When is bearing your teeth not a provocation?

NATO has been spending the last few years showing off their military might and marauding up and down Russia’s borders. (I am referring to flights near Russia’s borders, provocative exercises simulating landings near Kaliningrad and endless rotations of US destroyers in the Black Sea). The motivation to do this was almost certainly to try to restore pride lost when Russia so easily snaffled up Crimea – without (and this was the crime) of asking permission from the masters of the world.

They have also been arming Ukraine – which is in territorial dispute with Moscow. The West has done nothing to persuade Kiev to implement the Minsk agreements on the conflict in Eastern Ukraine; sending them weapons together with this lack of diplomatic pressure must surely send them a signal that it would be ok for them to attack the rebel held areas of Donetsk and Lugansk.

The amazing thing is that they do all this and then are genuinely surprised when Russia hits back. Russia has issued a string of demands to NATO which amount to “keep back from our borders”.

NATO has issued a statement in response in which they refer to “the false Russian claims of Ukrainian and NATO provocations”. Honestly all they do here is make a public display of their stupidity. When they conducted their landing exercises within 200 Km of Kaliningrad in 2015 and their pet newspaper the Guardian headlined with “NATO shows its teeth to Russia with elaborate Baltic training exercise” they probably felt “job well done – that will show Russia”. And UK Ministers seem to love provocations: the then Defence Minister allowed himself to be photographed riding a British warship in the Baltic [1] (after the Crimean annexation); the current Foreign Secretary (wildly out of her depth of course) recently posed for a photo in a UK made Challenger Tank in Estonia (a long way from the UK but in a country with a border with Russia) and on the same trip issued “warnings” to Putin; and of course there was the deliberate provocation of sailing a destroyer through Crimean waters in July of this year. NATO, the US and its puppet the UK, have been making a very specific point of marching up and down Russia’s borders for the last 7 years – and now they act all surprised when Russia says enough is enough.

The frightening thing is they probably are surprised. They are so stupid and insular that it may not have occurred to them that Russia would react to all these provocations… If war were to break out (I am assuming it won’t) the sheer stupidity of Western leaders will be a major causal factor.

Update

I’ve come across this 2018 interview with Rand Paul on the question of Russian election inference and NATO’s expansion. Note Rand Paul’s refreshing admission that the US interferes in the elections of other countries. Paul also argues that NATO’s pushing right up to Russia’s borders is bound to have produced a response in Russia – as it has. I like Rand Paul’s honesty and clear-sightedness.

The interview took place on CNN and we can also note how the CNN anchor is clearly completely subsumed in the Western propaganda. It is sad how these people do not realise that they are just like a newsreader in North Korea – completely unable (unlike Paul) to think clearly, and endlessly repeating the “truisms” of their programming (washed brains). The interviewer really chokes on Rand Paul’s pointing out that the US interferes in the elections of other countries. (In Ukraine of course there was a full-on lavishly funded programme to fund “civil society groups” which necessarily means ones which are pro-Western ‘democracy’ and capitalism. US politicians pitched up in the middle of their ‘revolution’ to egg them on and one was caught on tape carving up the new government of Ukraine with the US Ambassador!) Next the interviewer chokes on Rand Paul’s characterisation of the Mueller inquiry as a witch-hunt. Pauls handles this gracefully – separating off the actual question of Russian interference from the way the inquiry ended up using its huge resources to go after people for unrelated business crimes and legal infringements of the process itself. It is probably the way that Rand Paul accurately analyses Russia-NATO tensions in terms of ‘chicken and egg’ that most freaks out the interviewer. Paul points out that (as in any conflict) each side sees its responses as legitimate escalation to the provocations of the other side and it is often hard to work out exactly “who started it”. Rand also says that it would be useful to see things from Russia’s point of view and understand that they feel threatened by NATO’s expansion right up to their borders.

Challenged by this clear-sighted analysis the anchor panics and retreats to the mantras he learned in the nursery (weekly briefing meetings probably): “Given the fact that NATO protects sovereign countries while allowing them to remain sovereign while Russia invades other countries and takes over those countries. I don’t think its chicken or the egg” and “..Russia has continued to expand and take territory in Ukraine in Crimea in Georgia”. These are kinds of catechisms – the kind that primitive religious folk repeat at meetings as a token of their belonging to some club. He counts Ukraine twice – once as Crimea and once as Ukraine. Georgia refers to the 2008 war started by Georgia (according to the EU) which resulted in South Ossetia (population 50,000) breaking away and becoming independent and the already independent Abkhazia being recognized as a state by Russia. The history of Crimea is well-known; part of the Russian Empire since the time of Catherine the Great and with a recent history of trying to re-join Russia straight after the collapse of the USSR. At any event any objective historian could see that following the end of the USSR and (by a kind of extension) the collapse of the Russian Empire there were bound to be small areas of contention at the borders. The cases where Russia has intervened have all been in these areas. This is manifestly neither “expansion” or “aggression”. The attitude which sees these very limited actions as “expansion” is that attitude that saw the collapse of the USSR as a total victory for the West and is determined that Russia stay “crushed”. This is not a good policy because it will lead to counter-reactions, as Rand Paul understands and articulates very clearly.

