Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong

March 19, 2014 at 12:33 am (genocide, history, imperialism, murder, posted by JD, Roger M, Russia, stalinism, truth)

Above: famine/genocide in Ukraine, 1932-33

Thanks to Roger McCarthy for drawing our attention to this article by Gary Brecher. It makes depressing reading and it should not be assumed that we endorse all the sentiments expressed. But it seems to be well-informed and is certainly well worth a read:

Reading the Anglo-American press babble on about Crimea is painful, if you know anything at all about that part of the world.

Mark Ames tried to wipe away some of the slime a few weeks ago in his article, “Everything You Know about Ukraine Is Wrong,” — and you can just assume that everything you know about Crimea is even wrong-er. Today I’ll try to take apart the nonsense going around about the Crimean Referendum and impending union with Russia.

It’s not easy diagnosing the psychotic episode brought on in the western media by Crimea, because anti-Russian stories are pushing two totally contradictory lines at the same time. Sometimes the party line is that Putin has gone crazy, and Russia is a joke, “a gas station masquerading as a country” that will pay a “big price” for grabbing the Crimean Peninsula.

Then there’s the neocon version of Russophobia, peddled by shameless old Iraq-Invasion boosters like Eli Lake. According to Lake’s latest in the Daily Beast, “Russia is invading Ukraine in the shadows.” The proof? Eli don’t need no stinkin’ proof. He’s been told that the dreaded SpetzNaz troops—Nazgul with black ski masks—are “spreading out” through the entire territory of Ukraine. His source? “U.S. officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.”

When you read a story by a shameless war shill like Lake, it’s fun to count the qualifiers and disclaimers:

“The same [Russian] special forces that appear to be rigging the elections in Crimea…”

“[t]he Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested a group of people led by a Ukrainian citizen who were said to be scoping out three of its most crucial military divisions…”

“The forces behind these operations, according to U.S. officials briefed on the updates in Ukraine, are likely the Spetsnaz…”

And finally, my personal favorite:

“On the ground in Ukraine, such confusion reigns that the role of Spetsnaz is hard to confirm. But its involvement would come as no surprise.”

If you’re old enough to have lived through the mass lobotomy that afflicted America in the leadup to the 2003 invasion, the phrasing and logic of that last quote should be painfully familiar. It amounts to this: “We have no proof but they [Saddam, the Russians, whoever you want to spend a few trillion blasting] did it anyway.”

I’m not saying Eli Lake has no more shame than a hungry weasel, but that’s what was said to me, on condition of anonymity, by the same Leprechaun who told Ralph Wiggum to burn things.

Whoops, I outed my Leprechaun source, and on St. Paddy’s day, no less. Well, no big deal—he happens to be gay, this leprechaun, so they wouldn’t have let him in the parade anyway.

You can reasonably assume that the same anonymous U.S. officials who told Lake that Russian special forces are behind all the uproar in Ukraine are the same geniuses who informed him, when he was cheerleading for the Iraq Invasion, that Saddam Hussein was tight with Al Qaeda.

Lake was so attached to that idea that even after the rest of the neocons admitted they might’ve been wrong—not that they ever apologized to the families of the dead—Lake was still looking for proof that Saddam and Osama were in it together and trying one more time in 2013 with a ridiculous claim that an “Al Qaeda conference call”—seriously, Eli said that—forced US embassy closures around the world.

The call, according to Eli, was “like a meeting of the Legion of Doom.” Especially since it turned out to be fictional, not to say totally made up, as anybody with the barest knowledge of insurgent technique knew the second they read Eli’s comic-book fantasy. Al Qaeda is headstrong but not stupid, or at least not stupid enough to do a 20-member “conference call.”

But the “Legion of Doom” theory is all Eli knows; it’s how he makes his living. It’s a template, the kind where you just fill in the bad-guy name and run it through the same old program. Out come the SpetzNaz and the anti-SpetzNaz funding, which is what Eli and his anonymous NatSec sources are all about anyway.

The two versions of Russia—McCain’s “gas station masquerading as a country” and Lake’s fearsome conqueror—both start from the same bitter knowledge, even if Senator McCain and Mr. Lake will never admit that fact in public. It’s a simple one: Russia will take Crimea, won’t pay a big price for it, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it.

They all know Russia has a free hand in Crimea. Just look at McCain’s punchline: “A gas station masquerading as a country,” Why “gas station”? Because Russia is now the world’s #1 oil exporting nation, topping Saudi Arabia—that beacon of democracy and fine American ally—by more than a million barrels a day.

With reserves estimated at 80 billion barrels, Russia will have a stash of what everybody wants for a long, long time.

