Everybody knows someone who is terrible at a particular hobby or chosen field of interest, but who stubbornly continues their pursuit of it in the face of considerable evidence that they have no aptitude for it. Motorhead and music, for example. Steven Seagal and acting. Sarah Palin and public speaking. Anybody from the Indianapolis Colts and football.
To the list, add Yulia Latynina and military strategy. Yulia Latynina and psychology. Actually, Yulia Latynina and everything to do with writing except for fiction, at which she is allegedly not bad.
It’s been some time since Yulia Latynina and this blog crossed paths; ‘way back in August of 2010, to be precise. On that occasion, as on this one, Yulia showcased her largely imaginary familiarity with military affairs. The effort resulted in an exemplary departure from reality which saw Yulia excoriating Viktor Bout for being a shitheel unscrupulous arms dealer while rapturously praising the CIA for giving Stinger missiles to the Mujahedin in Afghanistan. It proved extremely hard to draw any conclusion from her angry barking other than that Viktor Bout is a filthy criminal because he is a Russian, while the CIA is a good example of responsible social engineering because it is American.
Have the intervening months marked a sobering of judgment in Ms. Latynina; a more even-handed approach to international affairs and domestic politics? Not so you’d notice. By way – with thanks – of Moscow Exile, here is Yulia’s recent Moscow Times piece, in which she attempts to persuade the reader that Vladimir Putin intends to go to war with Georgia immediately after the March 4th presidential elections in order to silence his opposition with a patriotic distraction. I wish I were making that up, but I’m not.
I have no talent for spontaneous fiction myself, and am seldom tasked with unsupported invention more challenging than, “Does this make me look fat?” Latynina, on the other hand, is apparently a frustrated serial storyteller, and makes dizzying connections based on factors that are not merely coincidental, but which seem to have no causative relationship at all. That’s because, often, they don’t. Let’s take a look at it; I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.
The piece starts off mildly enough; political trouble in South Ossetia, although Latynina’s dramatic declaration that “How you vote in the tiny republic is less important than the number of machine guns you own” is a bit over the top. But it appears to be true that not once, but twice in the run-up to the elections, armed men made demands that had nothing to do with democracy; the first that the president be allowed to serve a third term – presumably without the messiness of an election – and the second that a candidate be allowed to stand for election who does not live in South Ossetia, but lives in Moscow. All indications also seem to suggest that Alla Dzhioyeva did indeed win, and that Kremlin favourite Anatoly Bibilov only began to complain of “voting irregularities” when it became evident he was losing.
But let’s not leave this point; not just yet. It makes some interesting arguments that resonate far beyond South Ossetia.
Consider. According to western media accounts, Dzhioyeva won in the first round on November 27th, with 57% of the vote. However, that’s not exactly what happened. That was actually a run-off, because neither candidate won enough of the vote in the real first round – held November 13th – to score a conclusive victory; they split the vote with just over 25% each. But Georgia and the west dismissed it as illegitimate; therefore, according to the narrative, it never happened. The first election was that of November 27th, which the western-preferred candidate won handily.
Before that, however, the U.S., NATO and the EU made it clear they did not recognize the elections as legitimate.
Whoops!! that was before Alla Dzhoiyeva appeared to have won, but the Supreme Court annulled the results. Now, the story is completely different. It transpired that the election which the west announced it would not recognize as legitimate was nonetheless attended by international observers, who all agreed the vote was fair: “In comments to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service also shortly before the Supreme Court decision was made public, Dzhioyeva said the election results were valid and had been confirmed by the Election Commission, by observers from both campaigns, and by international monitors”. Here’s Maurice Bonnot, an observer from the Paris-based Institute of Democracy and Cooperation: “The election for president of South Ossetia was conducted democratically and this cannot be ignored…The electoral process and the protocols were in order — I hear that there are complaints now, but I don’t see any cause for them. We did not see any efforts to pressure voters. This election was democratic and the election should be validated. This is the choice of the people.”
So now, now it’s the choice of the people, which cannot be ignored, and the election should be validated, according to a representative from a democracy-advocacy agency based in a country that announced in advance that the elections did not matter because they were illegitimate.
I agree the conduct of the elections probably was fair, likely in both the original election and the run-off, and that Alla Dzhoiyeva probably is the duly-elected president of South Ossetia. Any “campaigning” or “pressuring” by her volunteers at polling stations, if it occurred at all, was likely inconsequential to the result. But the larger point here seems to be the west’s evident excitement over her big win, and a new willingness to get involved in the legitimizing of it. Forgive me if I find it hard to form any impression from it other than it is seen to be an opportunity to put a thumb in the eye of the Kremlin.
