Who You Gonna Believe – NATO, or Your Lyin’ Eyes?

Uncle Volodya says, "We must know something about malevolence, about how to recognize it, and about how not to make excuses for it. We must know that we cannot expect fair play."

Uncle Volodya says, “We must know something about malevolence, about how to recognize it, and about how not to make excuses for it. We must know that we cannot expect fair play.”

My father always told me that what’s wrong with lying is that it’s an admission of weakness. If you’re the strongest, you can afford to tell the truth.

K.J. Parker

The western media is abuzz with a new term that seems to be on the lips of every State Department staffer, every western journalist, every compliant NATO puppet and cheerleader abroad, and of course in Kiev, ground zero for Russian hatred on the planet. Hybrid Warfare. This, we are told, is how Russia is managing the battle in the east of Ukraine so that the Ukrainian capital – despite its highly professional, well-equipped and motivated army – cannot work its will on the easterners and bring them to heel as productive and happy contributors to a new European Union state and aspirant to NATO membership.

It must strike the thinkers among the greater public – and there are some – that “hybrid warfare” is an awfully convenient term which allows the west to prance about and yell that Russia is in the war up to its eyes…without ever having to offer any proof. What? Of course we don’t have any pictures, you dolt: it’s hybrid warfare, ever hear of it? Well, then – pay attention to current events, try and keep up, and don’t be such a Kremlin apologist.

The big-forehead types do not tell us how Russia can be foiling the Forces of Love and Understanding in Kiev so that they cannot crush the east – through hybrid warfare, naturally, in which their troops remain invisible – but does not take advantage of pivotal decisive defeats like Ilovaisk and Debaltseve to push the eastern salient to the doorstep of Kiev itself. God knows a flock of armored budgies would be as effective at stopping them as the Ukrainian army if they chose to commit their allegedly limitless Russian reserves, and you would think an invisible army would be quite a useful asset. Yet for some reason they choose to fight only when attacked. It would probably not require much of a strategic imagination to proffer a solution whereby the Ukrainian army stopped attacking, and it seems reasonable to conclude that this would result in fewer deaths.

Now, I had a point when I came in here….Oh, yes. Hybrid warfare. This concept was discussed at length in a clip one of the readers posted (thanks, Warren), which is a recording of a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. It is moderated by Paul Schwartz, a Senior Associate in the organization’s Russia and Eurasia Program. Mr. Schwartz is well-known in Washington circles, having been employed at various high-level IT positions in the Defense Department, including the F-22 program, and an attorney with international law firm Hogan & Hartson. His guest needs no introduction – co-author of the Clark-Karber Report, purveyor of fake photos of advancing Russian tank columns to the Senate Armed Services Committee and author of research on China’s nuclear weapons capability in 2011 that has been referred to alternately as a “goat rodeo” and “lazy and incompetent” which was apparently traced to an article plagiarized by a student from a single posting on a Usenet forum in 1995. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Law and Order, Military, Russia, Strategy, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 314 Comments

“Operation Fuck Putin” Hits a Wall, as the Russian Economy Returns to Growth

Uncle Volodya says, "He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice."

Uncle Volodya says, “He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.”

Take me back won’t ya
Take me back won’t ya;
I’ll change my ways
Take me back won’t ya
Take me back won’t ya;
I’m not the same…

Bryan Adams, from “Take Me Back

Paul Robinson sent me a link yesterday that made me laugh out loud. You remember that scene in “Back to the Future”, when a carload of bullies is chasing Michael J. Fox on an improvised skateboard, and they run into the back of a truck which dumps about three-quarters of a ton of warm cow shit through the convertible top? Yeah, that was funny. Or the scene in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie Parker, grunting angry profanity, falls upon school bully Scut Farkus like a wildcat on peyote and reduces him to blubbering sobs? Poetic justice, how sweet it is.

The bully getting his ass handed to him is a perennially popular concept. That’s why I laughed when I read that the Russian economy has quietly returned to growth, (thanks, Paul) and added $10 Billion to its reserves since it had to spend a ton of money to keep things on the rails through Washington’s determined attempts – aided and abetted by its schoolyard quislings The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – to wreck the Russian economy and cause so much human suffering in Russia that the people would revolt and overthrow their leader. Another humanitarian regime-change effort, brought to you by Shining City On A Hill Incorporated; it is no wonder Kiev continues to try to smash the east of its own country into submission. It knows full well that democracy is just the fig leaf the west uses to screen its loins so nobody will notice that violence gives it a boner.

