Our oligarchs and their oligarchs

I love this from Starmer (the UK ‘Labour’ leader):

“We must prepare ourselves for difficulties here – we will see economic pain as we free Europe from dependence on Russian gas and clean our institutions from money stolen from the Russian people”.

Opportunistic and value free as ever.

No one has ever explained to me why Russian oligarchs bad Western oligarchs good. So – now Russian oligarchs (who were mostly enabled during the Western led fast-track privatisation campaigns of the 1990’s) “steal money from the Russian people”. And Western oligarchs with their yachts and mansions are … do-gooders running charitable foundations? This is another laughable part of the narrative.

The stench of hypocrisy..

The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming.

“We will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments,” the White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said.

Boris Johnson spoke to the Ukrainian president on Monday night. According to Downing Street, Johnson said the steps taken by Putin made the Minsk peace process begun in 2014 “unworkable”. [1]

Minsk 2 was signed in 2015. It laid out simple sets to resolve the conflict in Eastern Ukraine by granting Donbass political autonomy within the Ukrainian constitution. It was workable and it was the only logical solution short of Donbass becoming a Russian protectorate. In the 7 years since it was signed Kiev has done nothing to move forwards towards a political solution. In the last few months multiple political figures in Kiev have been more or less openly repudiating it – saying for example that they will not grant special status to Donbass as Minsk requires. [2] It has become common to say that this agreement, sponsored by France and Germany and mediated by the OSCE, was signed under duress and so they don’t have to implement it. During these 7 years Western countries including the UK and US have been sending arms and military training (and giving intelligence support as well in the case of the UK at least) to the regime in Kiev.

Donbass is overwhelmingly populated by Russian speakers. There are significant numbers of ethnic Russians. A 2014 Gallup poll showed scant support for joining NATO and the EU in the East of Ukraine. [2] These people were democratically disenfranchised by the Western backed coup in 2014 which ousted a democratically elected President who had signed an agreement with Russia. The new and unelected regime then signed a political agreement with the EU. Is this how democracy progresses? The new regime in Kiev tried to introduce legislation downgrading the status of the Russian language. They failed. But a recent law requires shopkeepers to greet customers in Ukrainian. [3]

The population of Donbass in large measure wants in fact not to be autonomous within Ukraine or to be an independent statelet. They want to be part of Russia. Despite the barrage of propaganda this fact (with its narrative destroying capacity) occasionally accidentally seeps out:

Anecdotal evidence has shown that many of the people who remain are those who strongly opposed the 2014 revolution that toppled the former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych (his hometown is in the separatist-controlled regions) and those who are too poor or were unable to leave when fighting broke out [4]

The journalist has tried to hide it but he can’t completely obscure it. Or this:

Some said they believe the latest events will force Russia to step in and officially recognise or even annex the territories that it has run as proxies since 2014. “All of us who left are thinking and hoping that this is the last time,” said Elena Kravchenko, a post office worker from the Starobesheve district. “That [Russia] will come in and clean them out.” [5]

This is incontestable. The Maidan ‘revolution’ so heralded in the West was not a revolution for everyone in Ukraine. It was not a victory for the 4 million inhabitants of Donbass. These people were disenfranchised by the coup, in which far right nationalists played a significant part. [6] There has been zero sign since then that the authorities in Kiev were prepared to acknowledge their concerns and meet them half-way. On the contrary Kiev has consistently denied them their voice and refused to speak with them.

The West had 7 years to pressure their client-state to implement the internationally mediated agreements which they had signed up to. Not only did they not do this but they went along with Kiev more or less openly repudiating them. And all the while they armed the regime in Kiev. The media played their part broadcasting statements from Ukrainian politicians casting doubt on Minsk without ever questioning what was happening (and even from NATO member Lithuania). Consistently reporting ceasefire violations as if it was only the militia side who was responsible (though OSCE information showed otherwise). The Russian annexation of Donbass is the inevitable result.

For the US and UK now to talk about Minsk and “international commitments” is hypocrisy of the highest order. But then we all know that for the West “international law” is a lever of Western policy – it has nothing to do with law in the sense of a set of rules which applies to everyone equally. It applies only when it suits them. They look stupid but this stupidity is covered up by a partner media which produces the required narratives. We hear a lot about “Russian aggression” but next to nothing about how Maidan was a ‘revolution’ of the West, and to some extent centre, of Ukraine – which in fact disenfranchised Russian-speakers in the East. The one-sided presentation in the media is entirely in synch with the refusal on the part of Western powers to recognize anyone’s rights but their own. This is why Russia had to take them.

Notes

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/02/kremlin-call-boris-johnson-ukraine-diplomacy-effort-utterly-confused-protect-russian-invasion
  2. https://www.usagm.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-slide-deck.pdf
  3. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210401-new-law-stokes-ukraine-language-tensions
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/17/what-is-the-background-to-the-separatists-attack-in-east-ukraine
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/20/donbas-ukraine-evacuees-face-uncertain-future-in-russia
  6. http://www.channel4.com/news/svoboda-ministers-ukraine-new-government-far-right

How they distort the narrative on Ukraine

This is an example of how the Western media reports on the news so as to keep the central (NATO/US) narrative on track. The art is not (usually) to tell outright lies but to introduce distortions, change the context, emphasise this, omit that, and coat the already distorted report with an editorial gloss. The article is about the Munich security conference.

