The Abyss Looks Back: Europe’s Phenomenal Arrogance

Uncle Volodya says,

Uncle Volodya says, “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

Today marks a special treat for the readers here, because it is the occasion of Lyttenburgh’s writing debut. Lyttenburgh first appeared here just about this time in 2010, as Carpenter117. I don’t know anything about him, I’m afraid, other than that he is Russian-born and lives in Russia somewhere. Whatever else he chooses to reveal is up to him. As I’ve mentioned in discussion, his English has improved tremendously, although it was always good; I first noticed him elsewhere, on Julia Ioffe’s old blog at True/Slant, which was later absorbed by Forbes. Mark Adomanis was a regular at True/Slant, as well. There’s just something about Ioffe’s patronizing condescension that winds Russians up, I’m afraid.

Today’s post deals with a somewhat higher authority, which is also prone to smug condescension far out of proportion to its own claim to authority – the European Council on Foreign Relations. They appeared in the pillory here not very long ago, as I recall, and I strongly agree that their demonstrated performance suggests decades, if not generations, of dedicated and enthusiastic inbreeding.

What do Russians really think about the way the western allies view them? About their patronizing pseudosympathy? Their one-upmanship snubs, like who doesn’t get to sit at the popular kids’ table at the high-school cafeteria? The outright fabrications as it needles Russia through its popular press while its regulatory councils take their own press’s nattering for gospel?

Pull up a chair, and let’s hear. Lyttenburgh? The floor is yours.

On Europe’s Phenomenal Arrogance

A lot of august bodies have decided to share their thoughts on the current vis-à-vis between Russia and what is colloquially known as “the West”. Most of such “musings” inevitably touches the subject of the current situation in Ukraine, due to it’s being a “hotspot” in the bilateral relations. Most often we are graced by some strongly worded opinions from the veritable Legion of the Free and Independent Western press (), or it might be even a Deep and Thorough Analysis by this or that think-tank, NGO or research facility, sharing with the hoi-poloi of the world their convoluted (and, therefore, unquestionably true) findings on the nature of things they probably didn’t even have any previous personal contact with.

And then we have something… anomalous. And huge. I’m talking here about a report (well, “commentary”, to be precise) of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a rather self- explanatory name for an organization.

The Limits and Necessity of Europe’s Russia Sanctions

The picture below the title of the article shows Moscow’s Kremlin and the snow-covered streets of Moscow. Because –apparently! – it is always gloomy and snowy in Russia. How you gonna argue with such a paragon of Western objectivity on Russia’s portrayal as the Independence Day movie, where there is snow in Russia in July?!

You might say that I’m too nitpicky. Honestly, I’ll cease and desist the very moment the West stops this kind of petty manipulation of public perception of my country. Continue reading

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Some Day, We’ll Look Back at This, and Laugh.

Uncle Volodya says,

Uncle Volodya says, “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

And there’s no time like the present. It was nice of Al Gore to invent the Internet, because it offers unparalleled comedic opportunities to recapture moments in time when puffed-up and self-important toads made confident predictions which later made them look like the arrogant blowhards they are. And if you write “I am an arrogant blowhard” on your résumé, you will have just doubled your chances of being hired as whatever they are calling a journalist these days, at The Guardian.

Exemplary of The Guardian‘s forecasting where Russia is concerned – and The Guardian never met a Russian it didn’t hate, unless they were an oligarch expat, a political dissident or a member of Pussy Riot – is this gem by The Guardian‘s “Economics Editor”, Larry Elliott; “Russia Has Just Lost the Economic War With the West”.

For those who don’t remember when the west’s economic war against Russia started, it actually kicked off with a skirmish, in which the USA stopped service in Russia to holders of Visa and Mastercard at certain sanctioned banks in Russia, back in the spring of 2014. Customers found that their cards did not work and their accounts were frozen. Russian media promptly pointed out that American credit-card companies “had a record of bowing to political decisions from Washington”; the government imposed a security deposit fee equal to two days worth of transactions in Russia, which would cost the companies $1.9 Billion (Visa) and $1 Billion (Mastercard), and Morgan-Stanley issued a report which suggested the two credit-card giants would be better off terminating their operations in Russia, where they together had 90% of market share. For his part, the Russian president announced that Russia would develop its own national payment system and greatly reduce its dependence on western credit-card companies.

