The West is as Thick as the Earth’s Mantle

Uncle Volodya says, “Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.”

It’s funny how some posts come to be. Sometimes I stop myself partway through a reply to a commenter on another post, thinking, hey; there’s enough meat in this for a whole post, rather than just a one-paragraph rant. Or sometimes, as is the case with this post, I start out writing a new comment, just to draw the readers’ attention to something I read, and think the same thing – there’s more material here, and it forms a new picture. This could go somewhere. Let’s play with it a little, see if there’s something to it.

Once I decide there is something to it, I start looking for a hook – something catchy which will tie the title in with the post, so that while the connection might not be immediately apparent, it will be revealed within the body of the post.

In this case, a little explanation is called for, because the connection is so roundabout.

First, I ran across an hilarious post on Interfax Ukraine, which I was just going to offer for everyone’s amusement. It featured the 17-year-old CEO of Naftogaz, Andriy (it’s very important to Ukrainians that they spell their names differently from the Russian spelling, because they are not ignorant Slavs like the Russians, but the descendants of billion-year-old-carbon extraterrestrials) Kobolev, blubbering about how Siemens had caved in to pressure from the Russians, and stopped the sale of compressors to Naftogaz that it needed to modernize its Gas Transit System (GTS). He’s not really 17, of course; he just has that Richie Cunningham kind of face that makes him look perennially pubescent, complete with red hair. That’s part of what makes the article funny. There’s more, but we’ll get to that, in a bit.

Then it occurred to me that I’ve seen a loose series of pieces lately which mention Ukraine and gas transit, such as Ken Rapoza’s piece for Forbes (which I mentioned already, in the comments to the previous post), where he unaccountably suggests that Russia has discovered it still needs Ukraine. As I argued on that occasion, Ukraine’s soulful big-eyed caricature of trustworthiness is unlikely to fool anyone in Russia, and merely underscores how important it is for Russia’s continuing progress and uncoupling from the west that it circumvent Ukraine, and not rely on it for anything.

But then I ran across this. The EU is again taking the position, or at least it appears so from the gobbling of the human turkey Maros Sefcovic, that transit of Russian gas through Ukraine after 2020 is a priority. And I thought, holy shit. Are we really going to go through all this all over again? And then I thought, what’s a word for people who are incapable of learning? It’s plain that western bureaucrats see themselves – and I know it’s an analogy I have used before – as Lucy in the Peanuts comic strips, holding the football for Charlie Brown (Russia), only to snatch it away at the last second so that Charlie Brown/Russia falls ignominiously on his ass, to great amusement. What’s a word for people who are so stupid that they believe everyone else is too stupid to see through their self-interested mendacity? Continue reading

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Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , , | 438 Comments

The Politics Of Desperation

Uncle Volodya says, “When the waterholes were dry, people sought to drink at the mirage.”

Those who are regular readers here know what I think of Shaun Walker, the British Austin Powers lookalike and blabbermouth-at-large who scribes Russophobic nonsense for The Guardian, The Independent and whoever else will pay him. Naturally, since he sometimes actually lives in Moscow and writes about Russia a lot – all of it reliably sarcastic and mocking of the backward and bewildered Russian peasantry – and knows how to say “Sheremetyevo”, he is regularly touted as a ‘Russia expert’ by the western media who feature his caustic denunciations of the Evil Empire and its wicked Emperor, Vladimir Putin.

Some will remember Walker’s famous dispatch from the sharp end of the battlefield in Ukraine, in which he and his sidekick, Roland Oliphant, personally witnessed a Russian military convoy crossing into Ukraine, presumably bound for mischief in the Donbas…and never got a picture. You just have to take their word for it. As I also mentioned before, Walker has his cellphone handy to snap a piccie if Aeroflot puts too much dill on his inflight meal. It’s pretty hard to imagine he and his pal were on a daring mission to prove Russian military complicity in the resistance of Eastern Ukraine, and didn’t bring along a single piece of equipment capable of taking a photograph.

All that notwithstanding, this is not really about Shaun Walker. He merely provided the catalyst for this post. I was reading an article awhile ago which quoted him, although of course I cannot find it now. This was around the time Russia kicked out some 600 or so employees of the United States Embassy to the Russian Federation in Moscow. Although it was too big a deal to ignore it altogether, the USA downplayed it by insisting almost none of them would be Americans, that the people let go would be almost entirely Russian ‘local hires’, and that the Embassy was rather looking forward to the folksy experience of teamwork and camaraderie which would see the Ambassador driving the mail truck and various diplomats sweeping the floors and taking out the trash. As if.

