At certain venues, “Russophiles” take a lot of flak for holding the beliefs and worldviews that they do. Many of their “arguments” can be predicted in advance based on prior experience. I’ve compiled a list of quick rebuttals to some common Russophobe accusations and insinuations so that we don’t have to waste our time formulating unique responses. It’s not quite as good as my idea for a machine that could automatically write refutations to standard Russophobic tripe, but it’s a start.
“Real Russia” Arguments
Have you ever lived in Russia? Clearly not, because you do not understand what real life is like there. As such, your opinions are ignorable.
Frankly, where I live and for what reasons is none of your business. In any case, I fail to see the necessity of living in a country to have a valid opinion on it, provided said opinion is founded on facts and logic. If anything, missing out on participation in a nation’s social and cultural life also implies bypassing its specific national passions and blinkers, enabling one to bring a more nuanced, dispassionate and comparative critique to the table.
But for the record, I have been to Russia numerous times and I’ve known and talked to many Russians. It is clear that many live hard lives, and that the prevalence of material poverty is much higher than in the developed world – but exactly where did I claim otherwise?
On the other hand I do know that the West is not without its problems and that the common Russian conception of the United States as a land of limitless milk and honey is inaccurate. (Of course, Russian views of the West are as binaried as vice-versa – the idea that the US is a vast ghetto ruled by a small imperialist clique deadset on destroying Russia is equally absurd).
I also realize, I daresay to a greater extent than Russians living in Russia, that on average their living standards have improved greatly since 1998. Though they may go on about how inflation and bureaucracy makes their lives unbearable, it does not resound well when set against their new cars parked outside (automobile ownership exploded in the 2000’s).
This is an excellent example of creeping normalcy – some Russians fail to appreciate the strong secular trend towards improving average living standards, focusing more on present day concerns like rising prices and poor government services.
Nor is this improvement limited to Moscow and the rich, as some Russophobes like to assert. Statistics hint that the economic revival is broadbased across regions and social classes, and I can personally confirm that even small, depressed towns like Kolomna and Volokolamsk have seen vigorous economic expansion during the last decade.
What a load of head-in-the-clouds nonsense. Real Russians will laugh in your face after reading your stuff.
This is a variant of the you-can’t-have-an-opinion-on-Russia-until-you’ve-lived-there argument covered above. Not only is it refuted likewise, but the reality is that, in a sense, I am actually the Anglophone voice of Russia’s silent majority, which is patriotic and conservative. (To the contrary, liberast (”liberal”) critics of the “bloody regime” fail to appreciate that they are a small minority and are commonly viewed as arrogant hypocrites outside the salons of the International Republican Institute, e.g. within the “real” Russia that they profess to speak for).
In my experience a fair number of Russians agree with me and have written in to thank me for my work. One example was a Russian university student in Brighton, the UK, who contacted me on behalf of the Russian Society there to request permission to print out and distribute copies of my Top 10 Russophobe Myths article during a talk by veteran hate-monger Ed Lucas. My work has been picked up by the good folks at InoForum.Ru (they translate foreign Russophobic articles into Russian), who wrote of me: “как вероятно, и следовало ожидать, автор по происхождению русский” (”as was likely, and to be expected, the author was of Russian origin”). That is perhaps the firmest evidence yet that I’m not a typical befuddled foreigner when it comes to Russia.
So you’re sitting warm and safe in a Western country with rule of law, and you dare defend the Putinocracy that denies Russians bread and kills the heroic journalists and liberals struggling to change things for the better?
1) How do you know I’m warm and safe? In any case, it’s supposed to be a free country.
2) Assumption that “Putinocracy” is worse than any realistic alternatives. Said assumption is invalid due to its reliance on truthiness, which is a logical fallacy.
3) You might think removing “Putinocracy” is good. Do “real” Russians agree with you? Why are your ideas and underlying values more correct than those of ordinary Russians, especially since it is they who have to live in Russia and deal with the consequences? (This only works if they’re foreign Russophobes).
