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On October 26, Almazbek Atambaev, the outgoing President of Kyrgyzstan, signed a decree replacing the November 7 celebrations of the October revolution with a “Day of History and Remembrance.”

The “history” and “remembrance” in question refers to the Urkun, the Kyrgyz name for their 1916 revolt against Tsarist Russia.

Here is an extract from the decree:

The development of history in the past few years and its de-ideologization has allowed researchers to work out new approaches to studying Kyrgyz history… Our people, with their 3,000 year history, having created the Kyrgyz Khanate in the 9th century, has maintained the idea of statehood for many centuries… Generation to generation, the dream of independence moved on. …

The will of the people towards freedom and independence was the main driving force of the events of 1916. The harsh suppression of the uprising by Tsarist punitive batallions, multiple incidences of bloodthirsty reprisals against civilizations, and their forced exile into foreign lands put the Kyrgyz people on the brink of extinction. According to the archives, the most dramatic events and the highest numbers of human casualties during the Urkun took place in autumn 1916.

So what’s left unmentioned in this story?

turkestan-map

Source: Sputnik i Pogrom. Map of Turkestan – epicenter of the rebellion is in the red square.

First, and most important, it was a bit more than just an ordinary uprising. What began as a campaign of assassination against local officials soon escalated to full-scale ethnic cleansing, with thousand-strong bands of Kyrgyz horsemen despoiling defenseless Russian villages which had been largely stripped of their fighting age men by conscription for World War I. All told, around 3,000 Russians were murdered, the vast majority of them women and children, as well as the monks of Przhevalsk Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Monastery of Issyk-Kul.

Writes Father Evstafi Malakhovsky, the abbot of Pokrovsky Church, located 35 versts from Przhevalsk (now Karakol):

On August 11, [the Kyrgyz] attacked the settlements, started to beat the residents and burn houses… No mercy was shown to the Russians: They were cut up and beaten, sparing neither women nor children. There were beheadings, impalements, noses and ears were cut off, children were cut in half, women were raped, maidens and young girls were taken prisoner.

There are many even grislier accounts compiled by the local clergy.

As the ethnic cleansing wore on, Russians started to congregate in larger villages, such as Preobrazhensky. There, a 200-strong militia with rifles, shotguns, and a jerry-rigged cannon held off a 10,000-strong Kyrgyz horde for a month before Army reinforcements arrived and drove them away. Observing the scenes of devastation, the local militias and soldiers were not particularly inclined to show mercy as they pursued the bands into the mountains.

The Kyrgyz historian Shairgul Batyrbaev in a 2013 interview:

The suppression was indeed brutal. But one has to keep the context in mind. When the punitive batallions arrived to pacify the rebellion, they saw the heads of Russian women and children mounted on pikes, and their reaction was understandable.

Officially, 347 people in Semirechie were executed in summary military trials. The direct victims of the pacification campaign numbered 4,000 according to Batyrbaev’s calculations.

The official Kyrgyz narrative, as affirmed by a 2016 commision, is that the Tsarist suppression of the revolt was genocide. RFERL helpfully notes that it is “believed that between 100,000 and 270,000 ethnic Kyrgyz were killed by Tsarist Russia’s punitive battalions.” However, these estimates seem most unlikely, considering that the Kyrgyz population in the territories affected by the rebellion increased from 278,900 in 1897 to 324,000 by 1917. Based on natality and mortality trends, Batyrbaev estinmates there “should have been” 357,600 Kyrgyz by that time, implying total demographic losses of around 35,000.

That includes emigration. For the Kyrgyz, the most tragic episode of the Urkun was the flight of 30,000 Kyrgyz into China. Many thousands died in the high passes, and many of the rest were enslaved by the Uyghurs in China – a traditional practice in Central Asia, before the Russian Empire illegalized it in Russian Turkestan in 1861 and stamped it out over the next few decades.

Now this is not to unequivocally condemn the Kyrgyz, or justify the policies of the Russian Empire.

prokudin-gorsky-russian-settlers-kyrgyzstan

Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1911). Photograph of Russian settlers on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul.

The Kyrgyz had real grievances. The influx of landless Russian settlers (one such family is shown in the photograph above) in the wake of Stolypin’s agrarian reforms impinged on the traditional land use patterns of the nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, who needed vast tracts of land for grazing their cattle. The Russian colonists formed growing islands of European civilization that didn’t mix with the locals, stoking resentment amongsts the natives (this is, of course, a familiar pattern the world over). The influence of the mullahs, who occupied a privileged position in Kyrgyz society, was reduced – they lost administrative power to state bureaucrats, and the traditional madrassas had to compete with growing numbers of secular schools. Finally, the local bureaucrats that staffed the lower administrative rungs were fantastically corrupt – there are accounts of them continuing to sell exemptions from mobilization to young Kyrgyz men even as more and more of their fellows were lynched by the enraged mobs of the metastasizing rebellion.

This brings us to the fuse that set off the entire thing – an edict from Interior Minister Boris Stürmer calling for the mobilization of 80,000 men from the steppe region of Turkestan. This was a drop in the bucket relative to the more than 12 million men mobilized by the Russian Empire during World War I, and in any case, the Central Asians were only going to be used for non-military duties. (In the end, only slightly more than 100,000 Central Asians ended up being mobilized during the war). But the scope of these plans grew rapidly in the telling, in what was still a predominantly illiterate society; the call for 80,000 labor conscripts soon turned into an evil Russian plot to kill off the entire Kyrgyz male population in the fields and trenches in a place far away and in a war that few of them understood. This was helped along not just by the usual suspects – German and Turkish intelligence helped fan the rumors – but also by venal Kyrgyz bureaucrats, who saw the horror stories as a good way to increase their earnings from selling exemptions. Finally, the linguistic and cultural gap between the lower Kyrgyz and upper Russian administrative rungs hampered attempts to stiffle the rebellion in its cradle, and delayed a serious response from the central authorities.

But the language of the recent Kyrgyz decree – with its language of “Russian colonizers,” “Russia’s orbit,” “uprising of national liberation,” “cruel suppression by Tsarist punitive batallions,” the “millennial history” through which the Kyrgyz people carried its “idea of “statehood” – has nothing to do with history and everything to do with politics.

And there’s nothing better than genocide myths for nation-building, historical details and nuance be damned.
There are a couple of further factors that underline the significance of this event.

First, Almazbek Atambaev belongs to the ruling Social Democrats, whose candidate won the recent Presidential elections. This is a moderate, comparatively pro-Russian party that supports keeping Russian as an official language. Deputies from the main opposition party, Respublika-Ata Zhurt (an alliance of pro-Western liberals and nationalists; not an uncommon combination in the post-Soviet space), have taken a much harder line; in 2012, they called for financial documentation, technical documents, and parliamentary debates to all happen in Kyrgyz. Further to the right, Nurlan Motuev, leader of the People’s Patriotic Movement of Kyrgyzstan and of the True Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, demanded that Russia recognize the Urkun as a genocide and pay them $100 billion in compensation. To be fair, Motuev is a marginal figure whose projects only ever got tiny single digit shares of the vote, and the man himself has since been sentenced to 7 years in jail for praising Islamic State in the media.

However, less hardcore versions of these anti-Russian sentiments are increasingly prevalent amongst Kyrgyz youth and the Kyrgyz intelligentsia.

(All too predictably, the US is also involved. The National Democratic Institute, amongst its other projects in Kyrgyzstan, financed the TV show “New Trends” (Zhana Bashat), which regularly features all sorts of eccentric guests, such as Dastan Sapygulov, a Tengriist and a supporter of Kyrgyz as the dominant language. The Turks are also busy projecting their pan-Turkic vision, financing the University of Manas, where education is exclusively in the Turkish and Kyrgyz languages.)

Not only are the Social Democrats the main pro-Russian party in Kyrgyzstan, but the country itself is probably Russia’s closest “friend” in Central Asia. They are members of both the CSTO security alliance and the Eurasian Economic Community. Consequently, there are fewer barriers for a Kyrgyz seeking work in Russia than for a humanitarian refugee from the Donbass. Kyrgyz driving licenses are recognized in Russia, and Russia recently forgave a $240 million debt to the impoverished Central Asian nation. Remittances from Kyrgyz Gasterbeiters – most of them of them in Russia – constitute 30.4% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, which is the second highest indicator in the world after Nepal.

And yet despite all that, its authorities feel entitled to spit in Russia’s face.

All in all, it is hard to think of a single development that best represents the retreat of Russian influence from Central Asia.

This is, of course, hardly a singular affair. Kazakhstan is moving to the Latin alphabet by 2025. Tajikistan banned this year’s Immortal Regiments march on the grounds that it is non-Islamic (though it was not enforced). Uzbekistan has been particularly hostile, removing Europeans from important state positions, dismantling World War II monuments, and leaving both the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Community around 2010. Russia’s response? Mayor Sergey Sobyanin is going to use city funds to install a monument to the late Uzbek President for Life Islam Karimov in the center of Moscow.

And there are no signs that this is going to come to a stop anytime soon. As a rule, the Central Asians are ruled by Soviet relicts with strong cultural ties to (if not exactly sympathy for) Eurasia’s other post-Soviet elites. These are people whom the likes of Putin understand and are comfortable with. But as they age and die off, these countries are going to drift farther and farther away from Russia as the ethnic draw of Turkey, the religious draw of the Islamic ummah, the economic preponderance of China, and the cultural preponderance of America make themselves fully felt on the youngest generations and on the intelligentsia. This is already happening and there is no absolutely no reason to expect that Russia’s alternative, the Great Patriotic War victory cult – in which Central Asians played a marginal role anyway – is going to be a competitive one.

The future of Central Asia is nationalist and Islamic – probably, more of the former in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and more of the latter in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

This shouldn’t translate into any feelings of blame or bitterness. For all the Eurasianists’ efforts to argue otherwise, Russia and Turkestan are separate civilizations that don’t have much more in common than France and its African colonies. As such, it is pointless for Russians to begrudge them their efforts to establish their own “identity”; that it comes at Russia’s expense is only to be expected. It does, however, means that a rational and hard-headed Russian government should start dealing with them as the truly independent, nezalezhnye entities that they so earnestly appear to want to be.

At a minimum, this would mean an immediate end to Central Asian autocrats offloading their surplus labor and drugs onto Russia via open borders, an end to Russian taxpayer-subsidized loans and their inevitable write-offs, and certainly an end to even any discussions about statues to their Great Leaders in the Russian capital.

But it is hard to imagine Putin ceasing to support and subsidize the Soviet fossils with whom he so strongly identifies with. Besides, the cheap labor is good for business, the bodies are good for bolstering attendance at pro-regime demonstrations, and the drugs help keep masses of venal siloviks employed. And so in all likelihood this will continue until the next round of color revolutions drives what remains of Russia’s influence out of Central Asia.

 
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Results of the new PEW poll on international relations.

ROG-ZOG alliance on Trump.

pew-trump-support-2017

Russia is also the major country where approval of the US went up since Trump’s election.

pew-usa-approval

These figures are however a bit outdated (they were gathered this spring).

Levada, which keeps track of Russian opinion of foreign countries, showed US approval falling from 37% in March 2017 back to 24% in May 2017 – not far from the nadir under Obama – in what must have been a response to the US strikes on Syria.

levada-russia-usa-approval

Young people are universally more supportive of American customs coming to their countries.

I can state that the figures for Russia are definitely correct.

pew-us-customs

Australians and Israelis have the only rightists who support Trump.

pew-us-support-ideology

By “far right” party opinion:

pew-us-support-ideology-2

Pretty much everyone opposes Trump’s wall, though it is perhaps hard to see how it is anybody’s except Mexico’s business.

pew-support-wall

More Indians and Africans (!) want Trump to create Tropical Hyperborea than Russians. How sad.

pew-support-trump-climate-withdrawal

Here is how Trump stacks up against Merkel, Xi Jinping, and Putin.

pew-trump-putin-merkel

 
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The recently departed Vitaly Churkin was /ourguy/ in every sense of the word.