Which makes it kind of a big gas station, even by I-80 standards. “Two zillion pumps, no waiting!” And Russia’s gas station is never going to run short of customers. The oil market is like the recreational-drugs trade: Pundits may make up stories about “pushers,” but the truth is there’s always more demand than the supply can handle. Nobody needs to push those products; they sell themselves, and people will pay anything to get them. That means the people who own the world’s #1 “gas station” can pretty much do anything they want, like Arrakis, the only spice-exporting planet, in Dune. The crude must flow, no matter how crudely its Russian owners behave.

The only media that seem willing to acknowledge this are the finance sites. They can’t afford to let jingoism affect their bets, so they’ve been surprisingly clear-headed, saying outright that there’s nothing the West can do…

Analysts from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley have said Europe probably won’t back sanctions that limit flows of Russia’s oil and gas. European members of the Paris-based International Energy Agency imported 32 percent of their raw crude oil, fuels and gas-based chemical feedstocks from Russia in 2012.

It’s a sad day for America when you have to get your honest news from the pigs at Goldman Sachs, B of A, and Morgan Stanley. Kind of like Clarice having to walk through a gauntlet of tossed cum to hear Hannibal Lecter’s take on the latest serial killer. But the stats don’t lie: the EU gets a third of its energy from Russia, and no country on earth could survive a one-third cut in energy, especially an optional, self-inflicted one ordered by those up top on behalf of some people who, as far as anyone can tell, actually want to join Russia anyway.

Even if Angela Merkel isn’t bluffing when she says Germany is willing to suffer in the cold and dark to punish Russia, she’d have a hard time getting the less disciplined countries of the EU, which is all of them minus Germany, to go along. And if she somehow managed that, there’s no evidence the Russian economy would be hit especially hard. There’s always a buyer for oil, and Russia has pipelines that lead to other customers, like… oh, just off the top of my head: China.

Russia finished the final stage of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) Pipeline in 2013. And, as usual, it was the obscure, apolitical business sites that talked most honestly about what that meant. Here’s an industry publication, Oil Price, describing in plain and simple terms what that pipeline means:

“Russia’s Transneft has opened its second and final branch of the $25 billion, 4,700km East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline to double its capacity to 30 million tons for total exports of 36 million tons in 2013.

There are three things of significance here:

The capacity-doubling pipeline could render the ESPO blend crude an official new blend on the world market

It makes Russia’s Far East a major infrastructure player, posing it to become a strategic transit point for oil to Japan, China, the US, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan

It gives Russia more leverage over Europe.”

Yes indeed, “it gives Russia more leverage over Europe,” because though the EU needs Russian oil worse than any junkie ever needed a baggie, Russia no longer needs Europe as a customer. To be honest, no oil exporter or drug dealer ever really needs any particular customer; “Eto myf,” as the Russians say. But with the pipeline to China and East Asia running wide open, Russia wouldn’t even feel a sentimental twinge if the EU somehow went insane and destroyed its own economy to “punish” Russia.

If you want to understand the weird insults American insiders like McCain are throwing at Russia right now, you have to understand them in the context of an inevitable, easy, cost-free victory for Russia in Crimea. That’s a painful shock for an old Cold Warrior like McCain, and he can only respond with the kind of insults a playground-fight loser splutters at the retreating victor through his swollen, bleeding lips. Here’s McCain shouting at Putin while he bleeds onto the tetherball court:

“Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” McCain told CNN’s State of the Union. “It’s kleptocracy, it’s corruption, it’s a nation that is really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy.”

Some of what McCain said is true. Russia under Putin is a corrupt kleptocracy, and Putin’s an authoritarian sleaze. In fact, one of the most bitter aspects of acknowledging Putin’s victory in Crimea is finding yourself on the same side as that cunning little rat and his merry band of murdering, extortionist chinovniki.

But the truth has rights, and the truth is that Putin has won in Crimea. Better to admit that than to shout insults at the victor, especially when your insults don’t even make sense. McCain says Russia makes its money off oil and gas; true, but so what? Is there a better product to be selling on the world market? What should Russia be making money from, mortgage foreclosures? Oil and gas seem like a relatively honest way to make money. At any rate, I never heard an American politician shout this kind of insult at our beloved ally, Saudi Arabia, even though everything McCain said about Russia goes double—triple, quintuple—for that place.

I guess the idea behind McCain’s playground jeer is something like, “You just got lucky, punk, finding all that oil under your territory!” The answer to that, as Mickey Rourke said in Barfly, is, “Yeah, but that counts too!”

Not to mention the fact that by conquering about one-sixth of the world’s land surface, the Russians pretty well guaranteed their descendants that something valuable would be found, sooner or later, under all that taiga. If Russia had held on to Alaska for just a dozen years longer, they’d have had pretty much all the oil and gas left in the Northern Hemisphere, but they were too busy killing and skinning the last sea otters.