Scholz said it was unacceptable that a war in Europe was imminent over Russia’s demand that Ukraine’s path to Nato membership be blocked, when Putin knew such membership was not on the agenda. He also described as ridiculous claims by Putin that a genocide was under way in the Donbas.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/19/russia-johnson-munich-security-conference-putin-ukraine

Let’s look at the background to this.

Scholz is the Chancellor of Germany. Putin has recently commented that the situation in Eastern Ukraine is like “genocide”. Putin also made a comment about genocide following his meeting with Scholz in Moscow last week. It is important (of course) to report accurately. Some outlets manage a reasonable stab at this. For example this Turkish outlet reports:

Speaking about the possibility of a war between Russia and Ukraine, Scholz said a war in Europe is “unimaginable,” pointing out diplomatic possibilities for the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis are not exhausted. Putin opposed him, saying there was a war in Europe, in Yugoslavia, “unleashed by the US and NATO,” but Scholz argued that the situation was different there, there was a threat of genocide. To that Putin said what is happening right now in the east of Ukraine, “discrimination of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine, cemented in the country’s legislation” is “genocide” for Russia.

An exact transcript of the press conference remarks is available on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Olaf Scholz: I will emphasise that the situation in Yugoslavia was somewhat different. There was a danger and a threat of genocide, and this ought to have been prevented. I am very glad that everything is going peacefully there and that the Balkan nations have found a future in the European Union. All this is a very good sign.

Vladimir Putin: I will allow myself just to add that, in our view, what is happening in Donbass today is, in fact, genocide.

So. Putin did not spontaneously make a claim about genocide in Eastern Ukraine. Putin had brought up the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO in 1999 which took place without a UN Security Council resolution. Scholz then claimed that that was justified because the Kosovo Albanians were threatened with genocide by the Serbs. Putin then replied that “in our view” what is happening in Donbass today is genocide. It is both a mild and intelligent point. He is responding to Scholz’s attempt to differentiate the situation in Serbia/Kosovo in 1998/99 from what is happening now in Ukraine/Donbass. Putin says that from the Russian point of view what is happening in Donbass is like how Scholz characterises what was happening with Serbia and Kosovo in 1998. You can argue about the extent of the atrocities in either case * but it is not unreasonable, since Scholz introduced the topic of Kosovo and genocide, for Putin to say that in our view that is what is happening in Donbass now. The situational contexts are similar; a breakaway region of a larger country with a separate linguistic and cultural (and/or ethnic – it is arguable) makeup is attacked by the larger country. It is of course not widely reported in the West but Ukraine has recently brought in a law requiring service staff to always greet customers in Ukrainian – clearly this is discrimination against the Russian speaking people in the East. [1] But the main point is that Putin was responding to a comment by Scholz about ‘genocide’ and Putin said “in our view”.

Of course the Western media-political apparatus has reported this completely without context as if Putin made an aggressive claim about “genocide”. The State Department has dismissed the claim (which Putin did not make in the way it is being reported) as “false and reprehensible”. [2] The BBC reports it as a “baseless claim”. [2] Of course it is not “baseless” to say “in our view this is genocide”. Furthermore the view itself is not baseless; it is a fact that Kiev has introduced legislation which discriminates against the Russian language – widely used in the East of Ukraine. Putin no doubt also has in mind the 2014 attack on the Trade Union building in Odessa in which dozens of pro-Russian anti-Maidan demonstrators were killed. One can argue of course whether this (and no doubt Putin has other factors in mind as well) reaches a bar to be called ‘genocide’ but to simply dismiss the view (not even presented as a fact) as “baseless” as the BBC does is rather sick. In fact it seems to support the ‘genocide’ argument since those who commit genocide always deny it.

Scholz’s remarks – based on a misrepresentation of the press conference remarks – are then amplified. The narrative is that Putin made a claim about genocide – the context of Kosovo, the fact that he was responding to a claim by the Chancellor of Germany who was trying to legitimize NATO aggression against Serbia, and the qualifier “in our view” is removed. The theatre is to present Putin as making an outlandish claim about “genocide” – which can then be mocked and/or used to claim that Putin spontaneously put it forwards as a pretext for war. As so often the constructed narrative (jointly constructed by the State Department and the ‘free press’) is more or less the opposite of the reality.

* The claims of atrocities and mass graves used to justify the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 were, as this Wall Street Journal article points out, wildly exaggerated. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/pearl123199.htm

Notes

  1. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210401-new-law-stokes-ukraine-language-tensions
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60407010

Delusions in place of knowledge and analysis – Western media coverage of Russia

Really this topic deserves a paper. I just have time for a quick post to point to the topic.