Not only did he fight the good fight in the UN, it has recently emerged he also blogged the good blog (and commented the good comments) online as imperia-mir.

We can’t be 100% certain that it is him. We have only the last post on that blog, claiming Churkin as its main author, to assert that. However, that blog has been in existence for a long time, and the person behind it has consistently commented like someone who is pretty high up, and in the know about, the inner workings of Russian international politics, so the claim is not incredible.

If this is the case, then the picture that emerges is of a Russian patriot, committed to state service, whose ideas and values are surprisingly unorthodox, original, and interesting, especially by the standards of the gray Russian bureaucractic caste.


aivazovsky-stormy-sea-1868

On Crimea (Mar 11, 2014)

Crimea is not just…

It is not just Cimmeria, of which the man in the street primarily knows only on account of the name of a barbarian played by a future governor of California…

It is not only the land of the ancient Scythians, whose name resounded far beyond the borders of the Empire that adopted them…

It is not only the kingdoms, cities, towns, and polises, with the proud names of Panticapaeum, Kalos Limen, Theodosius, Heracleon. It is not just only just the realm of the ancient – the shipbuilding, the viticulture, the growing of olives, the construction of temples, theaters, stadiums. It is not just Euripedes, and not just the drama Iphigenia in Tauris.

Yes, Odysseys rested in Evpatoria. Yes, the caligae of the Roman vexillationes gathered dust on the Via Militaris. But not only them. “From Scythia to Camelot,” yes, but not only.

It is not only the Sarmats and the Goths, and the Horde, and the Rus. It is not only wars, it is not just the shores bleached gray by eternity, it is not just the vineyards of the Golitsyns, it is not just the Tatars, not just the sieges, not just the splendor of Potemkin, his works, his pains, and the horrific myths dreamt up about his feats. Not just the Russian fleet, not just the union of steel, will, and talent of all Europe, not just the ascent of John Paul Jones, the creator of the US Navy and an admiral of the Russian Navy, and hundreds of others, who are no less ours by law and blood.

It is not only Ivan Aivazovsky and Alexander Grin, it is not just the crimson sails of the Soviet squadrons, it is not just the endless defenses of endless Sevastopol in the name of endless Russia, baptized into the Empire by the will of God at Chersonesus. And it is not even the Kazantip festival.

It is not only the underground submarine base at Balaklava, where the British Light Brigade perished; it is not the sailor hero Koshka; it is not the endless landing troops, polygons, airports, scientific centers, not the space observation stations, not the looted long-range radar stations and the destroyed fields that were once used to test the Lunokhod moon rovers; it is not Levadia, not Yalta, not the 147 bays and 295 wharfs; it is not the sunsets, the auroras, and not even the secluded lakes and islands, where people learned to talk with dolphins.

Taurida is our Avalon.

It is our sword. And is it returning to us.

***

On Putin (Jul 19, 2014)

Today I learned something that has forced me to reevaluate my opinion about Vladimir Putin.

“Forced” – not quite the right word, and “something” – is a euphemism.

I have always voted for him freely (including, dear God, during “Operation Successor”). I have always been critical towards him – from his personnel policy to a certain (in my view) naive and complacent strategy towards our “Western Partners” (TM), a criminally lackadaisical attitude towards homegrown Russophobe extremists, the strange loyalty to an entire array of strange neoliberal economic mantras, the lack of a clear general development strategy in the widest sense of the word, indecisiveness, the art of “thin ambiguity,” the secret service mentality of not explaining things fully – in other words, my criticism is the entire repertoire of a person who criticizes Putin for not being sufficiently Putin (that is, one’s own singular Putin). And I will continue criticizing him, in part because I do not conflate patriotism and the absence of criticism for making mistakes.

My criticism is based on a social heart, a liberal (in the correct, original, and good sense of this word) mind, an anarchic liver, and monarchic (not constitutional) nerves. My soul belongs to God in the Orthodox interpretation (I hope), but I’d like to live in a pantheistic (not in a pagan one! nor in a so-called “secular”) state! I don’t like Stalin, but hate his demonization, and lies about him. I don’t consider the Russian Empire to be better than the USSR, or vice versa – I have no desire to try to compare the incomparable, or to divide up a continuum. I am a conservative, but can’t stand the opponents of progress. I love ancient traditions, but I am all for genetic engineering and other experiments with embryonic cells. I believe that humanity will conquer the stars, but will be unable to master itself. I equally despise all political systems, but consider direct and absolute democracy, which doesn’t exist and never has, to be closest to my own worldview. Today I live in the country, the US, that is closest to this ideal (with the exception, perhaps, of San Marino), and consider that Russia would find this model to be even more natural and useful and effective, than here. When I live in Russia, I forget all this and it’s all irrelevant to me (joke). Abroad, they categorize me as a “Russian nationalist,” even though, if I am a “nationalist” of anything, it is of the (early) Roman Empire.

In short, I am a typical Russian person.

And my attitudes towards Putin are thus homespun, rustic, true with an inevitable correction for an unusually high level of informedness, but nonetheless, still in the style of, “Caesar, don’t forget that you’re bald!”

But now, everything has changed.

If what I have learned is true (and I have no doubts about this, except in the scenario, “The entire world is an illusion, Neo”), then I have been very much mistaken on Putin.

I believed that he was an ordinary man – well, someone with a high intellect, highly developed instincts, etc., a modest requisition on historical greatness, and so on.

But now I doubt all that. When this happened to him, I am not sure – at birth, before birth, at his meeting with Father John Krestyankin, or even when he swam with the dolphins – but it happened.

And verily I speak: When “Zeus lifts up his soul into the starry sky,” all of Olympus will spar for the right to his nerves, for they are the metal to create invulnerable armor for new Achilles – and Hephaestus himself will prostrate himself before his iron will.

Because nothing human is alien to man.

And because after all that I have learned, I no longer fear even Armageddon with this leader.

Everything will be great.

Our trials will be fearsome. Very fearsome.

But we got very lucky with him. Very lucky.

Dixi.

PS. Anticipating the inevitable dull reactions (in the style of “LOL this vatnik found his idol”), I will just quote the aforementioned Father John Krestyankin:

“You know, once upon a time in Russia before the Revolution there was this one attraction: A circus frequently visited the market, and they hadvarious shows. And one show was called, “Live Peter the Great for 20 kopeks.” There was a tent, within which was a giant telescope, and there entered a person who began to look into its tube, to see Peter the Great. The staff said, “Focus it.” He focused it. “Focus it more.” He focused it even more. And when all attempts failed, they asked him, “And? Do you not yet see him.” “No, I don’t.” And then they told him, “Well, who’d have thought! What did you want, anyway – to see the live Peter the Great for just 20 kopeks!” And on this note, the show ended.

Of course, this might be an invented example, but the Father explained it further. He said, “And so we too in this life want to see a living Christ, for 20 rubles or 20 kopeks. No, it doesn’t work like that. We have to strive together, we have to work, we have to live an intense spiritual life, because man reaps what he sows – He who sows parsimoniously, reaps little; he who sows generously, reaps richly.

Commenter: So what is it that you found out?

imperia_mir: I still want to live. I’m not writing this from Russia. There can be many sorts of provocations, and different situations, and more serious than the one with the Boeing. And when they are averted, it is as if they do not exist. And that’s good. Because the mere voicing of some situations – can be a catastrophe.

 
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The Trump administration is endlessly accused of having had contacts with Russian officials during the election campaign, as if that was a Very Bad Thing.

In reality is it not only standard diplomatic practice, but it is something that the US has always done itself – and usually from the other wise of the fence.

Perhaps the most richly illustrative case is from January 2012 at the height of the anti-Putin protests, when the US Embassy invited leading members of Russia’s pro-Western opposition to its Moscow Embassy – though given the marginal electoral ratings of Nemtsov, Chirikova, Ponomarev, Mitrokhin, etc., this is not even so much like the Kremlin talking to Republican candidate Trump as to various assorted marginals like Evan McMullin, Michael Moore, Bill Kristol, the guy who played knockout on Richard Spencer, and whoever the current chairman of the CPUSA is).

NTV journalists had gotten the scoop on this visit, and showed up to ask what their goals of their visit to the US Embassy was. Since those people are politicians who claim to be the consciousness of the Russian nation, warriors of light against the Dark Lord Puter, these were entirely reasonable questions. But none of them had an intelligible response – on going in, at any rate. But evidently the folks at the US Embassy have a bit more creativity, and on going out, they all started chanting “You are Surkov propaganda” to the journalists, dismissing them as pawns of the guy who was then widely rumored to be the gray cardinal of the Kremlin.

In what way is Trump worse than the Russian pro-Western opposition?

Take a cue from them. Refuse to answer their questions. Proclaim “You are Soros propaganda” to their faces. Maybe even physically assault them just like WSJ op-ed writer Kasparov and Bozhena Rynska did at their Vilnius Conference, where they were discussing what territories Russia has to give away to make up with the West.

But seriously, contacts between opposition forces and foreign governments is neither illegal nor even unusual. This is standard practice in democracies. But Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers evidently disagree on whether the US should remain a democracy now that the wrong people have been voted in.

Some of them, like Bill Kristol, are even quite open about it (“Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state“).

 
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In my 2017 predictions, I wrote:

Russians have a more positive view of the US than of the EU as of the last Levada poll in that year: 60%.

Latest polls:

russia-approval-usa-eu

The gap is only 2 points now.

Republicans, at least are returning the favor.

us-approval-of-russia

The New Cold War might well be petering out in a premature end.

The Germans are far less happy with Trump, though.

german-approval-of-usa

Feel free to spy on their Chancellor to your heart’s content, but don’t you dare refuse to accept Infinity Moslems into your country.

 
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Yet another tired meme of the Lamestream Media is biting the dust.

Tulsi Gabbard is a Democrat who is on good terms with Trump – indeed, she was once viewed as a feasible if highly unlikely candidate for Secretary of State. She has gone to Syria, talked with the people, and confirmed that the “moderate rebels” are anything but, and has since proceeded to castigate CNN on their fake news (her interviewer wasn’t happy about that).

Incidentally, as Alexander Mercouris points out, it is most curious that the most fervent proponents of that meme never seemed to want to spend much time with the objects of their veneration:

A key point to make about Tulsi Gabbard is that she has made these comments after actually visiting Syria, and going to places like Damascus and Aleppo.

As I have previously pointed out, since the end of the fighting in Aleppo, the city is now safe to visit by Western journalists, which is why Tulsi Gabbard has been able to go there, and has been able to speak to people there. By contrast the Western media, which throughout the autumn was full of lurid reports of atrocities supposedly committed in Aleppo during the fighting there by the Syrian army and the Russians, is staying away.

Here is Gabbard’s official statement:

“I return to Washington, DC with even greater resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government. I call upon Congress and the new Administration to answer the pleas of the Syrian people immediately and support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. We must stop directly and indirectly supporting terrorists—directly by providing weapons, training and logistical support to rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS; and indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey, who, in turn, support these terrorist groups. We must end our war to overthrow the Syrian government and focus our attention on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS.

“From Iraq to Libya and now in Syria, the U.S. has waged wars of regime change, each resulting in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

This jives with Trump’s inauguration promise: “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

Anyhow, stinging from their defeat in Aleppo, the rebels in the Idlib pocket have descended into something resembling a civil war in record time. The eastern front remains stable – Deir ez-Zor has continued to hold out, despite Islamic State throwing so many men from their Iraqi wilayats and matériel captured from Palmyra at it in the past couple of weeks.

As this new reality dawns, Western states are beginning to publicly accept Assad’s right to a political role in the future Syria.

 
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According to the latest figures from Gallup, only 1% of Russians approve of the US leadership.

russian-approval-us-leadership-2016

This is quite impressive. Not often you get such extreme figures.

Although the percentage of truly committed “zapadniks” in Russia is not high, around 15% at most, I do think the data must have taken a sharp turn down within the confidence interval. The figures for last year where 4%.