Those Cold-War instincts also gave American insiders the sense that Russia would always back down if we talked tough. And you can’t blame them for thinking that way, because that really is the norm for the past half-century. The USSR was the most passive, hyper-cautious great power in history. What other empire allowed itself to be torn apart without fighting back? The Soviet armies facing off against NATO dissolved into “a sea of rusting tanks” without firing a shot, and during the Yeltsin era, post-Soviet Russia was even more passive and weak. The ultimate Russian climb-down came in 1999, a decade after the USSR dissolved itself, when Yeltsin—who was despised by most Russians as a groveling tool of the US—let Clinton schmooze him into deserting Serbia, one of Russia’s most loyal allies, and handing Kosovo to KLA ethnic cleansing.

That’s the sort of Russian behavior we expect. And it’s not happening this time. That’s where the outrage comes from: the spectacle of Russia cold-bloodedly going ahead with a move that the West has declared unacceptable. That’s not part of the tradition. They’re supposed to have flinched by now, and when they didn’t, a lot of Western commentators jumped to the conclusion that Putin must be plain crazy, as if that’s the only reason Russia could be acting in such a ruthless, assured manner.

Angela Merkel said Putin’s “in another world,” American pundits hinted he’s “lost it,” and the Washington Post warned of “big costs” for Russia if Putin went ahead and took Crimea, which is only a “consolation prize” anyway, something Russia has had to settle for after trying to grab all of Ukraine.

Merkel’s reaction is easy to understand. After all, Germany’s attempts to gobble up Ukraine in the two world wars didn’t end well, and since 1945 the whole idea of land-grabs and annexation makes today’s ultra-cautious, polite Germans feel a little faint.

The American pundits’ reactions are harder to justify, starting with the claim that Crimea is not worth taking, a welfare slum–“…one of the least wealthy regions of Ukraine” as WaPo’s Will Englund claimed. Like a lot of the wild claims Western pundits are making, that’s not actually true. Crimea ranks in the middle of Ukraine’s 27 oblasts by salary, with its big city, Sevastapol, coming in even higher, second only to Kyiv. But that stat misses the awe Russians feel for Crimea. Tolstoy had his damn epiphany there; The Tsars built their summer palace, Livadia, in Crimea; Nabokov spent 18 months there, hanging out at the Countess Sophia Panin’s estate in Gaspra.

So it’s just ignorant to claim that Crimea is a “consolation prize” for Russia. It may well be the only part of Ukraine they actually want, in fact.

If you’ve lived in Russia, it’s not hard to see why a place like Crimea makes the average Muscovite drool. Most of Russia is flat, freezing, and land-locked. Crimea, a peninsula full of Mediterranean forests and rocky hills, surrounded by warm blue water, was the kind of landscape most Russians dream of—the closest thing Russia had to the Greek Islands.

Russians do, in fact, value Crimea very highly. But try telling that to American pundits, like Peter Tchir does on this video, and you get the full frontal assault of that Anglo-American specialty, moralized jingoism.

Crimea, a peninsula almost detached from the wide grasslands of Ukraine proper, has been a very distinct—and distinctly Russian—region for more than a century.

Unlike many Eastern Ukrainians, who speak Russian and consider themselves culturally but not politically Russian, Crimeans identify strongly as Russians, politically and culturally. They were very unhappy when Yeltsin let Crimea go to Ukraine after the breakup of the USSR. Nobody’s mentioning it, but the fact is that there was already a referendum in Crimea on staying with Ukraine or rejoining Russia.

On January 20, 1991, Crimeans voted to restore their ties with Russia by almost the same percentage (93.2%) we saw in today’s election—where, according to the BBC, 93% of Crimean voters once again voted Russian.

That’s a remarkably consistent vote, considering what a lot of chaos and poverty have encompassed the region since 1991. Back then, of course, no one in the West took the results seriously, because everyone knew the USSR was evil and anyone defecting from it was good. But it might be worth remembering that election now–because with Russian economic and military power backing them, the Crimeans’ vote might actually count.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Crimea voted to return to Russia. Even the demographics made that an easy one to predict. According to Ukraine’s own 2001 Census, 58.3% of Crimeans consider themselves Russian, with only 24.3% identifying as Ukranian.

On Sunday, the Crimeans voted to join Russia in huge numbers—80% turnout, 95% for joining Russia according to reports. That result tracked with the BBC exit polls, which took into account the fact that most of the peninsula’s ethnic Tartars—about 14% of the population—boycotted the vote. That means a lot of ethnic Ukrainians (and maybe even a few ethnic Tartars) voted with the Russian bloc, and it’s not likely they did so because they’re rabid Russian nationalists. More likely, it reflects the fact that Ukraine is a very poor country, while Russia seems to be doing pretty well, for a “gas station masquerading as a country.” Ukraine is sort of the opposite: A country without the money to buy a tank of gas. The history of Ukraine in the 20th century is so horrific, such a non-stop nightmare, that it’s impossible to blame anyone who wants out.

