THE MISQUOTATION

Translated into French

NOTE: Given that we’re going to hear this one a lot in the next little while, I have joined the two parts for ease of reference. I wrote the first in 2014, JRL picked it up and I got a lot of flak from flacks. But I proved my point in Part 2. Johnson sent me a lot of private messages from translators and interpreters saying that I was right. The essence of it is that English has three forms for adjectives: (big, bigger, biggest) but Russians have a fourth in between bigger and biggest. That’s the form Putin used and is so frequently misquoted.

Part 1 https://patrickarmstrong.ca/2014/07/30/deadly-quotation-part-1/

Part 2 https://patrickarmstrong.ca/2014/08/01/deadly-quotation-part-2/

PART 1

The idea for what follows came from a Facebook discussion. One individual, certain that Russia was to blame for the situation in Ukraine, said, among other things, that Putin claimed the biggest mistake was the collapse of the USSR and that he wanted to restore it. I said Putin did not say anything like that and challenged him to find the original. I was hoping to make a point and lead him to understanding something for himself. He dug up a number of statements from the Western media saying that Putin had called the end of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the Twentieth Century”. Not so hard to find examples: Google returns 15 pages of hits for that exact search, starting with the BBC and ending with it used as a put-down by a commentator on a mildly approving Polish newspaper piece about Putin. The phrase has now become something like what Pravda used to say when it wanted to spread a lie, but had no real evidence, как известно: as is well-known. Over and over we see it used as the triumphant final proof of the argument. “Putin wants a new Russian empire”; “Ukraine PM: Putin wants to rebuild Soviet Union”; “Putin longs to be back in the USSR”; “Putin’s obsession is the restoration of Russia’s pride through the restoration of its imperium.”

Perhaps the most interesting reference my correspondent pulled up, however, was this from an essay by Anders Åslund:

In his annual address in April 2005, Putin went all out: ‘the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century…. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory…old ideals [were] destroyed.’ He presented himself as a neoimperialist.

What is interesting about it is that he actually footnotes the original source. I assume Åslund expected that no one would bother to look it up or be unable to find it. But it’s out there on the Internet.

So it is now perhaps time to see what it was that Putin actually said. Here it is: first in Russian, “Прежде всего следует признать, что крушение Советского Союза было крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века.” and then in the official translation into English, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Hyperlinks take you to Putin’s Address to the Federal Assembly on 25 April 2005 on the Presidential website. That is the “original source”.

Not the greatest; not the most important; not the largest of anything. Not Number One. Not the superlative. One of many geopolitical disasters of the century, but a “major” one. If you like, you could argue with Putin about whether it was “major” or “minor” – here are his reasons for putting it on the “major” side of the list; you put yours:

As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself. Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere. Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

(Note, by the way, how deceptive Åslund was with his second ellipsis).

Certainly big; anyone would agree that it was a bad enough disaster at least for those who lived through it. But bigger than any other disaster? No, but Putin isn’t saying it was. It ought to be perfectly obvious what he’s talking about: not a desire to re-create the USSR but an accurate description of how miserable the 1990s were for Russians (and, actually, for most other people in the former USSR). But, read on. This statement was part of the orator’s pattern, after the bad times, things are getting better: “Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years…”. And so on. Ex tenebris lux, or something like that.

The message is plain: Putin thought Russia was over the worst and better things can now happen (he was right, wasn’t he?). To use this as “proof” that he wants the USSR back, or is a “neo-imperialist” is wilfully to misunderstand what he said.

But just think how feeble your assertion that Putin wants to re-build the empire would be if the only quotation direct from his mouth that you had to nail your argument down tight with was “Putin did say that the collapse of the USSR was a pretty big disaster because people lost their savings, a lot of crooks stole stuff and many other sufferings ensued”. Doesn’t have quite the same ring does it?

So, the point that I was trying to get my correspondent to understand is that you simply cannot trust Western media reports on Putin or Russia. There is so much distortion, mis-quoting and outright falsifications that nothing you read in your newspaper, see on your TV or hear from your politicians can be accepted at face value. This particular quotation was ripped out of its context and made to serve another purpose; then it was endlessly repeated to cap the assertion that Putin is the world’s enemy because he wants to conquer his neighbours. The history of its use is a perfect illustration that the default position is always antiPutin. No secondary source can be trusted, always go to the original: is it an accurate quotation? what is the context? If you cannot find the original (both President and Prime Minister have a site in English, by the way; it’s not that hard to find the original), then doubt.

