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Since the Russian election is taking place on the anniversary of Crimea’s incorporation into Russia – an intentional play to increase turnout – now is as good a time as any to reflect on the complete failure of the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy.

All 12 of Past Zero Collapses

The Adepts of Putin’s “Clever Plan” have predicted all twelve of the Ukraine’s past zero disintegrations since Euromaidan

I do not think this is a controversial observation, as those of you who have followed the Russophile Alt Media in the past few years will agree.

For instance, here is The Saker, probably the most prominent pro-Russian advocate for Putin’s mnogokhodovka (lit. chess combination, an approximate Russian equivalent of Trumpian 4D chess), writing about Ukraine’s imminent collapse in 2015:

The Ukrainian economy is basically dead. There is nothing left to salvage, nevermind turn the tide and overcome the crushing economic crisis… Folks in the western Ukraine are already seriously considering demanding their own special autonomy status. As for Odessa with Saakashvili in charge and the daughter of Egor Gaidar as Deputy Governor, it will inevitably explode, especially since the USA officially pays their salaries.

Back then, he might have had a point.

Only problem, it was still collapsing in 2016:

Remember Dmitri Orlov’s five stages of collapse? They are:

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

Even a cursory look at what is happening in the Ukraine clearly shows that Stage 5 has already been reached, quite a while ago, really. What comes next is basically Somalia. But a big, really big, Somalia, with millions of assault rifles circulating in the population, with major industrial sites capable of triggering another Chernobyl-like disaster, with various death-squads (private or semi-official) freely roaming around the country and imposing their rule with armored vehicles and heavy machine guns.

And in 2017:

What we are seeing today is not just a Ukrainian military which seems to have given up on the notion of reconquering Novorussia, it is also one which appears to be giving up on the notion of holding the country together. Right now, this is only affecting the Donbass, but pretty soon other regions are likely to follow suit, especially the south (Odessa, Nikolaev, Mariupol) which, by itself, could be wealthy and prosperous and which has no need whatsoever for Neo-Nazi rulers. There are even some separatist movements in the western Ukraine who want to get rid of all the pseudo-Ukrainian “ballast” and build a “pure” Ukrainian state in the only place where such a state has real historical roots: on the border with Poland.

And presumably the Ukraine will continue spiralling down down to Stage 5 of collapse, to the post-nuclear apocalypse world of Fallout, and eventually to the very extinction of multicellular lifeforms on the Pontic steppes.

But in the real world, things are rather different.

The Ukrainian economy is now recovering for two years in a row. Its military is much better prepared than it was in 2014. Russophiles in the Ukraine have been purged of power, many have been imprisoned or even killed, and the rest cowed into silence. Most importantly, Russophile sentiment in the Ukraine all but collapsed during the course of 2014 and has remained dead ever since.

It is stupid and pointless to live in a world of delusions. Also rather hypocritical, considering that many of these Russophiles (correctly) criticize the Western media for exaggerating Russia’s problems, but then go on to lie even more assiduously about the Ukraine.

clever-plan-cultistsContra Rostislav Ischenko, one of the foremost adepts of Putin’s “clever plan” and his supposed grandmaster level skills at geopolitical chess (typically illustrated by retarded cult of personality memes like the one to the right), Russia has most decidedly notwon all of Ukraine.” It only won the Crimea, an island connected to the Russian mainland by a single pretty vulnerable bridge, and recognized by no country of significance. Otherwise, it only possesses influence over the economically depressed and demographically collapsing LDNR, which it has been unsuccessfully trying to “shove back” into the Ukraine for the past few years; and its political and soft power influence over the rest of the Ukraine has shrank to essentially zero.

All this said, I want to make a couple of things clear before I delve into the statistical details of Ukraine’s victory over Russia.

1. As a Russian nationalist, I remain unwaveringly committed to the idea of the triune Russian nation, just like Ivan Ilyin and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. There will come a day when the dismemberment of the Russian nation will be but a bad memory in the Russian historical consciousness. This will almost certainly not happen under the current occupants of the Kremlin. But happen it will, or Russia will cease to exist as a civilizational entity.

2. This is not a mea culpa. I was never an Adept of the Clever Plan, and was always skeptical of its chances of success: Significantly so in 2015 (when it really did seem that the Ukraine was in terminal crisis), and overwhelmingly so in 2016-17 (when it became increasingly clear that the worst was behind it, and that it had set out on the road to recuperation and recovery).

My thoughts at the start of 2015 [ ]:

[Scenario] 2: Immiseration is ably countered with repression. Many dissenters and able-bodied Ukrainians leave for the EU or Russia, so you’ll have fewer opponents – both of the economic and ideological variety – on the streets. If the junta survives 2016, I am sorry to say but chances are it will then stabilize and begin to recover. That’s just the nature of things, sooner or later.


  • Ukraine – The recession will end in 2016: 70%.
  • Ukraine – The Poroshenko regime remains in power: 80%.
  • Mariupol ends the year in DNR hands: 10%.
  • Putinsliv” aka Putin abandons support for DNR/LNR and Ukraine recaptures them: 5%.


  • The Ukrainian economy shows GDP growth: 80%.
  • The Ukraine does not undergo sovereign default: 90%.
  • Poroshenko remains in power: 90%.
  • Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, and Kharkov all still under central Ukrainian control: 95%.
  • Mariupol still under Ukraine control: 90%.
  • No “Putinsliv”/abandonment of Russian support for DNR/LNR, with Ukraine recapturing Donetsk and Lugansk: 99%.

As such, I don’t think I can be said to have been particularly blindsighted in my analysis, since everything indeed turned out as I pessimistically expected. The only two “Western Russophiles” that I can think of who clearly foresaw the likely failure of the “clever plan”/”winning all of Ukraine” strategy were Mark Sleboda and Jon Hellevig.

In retrospect, I perhaps wish I could have been more forthright about denouncing the mnogokhodovka strategy, as Egor Prosvirnin (chief editor of Sputnik & Pogrom) did from the very beginning. On the other hand, those Russian “zradniks” were rather over-eager to advance the “Putinsliv” theory, in which the Kremlin was supposed to just give up on the Donbass for no particular discernible reason. Obviously, that didn’t pan out either.

So I like to think I maintained a sort of golden mean over these years.

3. The Ukraine might have beaten Russia, but it hasn’t become a successful country.

In many important respects, it has disappointed expectations, especially of the people who most believed in its “manifest destiny” c. 2014.

The Ukraine remains one of Europe’s poorest countries, and no hordes of desperate Russian economic migrants are clamoring to get into Country 404 (as predicted by one famous svidomy blogger as late as 2015). The expectations of foreign neoliberal reformers were confounded – Poroshenko has blocked reforms, especially those that would touch his buddies in the law enforcement agencies, and corruption remains as high as ever – and higher than in Russia. One of Ukraine’s most tireless promoters, Thomas C. Theiner, who was unironically urging Ukraine to bomb Voronezh back in 2014, was by 2017 writing “by now it is clear that the corrupt and thieving government-mafia clans are still in charge”. Its mentality remains classically sovok, arguably to a greater degree than in Russia. For instance, just few months ago, the Education Ministry banned the country’s universities from accessing .ru domains – a step as malicious (what about academic journals hosted on .ru domains?) as it is idiotic (nobody is going to follow that decree anyway).

Just as Westernist neoliberals are dissatisfied with it, so are Ukrainian nationalists. As the Ukrainian state has recovered its legitimacy, so it has curtailed the “freedoms” of Ukrainian nationalists. The more psychopathic and anti-regime elements have been jailed or disposed of. The rest have been brought under the military chain of command or otherwise co opted. Those rare Russian nationalists who came to fight for the Ukraine out of some misplaced hopes of building a literal “Ukronazi” state have had troubles getting basic residency permits, or were outright deported back to Russia into the loving embrace of the Anti-Extremism Center and the FSB. (Not of course to say that Russia is any better in looking out for “its own” – near every week sees another case of a loyal Little Russian, who happens to have Ukrainian citizenship papers, getting caught up in deportation proceedings into the equally loving embrace of the SBU). Meanwhile, the Maidanists host purely ritualistic gay parades in Kiev and Odessa, and praise the values of diversity and multiculturalism. To be fair, the flamboyant gays get beaten up in Kiev more reliably than in Moscow, while the banal fact that the average salary in Kyrgyzstan is higher than in the Ukraine constitutes a more solid a barrier to Muslim immigration than any Trumpian wall – though this is a fact that Ukrainian nationalists making fun of Moskvabad are reliably loth to mention.

So it’s not like any of the two main groups that have most supported Ukraine in the past three years – Westernist neoliberals and Ukrainian nationalists – have much more to celebrate than Russian nationalists, even if it is the latter who are the biggest losers to date.

These constitute important caveats to the following list of Ukro triumphs.


The Ukrainian economy collapsed by around 16% in 2014-15, retreating back to 60% of the UkSSR’s peak. In 2014, there was almost as much housing constructed in the Russian region of Krasnodar Krai [population: 5.2 million] as in the whole of the Ukraine [population: 43 million].

The Ukraine fell below Moldova to acquire the dubious status of being the lowest wage country in all of Europe. “Gabon with snow,” Saakashvili called it.

However, there are a number of things that Russian propagandists tend to fail to mention:

1. The great part of the Ukrainian economic collapse in 2014-15 occured in the industrial regions of Novorossiya, and especially in the Donbass.


Source: pollotenchegg

In contrast, the west of the country saw only a relatively tame recession.

This same pattern has continued since, as AP comments:

Not true of Lviv oblast. Salaries in 2017 are about 20% higher than a year ago, whereas prices have gone up only 9% in the same time:

Lviv oblast’s GRP dropped 5% total for 2014-2015. It grew something like 2% in 2016 and so far is at 3.5% growth in 2017. I visited in 2013, and this past summer: the city looks no worse off, indeed better.

In other words, celebration of Ukrainian economic hardship was mostly celebration of economic hardship in the most pro-Russian areas of the Ukraine.

2. This is reflected in salaries in the LDNR:

According to the DNR’s Minister of Finance, in the past year the DNR’s average monthly wage has increased by 22% (to 10,130 rubles), and this doesn’t seem implausible to me given the size of the Russian subsidy. – Jon 0815

However, this is a recovery from a very low base.

I wasn’t aware of these figures, thanks. But unfortunately it sort of makes my point. Current USD/RUB rate is 57, which translates into a monthly wage of $177.

This is relative to (as of latest data in that Wiki article) $650 in Russia, and $276 in the Ukraine. The DNR is now considerably poorer than Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which are at around the Ukraine’s level (Moldova is now a bit richer), though still richer than Tajikistan (~$140).

Furthermore note that wages in the territories of the LDNR itself, which are more urban/industrial, would have been higher than in Donetsk/Lugansk oblasts as a whole, so note that this if anything understates the depth of the economic collapse there.

Moreover, note that wages in Donetsk oblast were very high before the war – the second highest after Kiev itself (around 15% higher than the national average in 2013, and a third lower than in Kiev).

Current USD:grivna rate is 28, which translates to an average Ukrainian wage of $267 (50% higher), and $415 (2.3x) in Kiev.

To further underline the point: Average wage in Donetsk oblast as of Nov 2017 was $293, or – amazingly – still 10% higher than in the Ukrainian average. That’s despite a frontline dividing it, etc.

10,130 rubles translates to around 5,000 grivna. The poorest Ukrainian provinces, such as Ternopil, have almost 6,000 grivna (or $210). The DNR went from being the second richest province (and by a considerable margin) to its poorest one,
if it was still part of the Ukraine (again by a considerable margin).

Since Lugansk used to be at the Ukrainian average instead of one of its top performers, and bearing in mind the overtly bandit-like rule of Plotnitsky, I would wager that wages in the LNR are fully Tajik.

One more thing. You can’t have economic normalcy in such a state of limbo as the LDNR find themselves in.

One anecdote: Early January this year, I was on the cusp of visiting Donetsk, but our tour was called off at the last minute because its curators urgently needed to deal with emergent problems in POW exchanges with the Ukraine.

If even basic tourism is subject to the vagaries of being a frontline state, then one can only imagine the sort of distortionary effects it will have on business creation, etc.

3. Although 2014-15 was hardly pleasant, it doesn’t compare with the 1990s depression.


This graph displays the results of polls on living standards in the Ukraine from 1998 to 2016.

Ukrainians live much poorer than Russians. While 35% of Russians say they have difficulty affording food and/or clothes, for Ukrainians it is 70%; 18% of Russians can easily afford common durables, versus 4% of Ukrainians.

However, this situation is not particularly catastrophic in comparison with Ukraine’s own history.

From the chart, living standards in 2016 – correlating to the trough of the depression, and the introduction of high tariffs on utilities – was nonetheless equivalent to that of the early 2000s, and far above the 1990s, when around 90% of Ukrainians had difficulties affording food and/or clothes.

In contrast, the Crimea has flourished in Russia, displaying double digit growth as it converged to the development level of a richer country – Western sanctions regardless. Considering that the Donbass actually has serious industries, this would have been all the more true had they been incorporated into Russia.



One constant argument amongst mnogokhodovka proponents is that it was inevitable that the Ukraine would default.

But while this was a realistic prospect in 2015 and (to a lesser extent) in 2016, it is now 2018 and the likelihood of this happening has receded into the margins.

Debt stood at $77 billion as of the start of this year, barely unchanged from $73 billion at the start of 2014.


This constitutes about 74% of Ukrainian GDP, up from 40% in 2013 but below its peak around 82% in 2016-2017.

With the budget now balanced, and the economy growing, we can expect this figure to recede back into “safe” territory – which is around 60% of GDP for emerging markets – in the next few years, as nominal GDP swings back up.

The current account is balanced, and foreign exchange reserves have climbed to close to $20 billion, up from a trough of around $5 billion at the start of 2015. That is enough for approximately 5 months of imports (versus a recommended minimum of 6 months).

The net international investment position is at -40% of GDP, which is actually pretty good by East-Central European standards. Ukraine’s owners, for the most part, have Ukrainian citizenship, which helps Ukraine steer a more independent course than would have otherwise been the case, even if it is not expressed in the best of ways (e.g. Poroshenko stalling on judicial reform and undermining anti-corruption initiatives).

Finally, the price of 5 year Ukrainian CDS has not only recovered to normalcy after a peak in 2015, but it is now actually lower than under Yanukovych – foreign investors believe the Ukraine has a lower chance of default now, than in 2012.


Again, this is not to claim that Ukraine is a financial superpower. Its credit ratings are below investment grade. But barring further major shocks, it is not going to undergo a sovereign default.