It’s hard for me to see that as a western victory. Visa and Mastercard squealed like pigs, Russia introduced a prototype domestic card (Mir) which Mastercard signed on to co-brand, and Mastercard and Visa both humbly signed on to Russia’s national payment system, which moves processing to Russia. This results in a huge loss of financial control for the western-based cards, and a bigger one is coming when Russia introduces its national replacement for SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. Western regulatory authorities have long been accustomed to using SWIFT to read other countries’ financial mail, and a few years back, the USA pressured the supposedly non-partisan system to shut out Iran. It’s unlikely America would have tried that with Russia – especially since European courts ruled that it was illegal – but a couple of big-mouthed American senators started hollering for it to be done, and that was enough. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 819 Comments

How’s Life At The Economist? Not Grate.

Uncle Volodya says, "That's right, Brussels - we're up to no gouda."

Uncle Volodya says, “That’s right, Brussels – we’re up to no gouda.”

When some trendy new atrocity
Has brought you to your knees
Come with us we’ll sail the
Seas of Cheese

Primus, from “Sailing the Seas of Cheese”

Recently, The Economist was swept away by a riptide of rennet and teary boo-hoo over the appalling waste of good food displayed by, no surprise, Russia; the latest episode of Russia’s disgracing itself in front of an aghast world occurred at various points of entry to the Russian Federation on August 6th. On that day, we are told by a shocked Economist, Russia burned and otherwise destroyed 300 tonnes of food; incinerating pork, pulping tomatoes and driving bulldozers over shipments of European cheese.

I realize you’re probably more used to “tons”. A ton, in non-U.S. measure, is 2000 pounds. The “tonne” is its metric bigger sibling, at 1000 kg, or 2,204.6 pounds. So, simple math tells us the Russian Federation destroyed 6,613,80 pounds of delicious European imported food.

Why would Putin do such a thing? Because naturally it was Putin, Russia is Putin, and The Economist gets lots of mileage out of the order to destroy these delicacies having come from Putin himself. “All of this is being done with the blessing of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Last year the government banned imports of food from countries which had imposed sanctions on Russia. Now food that slips through the embargo is being destroyed in the name of Russian sovereignty.”

This runs under the subheading, “A famine-prone country tests its citizens’ loyalty by destroying food”. Apparently if your country has ever had a famine – The Economist is clear that this was in the 1930’s – you are famine-prone forever. Since there is no time limit and famine was more regular than the post in medieval Europe, I guess France and England are famine-prone as well.

Obviously, The Economist would prefer that banned goods were simply allowed to proceed unimpeded to Russian market shelves, where they would be sold as usual to the Russian public, resulting in profit for their European vendors. Because laws like that are just stupid, and when the government makes stupid laws, citizens should feel free to ignore them. That’s the way it’s done in democratic non-slave countries. You better believe that’s the way it’s done in France, which makes one hell of a lot of cheese, and would like to sell more of it to Russia and to hell with what Putin says. Right? Continue reading

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It’s Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away.

Uncle Volodya says, "You will never gain anyone's approval by begging for it. When you stand confident in your own worth, respect follows."

Uncle Volodya says, “You will never gain anyone’s approval by begging for it. When you stand confident in your own worth, respect follows.”

Out of the blue
and into the black
You pay for this,
but they give you that
And once you’re gone,
you can’t come back…

Neil Young, from “Into The Black

The final stage of a star, going into stellar death, is the supernova – the core ceases producing energy, and the surrounding layers collapse inward at the loss of  pressure. The release of energy as it explodes is a dazzling flare that can outshine a galaxy for a brief time, a few days. Then, burnout; the star becomes a neutron star, or a black hole.

What is happening to the United States of America?

In its increasingly erratic behavior, its insistence on its own “specialness” and exceptionalism, its stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality – instead remaining determined to “shape the narrative” and replace it with an alternate and fabricated reality – are we seeing the beginning of core collapse and the onset of burnout?

All empires eventually collapse upon themselves, what sustains them at their core no longer capable of projecting power outward as they succumb to overreach and a misplaced belief in their own invincibility. Is this process already underway?

