Risk aversion and worst case scenario planning govern our lives

This is an interesting article in the Telegraph about the way that each time the government promises “freedom” from Covid restrictions then soon seem to find another reason not to in fact “grant freedom”. The goalposts keep moving. I was struck by this piece of analysis:

What seems to be going on is that every one is covering their backs. Ministers want to pass the buck to the scientists. They want to be able to say “What a triumph for our policies” if things turn out fine; and “We followed the science” if they turn out badly. The scientists don’t like being made to carry the can for what is basically a political judgment. They want to be able to say “These were only scenarios, not predictions” if things turn out fine; and “We told you so” if they turn out badly. Each group is trying to manipulate the other. Balanced assessments based on actual evidence are sadly missing.

That is – both sides are risk averse. Each side is trying to avoid being in a position where they can be accused publicly of having made a mistake. The result; the scientists produce a range of models including some at the very “pessimistic” end. This way – if the government picks a more optimistic model they can still say “well; we gave you the pessimistic model and it is the government’s fault that they chose to use the optimistic model”. And the government chooses to base policy on the worst-case model so that if things go wrong no one can say : “it was your fault; you should have used one of the more pessimistic models”. Everyone is risk averse and the public ends up with a bad outcome.

Continue reading “Risk aversion and worst case scenario planning govern our lives”

Situation in Ukraine

This post follows on from my previous post in which I briefly touched on the desparate level of misunderstanding that characterises Western politcal-media-intelligence thinking on Russia and specifically on Russia and Ukraine.

Clearly the situation is tense. There have been renewed skirmishes on the line of contact and Russia is building up forces on the border.

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy is apparently demanding a pathway to NATO membership. He is reported by the Guardian as saying: “Nato is the only way to end the war in Donbas”. I hope he doesn’t believe this. Ukraine joining NATO would be pouring petrol onto a fire. (As I understand it it is a condition of NATO membership that the joining country can’t be involved in any current conflict so that would rule it out). The strategy (tried by Georgia in 2008) of trying to drag America into a war with Russia is like saying “just you wait while I get my big brother”. So far big brother is just issuing threats – let’s hope they realise that it would be a catastrophe for them to them to actually get involved. A war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine would very quickly become a European war. I think it is very (very) likely that there are enough cool heads on each side to realise that this is an outcome which should be avoided at all costs and specifically that satisfying the childish refusual of Kiev to accept political realities in the East of their country is not something worth risking Europe for. I don’t think it will happen.

It is worrying nonetheless quite how little intelligence is displayed by Western media and political circles on this question. I am fairly sure that this deluded thinking also extends to military intelligence circles. This is the Guardian’s senior defence correspondent:

Russia’s purpose in the military buildup is unclear, but many western analysts are concerned about the scale of the posturing at a time of increased tensions between Moscow and Washington, after Joe Biden told reporters he thought his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was “a killer”. [1]

Does he really think that the reason for the Russian side building up forces close to Ukraine is because Putin is upset that Biden lacked the diplomatic skills to avoid responding to an interviewer’s invitation to call Putin a “killer”? We are back to this idea that they really think that Russia acts like an irrational animal – “posturing” and “projecting power” because it is angry and aggressive. The lack of understanding of Russia and Russian strategic thinking is extraordinary.

They should listen to Peskov’s (the Kremlin’s spokesman) comment on the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, as reported in the Guardian: [1]

From our point of view, it will only worsen the situation. If you ask the opinion of several million people living in the self-declared republics [in the east of the country] you will see that for them Nato membership is deeply unacceptable

And this is what they apparently can’t/won’t see. There really are millions of people in the East of Ukraine who don’t want to be part of NATO and who don’t want a ‘European path’ for Ukraine. (A situation confirmed for example by this Gallup poll: [2]). This is a result of the complex history of Ukraine whose territory has long been fought over by competing powers: Russia and Poland and Lithuania. A country which only became an independent state with the collapse of the USSR and which had people on both sides in both wars in the 20th century. It is (I suppose) understandable that politically immature politicans in Ukraine can’t accept the realities of their own young state but it is dangerous that the West (I’m thinking of media-political-intelligence circles) refuses to see what is under its nose. Already people in the East of Ukraine feel abandoned by Russia. They had hoped that Russia would ‘annex’ them as Russia did Crimea. My guess is that ultimately Russia will not allow Kiev to ‘conquer’ and subjugate the Russian speakers in the East of their country. Dangerous attempts by immature politicians in Kiev to start a war with Russia and drag America into it will if successful result in tens of thousands of deaths. And this because they can’t accept the democratic will of the people in Donbass and Crimea. The West should not back this one.

Update

Roth is in fact a repeat offender. In a new piece of propaganda he writes: “There is no indication of any ethnic-cleansing campaign, although the Kremlin has used similar rhetoric to justify intervening in the past“. However; the first act of the coup-appointed government in Kiev was to attempt to remove Russian from the list of state languages. And the presence of extreme Ukrainian nationalists who hate Russians on the front-lines in Donbass is well-established. Even the US found some of them too distasteful to fund. [3] This is normal of course; the people in the East are just to be told that their well-founded fears are in their imaginations.