4) And see the other points about the “Real Russia” Arguments made above.
“Love it then go there” Argument
If you think Russia is so much better, why don’t you get the hell out of our country and go live there?
This is a close relative of the “Real Russia” Arguments, implying that if you think Russia is so good – please go there and experience certain disillusionment!
It is invalid for many of the same reasons as the “Real Russia” Arguments. First, who I am, where I live and what flavor of ice cream I like has zero bearing on the validity of any arguments I make about Russia or indeed almost everything else. Second, I never argued that Russia is better (or worse) than any other country – this is a rather pointless exercise given the huge impact of unquantifiable cultural factors and specific circumstances to any such judgment, making it subjective in the extreme. Third, such “arguments” typically mistake a policy of correcting certain gross misconceptions about Russia – challenging the Western media’s self-appointed role as judge, jury and executioner regarding it – with believing that it is the best thing since sliced white bread.
And I can even address this issue directly, even though the above more than counters the argument. The most obvious reasons a “Russophile” might not live in Russia include things such as: emigration from there at a young age; no citizenship; no Russian language skills; cautious attitude towards making cardinal changes in life; leaving behind accumulated social investments in the country he/she resides (friends, work, gf / bf, spouse, children, etc).
A typical example of such an “argument” comes from the commentator Michel at Streetwise Professor’s blog:
The point is quite simple, if someone is from country X, speaks the language of country X and presumably has the citizenship of country X, I cannot understand why they would want to live in country Z if they believe that country X’s future is so much brighter. You have described to us the coming utopia of a prosperous Russia fueled by nanotechnological innovation. If you truly believe what you say, again why would you live in the United States? Reason dictates that you would seek to live in Russia.
Not really, for the aforementioned reasons. In addition, he totally misinterprets my view re-Russia and the US. I am of the belief that Russia’s recent state funding efforts into nanotechnology are an excellent idea because it is a sunrise industry that could lead to an economic breakthrough and will develop internal technological capabilities; left to purely market forces, historical experience indicates Russia will continue degenerating into a depopulating resource appendage of the industrialized world. That said, the US is already prosperous (albeit with dark clouds ahead), and to take his specific example, the US already has a substantial lead in nanotechnology over Russia, which has only recently resumed its old game of state-directed catch-up.
In short, my argument is not that Russia is better than the US and everyone else. It’s that Russia is not as bad or doomed as portrayed in the West.
Re-SWP himself in On Russophobia.
Put differently, given the choice between living in the US and living in Russia–even holding my material standard of living constant–I would choose the US every day without a second thought. Which raises an interesting issue, DR. I see from your blog that you live in California. That’s what’s called voting with your feet. Or as economists phrase it, revealed preference. It speaks volumes.
My response was: We aren’t discussing which country is better in general, let alone which is better for me in particular. The US has a diversified, 13tn $ economy that attracts skilled workers from across the entire world, since nowhere else contains the same huge spectrum of opportunities. That many Russians live and work in the US does not justify (or invalidate) Russophobia any more than the presence of hundreds of different ethnic groups has bearing on their original homelands – which is to say, not at all.
Then there are the pure psychopaths like Michael Vilkin, again at SWP.
Also, why the hell you live in the US if you so much hate this country?
Why don’t you just deport yourself back to Russia, – the country you love so much ?
“Kremlin Shill” Argument
You are under FSB control, tasked with sugarcoating the thugs and kleptocrats who rule Russia to a Western audience. Looks like the Kremlin, having consolidated its control over the Russian media, is now going online. Why should I trust anything you say?
First, who I work for is utterly immaterial, since appeal to motive is a formal logical fallacy. You can gauge how reliable and trustworthy I am simply by reading my posts, most of whose assertions are meticulously sourced.
Obviously, I have no way of refuting this particular assertion (although I’d sure be glad if you could drop me a hint as to where I may collect my paycheck). This is not to say, however, that accusing me of working for the Kremlin is a wise move. It probably isn’t. If your sole basis for slandering me is that you don’t like what I write, then do you realize that you undermine your own claim about the Kremlin’s alleged control of the Russian media? (presumably, you don’t like what they have to say either).
