Institutional Incoherence: The Atlantic Council’s Desperate Scaremongering

Uncle Volodya says, "I don't mind your thinking slowly. I mind your publishing faster than you think.”

Uncle Volodya says, “I don’t mind your thinking slowly. I mind your publishing faster than you think.”

Ooo, see the fire is sweeping
My very street today;
Burns like a red-coal carpet:
Mad bull, lost its way

Oh, children; it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away…

The Rolling Stones, from, “Gimme Shelter

Let me ask you something: if you had only recently wrapped up 24 years at the U.S. Army War College, finishing as Professor of National Security Studies; if you held a B.A. in Russian History from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Russian History from the University of Chicago, and were a recognized expert in defense strategy, arms control and Russia and the post-Soviet space…wouldn’t you think you could be expected to actually know something about Russia?

Dr. Stephen Blank of the Atlantic Council comes admirably credentialed, and doesn’t look crazy in his picture. But his analysis of what Russia – which he at least does not refer to as “Putin”, as if Russia’s real name were “Putinland” or something – is really up to in Syria reads as if it were written by Masha Gessen on Psilocybin. The implication that we are all being hoodwinked – gadzooks! – by the devilishly-clever former KGB man from St Petersburg is so clear that Newsweek reprinted the article under the title, “The Real Reason Putin is Sending Troops to Syria”.

Newsweek – typically, I have to say – got it wrong before they got past the title: “Putin” is, in fact, not “sending troops to Syria” at all, and indeed ruled it out just last week: you would think a publication which considers itself a “newsmagazine” could manage to go more than a week without forgetting everything that happened the week before. I’m afraid this attempt just looks like stupid laziness. But Dr. Blank himself does not get much further before jumping the rails, characterizing something as both “predictable” and “a surprise” in the first sentence. Unless he meant Russia’s intervention in Syria was predictably a surprise to the west because it is so terminally dozy it is completely oblivious to everything going on around it, a sort of Buster Bluth nation. And if so, dash it all, that’s just unpatriotic.

The west cannot wait, Mr. Blank tells us, to address Russia’s larger strategy, even though the west does not know what it is. Just do something, damn it, and we’ll figure out the details later. Can you think of a time or two in the past where an approach like that got the United States in trouble? So can I. Continue reading

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Add a Cup of Crocodile Tears: “Western Values” is a Myth

Uncle Volodya says,

Uncle Volodya says, “That’s the thing you learn about values: they’re what people make up to justify what they did.”

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

– John F. Kennedy, 20th Anniversary of The Voice Of America, February 26th, 1962

A nation that is afraid of its people. Once there would have been no doubt about who that was not, as witnessed by the statement above.  And once upon a time, “western values” was an honest-to-goodness aspiration, not a punch line. But that was a long time before the boyish President spoke that probably-heartfelt confidence to young postwar America – a country that was growing so fast, both in its economy and its foreign influence, that you could almost feel the ground tremble beneath your feet.

How far do you want to go back? As the newborn Soviet Union began to think urgently about restarting production in a country ravaged by World War I and then three years of brutal and destructive civil war, it urgently needed  western equipment and machinery to rebuild its shattered factories and to modernize, to move forward. The Soviet Union was on the gold standard, producing a gold coin called the Chervonets. It would pay in gold for modern machinery.

Except the west wouldn’t take it. Why not? Because a competing currency backed by gold reserves threatened the reach of an emerging financial empire dominated by the American dollar and the British pound sterling. The Chervonets disappeared, to be replaced by a rouble which was not backed by gold. The Soviet Union was then recognized by the west, and shortly thereafter, in 1925, it announced again its wish to accelerate industrialization, and to purchase western equipment and machinery. The west refused again to accept gold, and agreed the only mediums of exchange could be oil, timber and grain. In 1933 the west introduced the Russian Goods Import Prohibition Act. The only means of payment entertained – Soviet grain.

Stalin’s government was faced with a choice: either to give up restoring industry, so capitulating to the West, or continue industrialising, leading to a dreadful internal crisis. If the Bolsheviks took grain away from the peasants, there was the very great probability of a famine which, in turn, might lead to internal unrest and removal from power. So no matter what Stalin chose, the West would remain victorious. Stalin and his entourage decided to force their way through and stop at nothing.

You know what happened. The Holodomor, which Ukraine frequently refers to as a deliberate genocide of Ukrainians, although Ukraine was heavily agrarian – the breadbasket of the Soviet Union – and it stands to reason it was hardest hit. Continue reading

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The Weaponization of Ignorance: the West’s Go-To Experts

Uncle Volodya says, "The beast preaches contempt, for that's what arrogance says: that nothing is real but itself, and the bone and blood of another's being are insubstantial as breath.”

Uncle Volodya says, “The beast preaches contempt, for that’s what arrogance says: that nothing is real but itself, and the bone and blood of another’s being are insubstantial as breath.”

Brute Force and Ignorance,
Just hit town,
Looking like survivors,
From the Lost and Found.

Brute Force and Ignorance,
Have come to play,
A one-night stand at eight o’clock,
Then they’ll be on their way.

From, “Brute Force and Ignorance“, by Rory Gallagher

Whooo! Rory Gallagher – remember him? Don’t be surprised if you don’t, because he was probably the best blues guitarist you never heard of.  Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal just before the nineteen-fifties and rock & roll took off like a scared cat, a teenage Rory Gallagher stayed up late to listen to Radio Luxembourg because he couldn’t afford records. He played entirely by ear, couldn’t read a note, but he could play anything that had strings on it. In 1971, influential British music magazine Melody Maker voted him International Guitarist of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton, with whom he shared both influences (Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters) and a soulful blues style. In 1995 he was dead in a London hospital, of liver complications, when he was just 47.

Anyway, this post isn’t really about Rory Gallagher, except perhaps in the sense of what a prophet he was. Because we have entered – are firmly established, in fact – into an age in which a significant group of people in the English-speaking world are proud to be ignorant. George W. Bush was the first president who routinely cited his low academic standings – because he thought it made him sound folksy and one of the little people – and a startling proportion of the general public is now apparently quite happy to be misled by “experts” who don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

It’s still important to the decent, hardworking people who constitute The General Public that they support Doing The Right Thing. The deceitful and manipulative folks who run some of the world’s most powerful countries know this, and so The Things They Want To Do for their own reasons are pitched to The General Public as Doing The Right Thing. Since the world’s leaders only speak directly to the electorate when they’re looking for your vote and perhaps once a year for a State Of The Union Address, they use selected “experts” and analysts to softball-pitch their selected narrative to The General Public – which must be called deliberately ignorant to a large extent, because it unquestioningly accepts the narrative just as if it had never been lied to before, and never will be again. Doing The Right Thing makes them feel good, and they’re proud of it.

In order to be Doing The Right Thing, it is necessary for you to believe Russia is an isolated and reviled international pariah which has invaded its neighbour – Ukraine – with heavy armor, artillery and hundreds of thousands of uniformed soldiers in the country on state orders, and which shot down MH-17 so that it could blame it on innocent Ukraine (among other wild justifications). It is a country which makes nothing and is totally reliant on energy exports; backward, barbaric, uncultured and unlettered, deceitful and underhanded. Continue reading

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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

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Law and Order, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1,340 Comments

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

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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

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