There is a conspiracy theory that Ukraine’s real population is around 10 million or more souls lower than official statistics indicate – Andrey Fomin, for instance, has a comprehensive exposition.

In reality, this is just a mirror image of Western “dying bear” tropes about Russia that I have been debunking for the past decade, as I commented to RT’s Bryan MacDonald.

Three options:
1. Ukraine experiencing a baby boom far bigger than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, which seems unlikely given economic circumstances.
2. Ukraine is also fiddling its fertility stats.
3. This theory is nonsense, mirror image of the “dying Russian bear” trope.

Incidentally, if the Ukrainian population really is 22-24 million based on bread consumption declines, it would also imply that it is about as rich as China and Belarus. Unless their economic figures are all balloony too.

Unless proven otherwise, I have always maintained that Russian statistics can generally be trusted – to the opposition of Western propagandists such as Michael McFaul – and unlike them, I am consistent and will do likewise for the Ukraine.

But perhaps the weirdest part of Fomin’s article is this:

During the 1995/1996 school year there were 7.1 million schoolchildren in Ukraine. In the 2015/2016 school year it was down to 3,783,150 (official data of the Ministry of Education of Ukraine) or 47% in 20 years.

Apparently the general collapse of fertility in the 1990s across the post-Soviet space – which translates into many fewer schoolchildren today – passed him by.

This is not to say that Ukrainian demographics are anything to write home about; the TFR was at 1.47 children per woman in 2016, and will have declined to 1.40 in 2017 (Russia: 1.76 and 1.62, respectively).

However, there is nothing for Russia to celebrate here, since while the Ukraine might be in deep demographic decline, that decline is mostly concentrated in the eastern, pro-Russian areas.

As with economics, the sovcucks who do that are primarily celebrating their own people’s problems.


Source: Datatowel, Birth Rates in Ukraine in 2015

While the Donbass has long had Ukraine’s worst fertility indicators – the TFR was 1.32 and 1.32 in Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, respectively, in 2013, versus 1.51 for the Ukraine as a whole – they collapsed off a cliff in the territories of the LDNR after 2014.

This is according to statistics that the DNR collects and publishes itself.


In 2017, there were 11,800 births (2016: 11,771) and 33,636 deaths (2016: 34,833) on the territory of the DNR, out of a population of 2,302,444. This translates to a birth rate of 5.1/1,000 and a death rate of 14.6/1,000, making for a natural population decrease of 1% per year.

For comparison, Donetsk oblast, with a population of 4.3 million, has a birth rate of 9.4/1,000 and a death rate of 15.9/1,000 in 2013, the last year of “normalcy”. In the Ukraine as a whole, the birth rate was at 10.0/1,000 and the death rate was at 13.2 million in 2017.

Unfortunately, the LNR doesn’t release birth/death statistics, but it can hardly be expected to be doing any better.

Not only is the economic center of gravity in the Ukraine moving west, but also its demographic center of gravity, which reinforces the trend.

In contrast, the Crimea has converged to Russian fertility norms (11.0/1,000 versus 11.5/1,000 for Russia as a whole in 2017).



If there was a time and a place for a Russian invasion of the Ukraine – in reality, not in Western/Ukrainian propagandist fantasy – it was either in April 2014, or August 2014 at the very latest.

Since then, the Ukrainian Army has gotten much stronger. Since 2014, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have grown from no more than 100,000 troops (almost none of them combat-worthy) to around 250,000. It can now carry out complex tactical operations: In an August 2017 report at Colonel Cassad, Vladimir Orlov noted how night vision equipped Ukrainian spec ops used highly technical means to kidnap a Russian citizen serving with the NAF.

It has been purged of its “Russophile” elements, and even though it has lost a substantial percentage of its remnant Soviet-era military capital in the war of attrition with the LDNR, it has more than made up for it with wartime XP gain and the banal fact of a quintupling in military spending as a percentage of GDP from 1% to 2.5%-5%.

This translates to an effective doubling to quadrupling in absolute military spending, even when accounting for Ukraine’s post-Maidan depression. Russia can still crush Ukraine in a full-scale conventional conflict, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future, but it will no longer be the happy cruise to the Dnepr that it would have been two years earlier.

Of even greater import is that the Ukrainian military now completely overshadows the Novorossiya Armed Forces.

The latter have no more than 40,000 troops, and with the exit of the more “idealistic” warriors in 2014-15, it has succumbed to low morale. Alexander Zhuchkovsky, a Russian directly involved in the NAF, estimated that they would be unable to hold out for longer than a week against a full-fledged Ukrainian assault without help from Russia. The Maidanists dream of a repetition of Operation Storm and – absent serious Russian intervention – they are probably already capable of it.


Nation Building

The Ukrainian Affair has illustrated the complete dearth of Russian soft power.


Russia invested $200 billion into the Ukrainian economy over 20 years, the US – $5 million into the “development of democracy.” It seems we didn’t invest correctly. An important lesson. – Alexey Pushkov, United Russia MP.

Overall, what might be termed “Russophile” sentiment has decreased by a standard deviation across the board.


Ukrainians with a positive view of Russia [blue] dropped from ~85% to ~40%.


Ukrainians who want Russia and Ukraine to become one country dropped from ~16% to ~3%.


43% of Ukrainians want to join NATO, versus ~15% before 2014.


Although Crimea were always the most Russophile province, it did not differ cardinally in that respect from Donetsk or Lugansk, which in turn did not differ cardinally from the rest of Novorossiya.

After Crimea joined Russia, support for the incorporation went up from ~40% to 90%, i.e. by more than a standard deviation. The idea also enjoys majority support in the LDNR itself, despite Putin’s lack of concern for them.

By analogy, conquering Novorossiya in 2014 would have raised it to 50%-60% in the less enthusiastic provinces (Dnepropetrovsk), around 80% in Odessa and Kharkov, and 90% in Donetsk and Lugansk.

In reality, support for joining Russia and in general Russophile sentiment fell by a standard deviation in the rest of the country (e.g. only 5% support for this now in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts).

If this change is “deep,” then their future assimilation into Russia may well have been made impossible by Putin’s vacillations in 2014.


According to a poll from 2017, 90% of people in Donetsk/Lugansk oblasts want the LDNR to remain part of Ukraine, versus half in the LDNR itself.


70% of Donetsk/Lugansk oblast residents don’t trust Putin, versus 36% of LDNR residents who trust him in general.

Although Donetsk/Lugansk oblasts are more rural and ethnically Ukrainian than the LDNR, differences so stark can’t be explained by demographics – they were created by Ukrainian and Russian propaganda, respectively.

Intensive Ukrainization of schoolchildren continues.


In religion, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is taking over ROC property; all that the latter can do in response is issue lame fake news releases about how the Patriarch Filaret asking them for forgiveness.

Then again, these are the sort of people who run Russian soft power initiatives:

Head of Paris division of Rossotrudnichestvo [first problem: impossible for non-Slavs to pronounce] happened to be headed by the former wife of Peskov (Putin’s spokesman), Ekaterina Solotsinskaya, who had been appointed to the position in 2017 when Putin visited France in May 2017.

She refused Zakhar Prilepin, a hugely popular Russian writer and vatnik, access to its hotel on the basis that he was a “Donbass terrorist.”

Russia is not so nepotistic to let that stand, and she had to write step down, albeit for another reason – having two undeclared companies, through which she had been acquiring Paris properties (presumably at the expense of promoting Russian culture). Best part, though? She strongly resisted signing the resignation letter, on the basis that she… had good ties with Ksenia Sobchak and Ramzan Kadyrov (!). So, apart from all that, terminally stupid as well.

On the other hand, she’s much richer than me, so what do I know, really.

So no wonder Russia can’t even resist Ukraine’s new language laws with the vigor and resolve of, say, Hungary.


The Totality of Putin’s Failure


NATO soldiers marched down the Khreshchatyk in August 2017, the main boulevard of Kiev, in a fitting metaphor for Russia’s failure.

The Ukraine is still very poor and dysfunctional, but it also seems to be self-confident and on the road to a sustainable recovery.

The Maidan coup may have gone against public opinion, and was propelled to success by what was essentially a false flag terrorist attack (Kiev Snipergate), about which more details come out every month. But nobody cares nowadays. It’s irrelevant.

Weapons sales have been approved to the Ukraine, including Javelins. The kremlins hesitated in 2014, probably fearing a New Cold War with the West, but it increasingly looks like they are going to get it anyway. The Russian Stalinist nutjob Nikolay Starikov was preaching scare stories of nuclear war with the West if Russia was to intervene in 2014, but a few months ago, a mercenary group belonging to one of Putin’s cronies seems to have directly attacked American troops in Syria, and promptly got wiped out. “Let’s fight a nuclear war not over our own people but over some oil refinery in a Middle Eastern shithole,” nationalists complained.

Whereas in 2014 the entirety of Novorossiya was ripe for the taking, as of today it seems like Russia would be lucky to merely hang onto a small slice of the Donbass in the long-run.

There were 20,000 Ukrainian troops in Crimea, which were successfully subdued by a similar number of Russian troops. The only unit that put up armed resistance there was one composed of Galicians, who had been trained by Americans (fortunately subdued without bloodshed on either side). Crimea was indeed an “operation [that] was strictly hatched in the Kremlin, with the approval of you know who.” Even so, it’s worth noting that even Crimea didn’t have the unanimous support of the Kremlin elites, with Defense Minister Shoigu being noticeably against it (according to the liberal journalist Zygar’s All the Kremlin’s Men).

The entirety of “Novorossiya”‘s eight oblasts probably had a similar number of troops, who could have been subdued almost as easily by the little green men. Instead, you had the historical reconstructionist Strelkov gathering a brigade at Slavyansk, while leisurely chaos reigned in Donetsk. If that was supposed to be a Kremlin military operation, it was one of the most incompetent ones in history. Alternative, more likely, explanation: The Kremlin was playing wait-and-see. If Ukraine had dissipated, sure, they’d have snapped up Novorossiya; if not, they’d have closed up the whole affair (but Strelkov threw a wrench in their works).

But at least Putin got his chance to play G.W. Bush in the Middle East, and the 80% approval to go with it, and that’s what really matters, as Israel Shamir (approvingly) writes:

The war in Syria is very important for Russia: it helped Russia to get out of preoccupation with Ukraine; Syria and Palestine are territories Russians tried to colonise before WWI. It is likely to become a Mediterranean part of Russia, or Russian sphere of influence, on the other side of Bosporus, undoing a possible siege of Russian shipping

Incidentally, this brings me back to Crimea, or more precisely – another interpretation of it.

What would have happened if Russia had not gone ahead with that?

[Ukraine] would not have been as anti-Russian as it is today, but it would still be firmly orientated towards the West; Russia would have likely been kicked out of Crimea, or in the final process of being so, after mass arrests and reprisal against the separatists there; pro-Russian parties would still be electorally non-viable (2010 was the unlikely confluence of a massive economic crisis coupled with the near complete discreditation of the Orange forces).

Oh, and yes, Putin’s approval ratings would have been well below 50% (humiliated in Ukraine; economy in recession anyway due to collapsed oil prices, and no way of blaming that on sanctions), and the Kremlin could well have been facing a color revolution scenario as of this time in the alternate history where Shoigu (who allegedly cautioned against Crimea) triumphed over Glazyev (who was the main hawk in 2014).

Far from being any sort of genuine Russian revanchist project, it’s entirely possible that Crimea was merely a forced move to preempt an eventual color revolution, in the same way that Russian foreign policy is reactive, not proactive, in general.

And it seems to have worked.

After Crimea, Putin acquired 20% points of approval points, and acquired a “charismatic” aura that will be near impossible to annul.

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So it looks like the British reaction to The Skripal Affair is assuming very serious proportions, especially with the most recent allegations that the nerve agent in question was Novichok.

(Incidentally, it is a gas so potent – an order of magnitude more so than VX – that carpet bombing a middle-sized city with it is projected to wipe out most of its population, but was apparently unable to even kill its main target).

PM Theresa May has now given Russia a two day deadline to prove it was not behind the attack, or else… Well, all sorts of wild suggestions are now flying on the Internet how the UK and “the West” ought to “punish” Russia.

I suppose this makes it as good a time to address this topic as any, in approximate order of severity.

Boycott FIFA World Cup 2018

The positive side is that the UK – so, presumably, England – will not have to worry about getting poisoned by the Russians “to slow them down” (as suggested by professional Russia basher Edward Lucas).

Not that anyone would notice.

On the other hand, if they could cajole the other Western countries into boycotting as well, it would be yet another humiliation for the kremlins, who seem to think they can buy their way into international handshakeworthiness by hosting very expensive international sporting events.

On the other hand, I don’t think that’s even a bad thing.

Kick out RT

This is being actively discussed.

This is going to seriously hurt RT’s international operations, since London hosts one of its two main foreign HQs. However, this gives Russia perfectly good cause to kick out the BBC and other British outlets. Hence why pro-Western journalists such as Max Seddon and Alexey Kovalev are beseeching Britain not to do it.

Since RT is not that successful anyway – viewership numbers are underwhelming, and 40% of its website visitors come from Russia itself – this will hurt Britain more than it hurts Russia.

The chances of other Western countries joining in are minimal, but if they do, I suppose the only result will be an across the board fold-up of the remaining major Western news bureaus in Moscow.

Further Financial Sanctions

E.g. prohibiting British investors from buying Russian sovereign debt, but this will have even less of an effect than the US doing it, which Mercouris explained here:

  • Russia has massive foreign currency reserves (currently $450 billion) and its budget remains essentially balanced.
  • Nothing stops it from floating bonds in the Asian money markets

So the effects from this will be negligible.

Step up Support for the Ukraine

Weapons supplies to the Ukraine are always an option but frankly Britain is unable to substantively change the military balance by itself.

However, the UK could recognize the DNR and LNR to be terrorist organizations.

This will, amongst other things, enable the UK to effect much more aggressive prosecution of Novorossiya supporters, should it also recognize the DNR and LNR to be terrorist organizations (which currently only the Ukraine does). In this case, Graham Phillips and Patrick Lancaster might want to apply for asylum in Russia.

Along with the nuclear/novichok “terrorism,” this will also lay further groundwork to:

Designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism

With associated further financial sanctions down the line, should the UK convince the US (realistic if Blackpill Timeline continues to pan out) and the EU (less likely but imaginable) to follow suit.

Cut Russia off from SWIFT

This is not something that the UK, nor even the US, can do by themselves; the organization itself is based in Brussels, Belgium, it is subject to Belgian and EU law, and is owned by its member financial institutions.

When Iran was booted out from SWIFT in 2012, it required the agreement of all 27 EU countries.