When I meet Canadians whose last names end in ‘-enko,” I always think they should get down on their knees every night and say a prayer: “Thank you, God, for giving me great-grandparents smart enough to get out of Ukraine.” It’s useless assigning blame; the point is that it makes sense to vote for a country that can, at least in theory, protect you and give you a pittance, instead of one that has seen nothing but mass murder, artificial famine, pogrom and counter-pogrom, and endless ethnic hatred for as long as anyone can remember. The worst of it, for many quietly embittered Ukrainian intellectuals, is that no one even remembers the huge artificial famine Stalin used to annihilate the Ukrainian peasantry.

Nobody but the poor Armenians has had to live so long with a genocide that never makes the media.

And while the Ukrainian peasantry was being wiped out, the New York Times’s correspondent, Walter Duranty, was feasting with Stalin’s nervous cronies and denying that there was any famine at all. Those who survived the Holodomor (“Death by Hunger”) were just in time for the German invasion, the Soviet counterattack, and the pogroms accompanying every back-and-forth as the two most powerful, merciless armies in modern history pushed each other back and forth over those grassy plains.

So, yeah: I don’t blame any Ukrainian for hating Russia, or the West, or the whole damn world; they’ve got a right, if anyone does. But you can’t blame the Crimeans, either, for wanting to opt out of a terrible history.

The only people who deserve real blame are the ones Walter Sobchak would call “fuckin’ amateurs”—the D.C. wonks suddenly pronouncing moral judgment on one or another faction in this Ukraine quarrel. Maybe there should be a quiz before you get to mouth off about topics as grim and complex as this one, or at least a little compulsory outside reading. They could start with Limonov’s Podrostok Savenko, (“The Adolescent Savenko” [“Savenko” being Limonov’s real, and very Ukrainian-sounding, last name]) mistranslated as “Memoir of A Russian Punk” —a magnificent memoir of growing up as a Russian/Ukrainian in Kharkov/Kharkiv, in the northeastern part of the country.

Limonov and his friends consider themselves Russians, because to them, Ukrainian is a “village tongue,” a peasant language, and its most vivid expressions are of the endless hatred that filled every one of the many tribes on the grasslands, like this one: “Into Muscovite, Polack, and Jew/Take your knife and stick it through.” That doesn’t mean that any of those other groups were any saintlier than the Ukrainians; on the contrary, they were all caught up in fear and hate. But it does damn well mean that Ukraine has not been a healthy place for children or other living things, not in the memory of anyone alive—or their grandparents. Remember that before you blame anybody wanting to sign up with a bigger, stronger gang with more loot, even one as sleazy as Putin’s Russia.

The other book would-be Ukraine wonks should read carefully is Bulgakov’s 1924 novel, The White Guard. It’s one of the grimmest stories you’ll ever read, the miserable tale of how a kind, intelligent, well-educated Kiev family is ground down by the feral violence of post-1917 Russia. There are no good factions in Bulgakov’s novel. There are good people, lots of them, but their goodness finds no voice in the groups contending for Ukraine. The Whites are inept, lazy, and selfish; Petlyura’s army is full of vicious soldiers of fortune who have a bad habit of disemboweling any Jew they find on the road; and in the background are the Bolsheviks, always closer—not corrupt at all, which makes them the most efficient gang of murderers in the whole accursed landscape. Bulgakov’s thesis in this novel is very simple: Nothing good can happen here.

So if you had the opportunity to declare yourself a Russian, with the security of living on a highly-defensible diamond-shaped peninsula with only two narrow access points, you might well decide to sign up with Putin’s Russia rather than whoever has declared him- or herself Hetman in Kiev.


  1. Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong | OzHouse said,

    […] Mar 19 2014 by admin […]

  2. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Should be noted that Brecher is closely associated with The eXile – a English language Russian paper closed down by Putin in 2008 (and which still exists online albeit with much less of a Russian focus) and which is to say the very least somewhat problematic due to its past connections with the so-called National Bolshevik Eduard Limonov – who he quotes approvingly here.

    (Although it should also be noted that given the weakness of the Russian opposition it is actually quite hard for any oppositional group to stay clear of Limonov whose party was included in Garry Kasparov’s now largely defunct oppositional front along with genuine liberals and leftists)

    This hasn’t stopped US liberal/progressive sites from linking to this same piece (that’s how I found it) but in principle Brecher should be read with the same level of healthy suspicion as we’d apply to say anything from the Counterpunch stable and for similar reasons.