Anyway, for some time now Shaun Walker has been possessed of the belief that he has noticed something overlooked by the rest of the snoopy world; that back when Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the USA – ostensibly for Russian meddling in the American election and making Hillary lose – that would have been the time for Putin to drop the political-expulsion hammer of retaliation. But he didn’t. Basically, there was no overt reaction whatever. Despite the fact that at the same time, the US government seized two Russian ‘compounds’; property owned by Russia in the United States and used for diplomatic purposes.

Although Russia protested at the time – the properties were bought by the Soviet government, during the Cold War, at market prices and with US government approval and are therefore the legal property of the Soviet Union’s inheritors – that the behavior was a de facto and de jure violation of international law, Russia did not react in kind. Continue reading

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It Looks as if Your Dead Horse Could Use a Touch of the Lash.

Uncle Volodya says, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.”

Let’s see…who will we hold up to ridicule today for their fanciful portrayal of current or past events in a manner which is strongly reminiscent of a certain story, in which one ate from different sides of the same mushroom to make one tiny or gigantic, and there was a lot of falling down rabbit-holes? I was sorely tempted to pick Luke Coffey’s entry, Ukraine’s Future is Brighter Than You Think, for The National Interest. You all remember Luke, former US Army officer turned think-tanker, perhaps for his public and very enthusiastic endorsement of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as a Swiss-army-knife solution to Ukraine’s corruption problems. Yes, it was hard to keep from laughing; I talked a bit about it here. Suffice it to say that here we are, a little better than two years down the road from that embarrassing moment, and Ukraine has made zero realistic progress. Its tubby oligarch President is still owner of all the businesses he promised to sell back when he was elected, is richer than ever, still hasn’t learned anything about running a country, and for its part the country was recognized – a year after Coffey’s exhibition of slobbering devotion – as the most corrupt country in Europe. Saakashvili was obviously about as useful as a chocolate teapot at fighting corruption, and now he has been stripped of his last remaining citizenship by Ukraine’s portly font of corruption himself, Petro Poroshenko. He’s currently hanging out in The Land of the Free, where he frequently couch-surfs between bouts of doing nothing about corruption in Ukraine, terrifying the fast-food population and adding to his gross tonnage. Lest you think I am gratuitously mocking him, see if you can name one useful thing he ever did to fight corruption in Ukraine – one official who was successfully prosecuted for corruption thanks to his whistle-blowing. Oh, I know he can generate no end of audio over his ‘reforms’, but that’s because he speaks fluent Washingtonian and knows all the ideological buzz-words.  Word is he may have to seek asylum there. That was likely his plan since some time back, and he’s just testing the waters, because his support in Ukraine is even lower than Poroshenko’s. You can hardly swing a dead cat by the tail in Washington without hitting some exiled leader-in-waiting, and the regime-change auditioning steadily adds to their number, but I suppose there’s always room for 1.8 more (Saakashvili is almost two people, and has the chins for three).

The article in question is low-hanging, juicy fruit, packed with counterintuitive, crackpotty and easily disprovable assertions, such as that the macroeconomic situation in Ukraine is now stable. I guess he threw that big ‘macroeconomic’ word in there – six syllables!!! – so you would not guess that he does not know what ‘stable’ means. In fact, Ukraine is running a trade deficit of $442 million USD, unemployment is as bad as it was at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008 and headed north at a brisk clip, the country remains dependent on IMF handouts for its survival, and the forecast for GDP growth is regularly revised downward as the time for it to surge up into happiness figures draws nigh. The national debt as a ratio of GDP has doubled since the glorious Maidan. Ukraine  is to stability what mud pies are to haute cuisine.

Exports are up, Coffey tells us. First off, I don’t know how he would know that, since economic data typically lags by nearly a year and he provides no figures. But in 2015 Ukraine realized twice as much money from exports of sunflower oil and seed as it did from agglomerated iron ores and concentrates, and metals are one of the fields he cites as growing. That same year, Ukraine exported $ 38,127 million worth of goods, and imported $ 37,516 million. Did I mention the balance of trade had worsened since 2015, which – all things considered – was actually a pretty good year for post-Maidan Ukraine?