The Russian economy has begun to swing positive again, the MICEX is up 17.97% on the year to date (the NYSE is up 2.48% over the same period). The ruble gained 22.3% between February and April of this year, and is currently the world’s best-performing currency. That might not be a long-term trend, and the World Bank moans in agony that Russia risks a two-year recession; but Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation’s president and  Time Magazine’s pick for Most Influential Person of 2015 has good reason to look back in satisfaction over the past year or so. Under his leadership, Russia has outmaneuvered the clumsy west at every turn – showing it up as having not only feet of clay, but a head of cheese. And the best part, I’m sure – from Putin’s viewpoint – is that the west has brought it all upon itself, stubbornly insisting on taking the most damaging course every time over the protests of many who could see what was going to happen, but could only close their eyes and brace for the crash. The Lord of the Flies writ large – a triumph of idiots. Continue reading

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Who’s That Trip-Trapping on my Bridge – the Fable of Putin’s Troll Army

Uncle Volodya says, "When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state."

Uncle Volodya says, “When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.”

I was thinking, a few days ago, that I might do a post on the bellyaching and caterwauling from the Russophobes about Moscow’s supposed army of “paid trolls”, who are reimbursed by the Russian government for clogging western comment threads with fallacious arguments and childish insults which detract from – or derail entirely – thoughtful and informative commentary, often ridiculing the post itself into the bargain. As I made my daily round of certain publications, including Russia Insider, I saw that I had been trumped in that intention by the inimitable Patrick Armstrong with “The West Throws a Temper Tantrum“. There is no besting Patrick, with his enviable background in Russian affairs, his diplomatic experience and his pungent vocabulary – and even if there were, he references a story by Mark Ames of The eXile fame, who has traced the provenance of the “Russian Trolls” theme and found it to be a recurring wet dream of the Russophobes as far back as 2013.

The Incredible Human Smarm Generator, Max Seddon, England’s answer to beefcake magazines  (I’m assuming here that he is from England because such an insufferable twit really could not have come from anywhere else, but please correct me if I am wrong and I will have the guilty location pulled down and sown with salt and dragon’s teeth) did it back in 2014, basing his breathless report on “Plans attached to emails leaked by a mysterious Russian hacker collective”, although the location is the same one as that described in more recent scoops – the Internet Research Center on 55 Savushkina St., St Petersburg. According to Ames’ story, Seddon’s source and the furthest back we can easily trace the story is – surprise – Novaya Gazeta, The Little Newspaper That Could; employer of the martyred Anna Politkovskaya, circulation about 184,000 copies (many, like The Moscow Times, giveaways in hotels and train stations). Partly owned by Russian oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev and former jilted President Mikhail Gorbachev, Novaya Gazeta now distinguishes itself by publishing the hoarse grunting and screaming of Yulia Latynina, who wrote that poor people should not be allowed to vote because they are hungry and will vote for any prospective leader who promises them food, and who caught on before anyone else that the Chel’yabinsk meteorite was a secret government missile test that got away from them. She retracted that story shortly after it was released, but was unrepentant – she was wrong this time, but make no mistake, that did not mean the Kremlin was not up to devilish experiments. Oh, all right; one more. She announced in 2012 that Putin would use distractions in the Middle East to “stage his long-awaited attack on Georgia”. There were clear signs of the contingency planning for this, she confided, in another advertisement for the wisdom of wearing a helmet when playing contact sports.

Anyway, now that I have hopefully established for you the provenance – to say nothing of the credibility – of the source of this latest nutty obsession, we don’t want to make this about the source. The droll droolery of this unbridled foolishness has been exposed, and done to death.

And yet. I decided to go ahead with it, because there is an entire fundamental in this story that I did not see covered to my satisfaction. Continue reading

Posted in Education, Europe, Government, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , | 310 Comments

Alexei Bayer Dips a Toe Into the Gene Pool

Uncle Volodya says, "Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic."

Uncle Volodya says, “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.”

You all remember Alexei Bayer, right? The “native Muscovite” – which I suppose is technically true although he left the land of his birth while a teenager and moved to the Land Of Opportunity, where he is now an economist living in New York.  For an economist he seems to have an awful lot of free time to write about subjects other than economics, which he does prolifically, for authoritative sources such as The Moscow Times and The Kyiv Post.

Not content with dominating merely two fields, however, he has recently sundered the surly bonds of academia and branched out into genealogy. Making his DNA debut in The Kyiv Post, Alexei solves the mystery of why the rascally Moskali are so scornful of Ukrainians – the true nobility of Eastern Europe. Hold onto your hats, folks; this is big.

Most Russians are not Slavs at all, but descendants of the Finno-Ugric tribes. Lyosha does not advance that theory himself – relying instead on some “recent study” which he does not cite – but he is happy to pass it along as credible. That’s his job.

He hastens to soothe that it doesn’t really matter where you’re from; bloodlines are not important in people the way they are in horses or dogs, and Russians don’t have to hate on Ukrainians because Russians are not real Slavs and Ukrainians are. They should get with the times and acknowledge that nationality has always been a matter of self-identification. Remember that astonishing statement, because you’ll be hearing it again.