But there is a greater point. The West, NATO, the USA and its followers, we are at war with Russia. A rhetorical war with economic aspects at the moment but it may already be a shooting war by proxy. It will get closer to a real war if the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 is passed. The authors of the bill are quite certain that Russia is expansionist, aggressive and wishes domination over its neighbours. The famous quotation is not in the bill but it is alive in the US Senate:

“The reality, however, is that Putin is not concerned with international law or historical justice. His sole focus is on correcting what he considers to be the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ by reassembling the Soviet Union.” (Sen Ted Cruz)

“He sees the fall of the Soviet Union as the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ He does not accept that Russia’s neighbors, least of all Ukraine, are independent countries.” (Sen John McCain)

“His grip on the Russian presidency is central to his designs to restore Russian dominance. After all, Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the last century’.” (Sen Roger Wicker)

And it’s in the White House too: “‘He’s been willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union,’ Obama said of Putin in that interview.”

An influential mis-quotation, wouldn’t you say? Creating and supporting anti-Russian propaganda since 2005. It would, of course, be wrong to say that we are creeping closer to war with Russia only because of a mis-quotation, but the mis-quotation has certainly played its part in the creep.

PART 2

A number of people have challenged my (and the official Kremlin translators’) choice of “a major” for “krupneyshey” in Putin’s famous sentence “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” I stand by what I said: he did not say that there was no worse geopolitical disaster in the century. Neither did he mean that he wanted the empire back.

1. Meaning of the word “krupneyshey”. I take my authority from Pekhlivanova and Lebedeva: “Russian Grammar in Illustrations”; Moscow 1994; p 161. Here it is stated “To say that an object possesses some quality in extraordinary degree, without comparing it to other objects, the Russian uses a special adjectival form ending in -eyshiy (or -ayshiy, after zh, ch, sh, shch). A footnote tells us “These forms are used more frequently in bookish speech”.

To express the meaning “the object possesses the quality in the highest degree as compared to other objects” the modifier samyy is used.

A photograph of that page of the book is below

2. There is the argument from common sense: no Russian would ever say that any “geopolitical disaster” was bigger than the Second World War. His tongue couldn’t even form the syllables.

3. One must assume that Putin chooses his words carefully and knows what they mean especially in a formal speech like his address to the Federal Assembly in 2005 from which the sentence is taken.

4. One must assume that the Kremlin English translators know what they are doing. They chose the word “a major” for “krupneyshey”. By the way, I read the speech when it was given and downloaded the text in Russian and English at the time. There has been no change since. (It occurs to me, given that, in Latin, “maior” is the comparative of “magnus” – big, or great – the translators by that word choice might have been trying to suggest some quality that was on the high side of the scale without being “maximus”; in short “krupneyshey”; not just big but bigger than most? The comparative meaning of “major” seems to be hard-wired: can you even say “more major” or “most major” in English without sounding illiterate?)

5. The context makes it quite clear that Putin is not talking about loss of empire or anything like that. Here is the text around the famous sentence:

I consider the development of Russia as a free and democratic state to be our main political and ideological goal. We use these words fairly frequently, but rarely care to reveal how the deeper meaning of such values as freedom and democracy, justice and legality is translated into life.

Meanwhile, there is a need for such an analysis. The objectively difficult processes going on in Russia are increasingly becoming the subject of heated ideological discussions. And they are all connected with talk about freedom and democracy. Sometimes you can hear that since the Russian people have been silent for centuries, they are not used to or do not need freedom. And for that reason, it is claimed our citizens need constant supervision.

I would like to bring those who think this way back to reality, to the facts. To do so, I will recall once more Russia’s most recent history.

Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.

Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. Terrorist intervention and the Khasavyurt capitulation that followed damaged the country’s integrity. Oligarchic groups – possessing absolute control over information channels – served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty began to be seen as the norm. And all this was happening against the backdrop of a dramatic economic downturn, unstable finances, and the paralysis of the social sphere.

Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony of the Soviet system.

But they were mistaken.