Russia has domestic alternatives to SWIFT (РАБИС, БЭСП) for commercial banks, and since 2014, the Mir payment system has been created for ordinary citizens. It is likely that internal transactions can be carried out without a hitch even in the event of a serious Western financial embargo.

As Alexander Mercouris points out, since 2014 the large state-owned banks that dominate the Russian banking system have been effectively cut off from borrowing in Western financial markets anyway. Consequently, it will be Western companies and businessmen with Russian investments who would be the most seriously affected, not to menton SWIFT itself, which will lose out from the loss in Russian institution membership fees.

Export Controls on Tech

Russia depends heavily on European (esp. German) machine tools.

A resurrection of Cold War style export controls on technology transfers to the USSR would hurt Russia badly. But this is not something that the UK or even the US seem to be capable of pushing on Germany and/or the EU.

Confiscate Russian oligarch assets in the UK/The West

This, ironically, presupposes a lack of rule of law in the West to an extent barely even imaginable in Russia. (For instance, nobody was confiscating Poroshenko’s chocolate factory in Lipetsk, to the chagrin of Russian nationalists).

But let’s suppose British judges are willing to overturn a millennium of legal norms just to punish Putler.

First, the UK will, at a single stroke, solve a large chunk of Russia’s problems with comprador elites, who make (or suck out) their money in Russia and spend it in London (Miami, Nice, Courchevel, etc.). The remote risk of losing your money due to a falling out with one of Putin’s henchmen sure beats the certain risk of losing your money by dint of being a “Russian oligarch” in the West.

Second, this will, to a great extent, constitute “friendly fire.” The Russian economic elites, especially those with ties to the West, are far more pro-Western than the population at large, and most Russians in London actually vote against Putin during elections.

Third, far from turning the oligarchs against Putin, it will just increase the already considerable control he has over them even further. This idea that pissed off oligarchs will feed Putin his own polonium tea is a beloved fantasy at places like /r/politics, but in the real world, it is 2018, not 1998, nor even 2003; Russia is no longer an oligarchy, but a “silovarchy” of security men clustered around Putin. With the “oligarchs’” remaining assets parked within Russia, their ability to create trouble for the regime will be even further diminished.

Cut Russia off from the Internet

This would again require the cooperation of the entire West, and if done forcibly – e.g., cutting the underwater cables connecting Saint-Petersburg to the world, as the Royal Navy quietly did to German telegram cables on August 4, 1914 – it would amount to a more or less overt declaration of war.

Will it cripple the Russian Internet? Of course not. The Internet perceives censorship as damage, and reacts by bypassing blockages. The West is not the world; short of NATO seizing control of the entire Russian border, it will retain access to the worldwide web, even though speeds will be much slower. The internal Internet (Runet) should not be greatly affected, since like China, Russia has taken care to build in redundancies that will enable it to function autonomously (ironically, efforts that Russian liberals have long interpreted as part of a totalitarian scheme to cut Russia off from the worldwide Internet).

Seizure of Russian Foreign Gold & Currency Reserves

Obviously, this is not something that the UK can do anything meaningful about, since less than 10% of Russia’s foreign currency reserves are in pounds sterling.

The USD and Euro each account for a bit more than 40% in Russia’s foreign currency basket, as well as a symbolic amount of yuan. Most of Russia’s sizable gold reserves ($80 billion) are parked in Russia itself.

Needless to say, seizing these assets will be illegal, extraordinary, and close to a declaration of war.

If anybody is going to do it in any possible universe, it is going to be the US (Europe is too fissiparous to push something like that through).

I am certainly not one of those people who predicts the Final Collapse of the petrodollar and US imperialism every year. But this will be a real risk if the US does something this insane. While seizing the assets of small and economically irrelevant “rogue states” is nothing special, doing this to Russia – as one of the world’s core Great Powers – will be an entirely different ball game that will discredit the American-dominated global financial system, most critically in the eyes of China (since what stops the US from eventually pulling something similar on them?).

Since this system massively favors America – the US dollar’s global reserve status artificially lowers risk premiums in the US, making foreigners willing to “irrationally” invest in US bonds at rates well beyond equilibrium – its unraveling will likewise hurt the US more than anyone else. This could even be the trigger that snaps the US back down to an economic level more correlated with the quality of its human capital.

Total Embargo

The Russian economy will crater, but Russia is at least self-sufficient in food and energy, while many EU countries – especially the former eastern bloc ones – depend on Russian gas to power their factories and heat their homes during the winter.

Now it’s not like they’ll be freezing to death. However, they will be paying through the nose for LNG imports, and the disruptions from the temporary interruption in Russian oil supplies will plunge the EU and probably the world into a depression.

Over time, Russia will orientate itself towards East Asia, especially China. Despite the necessity of it, this will not be a fast process, due to the paucity of the needed infrastructure as well as Russia’s poor understanding of Chinese realities. But this will be bridged with time, and as China continues to break out into technological leadership, the lack of access to Western tech and knowhow will become less and less of a debilitating factor for Russia.

Assassinate Putin

I do see this seriously suggested every now and then in comments (if not in official rhetoric, thankfully). Hopefully that’s because most non-crazy people recognize the downsides.


Some common themes:

  • Most prospective sanctions are some combination of: Ineffective, hurt its initiators as much as Russia, or carry grievous geopolitical implications.
  • Are not credibly capable of changing (alleged) Russian misbehavior
  • Most of them are likely to stoke even further Russian resentment against the West, discredit its domestic pro-Western forces, and strengthen the regime politically, even where they weaken Russia economically.

But by far the most crucial factor is that those measures that do have the capacity to truly wreck the Russian economy need the cooperation of Asia, and by Asia, I mean China.

This is why Russia’s development of China ties has been Putin’s single greatest foreign policy success, besides which everything happening in Syria is basically irrelevant. No wonder that this development has been consistently decried by the liberal fifth column.

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Since nobody knows anything, as Alexander Mercouris points out, I haven’t bothered following this closely.

Still, I suppose it’s big enough that I should post something about it. This comment from for-the-record seems not entirely implausible:

What seems eminently clear is that whoever did it knew that this would be attributed to the Russians, and either didn’t care (a Russian “fuck you” to the West, just like Syria’s repeated gas attacks that everyone knows all about), or actively desired it.

So why not consider the following scenario:

What if Christopher Steele (“author” of the famous dossier), unable to personally travel to Russia, engaged Skripal to dig up the “dirt” on Trump?

What if Skripal either manufactured or was fed “dirt” (false information) by his Russian connections?

What if now, with the heat on Steele, Skripal got nervous (knowing the information he provided was false and that he was in danger of becoming the fall guy, or the guy who knew too much)?

What if Skripal, living alone in the UK, then decided that his life would be more meaningful (and longer) if he were to return to Russia and be close to his daughter?

What if, using his Moscow-based daughter as an intermediary, he came to an agreement that would have allowed him to return to Russia in return for a “confession” about his role in manufacturing the dossier at the behest of British intelligence?

What if this became known to certain people in the UK?

What would their likely reaction have been?

Is this scenario any less plausible than the idea that the Russians would have done this in such a blatantly obvious manner, shortly before their Presidential elections and three months before the World Cup they are hosting?

I suppose we’ll soon see about that.

I suppose if the UK – so, presumably, England – are ordered to boycott the World Cup, they will not have to worry about getting poisoned by the Russians “to slow them down” (as suggested by professional Russia basher Edward Lucas).

Not that anyone would notice.

On the other hand, if they could cajole the other Western countries into boycotting as well, it would be yet another humiliation for the kremlins, who seem to think they can buy their way into international handshakeworthiness by hosting very expensive international sporting events.

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What are they?

Michael Kofman, who does seem to know what he is talking about and has studied the Russian language literature, has a very comprehensive summary.

How far along are they? To what extent do they even exist?

I don’t know. I suspect few do. Some factors that should be considered, with respect to the more “Strangelovian” contraptions:


  • Theoretically possible; were conceptualized as early as the 1950s/60s (e.g. Project Pluto).
  • Growing share of the Russian military budget has gone black in recent years.
  • Nuclear Posture Review (hypersonic glide vehicle Avangard 4202, the R-28 Sarmat ICBM, and Status-6 drone submarine nuke) and Pentagon officials (nuclear-powered cruise missile) have mentioned these projects.
  • There have also been intermittent leaks of Status-6 development in the past couple of years.


  • Scant evidence that the more exotic weapons (Status 6 and nuclear-powered cruise missile) actually exist as more than mockups, or faulty prototypes at best. That Putin’s speech was illustrated by CGI from a 2007 TV documentary doesn’t inspire confidence.
  • Russian MIC remains starved of human capital – the best don’t stay at military design bureaus working for 60,000R per month when they could be getting 150,000-200,000R in the private sector.
  • Corruption. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, Novaya Gazeta came out with a well-sourced article on how relatives of Rogozin, head of the Russian MIC, and of an FSB general, seem to have essentially pilfered the funds allocated to establishing a self-contained production chain for thermal imagers within Russia.
  • The American MIC and generals have a good record of hyping foreign threads to get more money for their own boondoggles.
  • Putin’s recent speech called for major increases in healthcare and infrastructure spending in his next term, and I assume there will be no downsizing of the forest of domestic security organizations that have sprouted up in recent years. Where is the money going to come from? Many signs point to cutbacks in the rearmament program, at the very least as a share of GDP, and maybe even in absolute terms. So the “Russia stronk” rhetoric would make good electoral sense, to satiate the hurrah-patriots with fluff while quietly giving up on military superpower pretensions.

What are they for?

The Kinzhal seems to be an air version of the hypersonic Zircon anti-ship missile, with both of them being very useful from an A2/AD perspective and obviously relevant to potential Russia/US clashes in the Baltics or the Eastern Mediterranean.

As for the nuclear Wunderwaffe, they seem irrelevant in terms of standard nuclear deterrence.

The basic fact remains that the US does not have the capacity to knock out an ICBM/SLBM salvo from Russia, nor does it have the capacity to launch a successful first strike, and it is exceedingly unlikely to obtain this capacity for at least the next few decades. Considering that Russia maintains thousands of active nuclear warheads, the ability to come in from the South Pole with Sarmats would seem redundant; nor does there seem to be any obvious need for the Status-6 doomsday device, when large areas of hostile territory can already be easily “salted” with cobalt-60 through existing solutions.

That said… stated goals aren’t necessarily equivalent to intended ones.

Imagine Russia as the evil Putlerreich were to decide to take the US permanently out of the equation – how can it go about doing that, without getting vanquished in turn?

First, a nuclear-tipped Avangard seems to be a uniquely excellent decapitation tool (also why Moscow always had major issues with the Global Strike program). Could also reach air bases before the strategic bombers took to the air.

Second, counterforce ground bursts from MIRVed warheads take out a large percentage of the ICBM silos, as has always been the plan.

Third, we need to deal with the SSBNs – the most resilient leg of the nuclear triad since their inception. Traditional solutions included assigning nuclear subs to trail American SSBNs, and hoping they’d find and destroy at least some of them on Doomsday; and training batteries of ICBMs to unleash their warheads in a grid pattern on areas of the oceans that space-based Soviet ASW systems identified as likely spawning grounds for American SSBNs.

But what if Status-6 is not meant for the rather pedestrian and quite pointless task of blowing up American harbors, which frankly any other arm of the traditional nuclear triad can easily do, but to quietly trail American SSBNs and suddenly launch at them from deep down at 180 km/h come the day?

I don’t see why this is impossible. Well, apart from myriads of intractable political and coordination problems.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, Nuclear Weapons, Russia 
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Quick recap of developments since the last update.

Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly

First half consisted of boring economic and political stuff (e.g. increasing GDP by 50% over the next 6 years, implying 7% growth – as realistic as his promise to create 25 million hi-tech jobs last year). Nobody really cares about this.

In the second half, wearing his purple tie of esoteric power, Putin entered hardcore Dr. Strangelove territory, revealing a range of awesome nuclear weaponry with the mediocre CGI demonstrations:

1. A nuclear-powered cruise missile with unlimited range that sounds somewhat redolent of Project Pluto [hmm, could this have been related?]

2. An aircraft-launched hypersonic missile with unlimited range [presumably ramjet based]

3. A nuclear-powered underwater drone that would autonomously cruise the world’s oceans at extremely fast speeds [so presumably using supercavitation] until called upon to detonate its 100MT yield warhead at a port, seeding the area with cobalt-60 that will make it uninhabitable for centuries.

This is all great news, since atomophobia is worse than racism.

Ben Aris commented that this speech would be remembered alongside his Munich speech in 2007, as a throwing down of the gauntlet to the West. However, another commenter replied to him he got a “strong ‘greatest hits, remastered’ vibe off of it.” My take, for what it is worth, is closer to the latter. With less than three weeks to go to the elections, Putin has not even bothered with compiling an official program, and doesn’t even intend to create original agitation videos (instead, they will be compiled from past clips of his speeches). Putin needs to do something to make people show up and excite the normies, and I suppose this is as good as any.

Zhirinovsky vs. Grudinin

PredictIt has finally opened a market on the Russian elections: Who will place 2nd in the 1st round of the 2018 Russian presidential election?

Current odds:

  • Grudinin – 69%
  • Zhirinovsky – 42%
  • Putin, Yavlinsky, Sobchak – 1%

I bought some Zhirik when he was in the 30%’s, because I think it’s basically 50/50 between them. But won’t become rich because the market is very low volume.


There were many good things under Hitler,” – Xenia “She-Wolf of the SS” Sobchak. (out of context quote)

Grudinin on Donbass

Grudinin on the Donbass:

The Donbass population should deal with the situation on its own, [said Grudinin] in Saint-Petersburg… He said that Russia shouldn’t help the denizens of the DNR and LNR, because they can resolve things by themselves.

More confirmation Grudinin is by far the most pro-Ukrainian of the main non-liberal candidates. But nothing more can be expected of a Communist Stalinist with offshore accounts in the West and a “rootless cosmopolitan” by the standards of his own idol.

Or, The Saker is right (for once), and Israel Shamir is wrong.

The 70/70 Myth

There’s this meme or trope amongst Russia observers that the Presidential Administration is aiming to get a “70/70″ (70% for Putin, 70% turnout).

As Alexander Kireev explains, this is nonsense.

Polls indicate that (real, pre-fraud) turnout will be no more than 60% at best.

Putin is polling around 80%. Minus 5% because polls tend to overestimate his support; plus 5% to reflect the customary level of fraud in Russia’s Presidential elections.

For Putin to get 70%, the electoral fraud would actually have to be in favor of his challengers. This is exceedingly unlikely. The local bureaucrats who tally the numbers are not going to do “creative” things like adding voices for Grudinin or Sobchak, since it would put their own skins at risk, e.g. if the kremlins decide to scapegoat one of them for electoral falsification, to “prove” that the “opposition” also engages in fraud.