First, though, let’s put that startling discovery on hold for a moment, and go back to the beginning; where is Lyosha getting his core tenet – that Russians exhibit “disdain” for Ukrainians? Since, as best I can make out, the situation is completely reversed? Continue reading

Posted in Europe, Government, Russia, Slavic, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , | 818 Comments

Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Uncle Volodya says, "The liar was the hottest to defend his veracity, the coward his courage, the ill-bred his gentlemanliness, and the cad his honor."

Uncle Volodya says, “The liar was the hottest to defend his veracity, the coward his courage, the ill-bred his gentlemanliness, and the cad his honor.”

Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad
But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel
When things go wrong I feel so bad.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Nina Simone

Michael McFaul wants you to know that he is hurt. The Russian outlook has not been so anti-American (and anti-EU) since before 1990 – perhaps since never (thanks for the graphic, Kirill). The United States of America is hated – hated – in Russia in a way it probably was not even during the cold war. And why? Well, because of Putin, of course. Putin the paranoid nutjob, who believes the United States government is trying to overthrow his government and replace it with some supplicant liberal who will allow America a free hand to dabble and meddle to its heart’s content. Which America could not be less interested in doing – that’s all in Putin’s head. Quoth McFaul; “But the more I listen to him directly and the more I saw the activities of his government – they have a paranoid view about American intentions. They believe that President Obama and the CIA want to overthrow Putin’s regime and want to weaken Russia and some would even say, dismember Russia. It’s totally crazy. I want to emphasize that. There is no policy of regime change in Russia. Unfortunately, however, I think that is Putin’s view.” (Thanks for the link, Peter)

A paranoid view about American intentions. There is no policy of regime change in Russia. Hmmm. Forgive me if I find that a little hard to believe.

Probably because it’s…what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yeah – horseshit.

Michael McFaul is an educated man, and the educated man has a weakness – he can seldom resist being seduced into showing off his worldly education, the payback for those year with his nose in the books instead of going fishing, chasing skirt or hanging out down at the pool hall. Michael McFaul is not made of wood, and when he is asked to give the folks back home in Teaneck, New Jersey or Boring, Oregon or Cranky Corner, Louisiana the benefit of his worldly experience and that fine Oxford schoolin’, why, he sings like a canary.

Such as: “And, as before, the current regime must be isolated. The strategy of seeking to change Kremlin behavior through engagement, integration and rhetoric is over for now. No more membership in the Group of 8, accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or missile defense talks. Instead there must be sanctions, including against those people and entities — propagandists, state-owned enterprises, Kremlin-tied bankers — that act as instruments of Mr. Putin’s coercive power. Conversely, individuals and companies not connected to the government must be supported, including those seeking to take assets out of Russia or emigrate…Mr. Putin’s Russia has no real allies. We must keep it that way. Nurturing Chinese distance from a revisionist Russia is especially important, as is fostering the independence of states in Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Continue reading

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Ukraine – Hey, Russia!! What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Uncle Volodya says, "The Edge; there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."

Uncle Volodya says, “The Edge; there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

I never ask for more than I deserve
You know it’s the truth
You seem to think you’re God’s gift to this earth
I’m tellin’ you, no way

You ought to be thankful for the little things,
but little things are all you seem to give
You’re always putting off what we can do today
Soap opera says, you’ve got one life to live
Who’s right, who’s wrong?

Janet Jackson, from “What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Did you happen to catch, “The Wedding Singer” when it was playing, circa 1998? Set in the 80’s, it is the somewhat sappy story of Robbie (played by Adam Sandler) and Julia (Drew Barrymore), two ordinary people who are each engaged to someone who is breaking their heart and is all wrong for them. What they really need, of course, is each other. Predictable, quite a few funny moments, okay light entertainment. Boy meets girl.

But there’s this great scene in it, in which Robbie is playing a song he has been writing for his fiancee Linda, to Julia. Alternating between his wistful love for Linda and his fury at her endless manipulation and shallowness, the lyric swings wildly from

And when we kiss I know that you need me too.
Can’t believe I found a love that’s so pure and true…

to

But it all was bullshit.
It was a goddam joke.
And when I think of you Linda,
I hope you fucking choke…

As he screams out his pain to the accompaniment of the final discordant chord, we see his musical rival, Jimmie Moore (Jon Lovitz) concealed behind a curtain in the wings, having heard the entire performance. He remarks quietly to himself, “He’s losing his mind…and I’m reaping the benefits!”