That was precisely the period when the significant developments took place in Russia. Our society was generating not only the energy of self-preservation, but also the will for a new and free life. In those difficult years, the people of Russia had to both uphold their state sovereignty and make an unerring choice in selecting a new vector of development in the thousand years of their history. They had to accomplish the most difficult task: how to safeguard their own values, not to squander undeniable achievements, and confirm the viability of Russian democracy. We had to find our own path in order to build a democratic, free and just society and state.

When speaking of justice, I am not of course referring to the notorious “take away and divide by all” formula, but extensive and equal opportunities for everybody to develop. Success for everyone. A better life for all.

In the ultimate analysis, by affirming these principles, we should become a free society of free people. But in this context it would be appropriate to remember how Russian society formed an aspiration for freedom and justice, how this aspiration matured in the public mind.

Above all else Russia was, is and will, of course, be a major European power. Achieved through much suffering by European culture, the ideals of freedom, human rights, justice and democracy have for many centuries been our society’s determining values.

It is bordering on dishonesty, to take that one sentence out of that context and use it as the capstone of an accusation that Putin wants to get the USSR back. It obvious that he is saying the Russian people are not doomed to become slaves or failures, they have come through this disaster and will grow again; freedom and democracy are possible for them. Ex tenebris lux.

Text of the speech in Russian (http://archive.kremlin.ru/appears/2005/04/25/1223_type63372type63374type82634_87049.shtml) in English (http://archive.kremlin.ru/eng/speeches/2005/04/25/2031_type70029type82912_87086.shtml)

6. More quotations.

Speaking of freedom and democracy, if one must quote Putin, why not this one? “History proves all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are intransient.” (“Russia at the turn of the millennium” 1999). Interesting point, isn’t it? Democracies will outlive dictatorships, no matter how tough the former appear at the beginning.

What’s he mean by “democracy”? “Authoritarianism is complete disregard for the law. Democracy is the observance of the law.” (Interview with reporters, 24 Dec 2000). Depends on the laws, of course, but not a silly or trivial statement, is it?

Or, if we want his opinion on the USSR, how about this one? “In the Soviet Union, for many decades, we lived under the motto, we need to think about the future generation. But we never thought about the existing, current, present generations. And at the end of the day, we have destroyed the country, not thinking about the people living today.” (Putin, press conference in Washington, 16 Sept 2005, White House website). The failure of the USSR was built-in from the start.

I could go on – I have a file of quotations collected over the years – Putin has said a lot about a lot of things. Almost all of it carefully considered and embedded in a deep and broad context. But I’ll stop at one more:

“Our goals are very clear. We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life. We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society. We want to strengthen Russia’s place in the world. But our main goal, I repeat, is to bring about a noticeable rise in our people’s prosperity.” (Address to the Federal Assembly, 26 May 2004”.

CSIS COMES TO CALL

About 1000 Tuesday morning (14 December 2021) a ring on the doorbell. A man with ID from CSIS told my wife he wanted to speak with me. When I went outside he said he had some questions about Strategic Culture Foundation. Many of my fellow contributors in the USA have been hassled by the – as they used to call them in the USSR – Organs; then the US government imposed heavy penalities if they continue to write for it because it decided it was a Russian intelligence front (without any evidence – but who needs that these days?) So I was quite testy. No freedom of speech any more? No, no, he said, nothing like that, just want to ask a few questions.

The questions were these:

  1. Has SCF ever suggested I write something in a certain way? I told him they had three times asked me to write on a subject – “Real Crickets, Fake News” and “The Abyss of Disinformation Gazes Into Its Creators” – but the third time I said I wasn’t interested. In the two cases I had written what I wanted to and they had changed nothing.
  2. Had they ever changed or re-written anything I’d given them? No I said. Not even corrected typos. And, I said the moment they do, I will stop writing for them – I am an independent operator. He knew I’d quit an outlet before that so I guess he’s read this.