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filatrov-russia-betrays That’s Dnepropetrovsk mayor Boris Filatov, close Kolomoisky acolyte and Maidan hardliner:

First you go to meetings for the Russian world.

Then you flee Dnepropetrovsk to Kramatorsk.

Then you return, and free form the police.

Then you flee to Crimea, and your “Russian brothers deport you to Ukraine (!!!). …

Remember the famous separatist [Marina] Menshikova? The one that hit an ATO fighter with a hammer in the theater.

Today she hanged herself in a Dnepropetrovsk detention facility.

“Russia will betray you, son. Always.”

Well, he’s not wrong. This pretty much summarizes the whole affair, with these two comments [1, 2] filling in the rest of the details.

There are serious questions over whether she actually did commit suicide, or was “helped” with it – she apparently shared her cell with two other women. Incidentally, Filatov is perhaps most famous for his 2014 suggestions on how to deal with the Crimean separatists: “We need to give the bastards all sorts of promises, guarantees, and concessions… And then hang them.”

A further piquant detail is that the judge who ordered her deportation, Sergey Krasikov, is apparently related to the prosecutor in charge of her case in Dnepropetrovsk. Crimean channels and discussion forums have noted that the same judges who pronounced sentences for “anti-Ukrainian activities” before 2014 continue to serve under the Russian Federation – a sort of Ukrainian “deep state in miniature.”

Thing is, these problems didn’t appear today. Every month if not week, there are stories of some Donbass veteran or anti-Maidan activist getting put into deportation proceedings to an assured prison sentence, if not death, in the Ukraine. My impression is that most of these cases get dismissed, thanks to pressure from patriotic and nationalist civic groups (liberal HR organizations obviously don’t concern themselves with such unhandshakeworthy cases), but inevitably, this slapdash defense system fails now and then, and another sacrificial victim is sent on his or her merry way to Kiev by the soulless Russian bureaucratic machine.

What needs to be done – what would have been done long ago in any normal, national state – is obvious. There should have been a ban on deportations to the Ukraine – if not a blanket one, then at least for trivial immigration violations. There should have been a drastically simplified and accelerated citizenship process for Ukrainian and Belorussian citizens. There should have been a serious lustration of Ukraine loyalists, and judges and bureaucrats who abused the free speech and human rights of Russians under the old regime.

It is equally obvious that none of this was done nor will be done, because the Russian Federation is not for Russians.

Who is it for? Well, as one Sergey Belous caustically noted, here’s a headline from exactly a year ago: “Russia to allow re-entry to 200,000 Tajiks previously barred for immigration violations.

In the meantime, there has been no official Russian reaction. The judge who deported Menshikova remains in his position. The usual pro-Kremlin blowhards claim that it was an operation to “discredit Russia and its President” (as if they don’t do that splendidly on their own). As one of my Twitter followers noted, “and after this, we wonder why no-one in the Ukraine wants to rise up against the Maidan regime… Look at how America cares more for the denizens of some Eastern Ghouta.” Considering the “rewards” the Russian Federation regularly deals out to its own supporters – and the excuses for this behavior generated by Putin’s pseudo-patriotic plankton – the apathy is quite understandable.

Perhaps the one consolation is that the UkSSR doesn’t seem to treat its Russian vyshyvanka larpers any better.

A couple of years ago, the journal Sputnik & Pogrom had a comprehensive article on the unenviable fate of Russian traitors in the Ukraine. Representative quote from the Russian Neo-Nazi Alexander Valov, who fought in Azov:

“We are no longer needed. The Moor has done his duty, the Moor can go. And [to them] we are not even Moors, but moskals, katsaps, and Russian scum… Now they are doing everything they can to avoid legalizing us in the Ukraine.

Pro-Ukrainian Russian activists were viewed as potential fifth columnists. Volunteers had trouble getting residency, not to mention citizenship. Some were deported to a cosy Russian jail.

Two years on, and nothing has changed.

Although its easy to laugh at vatniks/svidomy getting their just desserts [cross out as per your ideological affiliation], the reality is that neither pro-Russians nor pro-Ukrainians have any particular cause to engage in Schadenfreude. Not when both live under neo-feudal regimes that care naught for, and indeed have a mutual interest in suppressing, any genuine expression of civic initiative and political idealism.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Ukraine, War in Donbass 
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From the most recent Eurobarometer poll [see also other countries]:

map-europe-russophilia (2)

Strange patterns, at first glance. Even just a few years ago, this map would have been unrecognizable, with East European countries viewing Russia with relatively greater hostility than Western Europe.

So what changed?

Well, what I suspect happened is a European version of the return of conservative Russophilia in the United States. As crusty Cold Warriors die off and the USSR retreats into deep history, we are seeing the reemergence of 19th century attitudes towards Russia, when it was hated as the “gendarme of Europe” by liberals and – if not exactly liked, then at least approached cool-headedly – by conservatives.

Essentially, the East Europeans who dislike Russia tend to dislike it for tribal, nationalist reasons, not religious (progressivism) ones like Sweden Yes [15%].

As one Twitter user mischievously noted, there is now a minor Hajnal effect to Russophilia (or more precisely, the lack of strongly ideological Russophobia).

Another obvious pattern is that Orthodox countries tend to view Russia positively. This is not too surprising, since as I pointed out in a PEW poll a few months ago, majorities in all major the Orthodox nations except Ukraine look to Russia to protect Orthodox abroad and even to counter the influence of the West (amazingly, this even describes Romania [47%], which has traditionally had very poor relations with Russia – possibly the worst of any country outside the Baltics).

But Orthodoxy per se doesn’t explain everything. There is very considerable Russophilia throughout the entire Balkans, including in Croatia [50%] and Slovenia [49%], and in the Visegrad nations. Moreover, even there, the conservatism/Russophilia associations tend to hold more often than not: For instance, conservative Slovakia [50%] is far more pro-Russian than liberal Czechia [31%]. Poland is slightly less favorable [27%], but still, the fact that it is now ahead of the major European nations like Germany [20%], France [20%], and the UK [24%] is an amazing development, considering that Poland in general, and Polish conservatives in particular, have traditionally had strongly anti-Russian attitudes.

However, I suspect the Baltics are false friends. Since a quarter of Estonia’s [34%] and Latvia’s [46%] population are Russians who largely remain more loyal to Russia, in practice Latvian Latvians’ approval of Russia would probably be around 25%, and Estonia’s at 15%. Since there relatively few Russians in Lithuania [39%], however, Lithuanian Lithuanians’ approval of Russia should be somewhere around 30-35%. Consequently, even in the Baltics, the correlations still hold: Estonia is the most progressive, secular, and SWPL of the Baltic states, while Lithuania is the most religious and conservative.

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Since the US attack on Wagner mercenaries in Deir ez-Zor on February 7, which even the Kremlin has now been forced to admit included Russian casualties, come these stunning revelations from The Washington Post:

The intercepted communications show not only that Prigozhin was personally involved in planning the attack but that he had discussed it with senior Syrian officials, including Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Fadlallah Azzam.

In a Jan. 24 exchange, Prigozhin said he had secured permission from an unspecified Russian minister the day before to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative and was awaiting a decision by the Syrian government.

On Jan. 30, Prigozhin “indicated he had a ‘good surprise’ ” for Assad “that would come between 6 and 9 February.” According to one intelligence report, he also was assured by Azzam that he would be paid for his work.

The reports indicated an increased tempo of communications between Prigozhin and Kremlin officials during the same period, including Putin chief of staff Anton Vayno and deputy chief of staff Vladi­mir Ostrovenko, but the content of those talks is not known. The communications continued until Feb. 5 and resumed the day after the attack.

U.S. Special Forces at the base and overhead reconnaissance had seen the attack force mobilizing west of the river at least a week before the attack, according to Mattis and Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. They notified the Russians at that time and warned that the base would defend itself. Asked in a briefing with reporters last week to characterize the conversations, Harrigian said only that they “remained professional.”

On the night of the attack, Mattis said, “the Russians profess that they were not aware when we called about that force that had crossed, and it came closer. They were notified when the firing began,” and the Americans were told “there were no Russians there.”

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Prigozhin owns a Russian company called Evro Polis, which, according to the Russian news site Fontanka, struck a deal in 2016 with the Syrian government to receive a 25 percent share of oil and natural gas produced on territory recaptured from the Islamic State. Most of those fields are on the eastern side of the Euphrates, where SDF fighters, accompanied by U.S. forces, have been advancing on the militants.

The Prigozhin-linked mercenary company Wagner apparently provides the ground forces to help achieve that goal, working under contract with the Syrian government.

There are a few possible interpretations here.

The obvious one is that The Washington Post and/or “US intelligence reports” are simply lying.

Of course, the Kremlin’s hamfisted denials and prevarications make it poorly positioned to counter these allegations even if it cared to.

Anything else just goes to, at best, further demonstrate the growing dementia of Putin and the people around him.

The most straightforward conclusion from WaPo’s report is that “Putin’s chef” Evgeny Prigozhin is running his own “public private” war in Syria. Evidently, the urka Prigozhin’s 1990′s “work experience” in banditry and raiding doesn’t translate into success in high geopolitics, since the Americans have rather more in the way of B-52 bombers than Saint-Petersburg businessmen.

One also wonders how the Americans intercepted his communications. Actually, perhaps it’s not a big puzzle at all, maybe he was stupid enough to use his cell phone to call the Syrian and Russian Presidential Administrations. Wouldn’t surprise me.

Incidentally, Anton Vaino is another of the little known and rather strange non-entities who have been sprouting around Putin in recent years. He is best known for his pseudo-scientific articles about the nooscope, a “a baffling mystical instrument that he claims can forecast and control society and the economy by scanning the universe.” Perhaps his nooscope told him the Americans wouldn’t attack?

There’s also a conspiracy theory, advanced by the anti-Russian agent Andrey Illarionov, that there was an agreement between the Americans and the Russians to demonstratively kill many of the Wagnerites as part of a “big deal” in which the Americans would also refrain from publishing their full sanctions list. This is an incredible assertion, and almost certainly a false one, underestimating American incompetence and overestimating the capacity of US civilian institutions to enter bizarre, intricate conspiracies, which don’t even benefit them in any appreciable manner (why on Earth should the US care if a few dozen unfortunate bastards in Wagner get wiped out?).

I suppose a less insane version of this conspiracy theory is that it was a plot by elements of the Russian government to discredit Prigozhin. After all, mercenary companies are formally illegal in Russia, so perhaps this could have served as a launching point to take down Prigozhin and his empire, which includes the Savushkina troll factory, 13 members of whom were indicted for “meddling” in US elections soon after the attack. Essentially, an agreement between the American and Russian deep states: You stop “meddling” in our elections, proving your commitment by scapegoating a minor pawn like Prigozhin – we’ll even “help” you with that; in return, we call it evens and don’t aggressively go after your offshore loot in the US and elsewhere.

For the record, I don’t think that’s the case either.

That said, it cannot be denied there is something extremely fishy about this affair. Americans noticed the buildup days in advance. They warned the Russians not to advance. The Russians advanced anyway, in a neat column and equipped with nothing heavier than assault rifles. Then the Russian military informed the Americans that there were no Russians in that column, and the Americans proceeded to smash Wagner to smithereens with artillery, Warthogs, and even B-52s.

The man explains that American forces used artillery and helicopter gunships to repel the assault. “They were all shelling the holy fuck out of it and our guys didn’t have anything besides the assault rifles… nothing at all, I’m not even talking about shoulder-fired SAMs or anything like that… they tore us to pieces, put us through hell,” he says.

The speaker is also critical of the Russian government’s response to the incident, saying, “They beat our asses like we were little pieces of shit… but our fucking government will go in reverse now and nobody will respond or anything and nobody will punish anyone for this.”

“My guys just called me, they are sitting there drinking, many are MIA, it’s a total fuck-up, another humiliation… nobody gives a fuck about us.”

That seems about right.

Look, chances are, if you’re serving in Wagner, you are effectively either helping a private oligarch (and probably his government friends) enrich themselves in the geopolitical equivalent of corporate raiding, or providing cannon fodder to implement high conspiracies, or – at best – you are commanded by fucking retards who will not even pay a price for sending you to an assured and pointless death in some desert.

You are not defending Russians, or even helping advance Russian national interests in any substantive way. The Kremlin proved it wasn’t interested in that back in 2014.

So make of this what you will.

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1. On February 7, the Americans destroyed a Syrian column moving in the direction of the Coneco oil fields with artillery, wiping up the rest with helicopters. There were at least 100 deaths in the SAA, versus one lightly injured SDF soldier. Although this could be viewed as a Syrian provocation, the fact remains that it was the Americans who fired first, aiming for – and achieving – total liquidation. What’s worse, at least a few of the deaths were incurred by members of Wagner, a Russian PMC staffed mainly by Donbass vets and overly “passionary” Russians (though rumors speak of a much larger catastrophe, with “Cargo 200″ running into the hundreds; I am skeptical about these claims, for the same reason that I am skeptical of Kremlin propaganda claims about RuAF destroying hundreds of jihadists in a day’s work, but a few dozen Russian casualties are credible). “They weren’t there,” Mattis as good as smirked, trolling the kremlins with their own propaganda.

2. Turkey and TFSA continue making incremental progress into Afrin, incurring casualties larger than they likely expected, but nothing they can’t handle. Enjoys an informal, if not overt, “understanding” with the US (rumors that the US is providing AWACS support). And designs on the region may well be permanent. Erdogan: “55 percent of Afrin is Arab, 35 percent are the Kurds who were later relocated, and about seven percent are Turkmen. We aim to give Afrin back to its rightful owners.” So, ethnic cleansing by any other name. Loosen social tensions, too, by enabling Turkey to rid itself of its Arab refugees. Erdogan also openly says he will move on Manbij after that. The Turks have also established observation outposts within the current borders of the area controlled by the Idlib rebels, well to the east of the M5 motorway that was supposed to delineate Russian/Turkish zones of influence as per the Astana accords.

3. Not exactly a secret that Israel supports the southern rebels, including medical care in Israeli hospitals, and artillery and air support that have forestalled any Syrian attempts to clean out this area. Launched large-scale airstrikes in response to a single Iranian drone that drifted into Israeli airspace.

So, no, Assad/Russia/Iran are NOT moving towards any sort of “victory” in Syria.

Islamic State might have been beaten, but there is a difference between Toyota-riding bearded yahoos and serious military Powers like the US, Turkey, and Israel. The latter cannot be dislodged, and they have now effectively partitioned Syria.