I was reminded of that scene as I digested Mark Adomanis’s  “While The West Was Debating About ‘Defensive Weapons,’ Ukraine’s Economy Collapsed“, in Forbes (thanks for the link, Moscow Exile). Of course the news that Ukraine’s economy is collapsing like a grand piano that has had its legs kicked out from under it is unremarkable to anyone who has been following the slow-motion nightmare of the Ukraine conflict and civil war. What is remarkable is seeing Mark Adomanis defend the viewpoint that Russia is acting the dog in the manger, denying Ukraine its chance to blossom and become a prosperous western democracy at Russia’s expense, and not doing enough to help poor Ukraine even as it is the target of daily vilification and vituperation from both Ukraine and its western backers. The latter apparently want Russia to open its markets to Ukrainian goods even as Ukraine’s lunatic Ichabod Crane Prime Minister drives on the building of a wall between the two countries. Expect Russia to front Ukraine gas on credit even though Ukraine has a terrible history of refusing to pay for what it has already consumed and – when its friends calm it down from its fist-shaking tantrum – announces it will be mature and reasonable (take the high road, as it were) by naming a much lower figure that it considers fair discharge of all debts. And for Russia to stand aside as Ukraine’s army rolls over its own eastern regions and crushes their rebellion.

That last part is particularly resonant, for me, because it’s not the first time we have seen Mark Adomanis go off the rails as if his breakfast cereal had been liberally dusted with cocaine. For instance, back in 2012 he went all foamy about free speech and Pussy Riot, confiding to his audience, “After all, it’s not hard to imagine why people would support the young, female rock musicians in their struggle against a brutal, corrupt, cynical, and increasing unpopular system.” Take note, folks – that’s one of the fairest and most balanced among the “Russia analyst” community from the United States speaking. The Russian system is brutal, corrupt and increasingly unpopular. Perhaps that’s how it looks from Washington; I shouldn’t be at all surprised. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 627 Comments

Excuse Me; Is This the Bus to Wonderland?

Uncle Volodya says, "It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.
”

Uncle Volodya says, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.
”

Welcome to Wonderland
My God it’s half past eight
Who cares if you came late
We don’t care where you’ve been
You’re gonna fit right in
A little fun detour
A little crazy, sure
Don’t get all insecure…

It’s afternoon all day
There’s lots of games to play
Flamingo lawn croquet
So please enjoy your stay

Everyday it’s something new
Problems up the old wazoo
Rumors of a palace coup…

From the Musical, “Wonderland

Perhaps I should mention at the outset, for anyone just joining us and for those who rather anticipated an outing, we are not actually going on a trip to Wonderland. Not exactly. What I meant was that we are going to visit the Hall of Amusements where Gideon Rachman – English crazyman and sometime analyst, please don’t get too close to the cage, little girl – goes when he writes. So, no need for sandwiches and lemonade, we’ll do that another time. Nonetheless, prepare to be amazed, and fascinated, in that vertiginous way you are when the car in which you are riding passes a bad car crash, or an arrest in which the subject is drunk and fancies himself a comedian, and the police slam him up against the wall repeatedly for his smart mouth. You’re afraid to look, lest you be drawn in yourself, but you can’t look away because you sense it is an important moment that may shape future beliefs. About something.

It’s tough, every post, to come up with descriptive words for the crazy things people say, because it is essentially the same story every time, just with different players. And Gideon Rachman is very crazy indeed, so much so that he may even believe the things he says are true. But they’re not. They’re a fantasy, playing out in a fantasy world where a space-helmeted Rachman is at the helm of the starship “Sanctions”, and you better believe it is kicking ass and taking names. In the mind of Gideon Rachman, it is only a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before Russia crumbles, unable to take any more because a hundred or so of its people are no longer allowed to travel to western countries, assets they had which are long since withdrawn are subject to freezing (a nice word for “stealing”) and so are any they might be so foolish as to place in future in banks of countries where they can’t travel, and because its banks have lost access to western capital lending markets.

Let’s put that last bit in perspective, before we go any further; Russia has reserves which will enable it to last for two years, without having to endure starvation and suffering or any old babushki losing their pensions, and without having to start appropriating private wealth. Life as normal, more or less. And that’s without doing anything – just sitting tight and waiting for the west to get over its pique. Does anyone think Russia is likely to do that? No, indeed; it is paying down its debt to the west rather than default, and taking steps to extricate itself – to the extent it is possible – from western financing links. Should Russia’s measured, deliberate and cautious decoupling from the west for some reason fall apart or prove impossible to maintain, behind Russia lies the massive wealth of its neighbour and growing ally – China. China has already taken a stand against the western sanctions, and warned that if Russia gets into financial trouble it can’t handle, China will step in. Yes, that was a warning, and the west would have been wise to heed it. But it had the bit of stupidity and self-love firmly in its teeth, and it only galloped on toward ruin. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , | 2,537 Comments