Incidentally, according to the independent Russian polling organization Levada, whereas positive impressions of the US as a country (not the leadership as with Gallup) plummeted to a record low of 12% by 2015, since then there has been a marginal recovery back up to around 20%. So, not a major change, but a minor uptick nonetheless.

russian-approval-us-2016

From the full Gallup report, here is a list of the ten countries with the dimmest view of the US leadership (China was not included in the survey):

. + -
Syria 20% 71%
Iran 19% 51%
Lebanon 18% 72%
Serbia 16% 56%
Yemen 15% 69%
Egypt 10% 62%
Belarus 9% 67%
Palestine 9% 79%
Kazakhstan 8% 70%
Russia 1% 89%

So that’s basically Russia+ and various Middle East countries it has bombed/invaded/tried to color revolution.

Iraq is a strong net negative, but at 30% approval, nowhere near the bottom of the list. Even Ukraine is a net negative, with 35% approval and 40% disapproval.

Countries with the most positive outlooks on the US leadership include a whole bunch of African countries topped by Congo-Brazzaville (80%); Kosovo (85%), Albania (74%), and the UK (65%) in Europe; and Cambodia (74%) in Asia.

 
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Here are three very important graphs for comprehending the ebb and flow of Russia’s relations with the West, and why what some are now calling the New Cold War might well be here to stay.

Russian approval of the United States (green is positive, red is negative):

russia-usa-attitudes

Russian approval of the EU:

russia-eu-attitudes

While it’s hard to remember now, there really was an incredible air of optimism about future relations with the US and Europe towards the end of the Soviet Union that, perhaps even more strangely, lasted throughout most of the trials and tribulations and Harvard-supported looting of the country. There was something of a cargo cult in relation to the West, the idea that imitating and appeasing them just right would catapult the country into prosperity and the end of history. Just a few random examples. The term “evroremont,” denoting a quality housing renovation, presumably to European standards. Foreigners being allowed first in line to visit museums and cultural attractions. Women flinging themselves at any American adventurer type regardless of his success and social status (Mark Ames and the eXile are a testament to that).

There were sharp dips now and then, in surprisingly regular increments of five years, corresponding to some imperial action or other. The bombing of Serbia in 1999. The invasion of Iraq in 2003. The South Ossetian War in 2008. Crimea in 2014. Relations steadily cooled as the West began an aggressive expansion of its economic and security infrastructure into what Russia saw as its sphere of influence, in so doing breaking informal commitments made with Gorbachev that NATO wouldn’t expand an inch east. Russia unquestionably became more authoritarian, though the extent of the break with late Yeltsinism in that regard is highly exaggerated, and this was accompanied by an ever shriller campaign of demonization in the Western media that shows no signs of peaking even to this day. Bearing all this in mind, it is perhaps actually surprising that the moving average of Russian opinion of the US and EU declined only modestly between 2000 and 2013, from around 70% for both the EU and the US, to 60% for the EU and 50% for the US. For all the rhetoric about Russians being taken in by anti-Western propaganda, it’s worth noting that US approval of Russia was actually consistently if modestly lower than Russia’s approval of the US.

US approval of Russia:

us-russia-approval-pew

But there’s a couple of critical differences between previous dips and today that suggest that prior experience is no longer any guide to the future ever since approval ratings of the US and the EU plunged to less than 20% in 2014:

First, while reactions to Serbia, Iraq, and Georgia were short but sharp affairs, lasting but a few months, the recent collapse in relations as gauged by public opinion is already ongoing for more than a year. Nothing remotely similar has occured since the start of scientific polling in Russia. You might think that in a personalistic and relatively closed political system like Russia polls might not count for much, but you would be wrong; if anything, the lack of strong institutions able to act as a social glue makes polling and ratings all the more important, and it is something that the Kremlin pays heed to religiously. This is largely why Putin keeps participating in all these various stunts which range from the impressive (piloting a fighter jet during the Second Chechen War) to the faintly ridiculous (diving and magically finding ancient Greek amphora). The constant negativity seen ever since February 2014 might well be the start of a new normal, which if so might be increasingly difficult to turn around even if the respective political leaderships were to commit to doing so.

Second, and this ties in with the above, the EU has traditionally been seen slightly more positively than the US, and with the partial exception of 2008, we do not see the same sharp bumps and dips. Until 2014… when it became completely undistinguishable from the US. And that shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering the EU’s steady drift from what Russians imagined and dreamed it might be – a greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, as De Gaulle saw it – to an unapologetically Atlanticist entity that accepted partnership with no other integration blocs (such as the Eurasian Union), grew increasingly confident in orchestrating regime changes against governments that didn’t hew to their neoliberal orthodoxy, and worst of all, subsumed integration into Atlanticist security structures (first and foremost, NATO) as an inalienable component of its economic expansion. Now the average Russian wouldn’t think in such terms, of course, but in general, it is probably fair to say that Russians now see both the EU and the US as just two blocs of the same, singularly hostile West.

But the story doesn’t quite end there.

Russian approval of China:

russia-china-attitudes

Even as the US and EU plumb new lows, Russian approval of China struck an alltime high of 81% (recall that this is equivalent to their approval of the US in the waning days of the Soviet Union). These feelings are mutual, and Putin is highly respected as a leader in CCP circles and reportedly by Xi Jinping personally. Again, this is not surprising: When one side slaps you with sanctions, while the other comes round with a fat wallet and offers to support the ruble should Russia only ask, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who’d be the more popular guy at the party. All pretty obvious. Except, perhaps, for those neocons who appear to believe with all conviction that the West is absolutely indispensable for Russia, and that Russia will eventually agree to pay any cost to mend relations for the privilege of fighting China for them to the last Russian.

 
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“Imperialist Putin “Steals” Ukraine”… If only all those hysterical newspaper articles were true!

In reality, the only thing he stole was Ukraine’s credit card debt. He’s no idiot, of course, and is in no rush to pay it off. The drama certainly hasn’t ended. But a geopolitical pivot on the model of Khmelnitsky’s 1654 decision this is not.

Let me try to explain the actual motivations of everyone involved:

(1) The EU wants the Ukraine. No, have to be more precise. The Poles, Balts, Swedes, and Anglos want Ukraine in the EU, without Yanukovych. Scratch that. They want Russia without Ukraine without a Yanukovych. As long as Ukraine politely waits in the queue alongside Turkey and Egypt and all those other peripheral countries enjoying the glories of “European civilization” with Associate memberships, all is well.

(2) Putin wants a weak Yanukovych – because Yanukovych is loyal to his oligarchs, not Putin (duh!) – in control of Ukraine. He also wants Ukraine in the Customs Union. (But not its credit card debt). To do this he has been applying pressure, with Russia banning the import of Roshen chocolates, which belong to a particularly outspoken proponent of the EU, the oligarch Petroshenko. There are warning that EU Association will mean the setting up of tariffs on Ukrainian imports (Russia does not, after all, wish to have to compete with European goods on level territory at this stage). Russia’s long-term goal (with the Eurasian Union) is gradual convergence with EU standards, and eventually even integration. But that is very far off (2040′s maybe). The greater the scope of the Eurasian Union, the more advantageous the terms on which said integration can occur. There is no hurry.

(3) Yanukovych wants what the Donbass oligarchs want. The Donbass oligarchs want to legitimize and secure their wealth by integrating into Western institutions. But the Donbass oligarchs also want their main protector to remain in power. And unfortunately, things like raising gas prices by 40%, salary freezes, and big spending cuts – as demanded by the IMF in return for loans – is going to collapse whatever remains of Yanukovych’s support in the east and south. And why does the EU/IMF demand such stringent concessions? See above. They want a Ukraine without Yanukovych! It’s all logical.

Hence, when PM Azarov says that the decision to suspect the EU deal is “tactical,” he is in all likelihood saying the truth – as opposed to opposition claims that it is all some kind of elaborate conspiracy concocted with Putin to deny Ukraine its “European choice” and return it to imperial moskali domination.

It is also worth noting that during much of the summer, Ukrainian TV channels were propagandizing the benefits of EU association. This is presumably what caused support for the EU to start exceeding support for the Customs Union/Eurasian Union. It would have been exceedingly stupid and irrational to carry out this information campaign with the ultimate intention of performing a volte face and turning back to Russia. It would just piss off the Ukrainians who had become more energized about Europe. An own goal. Why would they possibly do it?

Now that we have a more realistic idea of how things actually work – as opposed to the fanciful tales that the Lithuanians are spinning of Russian blackmail towards Yanykovych, and its faithful repetition in the Western media – we can now look to the future.

That future revolves around February 26, 2015. That is when the next Ukrainian Presidential elections are going to take place. Yanukovych, presumably, wants to win them. But he is not very popular. He has a long-standing reputation as a thug, and a slightly less long-standing reputation as an idiot. Internet commentators frequently call him a “vegetable.”

But he does want to remain President. So Tymoshenko remains in prison, while a law is being introduced to make it illegal for Klitschko to run for the Presidency, seeing as he is a tax resident of Germany. (Aside: If I were Ukrainian, the fact that a tax resident of a foreign country is probably the most popular candidate for leadership would make me profoundly depressed).

The logical course, then, would be to sign up to the Russian deal, which could stave off what many in the financial community are considering to be imminent collapse. But EU membership remains a strategic goal for the Party of Regions and the oligarchs too. So we continue to observe very arduous attempts to have the cake and eat it too. I am talking about their pleas for a three-way trade commission between the EU, Ukraine, and Russia. But too bad for them, the EU isn’t interested. Because the EU doesn’t want Yanukovych. “Look soldier, you don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” “But I like you!” “Okay. You like me, but I don’t like you.” That’s the EU and Yanukovych, in a nutshell.

So that option is out of the window. The days of playing the EU off against Russia to extract concessions is drawing to a close.

What is going to happen now?

Sign up to the Customs Union and be done with all the rigmarole. This is not a choice: Extensive Russian support is predicated on joining the Customs Union.

This is what the opposition, the worshipers of the “European choice” and haters of “Aziopa,” so fervently fear. But I suspect those fears are misplaced. The Ukrainian population under 50 is more pro-EU than pro-Eurasia, and as older people die off, the balance of electoral (not to mention street) power is going to shift West. In this scenario, the Party of Regions will bear a mounting electoral toll for depriving Ukrainians of their “European choice.” The oligarchs will be none too happy either.

Incidentally, this puts the Party of Regions in a fundamental bind. Their core electorate is very slowly but surely dissipating. But should they try to tap the electoral power of younger age groups by signing the Association Agreement, the result would wreck eastern industry and collapse their existing electorate. So they would want to postpone this until after the Presidential elections if at all possible.

Another choice is to default now, devalue the currency, and hope for recovery to pick up in a year’s time, just in time for the elections. (This is what Belarus did in 2010, minus the elections). But this is very risky. Russian gas imports will become even more expensive, and crippling to the budget – and they would be loth to throw Yanukovych a lifeline. If they maintain pressure, Yanukovych would be truly doomed in 2015, even if Tymoshenko and Klitschko are both out of the game. The EU/IMF wouldn’t help either, of course (they don’t want Yanukovych). All they’d have to do is play the waiting game and just wait for a pro-European President to come to power in 2015.

Yanukovych has no good options, that much is clear. All are fraught with varying degrees of risk. But surprisingly enough, it actually appears that – in the absence of any further involvement with the EU, which has basically thrown a hissy fit and wants to have nothing more whatsoever to do with Yanukovych – the Customs Union path is the most promising one for him. Not a good one, mind. The younger people west of Donbass and north of Crimea are pissed off at him, and presumably the oligarchs are none too happy either. But unlike the alternatives – alienation of the core electorate – these are fundamentally manageable problems. Younger people are more active, sure, but the power of the street is overrated (it was a court decision, not the Maidan, that was central to the Orange Revolution); and elderly people are more likely to vote. And what other choice do the Donbass oligarchs have?

All in all, a carnival of errors. The Party of Regions making EU integration a core part of its platform to the extent of funding an information campaign in favor of it. The EU for being so hardline on fiscal matters, which was ultimately a threat to Yanukovych’s political survival and hence unacceptable. Putin is the only one who appears to have played all his cards right.