By the end of the year, if the military configuration looks something like on this map, they will hold Syria’s fate in their hands.

The Americans will find it trivial to cut off Iranian reinforcements. Aleppo is highly vulnerable, surrounded on almost all sides. And the Russian air presence in Khmeimim remains absolutely overawed by the resources at CENTCOM’s disposal.

Hopefully Syria doesn’t launch any more large-scale chemical weapons attacks, false flag or otherwise (admittedly, controlling for false flags is hard). Because while the kremlins might be forced to swallow the deaths of a few dozens “They’re Not There” mercenaries, explaining away RuAF hunkering down in Khmeimim as Turkish/Israeli/US-backed jihadists overrun Syria – or worse, getting themselves wiped off the face of the earth in a futile attempt to fight back – will be orders of magnitude harder.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, Syrian Civil War 
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Russia’s greenness is immediately amusing set against the crimson autistic screeching of the West, but still, there’s interesting details hidden in detailed actual report.

For instance, Israeli approval increased the most of any significant country, by 14% points (only Liberia and Macedonia increased by more), to 67% total approval.

Meanwhile, while Russia’s approval did increase, it did so from an incredibly low base – it rose from 1% in 2015 and 2% in 2016, to a positively fawning 8% this year. Obviously, the more optimistic hopes for Russo-American relations didn’t exactly pan out. Still, considering what Trump has done to perceptions of “US leadership,” it is still perfectly legitimate for Russians to approve of his policy course.

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So it’s clear from /r/SyrianCivilWar and LiveUAMap that Turkey and the TFSA has begun a large offensive to take Afrin, the Kurdish pocket in the northwest of the country.


1. There’s no real question over their capacity to do it – the main question will be to what extent they will need Turkish ground support, in addition to the Turkish armor and air support they are already getting.

I assume that Erdogan wants to get this over with the TSAF doing the majority of the fighting (and incurring most of the casualties) for domestic PR reasons.

2. The other question is whether – or more like when – the TSAF moves on Manbij (the Rojava-controlled territories west of the Euphrates).

3. Turkey has wanted to do this for a long time; there have been intermittent rumors of an Afrin offensive for well more than a year now.

Although the surface explanation is terrorism, namely the YPG’s alleged links with the KPP, it seems there are more germane explanations.

a) Turkey does not want a Kurdish state stretching almost all the way to the Mediterranean.

b) It can create a “safe zone” to repatriate its Syrian refugees there, who constitute a political liability in Turkey as in the EU.

c) Added bonus – as Erdogan has all but admitted – is to tilt the region’s demographics into a Sunni Arab direction.

d) With the SAA/RuAF slicing away at the Idlib pocket, this will provide the rebels with a strategic rear.

4. Afrin has long maintained better relations with Russia than with Rojava, which has pretty much exclusively tied itself up with the United States. This is not something that Russia is happy to see.

Russia seems to have acquiesced, possibly in return for the Turks giving the go-ahead on Syria taking the territories east of the M5 motorway through Idlib.

At least that’s the face they’re putting on it, anyway.

With Turkey reportedly committing 2 brigades and 72 fighters to the operation, there is nothing that Russia with its tiny police contingent in Afrin could do even if it wanted to, anyway.

How the drone assaults on Khmeimim tie in with this, if at all, I leave for others to speculate on.

5. Syria of course isn’t going to be doing anything either, apart from muttering completely formulaic threats to shoot down Turkish jets violating its sovereignty.

Ergo for Iran, which has also expressed its opposition.

6. We can now start to delineate the future outline of Syria, which will be split into the following spheres of influence (see map above):

  • Iran, Russia: Syria proper
  • Turkey: Idlib west of the M5, and the Rojava-claimed territories west of the Euphrates
  • USA: Rojava east of the Euphrates

Having failed to achieve its initial goal of an Islamist government ruling over all of Syria, I suppose the end goal of Turkey now would be to reintegrate its sphere of influence into a future federalized Syria. Consequently, its continued insistence that Assad does not have a future as part of a Syria solution.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, Syrian Civil War 
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Russian Ministry of Defense:

Security system of the Russian Khmeimim air base and Russian Naval CSS point in the city of Tartus successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) through the night of 5th – 6th January, 2018.

As evening fell, the Russia air defence forces detected 13 unidentified small-size air targets at a significant distance approaching the Russian military bases.

Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three – the CSS point in Tartus.

Six small-size air targets were intercepted and taken under control by the Russian EW units. Three of them were landed on the controlled area outside the base, and another three UAVs exploded as they touched the ground.

Seven UAVs were eliminated by the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile complexes operated by the Russian air defence units on 24-hours alert.

The Russian bases did not suffer any casualties or damages.

The Khmeimim air base and Russian Naval CSS point in Tartus are functioning on a scheduled basis.

Currently, the Russian military experts are analyzing the construction, technical filling and improvised explosives of the captured UAVs.

Having decoded the data recorded on the UAVs, the specialists found out the launch site.

It was the first time when terrorists applied a massed drone aircraft attack launched at a range of more than 50 km using modern GPS guidance system

Technical examination of the drones showed that such attacks could have been made by terrorists at a distance of about 100 kilometers.

Engineering decisions applied by terrorists while attacks on the Russian objects in Syria could be received from one of countries with high-technological capabilities of satellite navigation and remote dropping control of professionally assembled improvised explosive devices in assigned coordinates. All drones of terrorists are fitted with pressure transducers and altitude control servo-actuators.

Terrorists’ aircraft-type drones carried explosive devices with foreign detonating fuses.

The Russian specialists are determining supply channels, through which terrorists had received the technologies and devices, as well as examining type and origin of explosive compounds used in the IEDs.

The fact of usage of strike aircraft-type drones by terrorists is the evidence that militants have received technologies to carry out terrorist attacks using such UAVs in any country.

The “one of countries with high-technological capabilities” is of course referring to the US, Israel, and maybe Turkey.

If this is true, then I think the suspicions that I expressed have basically been confirmed:

Frankly, I have a hard time buying that this is the sort of thing that can be manufactured, smuggled in, and organized by deep cover rebel operatives.

However, there are forces in the region who are credibly capable of such operations.

Is it true?

Well, there’s no reason it can’t be – and I say this as someone who hardly has a reputation for conspiracy theorizing or uncritically buying the Kremlin’s version of events.

There are basically several counter-arguments to this, but they are all rather weak.

It’s a primitive contraption, it couldn’t have flown that far/or autonomously.

Except that both things have been done 15 ago, and over transcontinental distances:

By 2003, a hobbyist launched a GPS-guided model airplane/drone that flew autonomously from Newfoundland to precisely the right landing point in Ireland. Built of balsa and plywood with a tiny gasoline engine that burned less than one gallon of fuel in the 26 hour flight, it was cheap enough that the hobbyist built 23 to ensure he could be the first hobbyist to fly across the Atlantic. … Today [hobbyists and businesses] are routinely flying smart systems with intercontinental range — they lack only a payload to be a precision weapons system. Their composite construction and very low energy usage mean they will be very difficult to detect.

It’s a primitive contraption, period.

Well, it has to look home-made for it to be deniable. Maybe you could call them “little green drones.”

The sophisticated internals (navigation, control, etc.), and the swarm nature of the attack, is much more impressive, requiring a degree of logistics, testing, and technical expertise that one suspects might be beyond the capabilities of 80 average IQ Islamists, who are currently losing and hard pressed enough as it is.

Assuming this is true, this could mean one of, and probably both of, these things.

1. The US/Israel want to (cheaply, deniably) probe the Russian AA systems at Khmeimim, in case they’re thinking of resuming the regime change program.

And if it wildly happens to succeed in temporarily disabling Russian air power, as the first round of attacks on Dec 31 seems to have done so, then all the better.

2. Telling Putin he should start thinking about packing up his bags in Syria.

EDIT 01/10:

Alexander Mercouris – Drone attack on Russian bases launched from Turkish controlled area

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I have long warned that Islamic State’s defeat will be a double-edged sword.

  • Positive: Syrian government-held territory effectively doubles, though mostly in terms of useless, depopulated desert.
  • Negative: Status quo returns to that of several years ago, i.e. back when Assad was “killing his own people” so far as the Western press, without the superlative evil of Islamic State spoiling the optics.

Now that Islamic State is out of the picture, the regime change program can now in principle be safely resumed, should the “Western partners” decide on that.

There are, of course, more bulwarks against it now than back then, but they are all quite malleable:

1. President Trump. Relevant back when there was a powerful protectionist/isolationist wing to counterbalance the neocons, but now that the latter are ascendant, this is no longer significant.

2. Iran. Plays an even more critical now than ever before, with the continuous disintegration of the SAA (here is a translation of a Russian army colonel on the how and why).

This is putting strain on Iran itself, as recent protests have shown (in which spending on foreign wars was a big grievance). As was widely expected, they did not in the end amount to much. However, the Iranian government will still have to deal with the economic sources of those protests, and that money will have to come from somewhere. And there might be less money available, period, if the US manages to use this opportunity to reinstate sanctions.

3. Turkey. Erdogan would prefer an Islamist Syria to Assad, but would prefer a unitary Syria even under Assad to a powerful Rojava occupying half the country’s territory. This largely explains his heel turn in Syria. Even so, there is nothing stopping him from doubling back should circumstances on the ground change yet again. It is worth noting that in the recent meeting between Macron and Erdogan – better known for Macron saying the EU should drop the hypocrisy of pretending that Turkey would ever become a member – the two men agreed that Assad could not remain President of Syria, and Macron went on to further argue that the Astana Agreements are not “constructive to peace,” since Iran and Russia “don’t share our interests.”

4. US/Israel/Saudi Arabia. There is now a stunning convergence of interests amongst those powers, in stark contrast to the Obama period which were fraught with minor squabbles between all three. Israel is dead-set against Assadist Syria, and its star has perhaps never before shone brighter in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, MbS is implacable towards Iran even by Saudi standards.

5. Russia. Putin has already gotten all the political capital (and Donbass distraction) he could hope for with his “short victorious war” against Islamic State.

Conspiracy mode engaged: The drone assault on Khmeimim – in line with a propaganda campaign explicitly aimed at undermining his domestic standing, which has already been faithfully echoed by Navalny – could be the “Western partners” gently telling him that he should start thinking of packing up his bags, with the threat of a more serious “conversation” at around the time of the Russian elections or the FIFA World Cup hanging in the air.

Okay, I should point out that this post is more an extension of my blackpill timeline – that is, an expression of gloomy presentiments and pessimistic possibilities – than it is a formal prediction (my actual predictions).

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, Russia, Syrian Civil War 
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Some pretty strange things going on at Khmeimim.

1. On Jan 3, 2018, Kommersant reported:

  • The destruction of seven (!) planes at the Russian airbase in Syria, including four Su-24, two Su-35C, and one An-72 transport.
  • More than ten servicemen were injured
  • An ammo dump was destroyed

This was supposedly the result of an Islamist mortar shelling of the base on Dec 31, 2017.

Such a degree of damage does not seem plausible for a mortar shelling.

2. The following day the Russian Defense Ministry reported two military deaths in the event, but denied that seven planes had been destroyed.

3. On the same day, war correspondent Roman Saponkov published pictures of a damaged Su-24:


As well as the following report:

Provisionally, 6 Su-24, one Su-35C, one An-72, and one An-30 recon plane, and one Mi-8 [were damaged]. Two Su-324 and the Su-35C have been repaired.

Incidentally, it is curious to note that Dec 31 also saw the crash in Hama of a Mi-24 helicopter as a result of a bad landing due to technical problems, as a result of which its two pilots died. Shoddy repairs?

4. Various theories were floating around – the official explanation of mortars was none too convincing, while others speculated that the ammo base was blown up by accident.

However, things soon became clearer, when on Dec 5, war correspondent Ivan Sidorenko reported there was a large explosion in the skies over Jableh due to Russian AA batteries intercepting a missile or drone that was going to bomb Khmeimim. Soon after, the Syrians published a drone-like contraption that had just 2 grenades attached to it, which they had apparently shot down with just light firearms on Dec 2.

khmeimim-responsibilityOn the night of Dec 6, there were yet more drone attacks on the base. This time, Ahrar Al-Alawi (FSA Free Alawite Movement) claimed responsibility, now claiming they had also taken out an S-400 as well as another aircraft, and promising “painful” days up to the time of Putin’s elections and stating that Russia won’t stay in Syria for more than 6 more months.

There have been differing reports over the scale of the damage. Given its history of prevarication, the Russian Ministry of Defense has hardly built up a reservoir of trust, and observers have noted suspicious discrepancies in Russian TV reporting “from the ground” in Khmeimim several months ago, and today.

On the other hand, Cassad expresses severe skepticism that Alawite extremists could be behind it, and I would tend to agree with this. As I myself have reported, opinion polls have long indicated strong support for Assad in Tartus and coastal Latakia, and it seems unlikely to have changed, especially now when Assad seems to be winning.

It is also worth noting that there are powerful forces who actively want to discredit Putin in Syria. This of course applies first and foremost to the Russian non-systemic opposition: In his first video after the New Year, Alexey Navalny spends 12 minutes talking of “meaningless sacrifices” and “why are we in Syria anyway?”

Even so, there are a couple of things to be very concerned about:

1. How are “moderate rebels” are able to direct salvo after salvo of drone attacks against Khmeimim from the heart of regime territory?

This would be just one more sad but increasingly self-evident data point on the lack of any meaningful improvement in Syrian military capability since Russia entered the fray.

crappy-drone2. Warning, entering conspiracy mode.

There’s a distinct “plucky rebels” vs. “evil empire” vibe about this whole affair, up to and including the low-resolution images of the DIY contraptions that apparently constitute these all-powerful drones (see right) that we are to believe have disabled – at least temporarily – up to a third of Russian air power in Syria over the past week.

How are they getting through? The radius of action of home made drones is modest. Surely simple EW countermeasures should be sufficient for them? Besides, frag grenades – such as the ones mounted on the drone that the Syrians claim to have shot down on Dec 2 – will do nothing against a Su-24′s skin. You need serious high explosives to do the sort of damage displayed in Saponkov’s photograph. Frankly, I have a hard time buying that this is the sort of thing that can be manufactured, smuggled in, and organized by deep cover rebel operatives.

However, there are forces in the region who are credibly capable of such operations.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Drones, Military, Russia, Syrian Civil War 
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Epistemic status: Low. I don’t know Farsi. I don’t particularly follow Iran.

That said, I am hardly alone in this.

Bryan MacDonald: “Even I’m kinda astonished by how many American “Russian experts” have suddenly become “Iran experts” in the past 48 hours. молодцы товарищи!! #ачтивмеасурес”

1. Widely divergent reports about how many people are protesting. Some say mere hundreds, others are saying entire towns have been seized.