  3. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    In contrast to whatever the hell Brecher is (a paleocon? a neocon mugged over again by reality? just a nerdy contrarian?) Boris Kagarlitsky is a real Marxist whose Oct 2012 analysis of post-Soviet Russian foreign policy is still worth a look:

    The main distinction of post-Soviet foreign policy from that of the Soviet era is that this time the zigzags do not form any strategic line. The Russian elite brushed off the old ideology and methodology, but it did not care to produce something new instead.

    At first, the naïve expectation of Great America’s friendly patronage turned the Foreign Ministry into a regional office of the U.S. Department of State. The 1999 U-turn of Yevgeny Primakov’s plane over the Atlantic heralded an end to this humiliating state of affairs. But Primakov’s premiership would not last long. Besides, foreign policy was not a priority of his Cabinet. The idea of the need for an independent policy in world affairs was exonerated at last, but the policy course per se has not been formulated to this day.

    This does not mean, however, that Russia’s foreign policy is not active. It is very active. We cut gas supply to Ukraine, have skirmishes with Belarus, complain against discrimination by the European Union, and fight wars with Georgia. But no consistent policy line, no strategy is anywhere in sight.

    In practice, the core of Russia’s foreign policy strategy is the servicing of specific interests of domestic companies and bureaucratic agencies. Clients are many, and their expectations are not always alike. Hence the strange, even weird zigzags in the policy course. Still, one can see a certain objective interest here. Not a state interest of course, but private.

    For instance, Russia’s relations with Ukraine and Belarus are easy to discern through the prism of the strategic interests of Gazprom and the problems the corporation encounters on the domestic and foreign markets. Political columnists have often considered the repeated gas wars between Ukraine and Russia in the context of geopolitical confrontation. Some speculated that in this way Moscow wishes to punish Kiev for the rapprochement with the West. However, this interpretation loses sense as soon as we look closer at the relations with neighboring Belarus. Unlike Kiev, Minsk put its stake on closer relations with Moscow out of pragmatic considerations first and foremost, whatever President Alexander Lukashenko may be saying, because not only Russia’s energy resources and components are crucial to the Belarusian industries. Russia remains the main market for Belarusian producers. For the sake of preserving and developing these relations Minsk has demonstrated its readiness to consistently pursue a policy of protecting Russia’s geopolitical interests – the way participants in the process understood those relations. But pretty soon it turned out that Moscow was unable to devise any sensible concept and consequently its partnership with Belarus began to look like a suitcase without a handle – inconvenient to carry and too valuable to be dropped.

    Nonetheless, the special relationship stayed in effect until the interests of Gazprom emerged in the forefront. The tactic of raising prices and seizing property that the gas giant applied to friendly Belarus was in no way different from the one pursued towards hostile Ukraine. As a result, a decision was made to sacrifice Moscow’s only more or less reliable political ally in Europe for the sake of raising the profitability of the leading domestic corporation.

    In other regions of the world Moscow’s policy is still less sensible than in the post-Soviet space. For instance, the Russian diplomacy’s sole interest in Africa is the protection of investments Oleg Deripaska and some other domestic business tycoons dared make in that continent. Besides, the assorted business projects of our oligarchs do not make an economic strategy yet, which is unmistakably present in the behavior of Western and (of late) Chinese companies.

    In Europe, task number one the Russian Foreign Ministry has been pressing for with certain consistency is the promotion of interests of Russian investors, who, incidentally, have preferred to export capital so much needed for modernizing the domestic industry. Simultaneously, of course, the Foreign Ministry is working hard to secure a visa-free regime for Russians traveling to the West, but so far it has gained nothing but promises in response to its efforts. The inefficiency in coping with this simple task (Western diplomats in Moscow openly say that the objective obstructions to introducing visa-free regime are long gone) is rooted in the lack of political thinking. All questions are considered as a purely formalistic bureaucratic procedure – writing a diplomatic note, sending a package of documents, drafting a substantiation report. Instead of making friends, building long-term relationships, taking into consideration the complex balance of interests and forces, and influencing them, the people in charge remain focused on technical issues that are unable to change the state of affairs in principle.

    Still more obvious has been the failure of Russia’s diplomacy in the Middle East in the wake of Arab revolutions. The fall of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the agony of Mubarak’s rule in Egypt made it clear that the social situation in the region had changed irreversibly. The question is not about whether the police forces loyal to the old authorities were capable of holding back the unrest. As Libya’s events have shown, the army and police were strong enough to hold on for a long while. In Syria, there emerged a “catastrophic balance,” with the authorities unable to suppress the revolution and the rebellion unable to topple the authorities. Moscow ignored the fundamental development that the West became aware of long ago – police truncheons and heavy armaments are not the decisive argument any longer. The social order and the cultural and political norms which the old regimes in the Middle East had rested upon collapsed beyond repair. In other words, even if some of the rulers manage to stay in office, a “passive revolution” will be the price. For this to happen there must be such personalities like Austria’s Franz-Joseph, Italy’s Cavour or Germany’s Bismarck, capable of implementing from above a large part of the revolution’s agenda, while suppressing the revolution itself. On the contrary, Moscow obviously thought that any political, social, and cultural problems were soluble only from the position of force.