Notes

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/06/ukraine-pressures-nato-for-membership-as-russia-amasses-troops-at-border
  2. https://www.usagm.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-slide-deck.pdf
  3. https://thehill.com/policy/defense/380483-congress-bans-arms-to-controversial-ukrainian-militia-linked-to-neo-nazis

On Russia there is no journalism

This is Andrew Roth’s latest piece on Navalny. It is full of the usual sheer fictions which one struggles not to construe as sheer lying. Either way it is far from journalism. On Russia, and especially on Russia, liberal journalists abandon any attempt at all to follow the normal rules of journalism. For example checking sources, not repeating as ‘true’ facts or details which are contested and which they cannot establish, and so on. On Russia they just write a particular brand of made up stories. As usual, corrective comments:

He has lost a lot of weight, plus he has a strong cough and a temperature of 38.1C,” Olga Mikhailova, the lawyer, said on the Echo of Moscow radio station. “This man is seriously ill. It’s a complete outrage that the IK-2 [prison] has driven him to this condition.

If Navalny is indeed seriously ill then one reason for this will be that he is (as the article informs us) on hunger strike. In most countries of the world making yourself ill by not eating is not usually considered an acceptable way to get out of prison. The article does not consider the extent to which Navalny is contributing to his own situation

Continue reading “On Russia there is no journalism”

Seeing it all backwards (On Russia)

This is an article in the Guardian by the Guardian’s Moscow correspondent. It is about “Russian aggression”. The noted sociologist Professor Furedi wrote a piece some time ago in which he said that after looking at the output of Britain’s political-media class he thought that they really believed this line about “Russian aggression”. That is – they believe their own propaganda. I basically agree with him but I think the only way to explain this self-delusion is that it is underpinned by an attitude that they fundamentally don’t care. They don’t care for anyone outside of their bubble; that is, for example, Russians. They certainly also don’t care about ‘truth’ in the sense of telling the truth; which necessarily means objective investigation. They are content to recirculate their own myths and to redefine the truth-test as “is it consistent with our view of the world” rather than “is it consistent with reality”.

The article describes a sinister Russian troop build up near Ukraine. It implies that Russia is either about to attack Ukraine or is using might to threaten Ukraine. As always the narrative falls apart when it is looked at by anyone who is not a believer. Consider:

The European Union has pledged its “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s government amid concerns of a military escalation in the east of the country or a possible new offensive against the Nato ally after recent Russian troop movements.

“New offensive”. Of course there has never been a Russian “offensive” against Ukraine. Russian forces protected Crimea as it re-joined Russia. (The 80% referendum vote has been repeatedly confirmed by major Western polling organisations). There probably was some degree of Russian military support for the rebels in Donbass; support limited to defending Russian-speakers against an onslaught by the nationalist brigades and army of Kiev. But not an “offensive” against Kiev.

Online researchers have identified troops being transferred to Ukraine’s borders from western and central Russia, including artillery from as far away as Siberia.

Really, you have to laugh. “Online researchers”. (Not ‘Bellingcat’ by any chance?) – This makes it all sound like real cloak and dagger stuff – the cold war. But we don’t need these mysterious and wonderous “online researchers”. Head over to Yandex (main news portal/aggregator in Russia) and the front page has plenty of images and videos of armour on the move. But “online researchers have identified” does spice up the story doesn’t it Mr Roth?

On Monday, Ryabkov hinted at what Moscow’s aims may be, saying that the United States should apply greater effort to enforce the Minsk agreements, a 2015 roadmap out of the conflict that many in Kyiv believe is disadvantageous and was forced to sign during a Russian-backed offensive.

This is a very interesting paragraph as Roth indicates that in UK media-political-intelligence circles they are shamelessly trying to slide away from Minsk 2 – the agreements sponsored by France and Germany to broker a solution to the conflict – by offering a degree of autonomy to the Eastern regions of Ukraine.

The rest of the noxious article discusses various conspiracy theories about Russia’s intentions; putting pressure on Ukraine; “projecting power” to “put the Biden administration on notice”? The explanation offered by Russia – that the troop movements are in connection with Russia’s self-defence is neither reported nor considered by Mr Roth. (We do have “The Russian government has denied it is planning a military attack but has not denied the troop movements” – which already twists what they have said). Yet this is far more likely than Russia is risking a confrontation purely for the sake of “projecting power” to Mr Biden. Only in the deluded imaginations of Mr Roth and others of this view does Russia behave like a demented and aggressive monkey projecting power for the sake of it. Frank Furedi’s analysis (linked above) is much more sober – he assesses Russia as a defensive power and a rational actor.

The actual reason for Russian troop build-up is almost certainly because they believe (either by assessing the situation or due to hard intelligence) that certain forces in Kiev may take advantage of the change of administration in Washington to force a conflict with Russia, with a view to dragging America into it. If forces in Kiev could drag Russia into a conflict by, say, restarting the Donbass war and putting the rebels under very significant pressure, or by creating some kind of border incident with Crimea then Biden might well feel he had to get involved; after all he has made a big point of being “tough on Russia”. The purpose of the build-up in this scenario is both to discourage adventurism and to be ready if it happens.