Anyway, as I said, it was tempting. We could have had a lot of fun, making fun of Luke and his saccharine daydreams. But in the end, I let it go, in favour of thisDer Spiegel’s apocalyptic view of conditions in the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics…as they understand them from known crackpot and former Ukrainian SBU member Alexander Khodakovsky, whom they contacted via WhatsApp. Continue reading

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The Credibility Gap That Ought To Be

Uncle Volodya says, “The habit of disguising ideology as expertise has created a deficit of legitimacy.”

Leap aboard the Lyttenburgh Omnibus; what follows is a looonnngg guest post by Lyttenburgh, one which is going to be like the blind men who are trying to describe an elephant. “An elephant is like a rope”, says the one who is holding the trunk. “An elephant is more like a tree” says the one standing at the foreleg. “An elephant is warm and squishy”, says the one standing….well, never mind that for now. I suspect it is going to be about different things for different readers, but I believe I can promise it will make you think. We are all aware that English is Lyttenburgh’s second language, and he has a unique – though accomplished – delivery which I have not edited (much) so as to preserve its colourful flavour. Without further ado, light it up, Lyttenburgh!

On the current problems of Shamanism of the Global North.

“Let’s decide already,”  the PhD began seriously,  “what we’re talking about.

Okay. The second question: how do you personally feel about the problem of shamanism in certain areas of the North?

The PhDs laughed. Gleb Kapustin also smiled. And patiently waited for the PhDs to finish laughing.

“No, you can, of course, pretend that there is no such problem. I’m happy to laugh with you, too… ” Gleb smiled generously again. Especially he smiled at the PhDs wife, also a PhD, a PhDess, so to speak.  “But from that, the problem as such will not cease to exist. Right?”

” Are you serious about all of this?”  asked Valya.

“With your permission, ”  Gleb Kapustin rose and bowed slightly to the PhDess. She blushed.  “The question, of course, is not a global one, but, from our point of view, it would be interesting to know.”

“But which question? ” exclaimed the PhD.

“Your attitude to the problem of shamanism. ” Valya again involuntarily laughed. But she quickly stopped and said to Gleb, “Excuse me, please.”

“It’s nothing”, said Gleb. ” I understand that maybe I did not ask a question within your specialty…”

“There is no such problem!”  the PhD again rushed with a categorical answer. That was his mistake. He should’ve known better. Now Gleb laughed. And said:

“Well, that solves it!”

The local folks looked at the PhD.

“Good riddance”,  Gleb said. “There is no problem, but these …” Gleb showed something intricate with his hands,  “they dance, they beat their tambourines… Yes?” But if you wish… ” Gleb repeated ” If-You-Wish they do not exist. Right?”

Vasiliy Shukshin

Paging through old blogposts of the fallen Russia-watcher, I’ve been always thinking about Russia and the fates (c). “How come?” and “Why?” are the questions I most often ask myself – facepalming all the way.

For my more than 6 years of Russia-Watching (as, if you will, an “insider” from Russia’s side) I saw a… process… so to speak… of this field both changing and staying the same. i.e. I saw a general trend of it getting worse and worse. No, seriously – the book of Ecclesiastes makes more fun reading, and leaves a much more positive lasting impression afterwards, than any attempt to delve deep into the Wonderland, which is the collective world of those who, correctly or not, are considered to be gurus of Russia Watching.

If you’d like a (probably completely inaccurate, but very colorful) comparison, then the modern and much lauded Global Village of the highly opinionated people is a village indeed. They have at their fingertips the highest amount of data ever accessible to humanity and who either don’t access it at all, or access it without thinking, replacing with this raw, undiluted knowledge without the understanding.

But don’t worry – the globalized world of all-knowing know-nothings is not really a Village! It’s a Cave. Populated by the primitive cavemen. Yup.