Well, this train of thought has come to a most unexpected point. I suppose the “hysterical” articles aren’t so hysterical after all… But the outcome is accidental, not having been intended by Yanukovych.

And it goes without saying that things remain very unpredictable. For instance, there’s also the Chinese variant.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Even a few months ago, it looked as if Ukraine had taken a significant step towards Eurasian integration by signing up as an observer to the Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. However, in the past month, evidence is emerging that it was but a temporary ploy to appease Russia while in reality speeding up the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union. This is scheduled to be signed in Vilnius late this November.

The Ukrainians say that that does not preclude further integration within the framework of the Customs Union. However, it is difficult to see how it could simultaneously have free trade with Europe while simultaneously being a part of strategic protectionist bloc. Although it is entirely possible that in the Customs Union will eventually be gradually merged with and into the European economic area – Putin himself has hinted as much – any such scenario will likely be decades in the making.

Putting aside for the moment geopolitical (Atlanticism vs. Eurasianism) and cultural (European civilization vs. Orthodox-Slavic brotherhood) considerations for the moment – which have been overdiscussed anyway both on this blog and Leos Tomicek’s and many others, with the result that there is now little left to add – I would like to frame the debate in economic terms.

The EU Path

As Mark Adomanis points out in his blog, most Russian claims regarding the disadvantages of DCFTA ratification at the recent Yalta summit were in fact based on technical considerations (the Russian negotiator Sergei Glazeyev’s comments on irredentism and ostensible blackmail that have dominated media coverage appear to have been offhand and taken out of context anyway).

The free trade area will make imports cheaper, but at the cost of an even greater current account deficit – Ukrainian factories aren’t likely to compete well with German (or even Czech) ones on equal terms. This current account deficit will be financed by external borrowing, which is short-term and limited due to Ukraine’s poor credit status. This means that either it will have to do a default or devaluation of some kind, so the Russian argument goes, or seek a bailout.

And who is going to provide that bailout? Russia? Of course not. As for the EU states, many of them are strained themselves, and have quite enough pasta and paella on their plates anyway. For the same reason, the generous transfers that eased the Med’s convergence with the European core in previous decades are now a thing of the past; if the Ukrainians expect freebies, they will probably be in for a disappointment. In any case, actual membership of the EU is extremely remote. In any case, the advantages conferred by the supposed “transparency” and “rule of law” that European integration brings are oft-overstated, as we have witnessed many times.

Fortunately, unemployment will be contained, if free trade is accompanied by an easing of visa restrictions; but not so much in terms of demographics, which will take a hit just as they show tentative signs of recovering somewhat. A positive side is that there might be more European investments and technology transfers, especially in western Ukraine, since countries like the Czech Republic and Poland start to become too rich to be attractive as sources of cheap, educated labor.

The EEU Path

This would integrate Ukraine with the Russian economic sphere of modest protectionism coupled with an industrial policy aimed at reviving Soviet mainstays such as the aircraft indistry as well as delving into new spheres like nanotechnology. The technological level of Russian industry isn’t substantially higher than Ukraine’s, and furthermore, the latter’s will receive a boost in the form of lower energy prices; as such, there will presumably be no big threat of many factory closures or unemployment spikes. As such, in the short-term and medium-term, it is clearly preferable to the EU path.

In the long-term, that depends on your view of whether Russia’s own modernization path is sustainable or not, and also perhaps on whether the Customs Union / EEU is destined to merge with the EU in some way. But those are entire debates on their own.

Sitting on the fence?

It’s interesting to note that that the DCFTA is pushed for by a government whose electoral support is rooted in the Russophone east and south – indeed, one which is frequently accused of being a stooge of Russian imperialism.

The Party of Regions isn’t a stooge of Russian imperialism. If it is a stooge of anyone, it is of the Donbass heavy industrial oligarchs. The interests of those oligarchs are clearly mixed. On the one hand, many of their factories will no longer be profitable under conditions of free trade and regulatory convergence with Europe. On the other hand, they will get a chance to increase their status and long-term security by merging with the transnational oligarchy based around London and New York. As for electoral strategy, the choice to pursue the European vector is… downright curious. For it is its own electoral heartlands that free trade with Europe will hammer the most, especially in the short and medium term. Are they hoping that their voter base wouldn’t connect the dots?

This is why it’s difficult to say right now whether the Ukrainian elites as a group (including the oligarchs who fund PoR) have made a definitive choice to integrate with Europe – or whether it is merely continuing its very old game of playing off both sides against the other in return for concessions. Still, if I had to guess, I’d go with the former. The “civilized” West has a ineluctable charm to many overly idealistic citizens in the former Soviet Union that is not often appreciated by Westerners themselves. This charm transcends both reason and the realistic observation that many civilized Westerners themselves don’t reciprocate those warm feelings, and certainly don’t consider Ukrainians (or Russians – though at least Russians don’t tend to have quite as big an inferiority complex on this) to be civilized Europeans. What else could explain PoR taking a course that will probably end up majorly shafting their own electoral base *and* (at least in part) the oligarchs who fund them?

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Repost of Alexander Mercouris’ comments at Mark Chapman’s blog and The Russia Debate forum. The original compilation is posted at Mercouris’ blog.

PS. Originally, this space hosted just one of Mercouris’ comments. Now that he has taken the trouble to gather up his output, the least I could do is update it and try to ensure it gets maximum publicity.

Syria – An Illegal Attack Intended to Prevent a UN Investigation

No one should be under any illusions that the attack on Syria which will take place shortly is illegal and is intended to prevent an impartial investigation by the UN inspectors of what actually happened near Damascus. In the light of the forthcoming attack on Syria and in view of the forthcoming meeting of the Security Council later today (Wednesday 28th August 2013) and of the parliamentary debate in Britain tomorrow (Thursday 29th August 2013) I have decided to post a number of comments I have made on various threads discussing this crisis on the Russia Debate and on Kremlin Stooge that explain this and which set out my views. I have also published a comment by Anatoly Karlin to which I have responded.

Friday 24th August 2013

The reality is that (NB: contrary at that time to claims by the US government and western media reports – AM) Russia has asked the Syrian government to allow an inspection of the area where the attack was committed and the Syrian government according to the Russian Foreign Ministry and from the tone of the reports carried by Syrian government’s news agency Sana seems to have agreed to this (1, 2).

A point that western media demands for the Syrian government to “allow” the UN inspectors into the area of the gas attack wilfully ignore is that the area where the attack seems to have taken place is rebel controlled. It is therefore the rebels not the government who control access to it. The onus should therefore be on them and not just the government to allow the UN inspectors in.

I do not know who carried out these attacks but as many have pointed out if it was the Syrian government then the timing – a year apparently to the day after Obama’s “red lines” speech and just after the UN inspectors arrived in Damascus – would in that case be incredibly stupid to the point of being bizarre. As has also been correctly pointed out, an attack of this sort now when the government seems to be winning on the battlefield also appears to make little sense. By contrast one can see why the rebels at a time when they are coming under pressure might want to stage an incident of this sort that they can blame on the government. I would add that they might also feel a need to shift the spotlight back on them and away from what has been happening in Egypt.

What many people don’t of course know is that if one follows the accounts of the Syrian conflict provided by Sana then one would know that the Syrian government has been alleging incidents of use of chemical weapons by the rebels practically every week for the last few months. Obviously I have no idea how true these claims are. However I do find it depressing that the government’s claims of use of chemical weapons by the rebels get no attention whilst rebel claims (such as this one) get saturation coverage. There is no reason to give greater credence to any side in this war but there is at least some corroboration of rebel use of chemical weapons: not just the famous comments of Carla del Ponte but also an incident when some rebels were discovered in Turkey in possession of a sarin gas canister a few months ago. News of that incident was suppressed even though it was accompanied by stories that a gas attack on a Turkish town that would be blamed on the Syrian government was planned.

It also puzzles me why western commentators like Shashank Joshi (NB: In this article in the Daily Telegraph – AM) seem so unwilling to accept that the Syrian rebels are capable of carrying out false flag operations even when these kill their own people. This is after all a rebel movement amongst whose commanders is a cannibal who still commands his unit and who has come in for barely any criticism from the rebel leadership even after his activities were broadcast in a film shown internationally, which uses suicide bombers and whose members cheerfully behead children if they discover them committing blasphemy. Given how utterly ruthless this movement is why assume they would stop at false flag operations involving sarin gas?

Given that the US and its allies have been “demanding” that Syria allow the UN inspectors into the area of the alleged gas attack (something which as I have said Syria has always said it would do) one might presume that they would welcome the announcement yesterday of an agreement between the Syrian authorities and the UN inspectors for the UN inspectors to inspect the area of the gas attack. Nothing of the sort. Instead the ether last night and this morning is full of statements about how this is “too little and too late” and how a strike can now be made against Syria with UN Security Council authorisation and how such a strike will now happen within the next 2 weeks.

My conclusions? Far from being happy that the UN inspectors are going to visit the area in Syria of the alleged gas attack, the US and its allies are alarmed about it precisely because Syria’s consent to such an inspection most likely means that the Syrian authorities were NOT responsible for the gas attack. The very last thing the US and its allies want in this situation is for the US inspectors to turn round and say that it was the rebels who were responsible for the gas attack. The result is that having called for the UN inspectors to visit the scene the US and its allies are now determined to prevent a proper investigation at all costs (no investigation of a crime scene can be completed within 2 weeks. Any investigators knows that is impossible). That is why plans for an attack are being brought forward and declarations are being made by people like Hague that the agreement of the Security Council is not needed before such an attack takes place.

Does this remind anyone of Iraq and of Hans Blix and the UN inspectors begging to be given more time? Truly history sometimes repeats itself and not always as farce but sometimes as still greater tragedy.

PS: One thing I would say is that Ban Kyi Moon has rushed out a very strong statement this morning calling for the inspection to do its work without delay and without obstruction. The British media spin is that this is a criticism of the Syrian government. To me it reads more like criticism of the US and its allies. Ban Kyi Moon has been a loyal servant of the US up to now. Could this be the moment he has found his dignity?

PPS: It is very striking that one key US ally, Germany, is staying aloof from all the war talk. It is becoming a consistent pattern that Germany under any government is increasingly distancing itself from US policy and is quietly aligning with Russia and China on major international issues.

Sunday 25th August 2013

Amid all the fire and thunder of war preparations the Syrian government and the UN inspectors have now agreed the terms of the UN inspection of the site of the alleged gas attack.

What needs to be made clear is that as I said in the comment I posted on Friday 23rd August 2013 the Syrian authorities agreed to allow the inspectors access to the area several days ago. Demands that the Syrian authorities allow such access, which have been noisy on the ether over the last few days, are therefore completely misplaced. The reason the inspectors have not visited the site is because the area is rebel controlled and it is the rebels who therefore control access to it. I gather that the UN inspectors have themselves been unwilling to enter an area that is under rebel control and the sight of fighting and where they may be unsafe. What the agreement announced today suggests is that they have now been provided with the safeguards they feel they need.

All of this fuss over the UN inspection gives anyone with any memory of the Iraq conflict a dreary sense of deja vu. Then as now the US and its allies were shrill in their demands that the regime “cooperate” with the UN inspectors. Then as now the US and its allies nonetheless forthrightly anticipated what the UN inspectors would say before the UN inspectors had any chance to do their work. Then as one suspects now the failure of the UN inspectors to come up with any “evidence” implicating the regime in WMD activity was construed not as a sign that the regime was not undertaking WMD activity but instead as “proof” that the regime was “not cooperating” with the UN inspectors.

In the case of Iraq when it was all over it turned out that the regime had been cooperating with the UN inspectors after all and that its protestations that it was not engaged in WMD activity were true. One wonders what will now happen in Syria?

Sunday 25th August 2013

The latest news from Syria is that “unidentified snipers” opened fire on the convoy carrying the UN inspectors to the area where the gas attack is supposed to have happened. The convoy had to turn back to the safety of the government’s lines. Apparently a further attempt will be made to reach the area later today.

