s a bad and dangerous place and nasty Russians do nasty things for the fun of it. But that’s the purpose of propaganda: to leave an impression when the details are forgotten.

So what really happened? Irritating cricket sounds produced a kind of dancing mania among US diplomats and the presstitutes sank to the occasion – even though the Cuban evidence was out there – and blamed Russia.

PS. My neighbours often ask me from where I get my news when I tell them something they’ve never heard of. Well not from the Guardian or the NYT or NBC or the others that boomed this fake story: I learned from Moon of Alabama that it was crickets waaaay back in October 2017 when he (a one-man operation who does more reporting than the entire NYT building) beat the NYT by 14 months. You should read him too so you too can get next year’s NYT headlines today.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

9 July 2019

Take down the warning? Oh har har! here we are six months later:

Numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees appear to have been targeted in specific attacks. We are unable to identify the source. Many of these employees have suffered injuries. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping.

Bullshit never sleeps.

THE WEST SLIPS DOWN ANOTHER STEP

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by ZeroHedge, JRL/2018/216/19, YouTube, WITSNEWS, The Good Fight, Viral News, The Fringe News)

There is much on the Internet these days about documents allegedly hacked by Anonymous; these documents belong to the “Integrity Initiative” and describe a multi-country effort, funded by London and Washington, to counter “Russian propaganda” and “fake news”. Since the initial story broke, a good deal of confusion has been laid down: Wikileaks is doubtful, and Anonymous itself is being evasive. On the other hand, Integrity Initiative doesn’t entirely deny.

But even if entirely false, they would be in that curious category of “fake but true”: Integrity Initiative does actually exist and here is its website. It is certainly engaged in anti-Russia propaganda. It publishes articles locking the barn door after the horses have escaped: yes, “Novichok” is terribly deadly but that doesn’t mean it will kill you. But, if it isn’t strong enough to kill you today, it may be strong enough to kill someone four months later. Its most memorable statement is surely this:

The Kremlin has invested more operational thought, intent and resource in disinformation, in Europe and elsewhere in the democratic world, than any other single player.

A statement that would stun anyone who’s ever been in a hotel and gone channel cruising: RT’s in there somewhere along with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, BBC, DW, France Télévisions, Rai and so on. A tiny voice in a bellowing crowd. But, after all, these are the people who tell us that Russia affected the US election with one FB message per 400 million others.

The Integrity Initiative is one of many. We had, and still have, the Legatum Institute which worried about “Russian disinformation” back in 2013, a pair of British thinktankers two years later also worried about “Russia’s information warfare in the UK“. Then it was time for “hybrid war“, a supposed Russian invention. The so-called intelligence assessment (of “all 17 agencies“, but actually a hand-picked group from only three, one of which only had “moderate confidence”) on Russian hacking devoted nearly half its space to a four-year old rant about RT!

Such an obsession with RT and Sputnik! How many eyeballs do they reach? Not that many by all evidence. We’re talking small – not 1/413,000,000th small – but small. A good deal less than the BBC alone. Amazing! But the West bravely marshals its feeble power against the colossus of RT and creates the British Army’s “77th Brigade” of Twitter commandos, the US has its soldiers at Fort Bragg trolling away, NATO’s Centre of Excellence in Tallinn pumps it out and now the Integrity Initiative extrudes copy. Even little Canada has got into the act. Then we have the so-called independent think tanks busy creating “objective” “impartial” “scholarly” expliqués of the Russian threat. Some of these are nothing but beards for the arms industry. An example is CEPA (“a tax-exempt, non-profit, non-partisan, public policy research institute”) supported by, inter alia, the US Mission to NATO, NATO Public Diplomacy Division, US Naval Postgraduate School, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon Company, European Defense Agency, Chevron Corporation, Bell Helicopter, Textron Systems and BAE Systems. Its “non-partisan” reports tell us Russia is sowing chaos, that we must defend the “Sulwaki Corridor”, Nord Stream is a bad idea and so on. You may not have noticed Moscow’s hand in Catalonian separatism, but they have. All very predictable and just the sort of thing a company making big weapons wants out there to buttress its sales pitch. Bearded guys in turbans and sandals with IEDs are not big business; Russians in tanks are. A rather curious idea of “non-partisan”.

But, despite this, we’re supposed to believe that RT and Sputnik have awesome powers and that one little tweet from a Russian bot has an overwhelming effect against which these “non-partisan” outfits have a tough struggle. An intelligent child can see the nonsense.