    The banal conspiracy theory became the sole explanation of revolutionary processes, and ideological and moral excuses for repressions, the sole official response. Failing to derive lessons from the events in the Arab World, the Russian authorities have proved utterly unprepared for a replay of a similar crisis at home. Since December 2011, when a wave of protests rolled across the country, the ruling circles have systematically repeated the mistakes made by their Arab counterparts.

    The discussion of the Arab revolutions in the Russian mass media mirrored the very same catastrophic crisis of political thinking. Most of the participants in the domestic discussions did not even care to look into the social, economic or institutional processes that brought about the crisis. Moreover, the very existence of the economy, society and institutions was in fact denied, and action by millions and the current global processes were blamed on somebody’s schemes. The sole sensible component of Russia’s policy in the Middle East, if at all, was confined, just as in all other cases, to the sum of business contracts to which Russian companies were parties, and to panic reaction at the thought of likely losses Russian capitalists may suffer should these contracts be severed.

    Russia’s position in economic matters looks no less dubious. Accession to the World Trade Organization has been Moscow’s top priority for many years. That the process was procrastinated indicated the existence of many problems and contradictions, and by no means technical ones. Society lacked unanimity on the issue; moreover, criticism of the WTO accession policies was mounting. Nevertheless, the authorities did not make the slightest effort to discuss that problem in earnest. The question of joining or not joining the WTO has never been asked.

    Among the WTO accession critics there were rather influential representatives of business, worried that the opening and deregulation of the market will cause mass bankruptcies, job cuts, dwindling quality of goods and services, collapse of industries and, as a consequence, a decay of cities and whole regions which are still recovering from the shock of the 1990s. The traditional view is WTO membership plays into the hands of exporters, who are the main lobbyists for it (quite often utterly negligent about the domestic market problems). In the meantime, Russian exporters of oil and gas are not very dependent on the WTO regime. The position of steel and aluminum producers is slightly more complex, but even their potential benefits from the membership in that international organization do not look bright.

    The problem is the Russian financial and industrial groups controlling the export of raw materials also keep in their hands a large number of import companies; a hefty chunk of currency revenues is spent on such transactions, and the domestic market remains under the pressure of the very same monopolies. It is easy to guess that precisely these groups are interested in minimizing restrictions and taxes. Of course, this is done under the slogan of free trade, but in reality it is to ruin local medium and small businesses, thereby securing a firmer foothold for the monopolies. What speculations about lower prices for the end consumers really mean is seen in the prices of tax-free Belarusian products on the Russian market. After the Belarusian ruble devaluated the price of those goods was to plummet, but for the retail customer they haven’t gone a dime lower. The entire surplus went into the pockets of the monopolists.

    Commercialization of the system of education and health service and gradual privatization of cultural establishments, transport and the remains of the housing and utilities sector, which is part and parcel of the WTO strategy and runs counter to the interests and needs of the population, enjoy strong support from the very same Russian monopolistic business groups.

    Against the background of soaring oil and gas prices in the 2000s, the Russian elites developed an illusion of their significance, and propaganda successfully persuaded not only a majority of the population, but also a significant segment of the expert community that Russia’s influence in the international arena has grown. Active participation in international summit meetings, numerous state visits and public statements contributed to creating such an impression. But in a situation where there was no well-charted strategy or clear aims, the foreign policy strategy was in fact confined to a more or less successful puffery campaign, meant mostly for domestic consumption.

    Russia’s presence in the periphery countries continued to be curtailed. The closure of military facilities in Cuba and Vietnam were the most graphic examples. Efforts by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to return Russians to Latin America yielded no results, except for some commercial contracts. Similarly, Russia’s relations with India were downgraded to plain commerce. The world has developed a vision of Russia as a large, but very provincial country, utterly unable to produce fundamental diplomatic initiatives and interested solely in financial gains – short-term ones by and large.

    If Russia does have some sort of a “state interest” ideology, it boils down to the primitive formula: what is good for the big corporations is good for the country. Of course, any ruling class will place its own interests above anything else everywhere and always, including the case when setting foreign policy goals is on the agenda. But the real success of a policy, just as the viability of a state in general, depends on to what extent the ruling elites are able to take into account broader public interests, include them in their own agenda and formulate on that basis a program that would enjoy real support from society or at least from a significant part of society. Similarly, the authorities are to propose and comply with a set of rules – clear and acceptable to society – of making domestic and foreign policy decisions.