Though no one is saying so, this was clearly an attempt to prevent the UN inspectors from doing their work. Since it was the government that arranged to send the UN inspectors to the area the snipers were almost certainly rebels. That is exactly as one would expect. The Syrian government’s agreement to cooperate in full with the UN inspectors has caused panic amongst the rebels and their western and Arab backers because they know or guess that a proper, impartial investigation is likely to prove that what happened was indeed a false flag event staged by the rebels themselves. Thus everything is now being done to obstruct the UN inspectors so as to prevent an investigation from taking place whilst ridiculing the investigation (eg. by saying that the UN inspectors will be unable to say who carried out the attack – why not?- or that the crime scene has been “degraded by artillery fire” – really?) before it’s even started. This of course is the same investigation by the UN inspectors that the US and its allies pretended they were calling for.

As I think is fairly obvious, what the Syrian government’s agreement to cooperate with the UN inspectors has done, is actually hasten western preparations to attack Syria, this being ultimately the only way to prevent the UN inspectors from their doing their work.

Monday 27th August 2013

Before we discuss the implications of the attack that is now surely coming, it seems to me that it is important to clarify what is happening.

As I said in my comment on the specific thread about the alleged Syrian gas attack, it is simply untrue that the Syrian government refused the UN inspectors access to the site of the alleged gas attack. The area in question is controlled by the Syrian rebels and it is they and they alone who can grant or deny access to it. What has triggered the war talk of the last two days is (1) the discovery by the Syrian army of physical evidence that appears to link the gas attack to Saudi Arabia and the rebels and (2) the agreement on Saturday between the UN inspectors and the Syrian government for a full inspection and investigation of the relevant area to determine what actually happened.

In other words the purpose of the coming attack is not to punish or deter the Syrian authorities from using chemical weapons. It is to prevent a proper investigation by the UN inspectors that might find out what did actually happen.

That this is so is confirmed by the events of the last few days. When news of the attack first appeared Obama gave an interview to CNN in which he appeared to say that there would have to be an investigation of what happened. The US supported a decision by the UN Security Council that supported the Secretary General’s decision to carry out an investigation of the incident to obtain “clarity” about what happened. Concurrently Lavrov and Kerry both released a joint statement saying that there needed to be an “impartial investigation” to determine what happened. Contrast that with Kerry’s statement of yesterday in which, just as the investigation is about to start, he declares that it is “undisputable” that there was a chemical attack and that the Syrian authorities were behind it. What is the point of the UN and the US calling for an investigation if the US government has already declared in advance what the “truth” is? The UN inspectors might just as well pack their bags and go home.

What has clearly happened is that the US initially called for an investigation because it assumed that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the gas attack. The US accordingly assumed that either the UN investigation would confirm this or that the Syrian authorities to conceal their guilt would prevent the investigation from taking place. When it became clear that the Syrian authorities on the contrary were willing to cooperate with the investigation and when evidence started to come to light that if there was a gas attack it was most likely the rebels who were responsible, the priority abruptly shifted to stopping the investigation at all costs. That is why Kerry has declared the Syrian authorities’ guilt “undisputable”, why the US has cancelled its meeting to discuss Syria with the Russians and why an attack will now take place.

For the rest, let us also be clear that the attack that is now coming is a gross violation of international law. That this is so is clearly confirmed by the wording of the UN Charter. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter says

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

Article 39 of the UN Charter further says

“The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Article 51 of the UN Charter further says

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the prese nt Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

In other words the only body competent in international law to authorise military action is the UN Security Council except for the purpose of self defence. The so called “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine does not affect or limit the UN Security Council’s exclusive right to authorise the use of force in any way. Rather it simply set out certain criteria and procedures that need to be followed before the UN Security Council may authorise military intervention in the internal affairs of a Member State.

Not only will the pending attack be made without the authority of the UN Security Council, which renders it illegal under international law, but in this case the violation of international law and of the prerogatives of the UN Security Council is especially gross because the UN Security Council is already involved, having called just 5 days ago for “clarity” on this question by supporting the UN Secretary General’s intention to undertake an investigation, which is now underway. The attack is therefore being prepared in order to subvert a purpose authorised by the UN Security Council, namely to obtain “clarity” about what actually happened through an impartial investigation of the incident by the UN Secretary General’s inspectors.

Tuesday 28th August 2013

Anatoly Karlin said: “According to this article, it really was the Syrian Arab Army that launched the chemical weapons attack. The information is based on an American interception of a panicked call from a Baath bureaucrat to the officer in charge of the CW batallion purportedly responsible.

If true, this changes things substantially. If it really was the SAA that was responsible, then public opposition in the West to a strike against Syria would not be so overwhelming than if it were unclear or a false flag (done either with or without the connivance of the US/UK/France). The Iraq comparisons would likewise fall away.

That said, it is rather sad that just as Assad was about to win he will be dealt a major setback, thus necessitating a further few months of fighting than would have otherwise been the case – assuming that it’s a limited strike, that doesn’t overspill into an outright drive for regime change on the Libya model.

My response:

If it does turn out that the Syrian army was indeed responsible for the gas attack then I agree. I would also add that the stupidity of this would be extraordinary.

However, I would again add a word of caution. If this telephone intercept is the only evidence that the Syrian army was responsible for the attack, then it is interesting that the US intelligence agencies that are undoubtedly responsible for planting this story have not yet told us what was actually said. All we are told is that on the day of the attack a panicked official in the Defence Ministry telephoned a Syrian army officer to question him about what happened. This might show:

1. That there was a planned use of chemical weapons, which however went horribly wrong thus eliciting the enquiries from the Defence Ministry official. If so then the international consequences would be as you say; or

2. That chemical weapons were used but without the authorisation of the civilian leadership. If so this would be important information and might actually sway opinion against an attack here in Britain; or

3. It might be that someone in the Defence Ministry was worried that there had been an unauthorised use of chemical weapons and urgently telephoned to find out what was happening and to ensure that this was not the case. If so, then that is not inconsistent with subsequent enquiries ascertaining that this was a false flag incident. Bear in mind that in that case an inquiry of some sort by the Syrian authorities on the day of the incident to find out in the aftermath of the attack what had happened is bound to have taken place. This telephone call might just be part of that.

The other point to make is that this information has undoubtedly been shared with two people who have not been convinced by it. They are:

1. Ban Kyi Moon. It is really very interesting that for the first time in his tenure as Secretary General Ban Kyi Moon has stood up to the Americans. He came under intense pressure from the Americans over the weekend to withdraw the inspectors but categorically refused to do so. He came under more pressure from them yesterday to do the same thing. Yesterday Carney the White House spokesman said that since Syrian government complicity in the gas attack was “undeniable” an investigation of the incident by the UN inspectors had become “redundant”. It is a virtual certainty that over the course of their discussions with Ban Kyi Moon the US will have told him about the telephone call which they say makes the case against the Syrian authorities “undeniable”. Notwithstanding these comments and this information a clearly furious Ban Kyi Moon has issued a further statement today making it clear that he is not going to withdraw the UN inspectors and that the UN Security Council cannot be by passed but must be involved. Incidentally as a result of Ban Kyi Moon’s comments I understand that a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis will take place later today.

2. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition here in Britain. He had a meeting with Cameron last night in advance of the parliamentary debate tomorrow at which Cameron tried to obtain his support. Again it is a certainty that over the course of their discussions Cameron would have shown Miliband such intelligence information as exists and that would have been bound to include the telephone call. There are provisions for this in the British system whereby ministers can exchange information with senior opposition leaders under what are known as “Privy Council rules”, and this would be certain to have happened in this case. Miliband was however obviously unimpressed by this information because he made it clear this morning that he wants the UN inspectors to be given time to finish their work.

My own guess is that the US did think when they intercepted the call on Wednesday that they had got themselves the “smoking gun”. That is why they were happy up till Saturday to demand an investigation by the UN inspectors. They naturally anticipated that because the Syrian authorities were responsible for the attack they would either obstruct the investigation or would be found out by the investigation. When on Saturday the Syrian authorities on the contrary agreed to the investigation doubts set in, which is why we have seen such furious attempts to stop the investigation from taking place.

The way to establish the truth in this case is to let the UN investigation take its course. If necessary the remit of the UN investigators can be extended either by the Security Council or by Ban Kyi Moon himself. What is wholly wrong is for one party in this matter to try to impose its version of the truth on all others before the investigation has taken place and to use or threaten force in order to do that. That is clearly both legally and ethically wrong. If it turns out following a full and proper investigation that the Syrian authorities are indeed the guilty party then they will have to bear the consequences. Until then unilateral action is both illegal and unwarranted.

PS: Since writing the above, I have learnt from the British media that all this intelligence including importantly this intercepted telephone conversation comes from Israel. Obviously the mere fact that intelligence originates with Israel doesn’t mean it is untrue. However given that the Israelis undoubtedly have an interest in this conflict the fact that they are the source of this information means that it must be treated with caution. As I said, the only party competent to carry out a proper impartial enquiry are the UN inspectors and they must be given time to carry out their work.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for VoR/US-Russia Experts panel. Hope you like the title. :)

The political fragmentation of the Soviet Union was one of the major contributing factors to the “hyper-depression” that afflicted not only Russia but all the other constituent republics in the 1990′s. The Soviet economy had been an integrated whole; an aircraft might have its engines sourced from Ukraine, its aluminium body from Russia, and its navigational ball-bearings from Latvia. Suddenly, border restrictions and tariffs appeared overnight – adding even more complexity and headaches to a chaotic economic situation. Although the region was in for a world of hurt either way, as economies made their screeching transitions to capitalism, disintegration only served to further accentuate the economic and social pain. In this respect, Putin was correct to call the dissolution of the Soviet Union one of the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical tragedies.

It is no longer possible – and in some cases, even desirable – to restore much of the productive capacity lost in that period. Nonetheless, renewed economic integration across the Eurasian space – with its attendant promise of less red tape (and hence lower opportunities for corruption), significantly bigger markets offering economies of scale, and the streamlining of legal and regulatory standards – is clearly a good deal for all the countries concerned from an economic perspective. There is overwhelming public support for the Common Economic Space in all member and potential member states: Kazakhstan (76%), Tajikistan (72%), Russia (70%), Kyrgyzstan (63%), Belarus (62%), and Ukraine (56%). The percentage of citizens opposed doesn’t exceed 10% in any of those countries. A solid 60%-70% of Ukrainians consistently approve of open borders with Russia, without tariffs or visas, while a further 20% want their countries to unite outright; incidentally, both figures are lower in Russia itself, making a mockery of widespread claims that Russians harbor imperialistic, “neo-Soviet,” and revanchist feelings towards “their” erstwhile domains.

This I suppose brings us to Ariel Cohen, neocon think-tanks, Hillary “Putin has no soul” Clinton, and John “I see the letters KGB in Putin’s eyes” McCain. They studiously ignore the fact that the Eurasian Union is primarily an economic association, and not even one that insists on being exclusionary to the EU. They prefer not to mention that the integration project has strong support in all the countries involved, with Russia not even being the most enthusiastic about it – which is quite understandable, considering that as its richest member it would also be expected to provide the lion’s bulk of any transfer payments. In this respect, it is the direct opposite of the way the Soviet Union was built – through military occupation, and against the will of the vast majority of the Russian Empire’s inhabitants. Though expecting someone like McCain, who one suspects views the “Tsars” and Stalin and Putin as matryoshka dolls nestled within each other, to appreciate any of that is unrealistic and a waste of time.