Thank God for Rand Paul.

Notes

  1. I can’t find the actual image I want. There is one of him on the prow of a ship. This is the closest I could get. (Tip: to get past the demand for money disable JavaScript for this site. In Chrome it is under Privacy and Security…. JavaScript. You can add just this site. You only have to do it once).

Beating the drums of war on Ukraine

It is being endlessly repeated: “Russia must be dissuaded from invading Ukraine”. “Russia must understand that there will be serious consequences if it invades Ukraine”. “The G7 must warn Russia of the consequences of invading Ukraine”, “The UK is urging other countries to join a united front against a Russian invasion of Ukraine”, “An invasion is expected in January, intelligence reports”.

The last one is telling – as the “intelligence” referred to seems to be Ukrainian intelligence – which, objectively speaking, is just as likely to be playing information games as offering disinterested analysis.

Is Russia really preparing to invade Ukraine? This is extremely unlikely. Why on earth would Russia want to invade Ukraine? They would have to occupy a country where millions, in the West and centre, more or less despise them. There would be no economic benefit – the economy of Ukraine is far behind that of Russia. It would be impossible to manage; they would have a partisan war on their hands (with the partisans supplied by the West with the latest weapons). It would be insane. Furthermore; I think there is zero demand in Russia for a Russian invasion of Ukraine – people would be bewildered. This of course contrasts with the annexation of Crimea after a popular vote and Russian support for the rebel regions in Donbass – both of which were/are hugely popular actions in Russia, and with all generations.

Russia has said that if Kiev tosses out the Minsk agreements which they signed up to and tries to retake Donbass militarily they will intervene militarily to defend the people in this region (many of whom are now of course Russian citizens since Russia started giving out citizenship to these people in April 2019). Ukraine as a country is split; it is true that people in the West and centre prefer a “European future”. It is equally true that people in the East tend more to look to Russia and identify with Russia. The forces on the border are there to protect these people (and arguably Russian prestige).

The Western political classes and media sing as always with one united voice. The media, at least 90% of it, simply voices the same narratives as the politicians. Indeed it is hard to know where the insanity starts; with the media or the politicians. Even “intelligence” seems to be infected and to believe delusionary narratives rather than providing objective analysis. For example; don’t they even have people in Russia whose job it is to read the public mood? If they did they would know what I have said above; the Russian population would be bewildered if Russia “invaded” Ukraine.

Russia is not an expansionist power. Russia is in defensive mode. Crimea is full of ethnic Russians, and has a key strategic naval base. Taking Crimea after an illegal coup in Kiev was not expansionist; it was defensive. Support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the 2008 war with Georgia can be interpreted as preventing Georgian expansion; at any event these are small enclaves on the border and can hardly be seen as Russia being expansionist; (the combined population of the two regions is about 300,000). It is inevitable that after the collapse of the USSR there should have been some disputed areas on the borders of now Russia. Where has Russia “expanded” to? Against whom has Russia “aggressed”? In all the supposed cases any historically-informed analysis shows us that they are in fact no more than Russia defending what it sees as its key interests – consolidating what it has; not expanding. We can add that Putin fully understands the limits of his military power; he claims it is sufficient to defend Russia but he knows Russia is not a world military power.

One problem seems to be that Western “intelligence” and NATO hold the delusion that Russia is “expansionist” and “aggressive”. Where have they got this from? Most likely it is a simple projection of their own aggression and imperialism.

Back to Ukraine and Donbass. It is likely (as I said in a previous post) that Kiev is trying to prepare the ground for an action against Donbass – and they can then present a Russian intervention to protect the people of Donbass as a “Russian invasion”. The headlines in the West should be screaming “Ukraine must not attack Donbass” not “Russia must not invade Ukraine”.

Final note; the Western media is increasingly going along with the increasingly blatant attempts by Kiev to wriggle out of the Minsk agreements which they signed up to and which were co-signed by France and Germany. The Minsk agreements foresee substantial autonomy for Donbass – the only viable solution to this conflict. This is an example in the Guardian: “the crisis is at its worst since 2015, when Moscow staged a large-scale incursion into Ukraine, clandestinely sending tanks and artillery to encircle Ukrainian troops and compelling Kyiv to sign a peace agreement in Minsk”. (The extent of Russian military support is not clear and is certainly not established in the way that Roth claims, though in reality it seems likely that there was some direct military support as the battlefield situation did suddenly turn in favour of the rebels). At any event; Kiev signed up to Minsk and it was backed by France, Germany and the OSCE. So; that is the deal. If not Minsk (i.e. autonomy for the disputed regions) then what? What does Roth suggest? As far as I can see the only alternative is war in Europe.