Your arguments are a classic example of whataboutism – deny the problem and insist it’s worse in the West anyway.
And what about it?
This is a childish and circular argument at best; at worst, the squeal of the exposed hypocrite.
I agree that this argument should not be used to deflect genuine criticism from (many) Russian shortcomings. However, as soon as the focus shifts to scoring cheap political points – and that is the modus operandi of almost everyone accusing their opponents of whataboutism – using this rebuttal becomes fair game.
You criticize the Western media for being biased against Russia, but you are no better yourself – doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?
First, I believe I source and justify my arguments better than the typical Russophobic drivel you find in the Western media. Second, I openly admit to being biased – see Da Russophile’s creed – and as such I am not a hypocrite. Actually, scratch that. I am a hypocrite. There. But paradoxically, my confession of hypocrisy is self-refuting. This is a step civilized society never makes, for civilization is systematic hypocrisy.
These are too easy to refute. Association fallacy
It is really weird seeing a liberal Californian godless commie side blindly defend Putin and his fascist regime like the “useful idiots” of yore.
I would note that “useful idiot” does not appear in any of Lenin’s writings, nor was he ever alleged to have used the term by his acquaintances. The bulk of the evidence indicates that this was nothing more than a right-wing fabrication to smear American liberals and leftists in the heated atmosphere of the Cold War. But I guess pointing this out makes me a “useful idiot” in the Russophobes’ Orwellian bizzaro-world, right?
The main reason I feel the need to “defend” the Russian government is because of my perception that much of the Western commentary on it is ignorant, cynical and at times outright spiteful; that they grossly exaggerate some of its salient features into the realm of absurdity (e.g. labeling its semi-authoritarian Gaullist political system as “autocratic” or “fascist”); and that the Western media’s lack of balance and integrity damages both Russia and ultimately, their own states.
Oh, and by the way – this is an association fallacy.
For a liberal Californian godless commie, you sure keep some odd bedfellows in your blind defense of Putinocracy.
Here is a hilarious example from the commentator rtyb at Streetwise Professor’s blog:
DR [i.e. me], the association of you and [Charles] Ganske has become comical at this point. You and your defense of communism, artificial wombs and homosexuality compared with Ganske’s world of Intelligent Design, death for homosexuals and women who have abortions and an overall hatred of feminism… okey dokey- Because you are HERE, in the UNITED STATES, you are free to believe whatever you wish and scream it out loud…. I just think the alliance is hilarious- It would make a great reality show. Ganske and DR… like the new Odd Couple-
OK. And how is this in any way relevant?
Russia Blog has never espoused a theocratic agenda. What it does promote, from what I’ve read there, is greater US-Russian understanding and cooperation. I support that and I am totally cool with them publishing or republishing my articles, both in service of that goal, and to get greater publicity for my own work, because let’s face it, Sublime Oblivion doesn’t have a tenth of the influence and reach RB has.
Its contributors range from Soviet-era dissidents like Edward Lozansky to the fund manager Eric Kraus who believes the best long-term investment lies in canned food, guns and land in New Zealand. Perhaps some of them are religious fundamentalists. Perhaps some are Martians? I don’t know, and what’s more, I couldn’t care less.
Even if they do get funding from the creationist Discovery Institute, it’s pretty obvious that DI’s religious projects are strictly compartmentalized from RB and I for one would have no problems taking money from them should they offer it with no strings attached.
Finally, there’s the whataboutist counter-argument: Russophobes too are a very mixed company, ranging from Eurocommie Trotskyists to hardline neocons.
Oh, and by the way – this is an association fallacy.
Russian is a doomed Potemkin country – as soon as oil prices fall, the plaster will peel away and Russia will fragment and collapse, just like your pathetic defense of it.
Before, I’d have pointed out that this “argument” suffers from the truthiness fallacy and overall it has, at best, a neutral track record historically (just how many times did the Economist predict the dissolution of Russia?). This makes it useless as a tool of prediction, and therefore theory.