Enough with entertaining the senile ramblings from those quarters. Integration makes patent economic sense; it enjoys broad popular support throughout the CIS; and there are no global opponents to it – official China, for instance, is supportive – barring a small clique of prevaricating, anti-democratic, and perennially Russophobic ideologues centered in the US and Britain. Neither the West nor any other bloc has any business dictating how the sovereign nations of Eurasia choose to coordinate their economic and political activities.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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(1) Just as with Manning, it is beyond dispute that Snowden broke US law. As such, the US government is perfectly entitled to try to apprehend him (on its own soil), request his extradition, and prosecute him. This is quite perpendicular to whether Snowden’s leaks were morally “justified” or not. In some sense, they were. In my opinion, privacy as a “right” will go the way of the dodo whatever happens due to the very nature of modern technological progress. The best thing civil society can do in response is to make the lack of privacy symmetrical by likewise exposing the inner workings of powerful governments, the increasing numbers of private individuals connected to the government who enjoy its privileges but are not even nominally accountable like democratic governments, and corporations. In this sense, I agree with Assange’s philosophy. That said, it’s perfectly understandable that the government as an institution begs to differ and that it has the legal power – not to mention the approval of 54% of Americans – to prosecute Snowden. But!

(2) It preferably has to do so in a way that’s classy and follows the strictures of international law. As I pointed out in my blog post on DR and article for Voice of Russia, treason is not a crime like murder, rape, terrorism, or theft which are pretty much universally reviled (though even these categories have exceptions: Luis Posada Carriles – terrorism; Pavel Borodin – large-scale financial fraud). One country’s traitor is another country’s hero; one man’s turncoat is another man’s whistle-blower. So throwing hysterics about Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden isn’t so even so much blithely arrogant as it is stupid and cringe-worthy. Would a Russian Snowden, let’s call him Eddie Snegirev, be extradited back to Moscow should he turn up at JFK Airport? To even ask the question is answer it with a mocking, bemused grin on one’s face.

(3) It is true that the US, as a superpower, can afford to flout international law more than any other country. There is no point in non-Americans whining about it – that’s just the way of the jungle world that is international relations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that making explicit just to what extent the European countries are its stooges and vassals – as unambiguously revealed in the coordination between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy that created a wall of closed off airspace preventing the return of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his homeland on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden is on board – is perhaps not the best best thing you can do to draw goodwill to yourself. While European governments are by all indications quite happy to be vassals and puppets, many of their peasants don’t quite feel that way – and having the fact presented so blatantly to their faces is just going to create resentment. Why such a drastic step is necessary is beyond me. Why pursuing Snowden so vigorously, who has already leaked everything he has to leak, is in any way desirable beyond the fleeting thrill of flaunting imperial power must remain a mystery.

(4) While Snowden personally comes out as sincere and conscientious, he is profoundly lacking in political awareness. Unlike Snowden and Correa, the Russian authorities have apparently correctly guessed that the US wouldn’t balk at grounding aircraft if they suspected the fugitive was on board; hence, according to British lawyer (and occasional AKarlin contributor) Alexander Mercouris, why Correa ended backing off the asylum offer – getting to Latin America is simply surprisingly difficult. Same as regards Maduro. Russia all but offered Snowden asylum on a platter. Putin’s condition that he “stop hurting the US” was but a formality for Western consumption – considering that Snowden had already, presumably, divulged everything to Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald, and in any case it is standard practice for political asylum claimants to clear anything they wish to say with the authorities of the country offering them sanctuary so as to avoid hurting their interests.

But Snowden, perhaps driven by some mixture of personal principles as well as his perception of Russia as a non-democratic country, withdrew his application for asylum in Russia, and proceeded to send applications to dozens of other countries – including outright vassals like Poland, which wouldn’t bat an eyelid at extraditing him (the country’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is married to Anne Applebaum, a US neocon). That was completely unprofessional, a cheap PR stunt that doubled as a slap in the face to Russia and a display of legalistic ignorance (many countries require the political asylum claimant to be physically present on their territory). I concur with Mercouris’ assessment that Snowden appears to be getting appallingly low quality legal advice from Sarah Harrison/Wikileaks, at least if and insofar as getting real political asylum is his actual goal.

(5) Where can Snowden get asylum? Russia would be the obvious choice, but he seems to have ruled that out as mentioned above. He probably regards it as a non-democratic country, and took Putin’s stated conditions of asylum – no more leaks that embarrass the US – a bit too literally. I originally thought Germany might be feasible – tellingly, it *didn’t* close off its airspace to Morales’ airplane – but then they refused anyway. Venezuela, which is now touted as the likeliest destination, is a fair choice, but it will be difficult to get there, or to Latin America in general. Giving Snowden a military escort to get asylum in a foreign country would be impractical and unseemly in the extreme for Russia. And if European countries are prepared to overturn decades of international legal conventions to – for all means and purposes – hijack the plane of a national leader, even if of a weak and unimportant country, they would have no qualms whatsoever about doing the same to commercial airliners.

An additional problem is that Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Ecuador and Venezuela, are politically unstable – with the opposition consisting of hardcore Atlanticists. Should there be a change of power in those places – be it through the gun or the ballot box – the new authorities would send the likes of Snowden back to the US within the week and apologize for their shameful earlier lack of subservience to boot. Russia too has Atlanticist elements within their opposition, but they enjoy the support of only about 10% of the population – while almost half of Venezuelans voted for Capriles in their last two elections. Besides, as WaPo’s Max Fisher points out, Russia has never extradited any Western defectors – not even during the rule of Gorbachev or Yeltsin. Finally, while being confined to just Russia for decades or even the rest of one’s life is hardly the best of prospects, it surely beats Venezuela not to mention Bolivia (no disrespect to those two fine nations).

(6) There have been calls, including from The Guardian and his dad, for Snowden to show he’s truly a whistle-blower and not a traitor or spy by returning home. The choice is presumably his, of course, but if he heeds them, then more idiot he. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic or free or whatever than the US, that’s kind of beside the point; what concerns Edward Snowden specifically is whether Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic and free than a US supermax prison. And the answer to that is blindly obvious to all but the most committed freedumb ideologues. Even North Korea would win out on that one.

(7) The final thing I would say about this is episode is that it has really demonstrated the breath-taking scope of US power. Power that is not wisely wielded, perhaps, but power nonetheless. It is absolutely impossible to imagine so many European countries jumping through legalistic hoops, burning bridges with one of the world’s major economic and cultural regions, and drawing the massed ire of their own citizens at the request of any other country. And that’s assuming the US even made that request in the first place, i.e. could they have merely been trying to curry favor with their master?

At some level it has always been clear that the Euro-Atlantic West acts as a united bloc – see a map of (1) the recognition of Kosovo and (2) the non-recognition of Palestine – for visual proof of that. Or read the Wikileaks cables for an insight into how European politicians stumble all over themselves in their eagerness to tattle on everything in their country to American diplomats. Still, the grounding of Morales’ jet makes plain the sheer depth and scope of official European subservience better and more concretely than any other event or affair that one can recall. It also makes a mockery of their stated “concern” over NSA spying, deserving only ridicule and mocking dismissal. This is not a moral failing of the US, in fact it can only be commended and admired for bringing so many countries into complete political and cultural submission to it. It is only the lack of backbone and of the will to establish national sovereignty that is contemptible.

While it’s beyond dispute that the Europeans are complete doormats, it’s still worth noting that cautious, business-like China was eager to get rid of Snowden as quickly as feasibly possible – despite the major propaganda coup he delivered unbidden into their hands by demonstrating that computer hacking wasn’t just a one-way street between China and the US. Putin, too, is notable unenthusiastic. One can’t help but entertain dark speculations about the kind of dirt the NSA might have on him should he ever become too enthusiastic about that whole sovereign democracy thing. Counter-intuitively, it is Latin America – the land explicitly subjected to the Monroe Doctrine – that is mounting the most principled stand in support of government transparency and against Western exceptionalism and double standards.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for Experts Panel/Voice of Russia:

The Panel states, “On future occasions, Russia might well require Washington to cooperate in similar circumstances; and if such is the case, its handling of the Snowden affair could prove decisive as to how Washington chooses to respond.”

Well, let’s imagine this scenario. One fine day, an FSB contractor named Eduard Snegirev takes a flight out to Dulles International Airport and proceeds to spill the beans – though as with PRISM and Boundless Informant, it’s pretty much an open secret anyway – on SORM-2 and how the Russian state spies on its hapless citizens. Would Immigration and Customs Enforcement turn him away? Would the FBI rush to honor a Russian extradition request on the basis of his violating Article 275 of the Criminal Code “On State Treason”? It is impossible to even ask this question without a smirk on one’s face.

Don’t get me wrong. It is entirely reasonable to agree to and honor extradition treaties covering “universal” crimes such as murder, rape, or – shock horror! – financial fraud (even if official London would beg to differ). But this approach breaks down when we get to “crimes” such as those of the real Snowden or the hypothetical Snegirev because it is not universal, but asymmetric and relational: Asymmetric because a traitor in one country is a hero (or at least a useful asset) in another, and relational because a traitor to some people is a whistle-blower to others.

Sergey Tretyakov, otherwise known as “Comrade J,” betrayed his sources and fellow agents in the SVR when he defected to the US in 2000. Yet on his death, many of the people discussing his life at the blog of Pete Early, his official biographer, called him a “patriot.” Not just an American patriot, mind you, but a Russian one as well – as if he had done his motherland a favor. They are free to think that but it will not change the fact that in his homeland about 98% of the population really would think of him as a traitor through and through. Or take Vasily Mitrokhin. In the West, he is overwhelmingly considered as a heroic whistle-blower, risking his life to chronicle the crimes committed by the KGB abroad. But he neither concealed the identities of Soviet sources and existing agents – unlike Snowden or Assange, nor did he reveal his documents to the entire world – opting instead to give them wholemeal to MI6. Nonetheless, demanding the repatriation of either one would be inherently ridiculous and only make Russia into a laughing stock – which is why it never even thought of doing so. No use crying over spilt (or should that be leaked?) milk.

The US, too, was usually reasonable about such matters, quietly accepting that their espionage laws have no weight outside their own territory and the territory of their closest allies – as has always been the case in all times and for all states since times immemorial. This is why the hysterics this time round are so… strange. While John “I see the letters K-G-B in Putin’s eyes” McCain is a clinical case, it’s considerably more puzzling to see similar fiery rhetoric from the likes of Chuck Schumer or John Kerry (although the latter soon moderated his tone). Such attitudes probably proceed from official America’s tendency to view itself as a global empire, not beholden to the normal laws and conventions of international politics. Now while its closest allies (or clients) might humor it in such delusions, even its “third-class” allies like Germany do not* – not to mention sovereign Great Powers such as China and, yes, Russia.

In any case, as far as the Kremlin concerned, it is now almost politically impossible to extradite Snowden even if it so wishes. Though they have been no official opinion polls on the matter, online surveys indicate that Russians are overwhelmingly against expelling Snowden. 98% of the readers of Vzglyad (a pro-Putin resource), and even 50% of Echo of Moscow’s readers and listeners (one of the shrillest anti-Putin outlets), support giving him political asylum. Apart from that, it would also destroy Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western dissidents – a great propaganda boon against the legions of Western commentators who vilify it every day as a ruthless autocracy.

To his credit, Obama seems to more or less realize this: He knows that he can’t issue orders to Russia or even Ecuador, and that it is not worth threatening sanctions or “scrambling jets” just to “get a 29-year-old hacker.” While the neocons and “American exceptionalists” will get their 15 minutes of blowing hard on TV and the op-ed pages, the episode is – and has been from the get go – likely to end in just one way: A quiet and untrumpeted retirement for Snowden in Quito, Caracas, or Barvikha.

* So what on Earth’s up with that anyway? Here is the most worrying theory I’ve been able to come up with:They actually take George Friedman seriously.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Mark Adomanis thinks Russia should extradite – or at least expel – Edward Snowde n because… get this, it’s current stance (i.e. leaving him in at Sheremetyevo Airport, an international territory) constitutes “trolling” of the US.

This is, to be quite frank, a rather strange argument. Would the US extradite a Russian Snowden? To even ask the question is to mockingly answer it. Said Russian whistleblower would not only be sheltered by any Western country, but awarded with all kinds of freedom medals and lecture tours. It is commonly expected for defectors from not entirely friendly powers to get sanctuary and both Russia and Western countries regularly practice this. If anybody is trolling anybody, it is the UK which gives refuge to Russians who are patent economic criminals so long as they bring some money and claims of political repression with them.