When I was working I was a member of an interdepartmental intelligence committee on Russia for about ten years. This gave me acquaintance with the various Canadian intelligence organisations that dealt with Russia. I was profoundly unimpressed by CSIS. Did they, I asked him, still do “scanning”? Not familiar with that he said – well, I replied, some extremely dull CSIS guy used to bore us stupid with the CSIS scanning program without ever telling us exactly what it was. We eventually decided that it must have been a newspaper clipping service. He hadn’t heard about the person who was fired for faking his credentials whom CSIS then hired. Another CSIS guy was just so tremblingly excited about the CSIS building (a pretty snazzy one – most of us were in office plankton cubes) – he, as I recall, had little to contribute to our discussions except a knowing sneer. Not an impressive organisation at all and to think, I said, that it was wasting its time on me. Surely they had better things to do. Like the Canadian possibilities of this, maybe?

He of course believed that there was such a thing as Russian disinformation – should have challenged him to give a few examples. Although I did ask him if he believed the Steele Dossier, speaking of what US intelligence had passed off as true. Mumble mumble he answered (I think he realised that that wasn’t exactly a great starting horse any more.).

Just an informal, private discussion, no hard feelings, said he. No intimidation. Did I have any idea who ran Strategic Culture Foundation? I did not but didn’t think it was the Russian government – not smart enough, I told him: they still think RT is all they need to do. Some of the writers I’d spoken to had speculated that it might be funded by some Russian plutocrat (this guy?) who was sick and tired of all the dangerous BS pumped out about Russia. Crap that was in danger of getting us into a war. But, as I said here (and he showed that he had read it)

Strategic Culture Foundation hasn’t created something that didn’t exist before, it’s collected something that already existed. What do we writers have in common? Well, Dear Reader, look around you. Certainly we question The Truth. Or maybe SCF is a place where people “baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” can find something else? Or maybe it’s part of Madison’s “general intercourse of sentiments“?

I said the Americans were dumb enough to think Strategic Culture Foundation was funded by the GRU which, I emphasised, was and always had been a 100% military intelligence organisation. He thought they’d said SVR (the Russian foreign intelligence organisation). (I checked – he was correct, they do say SVR – it was the GRU they claimed had been behind the Steele Dossier or the whatever-it-was in St Petersburg during Russiagate. I’ve forgotten the details – Trumputin was such a Gish gallop of rubbish that it’s hard to remember what was taken as absolutely true one day and forgotten the next).

I reiterated several times that I wrote what I felt like, when I felt like it, and so far they’ve published everything I’ve sent them. They can refuse something, but the moment they change what I’ve written, I quit.

So when I’d vented enough, he went away saying I could call whenever I wanted – we’re in the book – and wishing me a good day.

So, fellow Canadians who dare to write for Strategic Culture Foundation or similar crimethink publications, the day is coming when you’ll get a visit from our guardians from MiniTru too. And, eventually, our independent Canada will independently do what it’s told to and impose heavy penalties on us for crimethink.

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Who does run Strategic Culture Foundation? They pay the writers so somebody is putting money into it. I don’t know. I asked once and was told “a foundation”; which didn’t tell me much. I doubt it’s the Russian government – I can’t see it thinking that it’s cost-effective to pay for another miscellaneous opinion website. And, as I told him, it seems to think RT is worth the investment. (As for me, I can’t figure out what the point of RT is.) I bet on the plutocrat theory. Here’s some of the usual speculation – somebody who’s associated with somebody who knows somebody. Whatever: they’re all Russians so they’re all connected somehow. If you check, you’ll find that most of its stable of writers have been writing exactly the same stuff for years in other places. As I said above – SCF has just gathered them, it hasn’t created them. It publishes a pretty wide range – some things I read, other things I don’t bother to; like every other site, it varies in quality. I don’t much care who’s behind it: I write what I’ve always written and they (and other outlets) publish it. They change something or dictate something, or if I think the quality is slipping, I’ll take my business elsewhere; I’ve done it before.

Once again I observe that in the Cold War, they spent a lot of money and effort trying to stop their population from getting alternate opinions. Today we do. Pretty easy deduction about which side is confident that truth and reality supports it, isn’t it?

Why do we do it in a Russian outlet and not in a home outlet? Why don’t the NYT or Globe and Mail snap us up? We write lots and we’re cheaper than their usual scribes. Oh, I know, Russian disinformation. We didn’t puff the Steele Dossier; we wonder why novichok on the doorknob means that the roof has to be replaced; we don’t understand how Russia keeps invading Ukraine but can never get past Donetsk Airport; we ask why, if Moscow really wanted to interfere in the US election it fired a weak gun too late to make any difference. Writers for those outlets swallow everything whole. So, I guess, we who write for SCF do have a certain commonality of viewpoint; but that’s not because those sinister Russians make us do so, it’s because we did before it and will after it goes. And, what I wrote in the government was much the same as what I write now.