But Fedia Kriukov has a much wittier response:
Every time Count Potemkin is mentioned, it is always a veiled compliment. Because what is Count Potemkin famous for, besides being one of the lovers of Catherine the Great? He oversaw the development of huge newly conquered areas of Russia from scratch and turned them into its most flourishing provinces. What the foreigners enviously referred to as “Potemkin villages” were in fact real, as is well known to any serious student of history…
So what exactly is the real meaning of the adjective “Potemkin”? It is something that is so amazing you don’t want to believe it’s true, but nevertheless it is. So what [does the] phrases “Potemkin country”…really tell us? [It] tell us that [said critic] stands completely in awe of Russia. Either that, or he is an utter fool who tries to use historical allusions he doesn’t understand.
“You are a [insert ad hominem]” Arguments
Here are some examples that have been directed against me:
sick person; merciless; uncivilized; trouble free American; “great” expert on Russian life; primitive; loser; out of touch asshole; insane; Kremlin shill; Great Russian chauvinist; little rooskie sovok…[your] English is a bit better than most, but they like to vary their styles, from broken English, to attempted hipness and glibness; your attitude is as vacuous as always; by being relentlessly one-eyed in your support of a totally corrupt and pretty immoral regime show a wilful blindness that undermines your credibility as a serious analyst; Ignorant, Arrogant, Effluent; I suspect you are FSB funded or at the very least an amoral Putin lackey; narcissistic personality disorder/delusions of grandeur; by every metric Communism was an abysmal failure that extracted a terrible price on people, a price that is still ongoing in Russia…astounding that a human mind can still defend that failed “ism”; your little vanity site is an intellectually impoverished affair; moronic luddite; you make me sad. I know great Russians. You are not one of them; I’m simply educated and clearly, you’re not; amoral fascist; he’s an an amoral creep with an agenda and ignorable; remind me my twelve years old niece; My problem with you has always been my perception of your lack of morality; MOVE BACK TO RUSSIA DR! UNTIL THEN, STFU; trolling around Google and spouting cherry picked stats; Do you realize that you have egomania and delusions of grandeur oozing out of your slimey pores?; Sir, you are a full-bore psychopath; just get lost you pathetic loser; Sublime Moron; Russophile cockroach; the most freakishly incompetent idiot; crazed, senile; totally inane, breathing the Kremlin glue; permanent gadfly or sociopath; you are either a paid shill, or more likely, a Russian version of a plastic Paddy; Judging by your mighty logical skills, you must be a humanities undergrad, right?; Russian agent; I just hope that one day all enemy agents will be round up and drowned during waterboarding, or whatever is the correct term. You, sublime, should be the first on the list of enemy propaganda combatants; human trash; I believe that not only anarchists should be rounded up, but Russian agents also. And Russian agents should be drowned during waterboarding, – or simply drowned; Sub, one day early in the morning they will come for you, and you will take part in activities to solve the world poverty. I hope; You are uneducated and dumb, are you not?; You would sit on the porch as a porch monkey you really are; Russian propaganda agent; brain-damaged commie porch monkey; You don’t have any roots in this country, You are like one of those weeds that do not develop deep roots; they grow everywhere and are native nowhere, You are a human weed without the roots, You are a piece of human trash that America collects from all over the world; ein strammer Putin-soldat; ape-like ignorance of SUBLIME DURAK; shameless, malignant dishonesty of this nastly little reptile ought not to be tolerated by civlized people; creepy neo-stalinist; insane idiot; “a deranged Russophile who LIVES in the United States, does NOT hold a Russian passport and who is far too much of a coward to ever move back to Russia (not that you could ever go back since you have a British passport!)”; seek treatment for your mental illness there; a deranged, pathological, Russian nationalist (what a joke) who does not even hold a Russia passport!(bigger joke); a man-child living in the US with a British passport…
Собака лает, караван идет. (The dog barks, the caravan moves on).