Furthermore, he believes (a faint and vague) promise of improved Russia-US relations is worth sabotaging Russia’s incipient reputation as a sanctuary for Western “dissidents” – a status that is extremely valuable in international PR terms. It is a lot harder to argue with a straight face that West – Russia disagreements are a standoff between democracy and autocracy when for every Russian political exile there is an Assange or a Snowden. But Adomanis would like Russia to forego this advantage and betray the trust of any future exiles or defectors just to please a gaggle of perennially anti-Russian blowhards in D.C.

This is not to mention the fact that many other countries are peeved off by Snowden’s revelations, so if anything it is the US that is internationally isolated in demanding his extradition. Even ordinary Americans are somewhat split on what to do about him, with 49% believing his leaks to be in the public interest and 38% against prosecuting him. The Chuck Schumers not to mention the McCains (does Adomanis seriously think that John “I Saw the Letters K-G-B in Putin’s Eyes” McCain would suddenly become well-disposed to Russia if it were to extradite Snowden?) do not even have the overwhelming support of their own constituents.

Adomanis’ argument ultimately boils down to “might is right”:

But a country like Russia, a country that is less than half as populous as the United States and which is much, much poorer, can’t afford to deal with the US as an equal because it isn’t. You can fulminate against that fact all you want, but in the world as it exists in mid 2013 Russia simply can’t afford to go all-in on confrontation with the United States because that is a confrontation it is guaranteed to lose. The Russians usually do a reasonable enough job of picking their battles, but they’ve suddenly decided to go 100% troll for no obvious reason. As should be clear, Russia doesn’t actually gain anything from helping Snowden,* all it does is expose itself to the full wrath and fury of every part of Washington officialdom. Unless you’re defending a national interest of the first order, exposing yourself to the full wrath and fury of Washington officialdom is a really stupid thing to do.

Here is what La Russophobe wrote in her interview with me, on another matter in which Russian and American interests (in her opinion) diverged:

Now please tell us: Russia has risked infuriating the world’s only superpower and biting the hand (Obama’s) that feeds it. … Are you suggesting that you believe Russian power is such that it can afford to act however it likes regardless of the way in which its actions may provoke the USA and NATO?

When you are starting to sound like La Russophobe, it’s probably a good time to stop and reconsider.

The answer to this objection – apart from the entirely reasonable one that kowtowing to the demands of a foreign power is a contemptible thing to do period – is that the Russia doesn’t need the US any more than the US needs Russia. And clumsily attempts to equate “need” with economic/military beans-counting (Adomanis: “Someone just commented on my blog saying “the West needs Russia as much as Russia needs the West.” Yeah, that’s definitely not true… The West, taken together, is so much more wealthy and powerful than Russia it’s actually kind of a joke… You can dislike the West as much as you want, but if you think Russia and the West are equally powerful then you are simply wrong… And if Russia creates policy based on the assumption that it’s equal to the West in power and influence it will fail catostrophically”) isn’t going to fool many people. Because, you know, the level of a country’s “need” for another isn’t a direct function of how much GDP and tanks it has relative to the other. And yes, while I am a realist, it’s a position tempered by the observation that today’s world is a wee bit more complex than it was in the days when the guy with the biggest club set the rules for everybody.

The US is of course a lot more wealthy and powerful than Russia. Nobody is arguing the reverse; it’s a strawman set up by Adomanis himself. What is however of some relevance is that the US has real need of Russia on some issues (e.g. Iran and nukes; transportation to Afghanistan) while Russian economic dependence on the US is actually very small (trade with the US accounts for something like 5% of its total). Both countries benefit from anti-terrorism cooperation. I think it is ridiculous to believe that US politicians will torpedo all that in a hissy fit over Snowden. I give them more credit than that.

UPDATE: Just recalled that Mark Adomanis works for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same consultancy that employed Snowden – and which happens to get 99% of its business from official DC. So it may well be that Adomanis’ opportunities for saying what he really thinks on the Snowden affair may be… rather limited. While I am not saying this necessarily influenced his articles – as regards this, we can only speculate – it would have probably been appropriate for him to mention this considering the obvious conflict of interest.

UPDATE 2: This article was translated by Inosmi.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here is the list of US citizens publicly barred from Russia in response to the US Magnitsky List. Are you familiar with any of them?

Individuals alleged to be involved in the use and legalization of torture and indefinite confinement of prisoners – the “Guantanamo list”:

1. David Spears Addington – Chief of Staff of the U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney (2005-2009);
2. John Choon Yoo – Legal adviser at the U.S. Department of Justice (2001-2003);
3. Geoffrey D. Miller – Commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which administers the U.S. military detention centers at the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base on Cuba (2002-2003)
4. Jeffrey Harbeson – Commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo (2010-2012)

Individuals alleged to be involved in abuse of Russian citizens’ human rights abroad:

5. Jed Saul Rakoff – U.S. District Judge for Southern District of New York;
6. Preetinder S. Bharara – U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
7. Michael J. Garcia – Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
8. Brendan R. McGuire – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
9. Anjan S. Sahni – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
10. Christian R. Everdell – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
11. Jenna Minicucci Dabbs – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
12. Christopher L. Lavigne – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
13. Michael Max Rosensaft – Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York;
14. Louis J. Milione – Senior Special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
15. Sam Gaye – Senior special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
16. Robert F. Zachariasiewicz – Special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
17. Derek S. Odney – Special Agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration;
18. Gregory A. Coleman – Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation;

I’m familiar with two of them.

John Yoo, of course – the guy who provided much of the “legal” basis for both Guantanamo and the Iraq War. I don’t view him as a war criminal or anything like some of the liberal leftists do. Nonetheless, if Russia is providing a “symmetrical” response to the Magnitsky List, it couldn’t bar a more appropriate person. Yoo himself seems to be taking it in good stride.

The other guy I’m familiar with (too familiar with) is Preet Bharara who was just now the subject of a gushing hagiography from Mark Galeotti. In reality he is a thug who thinks who thinks that going after online poker players’ money is a good use of US investigative resources. Oh, I know full well that he was really blacklisted for his actions against Viktor Bout – a legitimate arms trader who the US only took a disliking to after he started selling weapons to the wrong people. But while I may not care much about Bout, I do care about my money, especially that which was frozen after Black Friday, and the hit to my expected earnings once the biggest online poker vendors pulled out of the US in its aftermath. (How else do you think I blog and write books without a regular day job?). So for this reason I am extremely happy to see Bharara on that list in the knowledge that maybe, just maybe it will cause him some spot of inconvenience one day.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The latest US-Russia.org Experts Panel discussion was about Russia’s burgeoning partnership with China. I especially recommend Mercouris’ contribution which – although unfortunately titled by VoR’s editorial staff)) – is otherwise quite brilliant. My own effort follows below:

First of all, let me preface that I’m one of the biggest China bulls around. Its economy in real terms will overtake that of the US by the mid-2010’s, if it hasn’t already. It’s already bigger in a range of industries, from traditional heavy industry (steel, coal) to consumption (car sales, e-commerce). Its manufacturing wages have caught up with Mexico’s, which is a quintessential middle-income country. If the average Chinese is now about as prosperous as the average Mexican, then the PRC’s total GDP – taking into account its vast population – is now well ahead of America’s.

Nor is it a house build on sand, as many Sino pessimists would have you believe, but on solid, steel-reinforced concrete. Its economic growth is NOT dependent on cheap exports. And fantasies about its “exploited” cheap labor force, which will become increasingly uncompetitive as it develops, belie the fact that the average Chinese now scores higher in international standardized tests than the OECD rich country average. Given the centrality of human capital to economic growth, China’s rise to the top tables of world power is all but assured.

It would be very worrying if China’s ascent was accompanied by the bellicose rhetoric and militaristic posturing adopted by other rising Powers of the past, like the Kaiser’s Germany. But “yellow peril”-type hysteria aside, this does not seem to be the case. China spends a mere 2% of its GDP on its military, i.e. about twice less in proportional terms than both Russia and the US. This is a most fortunate confluence of events, especially for Russia, as competing with China is unrealistic in the long-term – not when its economy is an order of magnitude bigger. On the other hand, deep engagement with China hold out a number of benefits.

First, China gets access to Russian energy resources, bypassing the vulnerable routes past the Strait of Malacca (either overland via Siberia, or across the top of the world via the thawing Northern Sea Route), while Russia gets access to Chinese capital and technologies – much of the latter purloined from the West, true, but so what? Second, both countries secure their frontiers, allowing them to focus on more troubling security threats: The Islamic south and possibly NATO in Russia’s case, and disputes with Vietnam, Japan, and a USA that is “pivoting” to the Pacific in China’s case. Third, resources can be pooled to invest in Central Asia and root out Islamist militants and the drug trade – an issue that will assume greater pertinence as the US withdraws from Afghanistan.

Frankly, the West is too late to the party. It had an excellent chance to draw Russia into the Western economic and security orbit in the 1990’s, but instead it chose the road of alienation by pointedly welcoming in only the so-called “captive” nations of East-Central Europe. Putin’s reward for his post-9/11 outreach to the US was a series of foreign-sponsored “colored revolutions” in his own backyard. While in rhetoric both he and Medvedev continue to affirm that Russia is a European country, in practice attitudes towards them have come to be based on practicalities, not lofty “values” that they don’t even share. So it is only natural that with time Russia came to be more interested in pursuing a relation with the BRICS (“The Rest”) in general, and China in particular.

The West’s response hasn’t been enthusiastic. The BRICS are written off as a bunch of corrupt posers with divergent geopolitical ambitions that will stymie their ability to act as a coherent bloc. Russia and China come in for special opprobrium. While there’s a nugget of truth in this, it misses the main point: The BRICS might be poorer but by the same token they are growing faster and converging with the West, or at least China and Russia are; and while they don’t see eye to eye on all things, they agree on some fundamentals like multi-polarity, a greater say for developing nations in the IMF and World Bank, and the primacy of state sovereignty.

Here is a telling anecdote from an online acquaintance of his recent experiences with the European news channel, Euronews: “A feature of this site is that there’s a world map with happy and sad smileys on it to indicate good news and bad news. And there on Moscow I spotted a sad smiley, so I focused on it, thinking there would be a report on the already day-old and forecast to last another day blizzard that is raging right now across the Ukraine and European Russia… And the “bad news” that I read? The meeting between the Russian president and his Chinese counterpart together with a report and an analysis of the increase in trade between those two states. That’s really bad news, it seems, for some folk.”

And this is not so much an isolated incident, but a metaphor for the general state of West – Russia relations: While the former expects a certain degree of respect and even submission from the latter, it doesn’t tend to make reciprocal gestures, and then acts like a jilted lover when Russia gives up and goes to someone else’s bed. But that’s the reality of a globalized world, in which the West isn’t the be all and end all, and countries have choices. It is high time that the West mustered the humility to finally accept that it has been dumped.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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If you ever manage to get a troupe as diverse as Latynina, Mark Adomanis, the Cypriot Communist Party, virtually every financial analyst, Prokhorov, and Putin united in condemning your crass stupidity and cack-handedness, it’s probably time to stop and ponder. But it’s safe to say that’s not what the Troika – the European Commission, European Central Bank, and IMF – tasked with managing the European sovereign debt crisis is going to be doing any time soon. They seem to be living in la la land.

Here is the low-down. Contrary to German/ECB propaganda, Cypriot public finances, while nothing to write home about, are not in a catastrophic state. The debt to GDP ratio, far from ballooning out of control like Greece’s, was actually lower than Germany’s as late as 2011! This was despite Cyprus being steadily hammered by the global financial crisis and the massive explosion at a naval base in 2011 that cost it about 10% of its GDP.

cyprus-debt-dynamics The main problem was in its financial sector. Although it should have been safe on paper, Cypriot banks had the bad fortune to have had many operations in Greece – which hemorrhaged money as Greek debts were restructured under EU guidance. These involved painful austerity, but the principle that bank deposits would be inviolable held across the PIIGS. But for Cyprus, the Eurocrats – egged on by Schäuble in particular – decided to make an exception, demanding a “bail-in” as part of any financial rescue package. For the ultimately trifling sum of $6 billion, they were prepared to erode basic principles such as sanctity of property that the EU is founded on.