My point of view hasn’t changed since then – and here’s how I got here. A war with Russia won’t be fun for anyone and that’s where the mono-view of the Western media is taking us.

So, yeah, I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty – I don’t want her realm of Canada to be obliterated in a war we got into because we only heard one side of the story. So I contribute my moiety to the other side.

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I mentioned a couple of things to him and he said he hadn’t heard of them. Given that he will probably be reading this, here they are.

RCMP entrapment thrown out of court in BC

Piece in Reuters about the power of neo nazis in Ukraine.

Piece in Christian Science Monitor ditto.

A Canadian’s experience training the AZOV Battalion to NATO standards

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.)

Even if every single word in the Steele dossier was wrong, that would not change the fact that the Russians sought to manipulate the US election using hacked material and a disinformation campaign. Nor would it change the fact that the Trump family welcomed this intervention.

– Anne Applebaum, 17 November 2021

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 NEWS KILLED SATIRE

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

A couple of years ago a colleague suggested the idea that a group of us attempt to counter the rising passion of anti-Russia propaganda by satirising it. My reaction was that that was probably going to be a waste of effort because – this was in Trump’s time with Rachel Maddow and the rest spewing ever more preposterous conspiracy notions 24/7 – they were already well past the point of even being capable of noticing satire.

Nothing has made me change my mind since. Read this, for example, from Australia’s most-read newspaper – it’s about China but the point stands.

cuddly elephants are the latest weapon in President Xi Jinping’s propaganda offensive to present a more “lovable” global image of China.

In other words, to distract the West from noticing the millions of Uyghers shackled together in chain gangs tearing down mosques while being force-fed pork sandwiches, the communist dictators in Beijing have unleashed stories of cute cuddly animals. How could anybody satirise that? And if someone tried, would anyone notice that it was satire? How would you tell the difference between satire and earnest pronouncements from “scholars” at “think” tanks? Cuddly elephants are believable but cuddly pandas are over the top?

Or how about the BBC solemnly explaining three years ago How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon. What’s next? Putin weaponises cheese? Oops, Masha Gessen’s already done that with her unforgettable paean to

My little Gorgonzola. My little mozzarella. My little Gruyere, chevre and Brie. I held them all in my arms — I didn’t even want to share them with the shopping cart – – and headed for the cash register.

Putin weaponises your breakfast cereal! Falls rather flat after that, doesn’t it? All you’re left with is killer squids – nope, that’s been done too: Is 14-legged killer squid found TWO MILES beneath Antarctica being weaponised by Putin? (That cunning Putin has even managed to add six killer tentacles to the octopod – another breakthrough in Russian darkside science!) Beluga whales? No, too late!

In 2018 Rachel Maddow, on MSNBC, which modestly describes itself as “the premier destination for in-depth analysis of daily headlines”, spent nearly three in-depth minutes explaining in depth that Russia had a border with North Korea which, somehow, showed that Putin’s stooge Trump was doing something horrible. Watch it yourself, unless you have a root canal appointment you’d rather go to. Again, satirise that! Now it is possible that she was performing an education service for those Americans who thought North Korea was in Australia or Oman. But, on the other hand, given that a court determined that

Maddow’s show is different than a typical news segment where anchors inform viewers about the dailynews. The point of Maddow’s show is for her to provide the news but also to offer her opinions as to that news.

perhaps it already was a sort of satire.

These “news” items above are, of course, themselves deflections. The Uygher stories are mostly nonsense as this former believer explains. The torn down mosques are selectively-used satellite pictures as this explains (and here’s the ever-ready Bellingcat selectively using the very same pictures). And the witnesses are always changing their stories as documented here. So it’s not actually Beijing that’s using stories about wandering elephants to distract attention, in fact: it’s just the other way around. Putin’s “weaponised humour” was directed at the ever-changing Skripal story – here is a short list of the preposterosities the officials expect us to swallow – so the BBC’s accusation is another deflection from reality. Weaponising cheese was anti-Putin nonsense that has already blown up now that Russia is basically self-sufficient in food – just another missed prediction from her ever-expanding list. As to Maddow, well she’s still weaving a Brownian movement of dots into webs of Russian conspiracies.