2. Revolutions need to turn some part of the elites to succeed – otherwise, you just have a raging mob whose energy gradually fizzles out.

In the late Soviet Union, national leaders came out against a disintegrating center. In the Orange Revolution, it was the Ukrainian Supreme Court that ruled Yanukovych’s election win invalid due to fraud. In Euromaidan, a critical mass of Party of Regions deputies “owned” by pro-EU oligarchs defected.

There do not appear to be any Iranian regime elements sympathetic to revolution, nor any popular leaders around whom the opposition is uniting. This suggests its prospects are bleak.

3. There are differing explanations for the protests: They generally stress economic hardship, especially in the context of Iran’s costly foreign interventions.

a) Unfortunately, getting to what Iranians “think” is hard, since there don’t seem to be any independent pollsters regularly operating in the country – at least so far as sensitive questions are concerned.

The Iranian diaspora makes no secret of its strong dislike for the mullahs, but as persecuted political emigres, they are hardly representative of the average Iranian.

b) I just checked Iran’s economic statistics.

Since sanctions were dropped, growth has been high: An amazing 12% in the past four quarters, which I assume reflects post-sanctions recovery. Inflation, currently running at 10%, is also near historical lows by post-Shah standards.

Their economy is not exactly thriving from a long-term perspective – GDP per capita (PPP) has been about flat for the past decade (and real incomes have fallen by 15%), unemployment typically ranges between 10%-12%, the economy is over-regulated and state-dominated.

Still, it doesn’t strike me as absolutely catastrophic, and its now on an upsurge, anyway.

c) Many of us can sympathize with Iranian secular nationalists who have no interest in supporting their Shiite Arab coreligionists, let alone the Sunni Palestinians (many of whom repaid Iran’s kindness by joining the Islamic State), in the name of some obscurantist “anti-imperialist” and “anti-Zionist” grand strategy foisted on them by unelected ayatollahs.

Still, it has to be said that now of all times is a strange time for them to express such sentiments.

The US is currently far more hostile towards Iran than under Obama, and is drawing up an anti-Iranian alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Shouldn’t there be more of a fortress mentality now?

Besides, the regime should have gained foreign policy legitimacy with their successes against Islamic State in 2017. While people don’t tend to like costly foreign entanglements, they like them a great deal less when they are losing them. But Iran has been winning, not losing, of late. Iraq has a friendly government, and Assad’s reconquests have reopened a direct overland route from the Iranian border to Lebanon. Meanwhile, it is the Saudis who have gotten humiliatingly bogged down in Yemen.

Very suspicious timing, as I said.

5. Prediction: These protests aren’t going to be any more significant than the abortive “Green Revolution” in 2009.

That said, I was also sure that Yanukovych would remain in power until late January 2014. I don’t have a great predictive record on identifying successful color revolutions.

6. If it does succeed: Russia’s entire position in the Middle East goes pretty much kaput.

Assad will probably be doomed. The Syrian regime is kept afloat by Iran transfers on the order of $1 billion a month, and Iranian militias play an important role in ground operations. Moreover, not clear that Hezbollah will stay in Syria either, since its own position will become suddenly imperilled. So either Russia will have to take up Iran’s slack there – a frankly unrealistic prospect, if the Kremlin has any sanity left – or sign off as well.

A liberal/nationalist Iran that does not have a bone to pick with Israel or the United States will be inherently hostile to Russian interests. A reorientation towards ethnic rather than religious ties will bring it into conflict with Russia in Central Asia, especially with respect to Tajikistan. It will also put pressure on Russia’s position in Armenia, since such an Iran will be far friendlier with Azerbaijan. The prospect of competing Iranian gas pipelines to Europe – which can also be hooked up to Turkmenistani production – will also suddenly become very realistic.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Color Revolution, Iran 
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Last week, I wrote about the 10 ways in which life in Russia is better than America.

Now it’s time for Uncle Sam to have his due.



Typical Moscow sleeper suburb.

Higher Living Standards

Although Russian prices are 2x cheaper than America’s, the blunt fact is that wages are also 4x-5x lower.

Consequently, the standard of living in the US relative to Russia is at least twice higher.

This gap widens to almost an order of magnitude so far as professionals in the state sphere, such as doctors and researchers, are concerned. Despite some lingering but much diminished prestige associated to their work from the Soviet era, most of them can barely be considered middle-class in economic terms, even by Russian standards.

The typical urban Russian lives in gray, concrete commieblocks that are comparable to American public housing in quality. The quality of construction is low, internal planning is haphazardous, and contrary to rumors, my inquiries indicates that the presence of nuclear shelters are very much the exception, not the rule. So they don’t even have survivability in the case of nuclear war going for them. At just 25 sqm a person, the average Russian has barely any more living space than the average denizen of overcrowded Japan, and three times less than the average American.

Although Russia has converged with First World levels on indicators such as cell phone ownership and Internet penetration, this is not the case with truly expensive durables. The US leaves Russia in the dust with respect to car ownership, with 797/1,000 cars per person to Russia’s 293/1,000; nor can this difference be ascribed to the centrality of automotive culture in the US, since Russia lags typical European levels of 500-600/1,000 cars per person as well.

Although there’s more far more debt in the US, that also reflects the reality that Americans have the option of taking out debt thanks to a much better-developed credit system. This enables them to take out mortgages to buy homes and raise families in them, while paying off the debt and assuming full ownership by retirement. There are mortgages in Russia as well, but interest rates tend to be prohibitively high, especially for young families with low incomes. Popular understanding of credit and home economics seems low. When I got my credit card here from state-owned banking giant Sberbank, it was marketed to me as a way to get expensive goods during the New Year holidays, whereas in the United States the talking points would be about building up a credit rating.

This reflects the fact that Russians don’t understand personal finance and have low future time orientation relative to the Anglo/Protestant world. One American who works in a Russian media organization says that bonuses are paid out to staff to coincide with the start of the holiday season, the assumption being that they would have otherwise spent it and have no money to go to the Crimea or Egypt. As an American who understands the concept of saving up, he had to push through a special exception for himself with the accounting department.



Washington, D.C. in 2013. Some crazed Islamist ranting in front of the White House, without getting arrested. Is there any greater and more majestic symbol of the strength of American civilization?

Freedom of Speech

Yes, you can be ostracized. Yes, you can be fired from your job. Yes, this might no longer be the case in another decade or two, if the SJWs have their way.

But at the end of the day you will not go to jail on trumped up charges of hate speech.

In this sense, America’s “Society 282” is still far preferable to Russia’s “Article 282.”




American gun rights are enshrined in the Second Amendment and are by far the strongest of any major country in the world.

In Russia you need to fill out reams of forms just to get a hunting shotgun. All handguns, magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds, fully automatic weapons, and open carry are illegal.




The Russian bureaucracy is a *lot* better than it used to be, especially in the “My Documents” centers that have proliferated in recent years as part of a government initiative to make bureaucratic services more transparent and accessible to citizens. In comparison to 2007, there are fewer papers to fill out, many more tasks can be done online, and staff are more courteous. This is reflected in Russia moving from around 120th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings a decade ago, to 35th as of 2017.

Which still makes it a horrendous nightmare by Anglo standards.

Far fewer tasks and operations need to be confirmed with the bureaucracy in the first place, and those that do – with the notable exception of the DMV – tend to go far more smoothly.



Volokolamsk Great Patriotic War memorial, summer 2017.

More Respect for Public Spaces

Outside of central Moscow, which is a SWPL paradise that wouldn’t look out of place in central Europe, public spaces tend to be unkempt, if not entirely derelict.

Although it is tempting to blame this on a shortage of funds, there’s no doubt that apathy and outright corruption play a large part in this. This summer, I went to Volokolamsk, a small town 120 km from Moscow, where I have a few relatives. There used to be a German tank, displayed as a war trophy on a pedestal, on the road into Volokolamsk. But now it was absent. According to our taxi driver, the previous United Russia mayor had sent it to Germany for maintenance – why would a hunk of 75 year old metal need maintenance? – but it later emerged that he had sold it to a German collector and pocketed the proceeds. In the ensuing scandal, he was removed, and United Russia lost the next mayoral elections to the Communist candidate. Regardless, most of the town’s historic churches remain in a dilapidated condition, and the local World War II memorial (see photo above) appears to be in a worse state than during the depressed 1990′s.

Ultimately, this is a reflection of the wider society. There is extremely little respect for the “commonweal” as it is understood in the Anglosphere – not just amongst the elites, but amongst ordinary Russians too. People throw cigarette butts from balconies onto the sidewalk, instead of getting an ashtray. Picnickers treat the reeds at the edge of the lake in a park as a garbage bin.

If Russians do not even respect themselves, why should their rulers?



Incidence of bribery in Europe, GCB 2017.

Bribery and Theft

There isn’t a lot of everyday bribery. Certainly not for routine bureaucratic services, as was not uncommon in the 1990s.

That said, there’s still an order of magnitude more corruption going on than in core Europe. Though I have personally yet to encounter a request for a bribe, I do know of a large-scale case of bribery that involves a circle of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges just a couple of degrees of separation from myself. I find it difficult to imagine that something like this is even possible in the United States in anything but singular cases.

According to acquaintances, the incidence of internal theft within corporations – especially the state owned hydrocarbons giants – is far more prevalent than in the West.

There are also far more of all kinds of scams and petty commercial tricks. For instance, a couple of months ago, a salesperson came knocking to my flat, offering to replace the windows at subsidized rates thanks to a local government initiative – but we should hurry up, because the program is on a “first come, first served” basis. A 5 minute Internet investigation made it clear that program was entirely fictive, and the company in question has endless complaints against it for false marketing and charging 50% more than its competitors (presumably, its lying salespeople have to be paid). But I can imagine them raking in profits from Internet-illiterate elderly people.

Unfortunately, this is not just a few bad apples, but reflective of general social phenomena. For instance, many foreigners have observed how easy it is to return products in the United States within the first 6 months, year, or even two years. Many ex-USSR immigrants regularly exploit these provisions, buying some expensive coffee machine only to decide they’re not that satisfied with it after 11 months and getting their money back, only to then repeat the process. This is something I have observed first hand on several occasions, and the culprit was never an indigenous American.

This illustrates why Russians can’t have nice things in Russia. Here, the typical window for returning products is two weeks to a month.




Amazon Prime

The closest Russia has to Amazon Prime is, though it’s far less than comprehensive in scope, and other online shops tend to have better prices for specific categories of products (e.g. pleer for electronics, El Dorado for home repair equipment, etc).

I suppose there are advantages to a lack of monopolist, but it does make things a bit more complex for people who had settled into the one click order & delivery pattern fostered by Amazon.

A more specific feature of the delivery experience in Russia is that packages are never left at the door – you either have to pick it up in person, or answer the door yourself. Why? Because someone will inevitably steal it, as in Black (but not Latino) areas of American cities.

Fortunately there are now more and more equivalents of Amazon Lockers for those Russians who don’t partake of the NEET lyfe and can’t hang around their home all day waiting for a delivery.



My favorite restaurant in Berkeley.

Minor Conveniences

Just as the Anglos are no good for pickles, so Russia is the bane of the chillihead.

There are approximately four shops selling a full variety of Indian spices (they are appropriately named “Indian Spices“) in Moscow. They also have one shop in Saint Petersburg. Otherwise, that’s it. Similar situation with Indian restaurants. There are a couple of good ones in Moscow, and one good one in Saint-Petersburg (by “good” I mean acceptable by London or SF Bay Area standards).

Tropical Hyperborea can’t immanentize fast enough!

Russian wines have been improving rapidly, as tastes change from Soviet vodka-swilling towards greater refinement. Even so, even Moscow is very far from France or California. To say nothing of the provinces.

One other small thing that annoys me is the near complete absence of lined/college-ruled paper. The only ones I have been able to find were German imports.



Globally Dominant Culture

The United States is at the center of global science and culture.

It publishes the most scientific papers, hosts the most famous brands, and incubates the most hi-tech startups. Everybody has heard of 23andme, nobody has heard of Genotek.

Around 95% of scientific publishing takes place in English – if a paper doesn’t have an English version, at this point in history, it might as well not exist.

Everybody watches American films, follows American shows, and plays American video games.

With the small exception of literature, where it continues to produce a modest amount of high quality original content, Russian culture is now but a footnote to global American culture.

For all intents and purposes, the United States has won a global Cultural Victory, and its culture is dominant even within Russia.

Historically, the best of the best traditionally flocked to the imperial metropolis – two millennia ago, it was Rome; now, it is Boswash and Silicon Valley.

There are real benefits to be derived from being located at the global center of cultural and scientific dynamism, from having early access to the latest electronic toys and medical treatments (FDA obliging) to rubbing shoulders with highly accomplished people and thereby raising your own chances of success.

There is only a faint echo of this in Moscow, while the rest of Russia might as well be a desert.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my comprehensive comparison of life in Russia, America and the United Kingdom that I wrote in 2011: .

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1. I do not consider it likely that North Korea will have the means to successfully deliver nukes to population concentrations in S. Korea, Japan, or the US. As far as I know this is expert consensus. It has had impressive successes in both nuclear weaponry and long-range rocketry in the past year, but there is still no concrete evidence of the successful coupling of the two technologies. Without that, you are just going to get a far shorter and less intensive – and likely not that much more accurate – version of Germany’s V-2 attacks against London in 1944-45 (with just three civilian deaths/rocket, one of the least effective military investments ever).

2. The construction of a survivable deterrent capacity is a separate project that will take many more years and might in any case be beyond North Korea’s capacity anyway.


Author’s calculations.

3. The actual strength of the North Korean Army might be closer to 700,000 troops (the widely cited one million figure is now suspected to be more of a fantasy). Furthermore, I don’t see a large percentage of these being credibly combat-worthy. It’s no secret that the North Korean military doubles as a source of cheap labor, from helping with the harvest to road repairs and construction. This is time that they don’t spend training. Healthcare is at a Third World level. That recent defector was swimming in parasites, and those are border guards which could be expected to be more privileged and politically reliable than average. There has since been yet another defector. This raises questions about the real state of morale in its forces.

The often quoted figure of 200,000 “special forces” I suspect are the only ones loosely equivalent in quality to regular First World armies. However, even they are much more technologically obsolete. For instance, even at the most elementary level, none of the North Korean soldiers I have seen in videos ever seem to have body armor – something that has long been standard in modern militaries. As commenter peterAUS also noted, the last experience of real military conflict that North Korea had was more than half a century ago. How much do North Korean generals, and no less importantly, officers, know about modern developments in military theory?