According to Edward Scicluna, the Maltese Finance Minister, his Cypriot counterpart Michalis Sarris was for all intents and purposes brow-beaten into accepting the deal – a 6.75% levy on deposits of less than 100,000 Euros, and 9.9% on everything above that – that the country’s parliament would later decisively reject. The Europeans, according to him, were dead-set on “downsizing” Cyprus’ supposedly overgrown financial sector and in particular its status as a tax haven and alleged center of Russian money laundering. After 10 grueling hours of discussions, Sarris finally conceded, and as soon as that happened, “Schäuble demanded that all wire transfers to and from the Cypriot banks would cease forthwith.”

In other words, they wished to destroy Cyprus’ financial system, and it seems certain that they have succeeded in this. As soon as the banks reopen (now delayed until at least May 26th), who exactly will continue to keep their deposits in a Cypriot bank?

This wanton destruction however seems to have been based not so much on any sense of pan-European fairness or social justice as misconceptions about the nature of the Cypriot banking system, or even more mercenary motives such as a desire to help Merkel win the upcoming elections or encourage capital flight from the PIIGS to German banks (the latter possibility was raised, only half in jest, by Craig Willy). As we see above, Cyprus’ sovereign debt situation was manageable. While it is true that it had a huge financial sector relative to its GDP, this is not atypical for a nation of its small size and location (consider Luxembourg, or London were it independent from the UK), and this sector did not experience any critical difficulties until the EU-spearheaded restructurings of Greek debt into which C ypriot banks were heavily invested, as a natural result of their geographic and cultural position.

How Cypriots see the Cyprus crisis.

How many ordinary Cypriots see the Cyprus crisis.

Nor is it even true that the Cypriot banking system mainly serviced dodgy offshore aristocrat types. Of the €68 billion in deposits as of end-January 2013, some 63% were held by Cypriots, and 7% were held by citizens of Eurozone countries, while 30% were held by nationals of other countries *. Although according to honored representatives of the Eurocrat class like Jean Pisani-Ferry, it is the Cypriots’ own fault for banking in their own damn country as opposed to Germany:

And of that 30%, not all was held by Russians, as Cyprus is popular among Chinese and Iranians too (indeed, an acquaintance who was there recently saw far more signs in Chinese than in Cyrrilic). As for the notion that all or even the majority of Russians with money are “oligarchs”, “mafiosi”, and “Chekists” (interchangeable terms, to many of the people who engage in this kind of rhetoric)… well, no way to statistically prove it one way or another, so anecdotes will have to suffice. Ironically enough, the only Russian I know with a bank account in Cyprus is actually a fairly anti-Putin liberal, and as far as I know not an oligarch or a mafiosi – unless you consider journalists to be such. The commentator JLo also reports a liberal acquaintance with money in Cyprus. No doubt those two will be thrilled to hear from former Economist Russia journalist Edward Lucas, whose Russophobia is frankly pathological, that as Russians with money in Cyprus they should be automatically expropriated.

This is not of course to argue that having such a large segment of the Russian economy “offshore” is a good thing. Many Russians really do have accounts in Cyprus because of its perceived benefits such as the local (English-based) legal system, greater financial security, greater ease of capital movement around the world, and yes, tax evasion or “tax optimization” as it is euphemistically called – and productively utilized by entirely respectable Westerners like Mitt Romney. It would undoubtedly be a good thing if there was less of that and ironically the Troika’s ham-fistedness will have only helped Russia in its struggles to de-offshore its economy. But what is entirely mendacious is to start throwing around terms like “money laundering” as if they were synonymous with offshore banking, or “the Russian mob” as if it was synonymous with “oligarchs”, “Russian politicians”, “Russian bureaucrats”, and all Russians in Cyprus in general for that matter. There is of course some overlap between all these categories but to conflate them all as the Lucas types insist on doing is pathologically Russophobic, and frankly driven by the very same Bolshevik spirit that they profess to despise but actually embody.

Many Western papers even went so far as to hint that the reason Russia was so “concerned” about Cyprus was because Putin and other members of his inner circle had money in Cyprus. This was echoed by the (viciously anti-Putin) Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, which alleged that “it is hard to believe, but it appears as if European politicians are ready to risk a lot in order to pressure a certain influential politician secretly hiding money in Cypriot banks.” They did not have the courage of their convictions to say it outright, but the hidden subtext is obvious to all. We call these conspiracy theories. Were this true, in fact, it would be indicative of severe schizophrenia on Putin’s part – that is, if he actually DID have quadrillions parked in Nicosia – considering that previous discussions on Russian loans to Cyprus had been linked to Cyprus becoming more proactive about revealing the identities of Russians with bank accounts there to the Russian tax authorities.

How the Western media/political class see the Cyprus crisis.

How the Western media/political class see the Cyprus crisis.

At this point it hardly bears mentioning that, as an institution that so regularly and pompously lectures Russia about things like rule of law and sanctity of property rights, it is quite hilarious that the Troika would “demonstrate” those concepts by doing things like retroactively abrogating European-wide deposit insurance of 100,000 Euros and freezing and confiscating the savings accounts of the very Russians whom they expect to listen to their pontifications.

But as these recriminations and general debility went gone back and forth, Nicosia burned. The initially proposed “medicine”, it seems, will turn out to be the deadly pill that kills the Cypriot financial system. It is hard to imagine anyone, be they foreigner or even Cypriot, now willingly leaving their money in Cypriot banks; trust has been destroyed, and short of capital controls, massive bank runs and capital outflow seem to be all but inevitable whenever the banks open again. The original $15 billion that could have nipped this problem in the bud is probably no longer sufficient. I don’t pretend to have any precise idea of how things will develop now – Will Cyprus hurtle out of the Eurozone? Will contagion spread to Spain and Portugal? Will Gazprom get exploration rights to the recently discovered oil fields in return for loans? Will China get involved? – but a few things I think we can be pretty sure of: (1) The ECB/Eurocrat class are either utterly, frightfully oblivious, or have altogether darker ulterior motives; (2) The Cypriot banking system is finished; (3) It will be a reality check for Russians who firmly believe their assets are automatically safe abroad and will help the de-offshoring process, though I don’t expect any sudden radical changes because there are still plenty of alternatives like Latvia which I hear is getting pretty hot with Russian money nowadays.

PS. For further reading (and people who influenced my perception of this) consult Mercouris, Dmitry Afanasiev (Russian version at Vedomosti), and Craig Willy’s Twitter.

*UPDATE: The commentator Temesta links to an article by Paul Krugman in which he points out that “Cypriot residents” very likely directly include foreigners:

I’ve done some asking around, and cleared up something that was puzzling me. Officially, only about 40 percent of the deposits in Cypriot banks are from nonresidents, which would imply resident deposits of almost 500 percent of GDP, which is crazy. But the answer is that I do not think that word “resident” means what you think it means. Some of the money is from wealthy expats living in Cyprus; much of it is from rich people who have resident status without, you know, actually living there. So we should think of Cypriot deposits as mainly coming from non-Cypriots, attracted by that business model.

That said, speculation is one thing, concrete numbers are another: “Cyprus Central Bank Gov. Panicos Demetriades, in an interview published Thursday in Russian newspaper Vedomosti, offered more specifics. “The deposits of Russians range from €4.943 billion to €10.225 billion, depending on how you count them,” he said.” Even if the highest estimates of $20 billion are correct, it would still mean that the total value of Russian deposits there account for less than 25% of the total.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for VoR’s Experts Panel. (Incidentally, good to see that site getting revamped, and entering the Web 2.0 era).

London has a reputation as a “safe sanctuary” for shady people of means from the ex-USSR and other less-developed places, and I think it’s loath to lose it – as it would by extraditing the likes of Borodin – in return for the chance of improving its relations with Russia.

In general, I think we should treat the idea that Western countries give political asylum out of genuine humanitarian concerns with skepticism. See the Dutch refusal to give Alexander Dolmatov, wanted in Russia in connection with the May 6th riots, political asylum. Was it because of their respect for Russian judicial sovereignty? Or did it have something to do with his work at military factory – and possibly, his preference for suicide over spilling military secrets?

In short, it’s a very cynical game they play. London calls Russia a “mafia state” while sheltering those very mafiosi in Mayfair. The Europeans lecture Moscow about rule of law, but then see it fit to grab 7-10% of the value of all deposits in Cypriot (where many Russians bank, far from all of whom are money launderers).

From Russia’s perspective, we have to note that concessions and a pacifistic attitude have never brought much in the way of benefits from the West. For instance, Ukraine has allowed in Europeans visa-free for years now, but it is Russia – which insists on mutual reciprocity in relations – that is far more advanced in negotiations to institute visa-free travel with the EU.

As North Korean diplomat Jon Yong Ryong said, “a high-handed policy should be countered by a tough-fist policy.” In other words, nobody will respect you if you don’t first respect yourself. Instead of piteously whining about British “hypocrisy” and “double standards” and other moralistic claptrap, Russia should take a cue from the DPRK and retaliate in kind. In this particular case, it could make it clear that big-time British financial fraudsters and tax evaders (no need to bother with little fishes) are welcome in Moscow provided they make the requisite “investments.” Not only will it feel good to give the “doctor” some of his own medicine, but it actually stands a chance of incentivizing future British cooperation on financial crimes by hitting their Exchequer. As an added bonus, it also wouldn’t hurt Moscow’s quest to become a global financial center.

It’s all nice, civilized, and pathologically passive-aggressive. In other words, if Russia were to follow my advice, it would be all the closer to “convergence” with true Western standards. And I’ve been told that’s a good thing.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for VoR and US-Russia.org on Russia’s recent Foreign Policy Concept:

The new foreign-policy concept is a long-overdue adjustment to international realities. There can be no meaningful “strategic partnership” between Russia and the US or indeed Russia and the West in general, when their respective core values have diverged from each other so much.

Ironically, this divergence has occurred at a period in history when Russia has retreated from ideology; it now embraces a doctrine of national sovereignty and moderate social conservatism that a generation ago would have made it part of the European mainstream. But today it has been “left behind” as the West has moved on to democracy fetishism and pushing concepts such as gender feminism and criticisms of “heteronormativity” that sound alien to most Russians. Hence the disconnect between Russia and the West on a whole host of issues, from the Arab Spring to the Pussy Riot affair.

So even as Russia converged with Western civilization of the 1970′s, the West – in particular its Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Gallic constituent parts – has “transcended” itself, and we are again left with a gulf of mutual incomprehension as deep as in Soviet times. As such, the best that can be realistically hoped for, at least in the medium term, is mutually beneficial economic relations (i.e., oil and gas in exchange for machines and modernization). Anything “deeper” or more heart-felt will require cultural concessions on the part of either Russia or the West, and it is unclear how that could be made to happen even were it to be acknowledged as desirable in and of itself.

Given these cultural clashes, it is probably a good thing for relations to become more defined by markets, which peace theorists believe have a moderating effect on animosity and inter-state conflict. Fortunately, prospects in this sphere are good, the specter of the Great Recession notwithstanding. Russia’s GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms is now well above half the EU average and close to convergence with the likes of Portugal and Greece. Russia has joined the WTO, and will probably join the OECD in another year or two. De Gaulle’s vision of a unified space – at least in the economic sphere – from Lisbon to Vladivostok has a real chance of coming into being within the next decade.

China doesn’t see eye to eye with the West either culturally or geo-politically, but it too is rapidly converging with the developed world; wages in its manufacturing sector have recently surpassed Mexico’s. It is now for all intents and purposes a middle-income country, and its GDP in terms of PPP may already have overtaken America’s. Opting for a closer relation with China is a wise play on Russia’s part. Its economic dominance in one or two more decades is all but assured, and with an (economistic, non-ideological) exploitation of high-speed trains and the melting Northern Sea Route, Russia can make a fair bit of money by being a “bridge” to the Orient.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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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.