But enough sarcasm, this isn’t funny: it’s actually very serious. Apart from the dangers of building up war fever against a power that could obliterate the West, it’s a telling indication of the decline of the West. And so triumphant and so confident only two decades ago!

In the Cold War Moscow’s sin was that it was actively trying to overthrow us and send those of us it didn’t shoot to the GuLag. Today its crime is contumacy: it persistently refuses to accept the blame that the West puts on it.

But neither do many of us. So, if you, as I do, think that the Western version of the MH17 story is a bit fishy, doubt that Assad is dumb enough to do the one thing that would invite Western missiles, regard Whitehall’s Skripal story as laughably incoherent, doubt that Litvinenko could write a perfect English sentence, find it absurd to assume that Putin kills people by such easily noticed means, know that there were Russian troops in Crimea all along, notice that the White Helmets have received millions yet can only afford dust masks and flip flops, had heard of the Crimean Tatars before, notice that NATO has expanded up to Russia’s borders and not the other way around, know something about Ossetian-Georgian relations, know what the Ukrainian Constitution says about getting rid of presidents, remember Nuland’s telephone call, can remember all the people falsely demonised by the Western propaganda machine… If you dare to think those thoughts, these people will call you a victim of (or accomplice in) Russian disinformation and say you need re-education. Certainly they don’t want you to be heard.

Of course no one is calling for the end of freedom of speech, just a shutting down of “fake news”. Social media is doing its best to do so, advised by such “impartial” organisations, in the case of Facebook, as the Atlantic Council. Which is funded by, well, many of the same organisations as CEPA, but with more foreign governments and oil companies. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, United Technologies, Boeing: they’re not interested in funding a venue for people who question the Russian threat meme, are they?

Once upon a time truth was considered to be the best defence. In the Cold War there was little effort to silence Soviet propaganda. Anybody could listen to Radio Moscow, read Soviet newspapers or anything else. Most countries had a legal communist party working, under Moscow’s strict control, for a communist takeover and pumping out propaganda as hard as it could. Innumerable front groups pushed communist and Soviet policy under a variety of covers. We didn’t worry too much: truth was the best defence. But the USSR did worry and it spent enormous efforts jamming Western broadcasts. A child could figure it out: the side that’s blocking the other side is afraid of the truth, it’s afraid of dissent, it’s afraid of freedom.

Twenty years ago most Russians would have agreed that Pravda & Co were lying both about the USSR and about the West. But not any more: read what Margarita Simonyan, the head of the dreaded RT, says: “Лет пятьдесят – тайно и явно – мы хотели жить как вы, а больше не хотим” (“For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer“). Reflect on what produced this contemporary Russian bittersweet joke: “Pravda lied to us about the USSR, but it told the truth about the West”.

So, in the end, Russians didn’t “drink the Kool-aid”. Willing once to believe, they believe no more. And that is Russia’s sin. It’s not bolsheviks lusting for blood, with nooses in their hands, charging down Park Lane and Wall Street these days, it’s Russians stubbornly being Russian. And that is unforgivable to a West that has lost the confidence that its positions stand strong and unaided.

Which it has. Why else these attempts to manipulate public opinion and block disagreement? It is, in a word, Soviet behaviour. The side that’s mostly telling the truth isn’t afraid of the other side’s lies. Again, a child could figure it out.

What they are telling us (forget all that Magna Carta, freedom of speech and thought, European Values stuff they were boasting about a few years ago) is this:

We don’t trust you to make up your mind, so we’ll do it for you.

Accept, Believe, Repeat. It’s a big slip down the slope.

Remember the notion, popular at one time, that the Soviets and the West would converge? Well, maybe they did and just kept moving past each other. Soon we’ll be fully Soviet in our response to Big Brother: believe the opposite, read between the lines, notice what you’re not being told.

But the “Russia information war” pays good money for people who can say with a straight face: “Novichok is deadly except when it isn’t” or “Our intelligence agencies rely on Bellingcat to tell them what’s going on” or “Assad gasses civilians when he’s winning because he likes being bombed” or “Putin kills all his enemies except the ones who are telling you he does” or “the Panama Papers prove Putin’s corruption even though his name isn’t mentioned” or, indeed, “Russia swung the US election with a trivial number of social media posts”. Oh, and RT is rotting our minds. Even if no one you know has ever watched it.

They are paid to believe what they believe to be paid.