Primitive early humans had their own primitive, early worldview. One of the many things they did believe in was the Magic. Before going out and try to hunt a savage beast that could easily defeat and devour one of them, they took all possible precautions. Besides arming themselves with spears they will surely go and visit their local Guru, Shaman, a Wise Person, reputedly all-knowing about the unsafe world beyond and above. Here in Guru’s personal Cave (who, despite not engaging oneself in the daily chores of the Tribe, was always well-fed and taken care of no matter what) they underwent the Ritual, which was, they were assured, to make them successful in their hunt and helping them slay the Beast. After working themselves up into rage, the hunters will then participate in the piece de resistance of the ritual – they will come to one particular wall in the Shaman’s cave where the dreaded Beast is pictured and start hurling their spears at it, imaging that this flat surface with some pigment on it is something more, that it IS the Beast itself, and that they with their sticks do magic – that they are harming the Beast even without engaging it. Continue reading

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Flirting With Disaster

Uncle Volodya says, “It’s like when you make a move in chess and just as you take your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you’ve made, and there’s this panic because you don’t know yet the scale of disaster you’ve left yourself open to.”

…Speeding down the fast lane, honey
Playin’ from town to town;
The boys and I have been burnin’ it up, can’t seem to slow it down.
I’ve got the pedal to the floor, our lives are runnin’ faster,
Got our sights set straight ahead,
But ain’t sure what we’re after…

Molly Hatchet, from Flirting With Disaster

Any Darwin Awards fans out there? For those few who have never heard of them, the Darwin Awards celebrate those individuals who have rendered a significant service to mankind by taking themselves out of the global gene pool. In preparing to discuss today’s subject, I am reminded of unfortunate 1999 award-winner ‘James’ from Missouri, who became so fixated upon his love interest that he tried to lop off his own head with a chainsaw to demonstrate his commitment to an outcome on his terms. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful on both counts, he did fatally injure himself, and died in hospital. Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

My intent today is to demonstrate clear destructive similarities between the above emotional decision and the equally simpleminded decision of the US Senate to impose further economic sanctions on Russia, this time explicitly tying them to penalizing of European companies which do business with Russia – moreover, in a clear attempt to stop the latter from proceeding with the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project. This, in turn, is clearly an attempt by the USA to make Europe a captive market for its own energy products, in the form of shipborne LNG. Significantly, that goal is also finally becoming clear to Europe; or at least to the parts of it that matter, such as Germany (thanks for the tip, James!)

Try to put aside, for the moment, the insufferable arrogance of American meddling in Europe’s energy market, with a view to restricting its choice while – laughably – pretending it is broadening European energy options.

The readers and commenters of this blog will be well aware, since it has been a topic of discussion for years here, that a critical underpinning of the western plan to seize Ukraine and wrest it into the western orbit was the premise that Russia would be forced by simple momentum to go along with it. As long as events continued to unfold too quickly to get ahead of, Russia would have to help supply the sinews of its own destruction. And a big part of that was the assumption that Russia would help to finance Ukraine’s transition to a powerful western fulcrum upon which to apply leverage against it, through continued trade with Ukraine and continued transit of Europe’s energy supply through Ukraine’s pipeline system.

But Russia slapped a trade embargo on most Ukrainian goods, and rescinded its tariff-free status as it became clear Brussels planned to use it to stovepipe European trade goods into the Russian market, through Ukraine – thus crushing domestic industries which would not be able to compete on economically-favourable terms. The armchair strategists nearly shit a brick when construction of the South Stream pipeline commenced, bypassing Ukraine and depriving it of about $2 billion annually in transit fees. But pressure ultimately forced Bulgaria to throw a wrench into the works, and the pipeline plans were shelved, to much victory dancing in the west. There was not quite as much happy-dancing in Bulgaria, but they were only ever a pawn anyway.

Sidebar for a moment, here; while the $2 Billion annually in transit fees is extremely important, Ukraine’s pre-crisis GDP was $163 Billion. The funds realized for transit fees are important because (a) Russia has to pay them and (b) the west will have to come up with the equivalent in aid if Ukraine loses out on them. But the real value intrinsic to Ukraine as a transit country is its physical reality as an interface for Russian gas transit to Europe – what is a bridge can be easily turned into a wall. Any time Washington thinks Russia needs some more shit on its face, Ukraine can be prodded to announce a doubling of its transit fees, or to kick off some other dispute which the popular press will adroitly spin to make Russia appear to be an unreliable supplier. Therefore, it is essential to western strategy that significant amounts of Russian gas continue to transit Ukraine. Sufficiently so that Europe continues to evolve ever-more-desperate contingency plans in order to keep receiving gas through the country which was known to have provoked the previous shutoff of European supplies by siphoning Europe-bound gas for its own use. That’s despite the assurances of Germany and western partners of Gazprom in the Nord Stream line that it will mean cheaper gas prices for Europe. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , | 953 Comments

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Uncle Volodya says, “It’s too bad that stupidity isn’t painful. Ignorance is one thing, but our society thrives increasingly on stupidity. It depends on people going along with whatever they are told. The media promotes a cultivated stupidity as a posture that is not only acceptable but laudable.”