    The Russian elites of the day lack this ability. Over the past two decades they have not only failed to develop it, but also invariably suppressed any attempts to put decision-making under some sort of public control. They tried to resolve all of the problems that inevitably emerged between the authorities and society with the help of propaganda tools. They kept inventing various fine-worded patriotic reasons for their purely pragmatic and fundamentally unprincipled decisions. This is also the reason for the spread of conspiracy theories of all kinds used as an explanation model – in a country where there is no public discussion or a system of representation or balance of different interests the government itself is doomed to act as a gang of plotters. The effects of decisions made in this fashion invariably and inevitably prove catastrophic.

    The attempt at drafting a comprehensible modernization strategy has also failed as puffery dominated the content. Society was offered incoherent praises of all sorts of “innovations” and cloudy promises of “diversification” of the economy, which in the meantime grew increasingly dependent on the export of hydrocarbons. The modernization discourse soon stopped playing even the role of a more or less effective public promotion campaign and transformed into a means of the top authorities’ self-deceit, obstructing their ability to see not only the problems the country is faced with, but also the fatal threat posed to them by society, whose patience is wearing thin.

    One does not have to be a prophet to forecast that in a situation like this the foreign policy is doomed to fail, and the state itself, to collapse. Examples of this in history are many, from the twilight of the Stewarts and Bourbons to France’s Second Empire on the eve of the war with Prussia.

    The question is not about whether the modern Russian state will collapse in a similar way, and even not about when this may happen. The prophecy writing on the wall is done in such bold letters that one must be blind not to see it. The question is: Will the collapse of the state be a national disaster for Russia, or will the country rise from under the ruins of the regime of transient rulers and go on living?


    However although Kagarlitsky does occasionally write for the English-language Moscow News he or any other genuinely leftist Russian voice doesn’t appear to have anything to say about the current crisis – or if he does it is not filtering out to us.

    And this is the real underlying issue – once there were whole academic departments and institutes full of professional sovietologists many of whom were left-leaning and one could turn to broadly Marxist analyses of Soviet society and policies.

    Now one has no choice to get ones analysis from sources that are at the very best liberal.

    • Babs said,

      Revolution from Above: The Demise of the Soviet System.

      Controversially this book argues that the ruling party-state elite in the USSR itself moved to dismantle the old system.

      Topics discussed include:

      * the beginnings of economic decline in 1975
      * Gorbachev’s efforts to democratize and decentralize
      * the complex political battle through which the coalition favouring capitalism took power
      * the flaws in economic policies intended to rapidly build capitalism
      * the surprising resurgence of Communism.

      Research includes interviews with over 50 former Soviet government and Communist party leaders, policy advisors, new private businessmen, trade union leaders and intellectuals.


      You can download free pdf copies from the internet using a search engine on a standard browser.

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Not controversial to us old Trots as that is precisely what Trotsky said would happen in the Revolution Betrayed:

        A collapse of the Soviet regime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy, and thus to the abolition of state property. The bond of compulsion between the trusts and the factories within them would fall away. The more successful enterprises would succeed in coming out on the road of independence. They might convert or they might find some themselves into stock companies, other transitional form of property – one, for example, in which the workers should participate in the profits. The collective farms would disintegrate at the same time, and far more easily. The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture…..

        In order better to understand the character of the present Soviet Union, let us make two different hypotheses about its future. Let us assume first that the Soviet bureaucracy is overthrown by a revolutionary party having all the attributes of the old Bolshevism, enriched moreover by the world experience of the recent period. Such a party would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets. It would be able to, and would have to, restore freedom of Soviet parties. Together with the masses, and at their head, it would carry out a ruthless purgation of the state apparatus. It would abolish ranks and decorations, all kinds of privileges, and would limit inequality in the payment of labor to the life necessities of the economy and the state apparatus. It would give the youth free opportunity to think independently, learn, criticize and grow. It would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution – that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy – the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.

        If – to adopt a second hypothesis – a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party. The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production. First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers’ cooperatives of the bourgeois type into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalization would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual “corporations” – potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the émigré former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution.

        Let us assume to take a third variant – that neither a revolutionary nor a counterrevolutionary party seizes power. The bureaucracy continues at the head of the state. Even under these conditions social relations will not jell. We cannot count upon the bureaucracy’s peacefully and voluntarily renouncing itself in behalf of socialist equality. If at the present time, notwithstanding the too obvious inconveniences of such an operation, it has considered it possible to introduce ranks and decorations, it must inevitably in future stages seek supports for itself in property relations. One may argue that the big bureaucrat cares little what are the prevailing forms of property, provided only they guarantee him the necessary income. This argument ignores not only the instability of the bureaucrat’s own rights, but also the question of his descendants. The new cult of the family has not fallen out of the clouds. Privileges have only half their worth, if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children. But the right of testament is inseparable from the right of property. It is not enough to be the director of a trust; it is necessary to be a stockholder. The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive sphere would mean its conversion into a new possessing class.