North Korea does indeed have some genuinely “special” special forces with impressive feats over the decades. However, by analogy with other countries, there can’t be more than a few thousand of them.

One more note on morale. Although North Koreans have never lived better – hardly a high bar to clear relative to the barracks socialism of Kim Il-Sung and the famines of Kim Jong Il – this has also translated into a large material gap between elites and commoners. To be sure, North Korea has always had draconian, legally entrenched class differences that would put any capitalist country to shame (read about Songbun), but it is only in the past decade that is has become more visible than ever before – that is, the Pyongyang elite now has cars and access to department stores, while the rest have only have bootleg DVDs about the unimaginable quality of life in China and South Korea. And we know from cliodynamics that rising inequality is the death of asabiya. Unclear if unprivileged conscripts would still want to fight for such a country.

4. North Korea’s air defense system is extremely dense, and with over 150 AAA positions, Pyongyang is the most defended city in the world. But the guns and fire-control radar are of 1950′s/60′s Soviet vintage.

Much good they will do against this scenario (which is itself from 2003):

Six B-2s each armed with 80 500-lb JDAMs sequentially launch from Guam. The strike is coordinated with several divisions of B1-s with 12 JDAMs per aircraft and F-117s with two laser-guided precision-guided weapons per aircraft, taking off from other bases in the region. These strikes would be deconflicted with the launch of more than 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the various cruisers and submarines positioned in the Pacific. Six additional B2s, flying out of their homebase in Missouri, time their arrival closely behind – loaded with 24 1,000lb JDAMs or 16 2,000lb JDAMs. One thousand targets could be destroyed prior to sunrise.

5. The US has by far the best SIGINT in the world, and more of it is concentrated per square kilometer in North Korea than on any other country in the world.

Recent leaks indicate that voices within the Trump administration, including McMaster and Trump himself, want to “punch North Korea in the nose,” for instance, by destroying a launch site while the North Koreans are prepping for a new missile test. They should have no problems in doing so.

I do not believe it at all likely that China will intervene. While China has a formal alliance with North Korea, which it has publicly affirmed it will keep, it has no love lost for KJU and would not mind him getting taken down a peg or two. Another thing that few people mention is that both China and Russia have good relations with South Korea, and are unlikely to want to jeopardize them for the sake of Rocket Man. Neither China nor Russia want a nuclear armed North Korea, which could potentially rebound on them; and should this provoke a pro-Chinese military coup against KJU, then all the better for Beijing.

Consequently, the smart thing for North Korea to do at that point would be to swallow their pride and leave matters be.

6. North Korea has no proportionate means to retaliate against this. Maybe it could just about manage to lob a missile at Japan or Guam, with few chances that they will hit anything important, but that will just invite a much harsher retaliation against its military infrastructure.

7. What North Korea could do unleash its massive artillery forces against Seoul – the “soft” WMD doomsday scenario on the Korean peninsula. This might add up to a few 10,000′s of deaths before they are fully suppressed, especially if chemical weapons munitions are used.

This means total war, of course.

As I wrote, “I suspect it will be a harder nut to crack than Iraq in 2003, or even 1991. It is an ultranationalist regime with a formidable secret police, so you’re [probably] not going to be buying any generals off. North Koreans have higher IQs than Iraqis (so more competent), do not practice inbreeding (so more cohesive), and a have a lot more hills, mountains, and tunnels (which partially negate South Korean/American technological predominance).”

Still, this doesn’t make up for the vast technological gap (which some “anti-imperialist” writers seem to brush off as of no consequence). A South Korean victory over the North is pretty much inevitable, with the KPA getting much the worse of the exchange and ceasing to exist as a coherent force within a couple of weeks if not a few days.

Perhaps the regime’s best technologically feasible bet to stall and massive increase costs for the advancing South Koreans and Americans would be to use nuclear mines (an idea touted by NATO in the 1950s to counter Soviet numerical superiority). Not much the advancing forces will be able to do about this, and will increase their military deaths from 1,000′s or even 100′s, into the 10,000′s.

If China is smart (and they are) they would use the opportunity to try to foment a pro-Chinese military coup against KJU, and/or to take direct control of most of the country under the pretext of defending it from American aggression. With North Korea existentially engaged in the south and the Chinese-North Korean border denuded, this should be a trivial task. Americans end up expending most of the political capital, South Koreans do most of the bleeding (apart from the North itself), and the Chinese end up with most of the actual territory, which it could then leverage in post-war negotiations.

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It has now been exactly a year since I returned to Russia.

One of the questions I get asked the most from Russians and foreigners alike is whether I enjoy living here, or whether I am disappointed. My answer is that it fell within my “range of expectations”. I like to think that this is a function of my perception of Russia prior to 2017 having been reasonably accurate, and considering I was blogging as “Da Russophile” on Russia matters until 2014, that’s pretty much an accolade. In my experience, the typical response of visiting foreigners and expats to life in Russia is one of pleasant surprise, no wonder since Russia might as well be “Equatorial Guinea with hackers” so far as the Western media today is concerned. However, I banally didn’t have anything to be particularly surprised about, pleasantly or otherwise.

Even so, there are areas where Russia shines, as well as some where it doesn’t (that’s for an upcoming just published post on 10 Ways Life in America is Better than in Russia).

First, the good points – where Russia performs better than the United States.



Train station in Saint-Petersburg.

1. Everything’s So Cheap

I don’t have the foggiest how Moscow ever acquired its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive cities. Probably idiots and Intellectuals Yet Idiots dumb enough to buy the $5 bottled water at Sheremetyevo Airport before taking one of the shady, overpriced Caucasian gypsy cabs down to their five star hotels in central Moscow.

In reality, food, rent, utilities, property, hotels, travel, restaurants, museums, transport, healthcare, and education are all far cheaper than in major cities in the United States.

The basic staples – carbs, meat, eggs, vegetables, seafood, most alcohol – are all approximately twice cheaper. Boneless, skinless cuts of turkey are less than 300 rubles ($5)/kg at my local market, which is run by Armenians. Wild salmon, at 500 rubles ($9)/kg are actually cheaper than farmed salmon from Norway, though in another of Russia’s strange inversions, farmed salmon is more prestigious, unlike in the West. It is actually easier to list expensive exceptions. Vodka is still somewhat cheaper than in the United States, but only by a factor of perhaps 1.5x, instead of more like 10x some fifteen years ago; this is a good thing.

The Big Mac, a classic item international price comparisons, costs 130 rubles in the Moscow suburbs, which is twice cheaper than in Britain and the USA. A similar relationship holds as you move to more upscale restaurants, at least after you adjust for the requirement to pay tips in the USA.

For obvious reasons, anything that’s imported is similar to US/EU prices. To the extent this affects me, that’s only Tabasco sauce and some Indian spices. Prices are also comparable for domestically produced Russian wines, whose quality has been improving by leaps and bounds even in the one year that I’ve been here, helped along by sanctions and my personal demand. Probably the single item that I miss most due to the sanctions is feta cheese; there is an East European equivalent called brynza, but it’s not really comparable. Otherwise, local Russian producers have developed competitive alternatives to many popular West European cheeses, at least to the extent that I, a non-connoisseur, am unable to distinguish them from European imports (the local blue-veined cheeses I have found to be especially impressive). Unless you really can’t do without your little Gorgonzola and your little Gruyère and your particular brand of prosciutto, you should be just fine here.

Property and rent are both approximately thrice cheaper in Moscow than in comparable locales in London. However, in one of the few positive aspects of the post-Soviet privatizations, almost 90% of Russians own their own homes.

Most utilities are so cheap that they might as well be free. In the past year, I paid $8 (500R) per month for 72Mbps Internet versus $80 for 15Mbps downloads and 5Mbps uploads with Comcast in California, and $45 for 10Mbps downloads and 0.5Mbps (!) uploads in London. Similar numbers with mobile plans, and what’s better, unlike in the United States, there are no multi-year contracts which are next to impossible to get out of. In both cases, Russian prices are held down by vigorous competition, whereas in the United States many ISPs have de facto monopolies over any particular region. This might surprise some people, but much of Russia’s information infrastructure is more modern than in the USA – for instance, one click money transfers with national state-owned banking giant Sberbank have long been standard, whereas I received an email from Wells Fargo announcing this as a new functionality just a few months ago.

Road and rail transport is approximately 5x cheaper. A 100km rail journey from Moscow to Kolomna or Volokolamsk on an elektrichka costs no more than $5 (300R); in the UK, a similar journey from London to Portsmouth will cost at least £25. I paid about $75 for a high speed Sapsan to go from Moscow to Saint-Petersburg, though I could have gotten there for as cheap as $25 on platskart shared accommodation. In contrast, my American round-trip cost me $700 with Amtrak – and I sat the entire route (not something I would have the stamina for nowadays). In Saint-Petersburg, there were several three star hotels in the center offering accommodations for as low as $50 a night; a similar location in Washington D.C. would have set me back by at least $200 a night.

It’s not exactly a secret that the astronomical cost of American healthcare and higher education is the stuff of horror stories in Europe, and Russia is no exception. $4,500 endoscopies are very much an #OnlyInAmerica type of thing, even if you use private healthcare in Russia. One of my acquaintances did a one year Master’s program in International Relations at LSE last year, which cost $50,000; one year on a PhD program that you can do at one institution of the Academy of Sciences can cost $1,000, if not entirely free. Vets are also far cheaper. For instance, one of my acquaintances found a stray puppy several months ago, which required complex spinal work to fix her hind legs; this ended up costing an incredible $200.

The converse of all this is, of course, that Russian salaries are 4-5x lower than in the US. Adjusting for twice lower prices, the average Russian lives 2x poorer than the average American, and this gap is much larger for healthcare professionals and researchers. For example, while $10,000 per month is common for American anesthesiologists, his Russian equivalent would be lucky to take home $1,000.

On the other hand, this is paradise for anyone with a dollar-denominated income stream.



Rural field.

2. Better Food

One possible cause of the massive rise in American obesity in the past generation is that the nutrients to calories of American crops has plummeted due to commercialized agriculture and the infiltration of corn and soy into every conceivable category of foodstuff. Russia is only at the start of this process, so the food you can buy at the local markets here tends to be organic and grass fed by default – and without the associated markup that you get in the West.

Speaking of the local markets, although it has much declined relative to the 1990s and the Soviet period, every so often you still meet a trader willing to barter and haggle. Although time-consuming, I would argue that it is also more “authentic” to the human experience; bargaining at local markets has long been an integral part of post-agricultural life, and perhaps many moderns miss it, as attested to by the inclusion of this mechanism in almost every video game RPG.

Apart from being healthier, many common foods are simply “better” than their equivalents in the West. Perhaps the two most striking examples are cucumbers and watermelons. The most common (and cheapest) cucumbers are small, prickly things, which are far less watery than the long, smooth ones you will encounter in a standard American or British supermarket. The watermelons of the Caspian region are bigger and far sweeter than the slurpy spheres that are standard in the West.

Russian cuisine doesn’t have a reputation for being exactly healthy. But it depends on what parts of it you adopt, really. Like the French, there is a culture of eating animals “from head to tail” in Russia, so it is easy to find organ meats and bones for making broth at the markets. I would also note the popularity of aspics here, which is known as kholodets; it is the paleo/ketogenic to the max. In my opinion, Russia also has some of the world’s best soups – my personal favorite is sorrel soup. All this shows up in waistlines – there are almost no obese young women.

In some categories, the variety on offer is substandard to what you can expect in the West – cheeses, spices, and wines are the obvious ones. In others, it is better – pickles come to mind, in both variety and quality (pickles in Russia are genuinely fermented, instead of being bathed in vinegar). Even though I live in a “prole” area of Moscow, my local tea shop has about thirty sorts of Chinese teas on sale, some of them remarkably rare, but all of them at rather reasonable prices. In London, you’d probably have to go to something like the venerable Algerian Coffee Store to find a similar Chinese tea collection.



Knyazich restaurant, Kolomna.

3. Nicer Service

Yes, you read that right. Shop assistants and waiters now tend to be at least as, if not more, courteous than their equivalents in the United States. Contra Matt Forney’s experience in Eastern Europe, I find that the stereotype of sullen sovok service is about as outdated as the hammer and sickle. Nor does this just apply to Moscow. Russia’s regional cities have also been rediscovering that the stale Soviet stolovaya had been preceded by service a la russe in Tsarist times.

One partial and amusing exception: Georgian restaurants, especially those with a long pedigree for supposed “excellence.” My theory is that in the USSR, Georgian cuisine was considered to be the most exotic cuisine accessible, at least to people outside the high nomenklatura, so those establishments continued to be patronized by Soviet people, with their less demanding requirements. Since people with the Soviet mentality primarily went to restaurants to network and to show off how rich they are, as opposed to just having a good time, you tend to get much less enjoyment for the ruble at those places.

The variety of restaurants one can choose from is almost as great as in the great Western metropolises. You don’t have near the same variety in Chinese and especially Indian restaurants that countries with huge diasporas from those two countries can boast, but those are substituted for by Central Asian and Caucasian cuisine. I am not a fan of Caucasian cuisine: Georgian cuisine is too pretentious, while Dagestani/Chechen cuisine is possibly the most primitive on the planet – their signature dish is dough and meat boiled in water, which I suppose is “honest” but hardly something to go out of your way for. However, I have gained considerable respect for Uzbek food (the Uryuk chain is recommended).

However, the center of Moscow has been crafted into an SWPL paradise, so there is no shortage of cuisines from American-style burger joints with craft beers and lettuce leaf burgers (no, really) to Vietnamese pho bars (I especially like the Viet Cafe chain).

Finally, unlike most of Europe – Moscow is a 24/7 city, like America. Most supermarkets and restaurants are open late into the night, or 24/7. Life here is convenient. Only major restriction: Shops can’t sell booze past 11pm.



Moscow Metro in 2033.

4. Public Transport

Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, and all the cities with around one million people have well-developed metro systems. Contrast this with the US, where the concept of “public transport” – at least outside the north-eastern seaboard, the Bay Area, and Seattle – is pretty much non-existent.

In fairness, the Moscow Metro closes at 1am (Saint-Petersburg at 12pm), whereas the New York subway works 24 hours a day – if with frequent stoppages. However, Moscow’s reputation for having the most aesthetic metro system in the world is well-deserved, even though I have a soft spot for Chicago’s old-style wooden platforms and Washington D.C.’s bunker-like concrete grottoes.

One problem in the old days was that Moscow’s metro stations were far apart, especially once you head out into the suburbs. But this is no longer relevant with the rise of the ride-sharing revolution. It is now trivial to get an Uber (or more frequently a Yandex Taxi) ride on the cheap to any part of Moscow.



