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 , , , , , , | 952 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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A Trial of Spiritual Resolve: Sergey Lavrov’s Speech to the Military Academy of the General Staff

Uncle Volodya says, “Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack..”

“Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root… Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate determinant in the struggle that’s now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.”

Ronald Reagan, The Quest for Peace, the Cause of Freedom

Ronald Reagan was at the same time one of American history’s most polarizing and most iconic presidents.  Even his enemies would have to concede he was a hell of a public speaker, and although it was questionable in retrospect how much of what he said he actually understood, he had that “This just makes sense” delivery that caused listeners to cheerfully abandon doubt.

And that would be unwise, because Ronald Reagan loved to use American military power, never mind his blarney about we-hope-we’ll-never-have-to-use-it. He bombed Libya because Gaddafi had the temerity to declare Libyan sovereign territory off-limits and because he was publicly anti-Israel, and Reagan drove American policy vis-a-vis Russia to rollback rather than detente. All that notwithstanding, his quote above might have been written for Russia today, and the crossroads at which it stands. Continue reading

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As the Quicksand Closes Over WADA’s Head…a Lifeline is Thrown From the Unlikeliest Quarter

Uncle Volodya says,

Uncle Volodya says, “Sports is like a war without the killing.”

On so many evenings in Moscow, when the working day is done and it’s Miller Time, and Vladimir Putin goes home to his disgustingly decadent Italianate palace, he must run up to his bedroom, throw himself upon his giant four-poster (caparisoned in black silk embroidered with the double-headed imperial eagle, £376.00 from Bespoke Bedlinens of London), and laugh until tears come to his eyes at the modern comedy which is human nature.

Oh, I was just kidding about the palace and the fancy bed; I made up the latter, and the former is a perennial fable from circus-clown fatboy and ‘Kremlin insider’ Stas Belkovsky. I personally doubt Mr. Putin needs the trappings of opulence to any significant degree – he rides a high every day of running the world’s biggest country, and diddling the west until it weeps angry tears of frustration.

Consider the classic example of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) recent fall from grace. It went from thumping its chest and promising the McLaren Report would go through Russia like shit through buckwheat, harvesting government ministers as it went, to making excuses for the debacle whereby it had to admit there was not enough evidence contained in the report for individual prosecutions.

What a bitter pill that must have been to swallow. Note, please, the new appearance of terms like ‘alleged’ and ‘implicated’. Because it wasn’t always that way, was it? No, indeed; it wasn’t. Let’s recall WADA Director Sir Craig Reedie’s gloating tone in the agency’s statement which accompanied the release of the McLaren Report:

The Moscow laboratory operated, for the protection of doped Russian athletes, within a State-dictated failsafe system, described in the Report as the Disappearing Positive Methodology…The Sochi laboratory operated a unique sample swapping methodology to enable doped Russian athletes to compete at the Games…The Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athletes’ analytical results and sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the Federal Security Service (FSB); the Center of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia (CSP); and, both Moscow and Sochi laboratories…Shamefully, the McLaren Report corroborates the allegations

In fact, the McLaren Report does no such thing. It does make a lot of allegations, but it – embarrassingly – relied almost exclusively on ‘disclosures’ from nutball-for-hire Grigory Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov previously spent time in a mental institution, although that was quite possibly a dodge employed to avoid prosecution for involvement in a doping ring, and an investigation which netted his sister Marina.

McLaren claimed to have seen a demonstration of how the tamper-proof sample bottles could be opened, cleaned, refilled and resealed without breaking the cap or leaving any obvious sign of tampering. If he did, it was not to the very best of my knowledge ever repeated for experts in the field. FSB involvement was never substantiated by evidence, and Berlinger (manufacturer of the sample bottles) stood by their product in a statement issued following the release of the McLaren Report. It provided, in part;

In neither its own tests nor any tests conducted by the independent institute in Switzerland has any sealed Berlinger Special AG urine sample bottle proved possible to open.

The people who made the bottles and know them best say their experts and an independent testing entity could not get the sealed bottles open without either breaking the cap – which is designed to happen, verifying the bottle has been opened either by the testing agency, legitimately, or for potentially nefarious tampering with the contents – or showing obvious signs of damage. McLaren has not demonstrated his mystery method which he says convinced him it could be – and was – done, and I’m betting he never will. As so often occurs in sanctimonious western sermonizing on the subject of Russia and its myriad evils, it’s “I just know. Never mind how; just trust me”. Continue reading

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When I Fight Reality, Reality Always Wins.

Uncle Volodya says, "A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

Uncle Volodya says, “A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”

When I hear the phrase, “American rocker”, I frequently think of John Mellencamp. He started out in the 1970’s, professionally, as ‘John Cougar’ because his manager said nobody would ever buy a record by someone named John Mellencamp. Eventually, when he was well established in the music business, he went back to his birth name, after a brief transition period as ‘John Cougar Mellencamp’.

He seemed to me the quintessential American performer in the few interviews in which I saw him; although he does not come across as particularly well-educated, he is always honest, modest and direct, and…real, I guess. He still lives in the same Midwestern state where he was born, and dedicated much of his musical career to mild activism in support of American farmers, small-town life and the environment. If you were looking for an American star who is not a pretentious prick full of himself, but who reflects quiet dignity, self-awareness and what Americana beyond the delusional world of the Beltway is all about, I don’t think you could do much better than John Mellencamp.

I’ve never seen him play, although we were actually in the same city at the same time once; Norfolk, Virginia, in the early 80’s. I was only there for a couple of days, and by the time I heard about the show it was sold out.

But this post isn’t about John Mellencamp; we just want to borrow the lead-in from his “Authority Song”. When I fight authority, authority always wins, baby. In discussion of the situation in Ukraine, long-time commenter Yalensis proposed a slight rewrite to encompass the yawning chasm between Kiev’s happy talk of visa-free travel and Eurosnuggling, and the miserable penury that is the daily lot of Ukrainians who do not own a candy company, a TV station and assorted other business ventures. The new version would be, when I fight reality, reality always wins. And so it will, because you can only keep it at bay for so long.

The story that inspired his witticism was this one: “Natural Gas Shortage Will Cause Ukraine to Look to Russia”, in The Observer. That’s how it’s listed by search item, but for some unaccountable reason the headline on the actual story reads, “Russia is Hoping to Freeze Ukraine Into Submission”.

That so? Well, their hopes of doing that must have been temporarily dashed back in November, when Poroshenko assured the country that Ukraine had enough gas and coal to last through the winter. Bragged about it as just another of Ukraine-under-Poroshenko’s miraculous achievements, in fact. But who knew winter would still be going on in January, am I right? Must be climate change, or something. Continue reading

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