In the past I’ve done my own attempts at collecting the ever-churning nonsense about Russia and Putin that we’ve been subjected to: here in 2015 (Asperger’s syndrome, gunslinger walk), in 2019 at the height of the Trumputin insanity – remember this one?: Trump wanting to buy Greenland is yet another sign of Putin’s puppetry. How do you satirise that? Or this disgusting cartoon from the source of “All the News that’s Fit to Print“; that’s already been turned up so far past eleven that no satirist could turn the volume higher.

I challenge any satirist to do a skit on how four years of shrieking about Putin’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election came to a sudden slamming stop with the most secure election in history of 2020. Did Putin & his league of spooks suddenly forget how to rig foreign elections after, we were told, many many successful attempts? Was there a change of heart in the Kremlin and they tearfully realised it was wrong to swing foreign elections? Did they decide Biden would be better than Trump in their scheme to bring down the USA? Did Putin’s stooge Trump somehow so fortify the American election system that Putin was unable to put him back in? Has Rachel Maddow ever explained what happened? Or the WaPo? Or CNN? Four years of ranting about Putin’s control of US elections disappeared in an instant. Widespread knowledge of Why US Elections Are So Vulnerable to Russian Hacking turned, overnight, into a despicable conspiracy theory – Donald Trump’s Big Lie explained. And this at a time, mind you, when Russian hackers were supposedly hacking everything in the USA except its election. Satirise that, if you dare.

Of course the real answer is obvious: this time the “right guy” won and there was no need to invent a Russian collusion story to weaken the “wrong guy”.

I am 100% going to say it, and I 100% believe that if it wasn’t for CNN, I don’t know that Trump would have got voted out. I came to CNN because I wanted to be a part of that.

So, when the need disappeared, so did the story and US elections became airtight again. But how do you satirise that? They knew what they were doing and telling the truth was the least part of it.

Which brings us to the real point and the reason why satire is a waste of time: you’re not supposed to remember the details; they don’t put details into their propaganda stories so you can remember them and compare them with other details. Not at all: the point is to leave an impression behind. In the foregoing case the object was to leave a bad smell around Trump’s victory – it was somehow – the details changed but the smell remained – wrong and illegitimate. Pee tapes came and went, Mueller rose and fell, Maddow found a map; always something new when the last thing rolled away. Satire can’t touch that – by the time the satirist has got his skit together about pussies, it’s time for the “all 17 intelligence agencies”; when the Mueller prayer candles burn out, Putin’s bribing Afghans to do what they happily do for free. But always Trump is somehow – can’t quite remember exactly how – suspiciously linked to an evil – forgotten the details there too, but undeniably evil – foreign bad guy. The show rolls along always with a new squirrel to distract you.

One of the delights of the Biden/Harris Administration is the return of old favourites, Here’s John Kirby explaining in 2014 why it’s Russia’s fault that it’s at NATO’s doorstep and, returned in 2021 as Pentagon spokesman, why Russia was “typically” disinforming us about firing warning shots at HMS Defender. I defy anyone to satirise that. Masters of BS – can’t say anything more than that, can you? Psaki and Kirby, together again. And where’s Harf, no mean practitioner herself? Prove them liars, they don’t care.

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

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

For satire to be effective, there must be some connection to reality; but these people don’t care about reality so there can’t be any satire. Putin weaponises humour, children’s cartoons, vaccines and many more – here’s a list – but, O would-be satirist, anything you can imagine is probably already been solemnly discussed by the usual consortium of ex-security organ apparatchiks posing as objective experts.

And, given what they say every day, how would you tell the difference between solemn official announcements and mischievous satire anyway?

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).

RUSSIA, RUSSIA, EVER FAILING

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

One of the favourite delusions of the people Scott Ritter calls the “Putin whisperers” is that Russia or Putin – to them the two are synonymous – are always on the point of collapse and one more push will bring them down. To the sane, observing the development of Russia from 1991 to 2021, this conviction is crazy: Russia has endured and prospered. But, as I have said elsewhere, these people fit Einstein’s definition of insanity and forever repeat their failures: Ritter calls them “intellectually lazy”. They’re not Russia experts, they’re wrongness experts and constant practice has made them quite good at being wrong.