  4. Fred Mecklenburg said,

    Ugh. Not only is this article NOT well-informed; to the extent that it is informed by anything, it is informed by the insane neo-fascist mythology that underlay the genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s. Some of us haven’t forgotten the bastard Limonov playing the sniper in Sarajevo. To see those genocidal maniacs filtering back into the Crimea, home of the Muslim Tatars, who were already subjected to one genocidal assault by Stalin, is deeply chilling. AND YES, it is important to criticize the minority of Ukrainian Rightists who participated in the Maidan and have places in the new government–this is elementary politics–BUT doing so without acknowledging that Putin’s Rightists have actually supported and even participated in genocide, in our time, is base hypocrisy. It is equal to the hypocrisy that turns an approving (or blinded) eye on Assad’s genocide in Syria despite the hearty support he is receiving from many neo-fascists in both Europe and the Arab world. Truth is, for all intents and purposes, much of the “civilized world” has internalized Milosevic’s politics of ethnic cleansing and alleged “ancient ethnic hatreds” and now acts upon it. This includes a large section of what used to be the Left, but is declining evermore into a filthy, red-brown, bloody tatter. Unless one wants to decline irrevocably into that famous underworld of history, it’s important to hate arguments like Brecher’s here with a hot passion.

  5. justiceforkevinandjenveybaylis said,

  6. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    I did point out in my comment above that Brecher is indeed suspect because of his connection with the loathsome Limonov – but then so is pretty much every significant participant in the opposition to Putin in which Limonov did play a major role.

    The problem is precisely that barring a few voices like Boris Kagarlitsky there is seemingly no real Left in Russia or for that matter Ukraine only what you quite rightly call filthy red-brown bloody tatters…..

    • Fred Mecklenburg said,

      Yes, I should have acknowledged your comment on Limonov. My apologies. That pig works me into a temper, though…

  7. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Some slight glimmers of hope in this 2013 article by Carine Clement on civic mobilisation and protest in daily life in Russia:


  8. Jim Phillips said,

    Gary Brecher is a pseudonym of John Dolan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dolan_%28writer%29.

  9. finbar. said,

    The resolve was always going to be West or East.Myself,i thought it would end up way that river that cuts Ukraine in half,being the border.

    Like the new Ukraine unelected leader, talking about power and its oppression,as he says stuff like “in the 2014,we do not expect countries taking control of other countries with arms and tanks.Eh!.Then,”this invasion of our land will start a nuclear war”.

    Why is the world care,the United Nations,taking this nutters claims of democratic threat and ruin if not heard.

  10. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

  11. Babs said,

    I’m surprised RT News hasn’t been using Crimea’s new attorney general Natalia Poklonskaya for propaganda purposes. Seems like the Western press have been doing the work for them. The BBC, Daily Mail, The Mirror and others have all picked up on it. The Japanese definitely seem to have a thing for her.



    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      There are a great many otaku living in their parents basements with a thing about women in uniform and whole flourishing sub-genres of anime and porn are marketed to them.

      This is after all a culture which can produce a popular anime series in which uniformed schoolgirls fight tank battles while singing Katyusha and the Panzerleid:

      And come to think of it an anime Ms Poklonskaya would fit right into that scene.

      • Babs said,

        That’s crazy stuff as is the 1 hour of USSR, GDR and DPRK music that was featured on the left hand side of Youtube after I clicked on your link.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxcP7TRY178 <<< For an hour of rip roaring, soul stiring Red Army choir music.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmYHABhnVLE <<< Morangbong Band from DPRK praising their Dear Leader. First I've heard of them and…I quite like it some of their songs though I have no idea what they are saying which is probably for the best. Didn't realise DPRK has it's own Youtube channel.

  12. jamesldavis said,

    Buenas diaz Gent “Tells It like it is ” Aaron Neville yr 1965 I figure a more sensible move would freez the Unpaid taxes in Cayman Islandsn, and wait for 113th Congress to decare war on Assad! the enator main Goal is restoration of BrotherHood in Cairo and then work on Sinola cartel Soth of the Border! The party pays as much Attention to browbeating of witness at ‘hearings’ as Gop did the 240 = UnArmed us Marines KIA in lebanon cest la vie Mandingo Vietnam 66-67 via wash dc palmetto shareacrop

  13. Asia | Russia pictures and news today from Internet said,

    […] Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong(-er) […]

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