This is from an ‘associate editor’ at the Independent:

Russia has returned to type, arguably – paranoid, near-absolutist, revanchist, expansionist, nationalistic, imperial, and a place where human rights, in reality, don’t exist. Internally and externally, spying, espionage and assignation are a normal method of stagecraft. We know that Putin is close to being a modern-day dictator, a tsar in all but name, and the latest round of elections show he has no intention of releasing his grip on power.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-ukraine-news-war-putin-biden-boris-b2017901.html

Unfortunately this simplistic perspective seems to govern as a kind of meta-map of much of Western political-media thinking (I am not sure there is any significant gap between them) on Russia.

It contains an element of racial abuse.

More to the point it is simply wildly wrong.

“Paranoid”? Because the US has edged powerful missiles very close to your border? Putin might reply – just because they call you paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you.

“Revanchist and expansionist”. This is a myth. It is not just a misunderstanding; portraying Russia as expansionist justifies Western aggressive moves against Russia. (The ultimate dream of the West is to turn Russia into a compliant region of the world, integrated into the US global system, with no national political independence; they fully understand they will need to overturn the current Russian state in order to do this). This myth is often supported by quoting Putin who referred to the breakup of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century“. They usually miss the context. For the context we have to turn to an academic:

He reiterated that view in April 2005 when he characterized the break-up of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century’ but promptly added that it was impossible to fantasize about resurrecting the old Soviet state

Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia (p. 495). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

This point is confirmed by another academic – writing (it has to be said they can occasionally print something sensible) in the Indepdendent:

The view of some in the West that Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union is, I believe, a fantasy that a realist like Putin has himself rejected. Yes, in 2005 Putin commented that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century” and “a genuine tragedy” – a sentiment he shares with a majority of Russians. But pundits in the West are less eager to reference Putin’s other pronouncement that “He who does not regret the break-up of the Soviet Union has no heart; he who wants to revive it in its previous form has no head.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/russia-ukraine-invasion-putin-diplomacy-b2017462.html Ronald Suny History Professor Michigan

Where is the evidence for this “expansionism”? Since the collapse of the USSR where has Russia invaded? They have supported the regions of Georgia which wanted to break away – South Ossetia (which is tiny – a population of about 50,000 people) and Abkhazia. They support small regions which have heavy Russian-speaking local populations in Transnistria and Donbass. You don’t have to be a historian surely to grasp that with the fall of the Soviet Union there were always going to be a few contested border regions because of the way the USSR encouraged population migration. That’s it. They haven’t invaded anywhere – unlike of course the UK-UK who since 1991 have undertaken bombing campaigns and regime change operations all over the globe – killing hundreds of thousands and leaving whole countries in ruins. The idea of an expansionist Russia is a complete joke.

“Near-absolutist and imperial and Putin is like a Tsar”. Oh, the danger of reading a little history. The author of this article in the Independent has probably read one or two books on Russia imperial history and thinks he has sussed modern Russia. It is lazy thinking. “Imperial” – with no Empire? “Near absolutist” – in reality modern Russia bears no relation to a 17th century absolutist monarchy – or Tsardom. People have in their day to day lives as much (and as little) freedom as they do in the West. People have social, economic and geographical freedom of movement. They can participate in politics and express views on the political and economic direction of the country quite at divergence from the current view of the government. Elections are held and the make-up of parliament can change in response. Of course Russian politics tends to be conservative and centrist. There are limits on what you can call for in public. (It is out of scope but of course the Western system where you can say more or less whatever you like can be analysed as a sophisticated system for breaking up dissent). An “illiberal democracy” as some academics call Russia is different from the Western system – but it is a long way from Tsardom.

“a place where human rights, in reality, don’t exist”. This is used as a kind of abuse. I wish the ‘journalists’ who produce this line this would turn their attention to the human rights record of the West. Let’s just take one example; Afghanistan. A failed nation building project has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and none of its goals have been achieved. Once they finally admitted failure (and under cover of the pandemic) they left, pulled out their support, stole the government’s funds, and plunged the country into crisis with millions of children starving. Yes; Navalny may be languishing in prison – but the human rights issues of the West are more or less infinitely greater than those of Russia.

“spying, espionage and assignation are a normal method of stagecraft. “. And the West does not do espionage? We could of course talk about the people tortured by the CIA in ‘black prisons’ – but it is not a nice topic. “assignation” (he means assassination) – yes, quite likely, Russian state organs polished off Litvinenko and tried to polish off Skripal and some others. But it is a matter of cultural preferences. Russia may tend towards assassination and even have a preference for poison. But that is better than Britain which has a preference for mowing down tens of thousands of innocent brown people with machine guns or incendiary bombs or burying them alive in trenches with bulldozers.

(As for Putin not releasing his grip on power. They always claim that Putin grips onto power. Maybe. But they rarely tell you the other side; many people in Russia support Putin. I quite often meet people who genuinely even fervently support Putin. Older people tend to see him as a ‘strong leader’. Younger, middle-class professional people, may see him as bringing stability and continuity to the country. Russians tend to be conservative and value stability; they would probably see the constant change of leadership which we are familiar with in the UK for example, as strange and vulgar).

The kind of lazy uninformed view of Russia presented here by this journalist is no more than a facile caricature. It is babyish in its thinking – but potentially very harmful in its effect.