A recent example is a BBC documentary which I haven’t bothered to watch. I haven’t bothered because, after forty years in the business, I don’t have to: I know full well that BBC+Russia=clichés: bears, snow, unchanging horribleness and the confirmation of everything the BBC told you earlier. Bryan MacDonald has watched it and is especially amused by this line: “(However), some things in Russia change, like the seasons.” Paul Robinson describes the methodology: “talk to a few people, and then draw some sweeping conclusions“. In other words, just another piece of propaganda reinforcement typical of the species. Russia is always Russia: bad, smelly, stunted and vicious. Whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter. As a Putin whisperer said in 1997

It is not prudent to deny or forget a thousand years of Russian history. It is replete with wars of imperial aggrandizement, the Russification of ethnic minorities, and absolutist, authoritarian, and totalitarian rule.

(This is from yet another screed on how to deal with Russia; compare it with Nuland’s a quarter century later: same old stuff – we’ve been too soft but if we add a withered carrot to the big stick, we’ll get them to do what we want. But at least Nuland recognises Russia’s military strength. Which, I guess, should be welcomed as some recognition of reality.)

One of my favourites, from twenty years ago, is Russia is Finished. But never mind what mere reporters write in newspapers and magazines – venues that in the pre-Internet days would have been forgotten after their final appearance as garbage wrap; the Russia is Finished delusion has taken root in more consequential soils. A senior member of the American apparat believes: “Inside the country, low oil prices, the coronavirus pandemic, and Russians’ growing sense of malaise all bring new costs and risks for the Kremlin.” She, or somebody of like opinion, is behind this statement from White House Press Secretary Psaki: “Well, I think the President’s view is that Russia is on the outside of the global community in many respects… What the President is offering is a bridge back. And so, certainly, he believes it’s in their interests to take him up on that offer.” Well, as to “outside”, in the first two weeks of April, Putin spoke with the leaders of Libya, Lebanon, Belarus, Finland, USA, Philippines, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Germany, Armenia, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, Mongolia and Saudi Arabia. Official Washington is as condescending as it is ill-informed.

A compendium of doom from the “experts”: Russia will fail in 1992, finished in 2001, failed in 2006, failed in 2008, failing in 2010, “rapid deteriorating economy” in 2014, failed or declining in 2015, failing in 2017, negligible economy and “rusted out” military in 2017 (“Russia’s coming attack on Canada” is an exceptional fount of worthless analysis: hardly a correct statement anywhere, starting with the sub-head), falling behind in 2018; headed for trouble in 2019. Russia’s isolation, ancient weapons, instability. A gas station masquerading as a country. Doomed to fail in Syria and losing influence even in its neighbourhood in 2020. One “expert” repeats himself as if the intervening decade had not passed.

But they repeat themselves because that’s what they do. They have one thing to say and they say it over and over again. Michael McFaul is an exemplar; read what he predicts and bet against it. “If Russia’s economy continues to grow at anemic rates, we should expect these anxieties about Putin’s current foreign policy course to grow” (2018); Russia could have been “strong and great” if only it had “integrated” with the West (2015); “a confident Putin and a confident Russia is no more” (2014). Anders Åslund is an ever-fresh source of wrongness: “The only person who needs a war with Ukraine is Putin. He presumably hopes to boost his minimal popularity through another war.” (2021). “Russia faces a serious – and intensifying – financial crisis. But the country’s biggest problem remains President Vladimir Putin, who continues to deny reality while pursuing policies that will only make the situation worse.” (2015) and, twenty years young: “Russia’s Collapse” from 1999. Mark Chapman gives more “glittering examples of Aslund reasoning“. This past, present and future failing is, of course, fatal for Putin. He is a killer without a soul and losing the battle for Russia’s future in 2021, a “weak strongman” in 2020, a “thug, bully and a murderer” in 2016, weak and terrified of losing control in 2015, a “virtual Lt. Col. Kije” in 2001 and a moral idiot in 2000.