Profiteering and Covid – plus – what is the end-game?

Profiteering

The head of the Welcome Trust – an organisation with deep links to big pharma – has called for more vaccines to be purchased and given to developing countries so as to reduce the pool of unvaccinated in which mutations can occur. Gosh. He isn’t of course the only one to see the pandemic as a huge opportunity. Remember the ‘Threat – Opportunity’ matrix which all these revenue masters learn in primary school; of course they analyse the pandemic in terms of the market threats and opportunities. Why not? But all this is coated of course with warm words or, more accurately, false narratives.

Just to correct Sir Jeremy Farrar, (who incidentally was in on the secret call which Dr Fauci arranged to manage and do damage limitation on the first findings by scientists that the virus was manufactured in a lab [1]), current evidence is that most vaccines have very limited efficacy against mild infection and transmission. For example for AstraZeneca (with its “extremely rare” side-effects) after three months it seems to offer no more protection against transmission than not being vaccinated at all. Protection against transmission also drops for Pfizer. [2] Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca also lose efficacy against a “high viral load”* very rapidly. For example Pfizer efficacy against a “high viral load” drops from an initial 92% to 78% after 3 months. [3] Presumably this fall continues over the next 9 months. That is; these two leading vaccines both offer limited or very limited protection against mild infection and transmission.

Unless we get to a point then that everyone in the world is vaccinated or boosted every three months there will continue to be significant global transmission of the virus. Given the cost of the vaccines as well as logistics difficulties even in developed countries in giving every member of the population a dose every three months this is not realistic. The goal proposed by Sir Jeremy Farrar is not a realistic one. By all means let’s increase the distribution of vaccines in developing countries; it will reduce the number of deaths. But, realistically, the goal of reducing transmission to prevent evolution of the virus is a utopia. Sir Jeremy Farrar must understand this (or he is unqualified for his position).

What is not 100% clear to me from the Guardian article or Observer piece is whether Jeremy Farrar is calling for a) governments to buy more doses and then give them to low-income countries or b) for the vaccine manufacturers to simply provide more at cost to low-income countries. According to this Guardian article the UK government is buying the Pfizer Covid vaccine at £22.00 a dose (I think that is each of the 2 dose regime). Manufacturing cost according to the article £0.76. Pfizer has, according to the same article, given 2% of production to low-income countries. In his article for the Observer Jeremy Farrar writes: “Rich countries, who have the majority of existing supply, must share more doses over the coming months”. In this case this would appear to mean a); the UK should give some of the doses it has bought at a 28x mark-up and then presumably buy more (if he is talking about Pfizer). He also suggests governments increasing funding for a WHO scheme which aims to achieve equitable access to vaccines. In both cases it would appear that Jeremy Farrar is wringing his hands and imploring governments to give more money to pharmaceutical companies (or the WHO – who in turn spend some of the money buying vaccines from pharmaceutical companies) on a project which is very unlikely to achieve the goal of preventing future mutations. I don’t see him in this piece asking Pfizer to increase the share of its production which it makes available to low-income countries via the WHO scheme.

The end-game for the pandemic

The reality looks very much like: Sars-Cov-2 will continue to mutate and throw up new variants. Vaccines may need to be modified and we may get to a point where people will need to take cocktails of multiple vaccines. Vaccines will offer some protection but some vaccinated people will still get ill and die. Due to rapidly waning efficacy of vaccines and the realistic time period between vaccination (the absolute best it seems realistic to hope for in the developed world would be at 6 month intervals) as well as the fact that vaccines have quite limited efficacy against transmission, the virus will not be eliminated. Sars-Cov-2 and variations looks like being here to stay.

We can hope; a miracle may occur; the virus could mutate itself into causing a much, much, milder illness. But, in general, it looks like the situation is quite analogous to the flu virus. Multiple variations, changing each year; some protection from vaccines, but it will remain a killer of the elderly and infirm. The question then is; what restrictions are going to be put in place in the long-term? At the moment we have absurd panicky reactions to Omicron. But next it will be Pi. At some point ‘democratic’ governments will come under pressure (from business) to implement balanced long-term measures instead of these knee-jerk responses. They may even realise this themselves. Right now it looks like these restrictions will probably include: testing for international travel, limited quarantines after international travel, exclusion from participation in social life of the unvaccinated enforced with digital ‘Covid passes’ – and, in some countries, mandatory vaccination, together with requirements to self-isolate when positive (widely ignored for the obvious reason that billions of people around the world cannot afford to stop earning money for two weeks). To his credit, Sir Jeremy Farrar specifically calls for support to enable the less well-off to self-isolate when positive. (There is a limited scheme available in the UK but not enough it seems to persuade everyone).