Is there any other country – anywhere on this planet or those yet to be colonized by Newt Gingrich – that the west so goes out of its way to antagonize?
The remainder of Latynina’s argument vis-a-vis South Ossetia’s elections is just silly; that the incumbents enjoyed an advantage over the opposition in that they had stolen so much of the South Ossetian grant money from Russia that they could use it to “bribe their benefactors”. That their benefactors are the Russian government, whom they would presumably be bribing with their own money to help candidates they already wanted to win, apparently makes perfect sense to her. I guess it would to you, too, if you approached every set of circumstances with the preordained conclusion that it somehow spelled disaster for the Russian government.
But it is Latynina’s next swing for the fences that made laughing out loud go from possibility to certainty. Putin is clearly, we are told, planning for another attack on Georgia, timed to follow on the heels of his presumed success in the presidential elections, with the designed purpose of “stirring up a patriotic frenzy” and sidelining his “radical opposition” so that any protests will fail to gain traction.
How can she possibly know this? Connections, baby; it’s all so simple when you see it laid out before you as only Latyninaesque epiphany could do. There has been a recent change of command at 58th Army – some of whose brigades went into Georgia in 2008 to throw them out of South Ossetia when Saakashvili tried to retake it by military force, as he had promised to do during his candidacy for the Georgian presidency – and “almost all of its weaponry has been modernized.”
I know it’s cheap to resort to patronization and mockery. But that’s just the way I roll. Yulia, the need for modern military equipment for the Russian army was identified by scores of analysts from around the world almost before the dust had settled; although the Russian counterattack was an unqualified success, four aircraft were lost that did not need to be, mobilization was not as fast as it could have been and positions of enemy artillery and rocket launchers were not known with the degree of certainty they likely could have been. The President of Russia specifically spoke about modernization of military equipment during a visit to 58th Army headquarters in Vladikavkaz four months ago. As one of the few military units actually involved in combat in recent years, 58th Army could reasonably expect to have its equipment modernized early. As to the state of its weaponry, it was also the only army in the Russian Federation to have expended any of its weaponry in a manner other than routine training in the last few years, and shares a border with an enemy who attacked its people. Not to resupply the 58th Army would be a cause for comment, for sure.
A new Commanding Officer, you say? I couldn’t find a history of former commanders of 58th Army, which has existed in its present configuration since 1995 (with its headquarters at Vladikavkaz, although it has existed with its present divisions or very similar capabilities since 1942), although I did try, but I promise you it has not had the same Commanding Officer since 1995. But the North Caucasus Military District, of which 58th Army is a subordinate unit, has had 5 different commanding officers since 2000; the current commander has been in charge since 2008. Looking at their rotation – around 2 to 3 years – suggests he also is due for relief by a new CO.
During the counterattack which was a response to Saakashvili’s grab for South Ossetia – which began in the form of mobilization (see “Georgia’s Propaganda War and the Georgian-Russian War, Gordon M. Hahn) even before Saakashvili declared a unilateral cease-fire, the Commanding Officer of the 58th Army was wounded by a shell splinter. What would have happened if he had been killed, and it had been army policy to keep the same commanding officer for years and years? For this reason, among others, officers with command responsibility are changed out every couple of years in armies around the world – to build a pool of experienced leadership. In fact, unless the new Commanding Officer served previously as the Executive Officer in the same unit, replacing the Commanding Officer only two months before launching an attack – in which he would lead a unit whose strengths and weaknesses were still largely unknown to him – would be the kind of decision only a fool or someone who was out of options would make. The changeover now argues against a military campaign rather than for it.
I don’t think I want to say a lot about Latynina’s interpretation of the findings arrived at by the EU Commission headed by Heidi Tagliavini. The notion that some stringer for Novaya Gazeta and the Moscow Times has a better appreciation for the facts than an investigative body which included 30 legal, military and history experts , among them four former ministers of foreign affairs or of defense, speaks for itself.
The litany of complaints by this wire-haired whackjob against her government and her country is seemingly endless, and it seems Russia can do nothing to suit her. Her beliefs as expressed by she herself encourage her readers to accept that Alexei Navalny should be leader of the Russian Federation, and that while the poor are perfectly adequate to the heavy lifting necessary for revolution, once the revolution has achieved its goal of overthrowing the government, decision-making ought to fall to the wealthy. The USA – the polar opposite of Russia in her eyes – can do no wrong.
Since her beliefs so closely mirror those of the conservative element in the country she idolizes, it seems not too much to ask for them to grant her some small American protectorate – Guam, perhaps – to rule over as she sees fit. Maybe we could visit it in a few years, see what kind of democratic utopia she has made of it. All in favour?