The Wrongness Experts tell us it’s a big failure but, in the real world, he and his team have achieved quite a lot. His approval rating has not fallen below 60% in twenty years; the BBC tells us that Russia is heading for catastrophe but Russians tell us it’s “heading in the right direction“. (That’s, incidentally, about three times Americans’ assessment of their own future). The simple fact – impossible to get into the heads of the Putin whisperers – is that the Putin Team has done a good job and enjoys steady support. You’d agree too, if you lived in a country that was actually improving: just compare any Western country in 2000 with today and then do the same for Russia; it’s not hard to see. If you permit yourself to see, that is.

Even these dullards understand that a direct military confrontation might not be a good idea (I hope I’m not being premature: after all, in today’s White House, in one room they’re trying to get out of Afghanistan and in another they’re trying to get into more adventures near Russia.) So they recommend sanctions. We’re supposed to believe that each round of sanctions is a response to something Moscow did but the truth is that it’s not what Moscow does, it’s what Moscow is that’s the cause: the very day – 14 December 2012 – the Jackson-Vanik sanctions were lifted, the Magnitskiy sanctions were imposed. That is: from 3 January 1975 to today, for completely different ostensible reasons, Washington has been sanctioning Moscow.

Then after Crimea, more sanctions: Åslund misses the target again: “My view is that the sanctions are so severe that it’s simply not necessary to reinforce them further.” George Soros joined the Wrongness Experts when he confidently predicted Sanctions would bring “bankruptcy” by 2017. Nope: more sanctions, no bankruptcy.

In fact, sanctions, overall, have strengthened Russia because its intelligent government maximised substitution. As a small example, Canada used to have a pretty reliable half billion dollar market for pork in Russia, now Russia exports pork and Canada’s market is gone forever. In the 1990s, it was commonly estimated that Russia imported about half its food; now it is self-sufficient and earns more from food exports than from arms exports. That might have happened eventually, but it happened now because Moscow’s clever reaction was to ban most food imports and support its own farmers. (Remember when cheese was going to bring Putin down?) Europe’s – and Canada’s – loss became Russia’s gain. Washington, it should be noted, is careful never to ban imports that it wants like oil and rocket engines; sauce for the European goose is not sauce for the American gander. But the Putin whisperers, ever willing to reinforce failure, keep piling on the sanctions.

All these “experts” getting it wrong year after year is good for a laugh. But they always pop back up on the TV talk shows spouting the same old tripe. No one ever asks: Mr Expert, you’ve been wrong for twenty years, why should anybody take you seriously now? (Well once – check it out.) On and on it goes – being an Official Russia Expert is the easiest hornswoggle there is. But the Wrongness Experts don’t just clutter up the talk shows, they infest Washington, the White House, the Pentagon, K Street, the universities and the think tanks. They shape policy. We can laugh as we watch them fail again, but their under-estimation of Russia is very dangerous. We have just had an example. Ukraine President Zelensky, egged on by them, confident that mighty NATO had his back and that Russia was feeble, started moving troops and in March pompously decreed the “de-occupation of Crimea“. Within a couple of weeks Moscow had concentrated more soldiers and weapons in less time than NATO ever could anywhere. It was tense for a while but Moscow appears to have made its point and Zelensky is now begging for talks. Not so fragile; wrong again.

But the danger is that they will go too far. Scott Ritter thinks that the Putin whisperers have reached their high water level with the recent sanctions, Belarus coup attempt and tensions in Ukraine. I hope he’s right but I suspect that there is still more to come: they’ve made an easy living at this grift and they can’t change now. And it’s depressingly unlikely that they will be replaced by people who can see reality.

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 is an objectively declining power economically and demographically,” Moore, the leader of the British foreign intelligence service, said in a rare The Sunday Times U.K. interview. “It is an extremely challenged place.”

I guess all that we can say is that intelligence isn’t. 25 April 2021

RUSSIA THE ETERNAL ENEMY QUOTATIONS

This is a classic: make up any old crap, when the Russians deny it, it’s proof.

Attributing such attacks, however, is imprecise, an ambiguity that Moscow takes advantage of in denying responsibility, as it did Thursday.

NYT on a story whose any old crap that particular time was how Russia was trying to steal vaccine information from other countries. 16 July 2020.