All this is a classic example of how large corporations (pharma) and governments, both top-down ‘right-wing’ organisations in Illich’s sense, try to ‘deliver’ solutions. These solutions have certain characteristics; they are very expensive; they build in addiction and reuse of the product (repeated vaccinations); they involve coercion rather than voluntary consent; they ameliorate the problem they are trying to solve to sufficient extent to justify the measures but the cost to benefit ratio is huge (mirrored, of course, by the enormous profits made by those at the top).

The alternative, ‘left-wing’ model (in Illich’s sense) would be based on: accurate information dissemination (including about the risks and limited efficacy of the vaccines alongside the benefits) and voluntary actions by individuals to get vaccinated when medically appropriate (i.e. risk groups and those who do not have natural immunity), voluntary social-distancing in realistic ways and self-isolation when ill. The latter would require employers to act in a socially responsible way and give people paid time off to self-isolate. Now, of course, it is my turn to dream.

Notes

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3F2ZJGipiE https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/06/17/covid-19-fauci-lab-leaks-wuhan-china-origins/7737494002/ (Details of the meeting referred to in the audio have not been released. So much for democracy.)
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/10/13/do-coronavirus-vaccines-prevent-transmission-of-the-virus [non-peer reviewed study] “Three months after having the AstraZeneca vaccine, those who had breakthrough infections were just as likely to spread the Delta variant as the unvaccinated.”
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02261-8 [I think this is the same study as 1.]

* I haven’t read the study but I know enough about how these studies are typically rigged by statistical manipulations to understand that what constitutes exactly a “high viral load” is quite likely to have been decided so as to produce the most favourable results for the vaccines.

Ukraine and Russia – crisis in the Donbass heating up

The problem is that the West seems unable to grasp that the people who are in power in Kiev – who came to power as the result of an illegal coup against an elected President – are, at least on the basis of their current actions, a liability. A liability in as much as they are still dreaming of retaking Crimea and recapturing Donbass on their terms. (It is true of course that there has been an election since the coup – but this happened after the country was already fragmented. If the clock could be rolled back to 2014 any democrat would say that the best thing to have done would have been to wait until the Presidential elections, which were due in 2015 anyway, could settle the question of an alignment with the EU, rather than drive Yanukovych out in an illegal coup).

Crimeans voted 80% to join Russia. The 80% has been subsequently confirmed by multiple polls by Western organisations. The East of Ukraine has always been more Russian leaning; the West more inclined to lean towards Europe. Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions had more support in the East. A Gallup poll in April 2014 makes it very clear how Ukraine is split between a pro NATO/EU West, a pro-Russia East and a more balanced centre. [1] Ukraine as a country is riven by a fault-line – facing both East and West. The crisis in 2014 was prompted by the EU and Russia fighting over Ukraine; they put pressure on the country and the fault-line came into the open.

The situation now reflects this split. Crimea is with Russia. The Donbass would like to be. (It is anecdotal of course but the one person I know from the Donbass assures me that her family would rather be part of Russia than Ukraine). The political elite in Kiev cannot accept this reality and dream openly of reconquering Crimea and they seem unable to accept that they will have to grant Donbass substantial autonomy to settle the conflict. This is unrealistic.

The West should tell their clients in Kiev to implement the Minsk agreements and quickly offer the Donbass region substantial autonomy. Instead they supply them with weapons and military trainers and support them in their belief that the crisis in Donbass has been instigated by Russia (rather than reflecting the actual feelings of the people in that region). This creates an unstable situation.

The media of course in the West drills its readers daily in “Russian aggression”. It is highly unlikely that the Kremlin would want to take Ukraine; the country is a basket case with a far lower GDP per capita than Russia and problems with corruption. Russia will act militarily to protect the citizens in Donbass if Kiev breaks Minsk and tries a military adventure. They have said so. Again – the capitals in the West should act responsibly and disabuse their clients in Kiev of the notion that they can retake Crimea on any terms and the Donbass militarily. Any other course leads to real danger of war. And it will not be “Russian aggression” that got us there. But Western intransigence. This fatal inability to clearly analyse situations and instead to mistake the echo-chamber of their own propaganda and imperialistic delusions for an ‘analysis’ of the situation.

(For what it is worth it is my view that Russia has no right to say that Ukraine can’t be part of NATO – though they can advise that if Ukraine did become part of NATO they might have to put more weapons near the border).

Notes

  1. https://www.usagm.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-slide-deck.pdf