“Afroshop” near my other ghetto apartment. Still an exception, not the rule. But for how long?

5. Still Recognizably European

Many Russians complain about the flood of Central Asian Gastarbeiters. However, even Moscow – which remains about 85% Slavic, even adjusting for unofficial residents – feels like a veritable Whitopia after spending time in Latino-majority California and Londonistan. Moreover, Uzbeks and Tajiks are far preferable to many minorities in the West, such as US Blacks with their absurd crime rates, or the sea of black niqabs that you encounter in many areas of London.

Meanwhile, vast swathes of provincial Russia – including its central demographic heartlands – are as uniformly Slavic as the countries of Visegrad Europe. Even if they have their own, rather serious problems, such as poverty, corruption, and alcoholism. If you happen to value the quality of being amongst one’s own, then Russia does better than virtually any other white country outside Poland, Czechia, and the Baltics. Moscow is the last and only megacity in the world where Europeans remain a solid majority.

I don’t know if this will last. All major political factions in 1960′s Germany also expected their Gastarbeiters to eventually go home – didn’t work out like that. And there is as yet demographically tiny but nonetheless ideologically distinct and high IQ cluster of pro-”tolerance” and sundry “anti-racist” characters shilling for open borders. And they have a ready audience amongst Moscow’s blue-haired yuppies. I give it 15 years.



Lake by our dacha.

6. The Outdoors

About 50% of Muscovites own a dacha outside the city, including people of modest means. This is much rarer in the United States and Western Europe, where only the upper-middle class has such opportunities.

Personally I don’t have much interest in this – the Internet is too slow, and there are too many biting insects – but people less autistic than myself will likely appreciate this.



Typical Moscow sleeper suburb.

7. Freedoms

This might surprise people who associate Russia with reams of red tape, but while there’s no shortage of that, there are also any number of domains with few or no regulations.

Getting almost any drug is a simple matter of going down to the pharmacy and checking up if they have it in stock; if not, they can usually order it. While you need doctor’s prescriptions for some of the most elementary drugs in the United States, in Russia that is the exception, not the rule. They are also typically generic and cost much less than their equivalents in the United States, though there are far more counterfeits. Ergo for contact lenses – you just state your specifications and they order them; no eye tests required. Setting up a trading account is also much easier. Instead of filling out countless forms promising that yes, you do indeed have 5 years intimate experience with collateralized debt obligations, in Russia it’s pay to play. If you can bring money to the table, you’re good to go.

In effect, with the notable exception of gun rights, there is much less of the “nanny state” and more of what American conservatives call “personal responsibility” in Russia.

Russia is one of the world’s great pirate havens. No Internet provider is ever going to send you angry cease and desist letters for torrenting Game of Thrones. It is theoretically possible, but you can count the number of such cases on the fingers of your hand. (However, business-scale piracy has been cracked down upon and is much less prevalent than it was back in 2010). It is therefore no surprise that the world’s largest depositories of pirated books and scientific articles are Russian enterprises. The only things that most Russians don’t massively pirate is video games. Steam prices are 3-4x lower in the Eurasia region, making GabeN’s offerings even more of a cornucopia.

This freewheeling world, a legacy of the 1990s – a heaven for the intelligent and far-sighted, a potential hell for the duller and lower future time orientated (I have second-hand knowledge of some people who lost their apartments on currency speculation) – is being slowly but steadily constrained by more and more laws and regulations. The world is not long for the old Russia of limitless parking opportunities and playgrounds not yet despoiled by tomes of health and safety regulations. More worryingly, whereas the Russian Internet was genuinely free as little as half a decade ago, censorship on grounds of “extremism” is accelerating at an exponential pace. Even so, at least for now, many aspects of life are surprisingly freer and more accessible than in the putative “Free World.”



8. Less Faggotry

Did that trigger you, snowflake?

Nobody in Russia cares, LOL.

Even though I don’t particularly care for hardcore homophobia, I consider the right to call things and people you don’t like “gay” as one of the most important freedoms there are. Happened all the time at school, but since I graduated in 2006, liberal faggots have all but criminalized this. Russia remains free of this cultural totalitarianism; here, you can still call a spade a spade and a gender non-fluid helicopterkin a faggot (пидор) without any particular worries for your professional career and social status.

I don’t think this will last so enjoy (or suffer) it while you still can.



Zaryadye Park, Moscow.

9. Intellectual Ferment

Most of Russia is one large West Virginia so far as this goes. However, Moscow and to a lesser extent SPB are glaring and indeed cardinal exceptions.

Many new startups, including in exciting new fields like machine learning, quantified self, personal genomics. The city is buzzing with entrepreneurial energy.

Specific personal example: Back in the Bay Area, I liked involving myself in the futurist/transhumanist community. I can’t say that Moscow can compete with it, but it’s probably no worse than London in this respect, the foremost West European H+ cluster. There’s a LessWrong meetup group, a “techno-commercial” transhumanist group (Russia 2045), and an active community of radical life extension advocates, which overlaps into the cliodynamics community (the daughter of the guy who runs Kriorus, Russia’s Alcor, is also a cliodynamicist).

Even the nationalists are more interesting, more intellectual than their American or West European equivalents, as I observed in Saint-Petersburg. I suspect this is a function of Eastern Europe being less advanced on the path of Cultural Marxist rot, thanks to Communism effectively “freezing” social attitudes; the human capital hasn’t yet been fully monopolized by neoliberalism.txt. There is no real equivalent to the intellectual caliber of Sputnik and Pogrom in the United States.

As in Eastern Europe, my impression is that the historical recreation movement – perhaps as an implicit stand of white identity as any – is if anything stronger in Russia than in the United States.



Dmitry Chistoprudov: Cloudy Moscow 7.

10. More Technologically Advanced

On coming to the Bay Area, the technological heart of the United States, tech writer Alina Tolmacheva struggled to hide her disappointment: “No flying hoverboards, food isn’t delivered by drones, and parking fees are paid with coins, whereas in Moscow everyone had long since switched to mobile apps.”

This is somewhat tongue in cheek, but the general point stands.

As she further points out, monopolies dominate transport, banking, telephones, and the Internet. The Caltrain from San Francisco Airport to Mountain View takes 1.5 hours. The highest building is 12 storeys of concrete in the style of Le Corbusier. “Rent is paid with checks. It is necessary to take a piece of paper, fill in the details, and send it by mail. The owner then goes to a bank branch and cashes it out. Technology older than VHS and cassette players.” In Moscow, even aged grandmothers have been collecting rent money through mobile apps for years.

Contactless payments are not yet prevalent in Moscow, like they are in London. But this is a minor issue. On the other hand, the Moscow Metro has already had free WiFi for several years, which is now in the last stages of becoming integrated into the wider Moscow transport system, including buses and trams. This is hugely convenient, since many commuters spend around an hour traveling in the Metro on working days. Neither London, nor BART in the SF Bay Area, nor any other American underground system that I know of has gotten round to installing free WiFI.

Moscow is more developed as a “technopolis” than any other major city in the Anglosphere.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my comprehensive comparison of life in Russia, America and the United Kingdom that I wrote in 2011: .

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Might as well get this out of the way now so as not to sully the New Year cheer.

Here’s a pessimistic (for some) but plausible (I think) way things will develop in the next couple of years.

1. Trump cedes key positions to globalists and neocons. This has already happened; for all intents and purposes the US is now ruled by a junta of generals and oligarchs.

2. Democrats win the House and Senate in 2018. Prediction markets now giving a ~60% chance of a Democratic House (PredictIt, PredictWise) and a ~45% chance of a Democratic Senate (PredictIt, PredictWise). The political capital accruing from an improving economy is more than mitigated by the Republicans’ naked cronyism and pro-oligarchic policies, which Trump has chosen to unambiguously associate himself with. Gerrymandering is good in normal times, but in a “blue wave” year, all those 55%-45% “safe” districts flip.

3. Having outlived his usefulness to the GOP, Trump is himself impeached, 25th’ed, or at least made a lame duck by 2019. PredictWise actually gives Trump about 10% points less chance of finishing his first term today than they did at the beginning of 2017. These numbers are not just /r/politics and Blue Checkmark fantasies, they are the results of people putting their money where their mouths are.


4. Rampant domestic SJWism in 2019 as the Democrats unleash two years’ worth of pent up hatred and frustration. M uch of this is going to be less believable than satire, so I leave the details here to your imagination. The only thing I will note is that it is increasingly evident that SJWism is getting effectively weaponized by the elites against its enemies.

5. Purges of remaining populists on both the Right and the Left through #Russiagate. N one of this needs #Russiagate to be true to any significant degree. This has long ceased to be a legal matter, if it ever was in the first place; it is now just power politics. Note also the increasingly Red Scare-like attacks on the dissident Left for being Kremlin dupes. The populist Right has already been betrayed and defanged. This serves the interests of both the Clintonistas and the old GOP – that is, of the Establishment.

6. The ascendancy of neocon foreign policy. Though the Clintonista Dems and the old GOP won’t fully see eye to eye on domestic matters, one point of agreement will be on foreign policy – that is, on the twin pillars of Israel First and Russia containment.

An image of Russia as the archenemy of democratic civilization has been successfully built up in the past year, so we can expect everything from weapons deliveries to the Ukraine up to Iran-level sanctions as payback for their “attack on American democracy.”

Meanwhile, pressure on Iran and China will be let up, leaving Russia more isolated; and relations with Europe will improve after the neutralization of the hated Drumpf and the end of American obstructionism on issues like climate change.

Russia and Assad have yet to “win” in Syria. Yes, the Islamic State has been defeated and Aleppo liberated, but there are still large rebel concentrations – including one directly supported by Turkey – which can be reactivated after the next false flag and consequent American-led “humanitarian intervention” campaign. Turkey might be schmoozing up to Russia right now, since an Assad-ruled unitary Syria is better for it than an independent Kurdistan, but why wouldn’t it try again for an Islamist Syria should the opportunity present itself again?

7. Russia will come under incredible strain. If my read on Russian politics is correct, Putin’s next term will focus on the search for a successor and a transition from personalistic to institutional power. This is an issue that can only be given full attention in the absence of significant world tension. Consequently, I think it is likely that Putin will seek to make up with the West during this period, offering modest concessions in return for another reset.

However, in this scenario, the West will hardly be interested in dialogue, which will leave Putin a smaller subset of choices.

a) Total Surrender: Withdraw from the Donbass and leave it to Kiev’s tender mercies; evacuate Khmeimim/Tartus as the US, Saudis, Israel, and possibly turncoat Turks move in to bomb it into democracy; pass on power to a systemic liberal, who might adopt Navalny’s suggestion to rerun the Crimean referendum under international auspices. Ironically, this will require a major step-up in repression to accomplish, since nationalists will be mad about this and liberals will sense blood in the water.

b) Hunker Down: This will invite harder and harder sanctions from the West, up to and including being cut off from SWIFT, and possibly outright military clashes should Russia put up resistance in Syria, or retaliate elsewhere. In this scenario, repression will also have to be increased against non-systemic liberals as the regime is forced to lean more on nationalist support domestically, and China internationally.

Well, that’s it for my gloomy presentiments. Now you tell me why they’re wrong.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, Prediction, United States 
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At the tail end of the Cold War, there was an incredible atmosphere of Americanophilia throughout the USSR, including amongst Russians.


Blue – approve of USA; orange – disapprove.

Around 75%-80% of Russians approved of the United States around 1990, versus <10% disapproval.

By modern standards, this would have put Russia into the top leagues of America fans, such as Poland, Israel, and the United Kingdom. It was also around 10%-15% points higher than contemporary US approval of Russia.

The blogger genby dug up a VCIOM poll from 1990 asking Russians – that is, Russians within the RSFSR, i.e. the territory of the modern day Russian Federation – what they thought about Americans.

The poll was redone in 2015, keeping the same questions, which allows a direct comparison between the two dates.

What in your opinion characterizes the United States? 1990 2015
High criminality and moral degradation 1 15
No warmth in people’s relations 1 15
High living standards 35 12
Large gap between rich and poor 5 11
Racial discrimination 1 9
Highly developed science and technology 15 7
Success depends on personal effort 20 7
Free society 13 5
Other . 6
Can’t say for sure 10 12

I would wager Russian opinions on America were more positive c.1990 than the opinions of the average American on his own country today!

Is US government friendly or hostile to Russia? 1990 2015
Friendly 35 3
Not very friendly 40 32
Hostile 2 59
Can’t say 23 6

These results speak for themselves and hardly need more commentary.

Nowadays, of course, things are rather different. Suffice to say the numbers of America fans have plummeted, while the percentage of Russians with actively negative views emerged essentially out of nowhere to constitute majority opinion. According to other polls, Russian approval of the US rarely breaks above 30%, and the sentiments are quite mutual. Just 1% (that’s one percent) of Russians approved of US leadership by 2016. Although there were hopes that this trend would turn around after Trump, which seemed plausible in early 2017 and indeed seemed to be happening, this was in the end not to be.

What I think is more significant is that nobody likes to talk about it now, because it reflects badly on pretty much everyone.

Russians would have to acknowledge that they were naive idiots who threw away an empire centuries in the making to end up within the borders of old Muscovy in exchange for… jeans and “common human values.” These figures testify to the complete and utter failure of Soviet propaganda, which spent decades spinning tales about American criminality, unemployment, and lynched Negroes only to end up with a society with some of the most Americanophile sentiments in the entire world. It also makes it much harder to scapegoat Gorbachev, or the mythical saboteurs and CIA agents in power that feature prominently in sovok conspiracy theories, for unraveling the Soviet Union, when ordinary Soviets themselves considered America the next best thing since Lenin and the US government to be their friend.

For their part, Americans would have to acknowledge that Russians do not have a kneejerk hatred of America, and that the “loss of Russia” was largely of their own doing. The arrogant refusal to take into account Russian interests after the Cold War, instead bombing their allies, expanding NATO to Russian borders in contravention of verbal commitments made to the USSR, and for all intents and purposes treating it as a defeated Power, may have made sense when it seemed that the US would be the world’s dominant hyperpower for the foreseeable future and Russia was doomed to die anyway – as was conventional wisdom by the late 1990s. And from a purely Realpolitik perspective, the results have hardly been catastrophic; the US gained a geopolitical foothold in Eastern Europe, tied up further European integration into an Atlantic framework, and closed off the possibility of the “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” envisaged by Charles de Gaulle. On the other hand, in a world where China is fast becoming a peer competitor – with the implicit backing of a resentful Russia – this may, in retrospect, not have been the best long-term play.

Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.