More and more signs say yes, it is. Not just internationally, where respect for America has slipped steadily, but domestically, where Americans themselves gloomily offer their belief, in polling results, that the world is getting fed up with the USA throwing its weight around. A Rasmussen poll released a year ago suggests only 23 percent of Americans polled believe America is “on the right track”. The percentage of working-age Americans who are part of the U.S. workforce is at its lowest level since 1978, if you can believe it, with one in every three working-age Americans unemployed. In 2011, American debt passed 100% of GDP.

According to The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The U.S. workforce has experienced downward pressure on wages and benefits over recent decades. Median and average wages have stagnated for thirty years, while the availability and quality of health insurance and pension benefits have substantially eroded. By contrast, the concentration of wealth at the top of U.S. society has skyrocketed, to levels unseen since the 1920s.” Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Middle East, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1,124 Comments

Hello; I’m From the European Council on Foreign Relations – I Hear You Have a Bridge For Sale.

Uncle Volodya says, "Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them."

Uncle Volodya says, “Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.”

Are you familiar with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)? No? Well, have a look at their website. Not to be a spoiler or anything, but let me quote briefly from it: “Inspired by the role American think tanks played in helping the US move from isolationism to global leadership, ECFR’s founders set about creating a pan-European institution that could combine establishment credibility with intellectual insurgency.”

Intellectual insurgency – now, there’s a phrase that should inflame your mental ganglia with mingled interest and suspicion, and you’re going to see an inspired example of intellectual insurgency in just a moment.

“The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is a pan-European think-tank which conducts research and promotes informed debate across Europe on the development of a coherent and effective European values-based foreign policy.” Having, hopefully, established its affinity for intellectual insurgency, I’d like you to take the next step with me, and think about the target of all this intellectual insurgency. The formation of a coherent and effective European values-based policy.

Once again, please expore the website and draw your own conclusions; I have no wish to apply undue influence to your development of a viewpoint – but might I draw your attention to the membership?

Oh, the hell with it. Timothy Garton Ash, obsessive non-participatory warmonger and the biggest, knobbiest Russophobic prick in a waving pink field of turgid Russophobic pricks? Carl Bildt, Psychotic Pswede of the year and compulsive tweeter of everything anti-Russian? Ivan Krastev, Mr. Moscow-is-trying-to-split-the European Union when the European Union gleefully colluded in the manipulation of Euromaidan which started the cycle of violence in Ukraine? Radoslaw Sikorski, who needs no introduction? Toomas Ilves, fourth president of Estonia, who thinks current Russian wages are close to what they are in Ukraine? Russian average wages are more than three times as high as Ukraine’s – assuming people are actually getting paid in Ukraine – when both are converted to a common U.S. dollar value. Heidi “The EU is not trying to extend its sphere of influence to its eastern neighbours ” Hautala? Do tell. Come on, for Christ’s sake – don’t you think people can read? Continue reading

Posted in Caucasus, Corruption, Economy, Europe, Georgia, Government, Politics, Rule of Law, Saakashvili, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2,017 Comments

Navalny Hearts Trouble

Uncle Volodya says, "Enter, stranger; but, take heed Of what awaits the sin of greed: For those who take, but do not earn Must pay most dearly in their turn."

Uncle Volodya says, “Enter, stranger; but, take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed:
For those who take, but do not earn
Must pay most dearly in their turn.”

Longtime readers will recall that Yalensis has sort of a thing about Alexei Navalny, and worked harder than any real journalist I know of to get to the bottom of the KirovLes timber scandal for which he was found guilty of embezzlement. Navalny surfaced from time to time in the news after that, but any political gravitas he may have accumulated was spent when he failed in his gambit to win Mayor of Moscow. Although he actually made a surprisingly credible showing – largely thanks to Sobyanin’s not bothering to campaign – the government wisely gave him a suspended sentence for his financial crimes rather than jailing him, which I believe is what he hoped for. It would have allowed him to mount a political comeback by bleating that The Kremlin had locked him up to prevent his storming to victory in the election, while leaving him completely free to run gave him no excuse for failure except that the population of Moscow did not want him for mayor. He kind of hit the skids after that, largely disappearing from view except for cameo appearances to argue that sanctions are killing Russia, and basically adopting an opposite view to the official narrative, in an eerie imitation of the recently-assassinated Boris Nemtsov.