…I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall….

A Hard Rain’s a’Gonna Fall; Bob Dylan

Josh Rogin is always magic.

In his clever hands, facts become…fluid; nebulous things that support the truth he wants you to internalize, often inserted deftly in an otherwise-true statement in such a way that they borrow from its truth.

And Josh Rogin reports that Washington is about to involve itself in the Ukraine peace process in a big way.

Like just about every political marker Trump has thrown down since he began his feckless turn as head of American decision-making, he has reversed himself as if his previous statements were never made.  As recently as this past July, when he was still just a candidate rather than the waking nightmare he is now, Trump said the Ukraine mess was “Europe’s problem”, and the USA should only step in if other countries ask for its help. Considering what a dog’s breakfast Washington has made of past nation-building efforts, and its slobbering devotion for Israel in endless ‘negotiations’ with the Palestinians in its own parody of a peace process, you would think that is about as likely to happen as a tiny angel appearing to sit on your shoulder and help you make good decisions.

Well, Germany at least – not to mention Josh Rogin – affects to be delighted that Washington is considering inviting itself to form the Normandy Five, and inject its bouncy, effervescent presence into Ukrainian reconciliation. What could go wrong? It’s only putting the world’s two biggest nuclear powers into direct confrontation. Continue reading

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It Is What It Isn’t: Fake News Comes of Age as Ideology Trumps Evidence

Uncle Volodya says, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

Our deeds still travel with us from afar; and what we have been makes us what we are.

George Eliot, Middlemarch

We have arrived, in my opinion, upon the moment in the course of human history which marks the nadir of the journalistic profession. I cannot conceive of a situation in which the occupation could become more debased, more wretched than it has become already, and what we refer to as the ‘mainstream media’ no longer makes any effort to tell the truth, to substantiate what it purports to be true with hard evidence or even any evidence, or to disguise its service in the cut and thrust of political bias and character assassination.

Shaun Walker, The Guardian‘s corpulent correspondent in Russia, and his sidekick Roland Oliphant claimed to have seen with their own eyes a convoy of regular Russian Army vehicles and soldiers crossing the border from  Russia into Ukraine…but neither of them got a photo or a video clip despite their both supposedly being journalists by profession, who understand the maxim, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. But his dinky little cell-phone camera is ever ready to do yeoman service in the pursuit of mocking Russian food on Aeroflot flights, and he has lots of time to arse about on his Facebook group dedicated to what he feels is a Russian obsession with dill. All of his complaining is backed up, it goes nearly without saying, with photographs. Yet he didn’t get a picture of the stealth-invading Russian battalions even though he knew the subject was hotly debated, and proof would have made his name a household word. Well, he is a household word, although it’s not “Shaun Walker”. But you know what I mean.

Or peruse this piece of rubbish. Among yearning for a repeat of the 1917 revolution on its hundredth anniversary and quoting the Moscow Times’ tiresome demand for Russia to  ‘condemn its Soviet past’

It is at this moment that Russia and its president must address the legacy of 1917—the throngs in the streets waving red banners, dragging the emperor from his throne and pumping slugs into him and his kids. “The upcoming centennial of the 1917 revolution that toppled the czar and paved the way for Bolshevik rule promises to put the Kremlin in a tight spot,” predicts the (still-) independent Moscow Times. “At the same time, the Kremlin is unwilling to unequivocally condemn the events the revolution set in motion or its Soviet past.”

and selectively quoting Putin without context or background,

And it is Yeltsin whose deconstruction of the USSR itself is what Olga from the Volga is thankful her red-eyed grandmother did not live to see. (Putin has called it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”)

so as to imply yet one more time that Putin seeks to recreate the Soviet Union, the author persists with the simpleminded meme that Putin rigged the American presidential election to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning.

He and his fellow western journalists are aided in this bizarre allegation by the USA’s intelligence agencies, who claim to have evidence that points to Russian interference.  They can’t show anyone, of course – everything the CIA deals with has important national security implications, and if they told the world how Putin hacked American elections, well….well, he might do it again. Or something. Continue reading

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