But he loves to be noticed, even if it’s just so that he can pretend he is a private person who doesn’t like being noticed. So we’re going to help a little, or Yalensis is. What follows is (potentially) yet a little more dirt on Navalny, a possible link between him and Hermitage Capital Management bad-boy William Browder, and a murky plot to discredit Russian businessman Denis Katsyv. Kastsyv is on the USA’s “Magnitsky List”, and the region in question is the Khimki Forest beloved of western lapdog Evgenia Chirikova. The final element in this crazy circus tent of disparate interests – furniture giant IKEA. I should mention that the case is currently before Arbitrage in Moscow, and ongoing. But I don’t imagine they will mind us kicking it around a little. Take it away, Yalensis!

IKEA, Browder, Navalny; A Tango For Three

Most of the material for this post comes from an interesting expose done by investigative journalist Oleg Lurie on his blog. The blogpost is entitled “IKEA, Browder, Navalny. A tango for three?

Executive Summary: Lurie alleges that William Browder secretly requested Alexei Navalny to launch a specific media campaign against Denis Katsyv.

[yalensis: I checked Navalny’s blog, but a word search on “Katsyv” didn’t produce any results.]

Khimki

Once upon a time there was a wealthy kolkhoz in the woods near Moscow named “Path of Ilyich” («Путь Ильича»), which held more than 3000 hectares of land. By the beginning of the 1990’s it was down to 1500 hectares, not all of them contiguous.

Later, this kolkhoz evolved into the “Collective Agricultural Enterprise” (КСХП) known as “Khimki Forest”. By 2010 Khimki was fully inventoried and reorganized as a contiguous public area, after resolving many disputes with former kolkhozniks and owners of private plots.

At the same time, mysteriously, 2 office buildings suddenly sprang up in one of the previously empty plots, around 20 hectares in size. In 2012, it was discovered that this plot of land containing the office buildings, had been surveyed and registered on behalf of IKEA. Apparently this plot had been sold to IKEA, which now held the title to it. The land deal was all the more lucrative, since the office buildings were also thrown into the deal, along with the land. Continue reading

Posted in Alexei Navalny, Corruption, Economy, Law and Order, Politics, Rule of Law, Russia | Tagged , , , , , , , | 301 Comments

About That Batumi Miracle…

Uncle Volodya says, "Honesty may be the best policy, but it's important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy."

Uncle Volodya says, “Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.”

Hey, remember back when Al Jazeera was the object of loathing and fear in the USA? Bankrolled by the Emir of Qatar – a thriving democracy in the Middle East whose ruler has been a male member of the Al Thani family since 1850 – Al Jazeera was once described by American media as “a mouthpiece for terrorists”, “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American”. It earned the anti-Semitic tag honestly enough, broadcasting an on-air birthday party organized by Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau chief for a Lebanese militant convicted of killing four Israelis, including a four-year-old girl. And considering it was the outlet which carried Sheik Qaradawi’s weekly program, “Sharia and Life” and Sheik Qaradawi “extended his Koranic blessing to suicide bombing against American civilians in Iraq”, you could make an argument that it earned the anti-American tag honestly as well.

No more, though – all water under the bridge, let bygones be bygones. The outlet’s managers could not now be more pro-American, as this gushing testimonial to Mikheil Saakashvili’s appointment as Odessa’s governor attests. Penned by former United States Army officer Luke Coffey, it is a progressive tongue bath of Saakashvili that is almost embarrassing to read, kind of like watching a bizarre peep show featuring repugnant sex. Unless you’re an admirer of the former Georgian president, of course, in which case it is only his due as the Caesar Of His Time; render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

Coffey pitches a quick little historical vignette, describing how observers and analysts should not be surprised at Poroshenko’s appointment of a foreigner to lead Odessa, since that was de rigeuer back in 1803. Two French noblemen were appointed during this period, the first by Tsar Alexander himself, as governors of Odessa. These appointments join wife selling, tobacco smoke enemas, lobotomy and the Divine Right of Kings as examples of a progressive society, for the period in which they were common. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Education, Europe, Georgia, Government, Investment, Saakashvili, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2,228 Comments