No Face, Mr. Putin? I’d Be Happy to Lend You One of Mine – The Many Faces of Russia’s New Ambassador

Uncle Volodya says, "Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there's some evidence that they don't read them, either."

Masha Gessen is energetically promoting her new book, “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin“, which is apparently yet another daring and edgy exposé of the man who is featured – complete with face – on the cover. Presumably psychic, Gessen is fond of characterizing Putin’s facial expressions as, for example, “a thuggish smile” when she was not even present at the event described, as if Putin’s face changes colour like a mood ring so that you can tell when he is thinking brutal thoughts. Not to mention the difficulty associated with displaying any kind of smile when you don’t have a face.  Surprisingly, fellow Russophobe Amy Knight – who is nearly Gessen’s equal as a disingenuous hack – gave it a somewhat rocky review in the Globe and Mail. Although the sisters of the coven agree that Mr. Putin is “corrupt and ruthless”, Knight discourages the”speculation” introduced by Gessen that the FSB was responsible for the bombings of apartments in Moscow, that Putin acted in concert with the terrorists who took hostages in Beslan and Moscow in order to “maximize bloodshed” and ordered the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, because Gessen “provides no new documentation”. Knight then goes on to speculate – without introducing any new documentation – that Putin is reportedly worth !!!Billions!!! and is the unacknowledged owner of the palatial Black Sea mansion supposedly built for him by his friends with secret funding. There is no substantiation for either, or Knight would have cited it.

Anyway, we’re not going to spend any more time on batty Masha Gessen or Amy Knight; I merely needed the title of Gessen’s book for the lead-in. If Vladimir Putin is without a face – and wouldn’t mind looking like Michael McFaul – Russia’s new Ambassador for the United States of America is a man of many faces, and could doubtless spare one.

For instance, there’s the Michael McFaul who, as co-author of “Power and Purpose: U.S. Policy Toward Russia After the Cold War“, seemed to explicitly acknowledge the United States had made a pledge in 1990 that there would be no further eastward expansion of NATO…and the Michael McFaul who is an expert in NATO expansion and dismisses the notion of “spheres of influence” while declaring  that a great power “does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries”. The same Michael McFaul who stresses that the United States has “consistently and adamantly defended Georgia’s territorial integrity while also providing critical political, economic, and defense-related support to the Georgian government,” knowing well that Georgia is maneuvering into a position whereby NATO will defend its actions militarily. There’s the Michael McFaul who is “open and friendly” and “so familiar with Russia” according to the Carnegie Center’s Masha Lipman…and the Michael McFaul who was a senior adviser to the National Democratic Institute, a Director of the National Endowment for Democracy – both NGO’s who assumed a prominent role in the “Colour Revolutions” which brought pro-western governments to power in Georgia and Ukraine, and which acted as sugar-daddies to GOLOS in the recent Duma elections in Russia – and a member of the steering committee of Human Rights Watch whose interests include regime change in non-democratic states. There’s the Michael McFaul who snickered at Boris Fyodorov as the finance minister resigned, when he predicted the “new course” would result in economic collapse and skyrocketing inflation rates, saying, “A year later, this nightmarish scenario has yet to unfold. Backing away from earlier threats, Chernomyrdin has refrained from reintroducing price controls. Meanwhile, privatization has marched furiously forward, transferring 100,000 enterprises into private hands by the end of 1994. A booming stock market suggests that not all of these privatizations are mere paper transfers. Perhaps most surprisingly, inflation rates remained in the single digits for most of the year. Admittedly, industrial production continues to decrease, gross domestic production is contracting, and serious enterprise restructuring has just begun. Nonetheless, the performance of the Russian economy in 1994 has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations”. And there’s the Michael McFaul who looked pretty foolish when Fyodorov’s Hammer fell 3 years later and the Russian economy imploded exactly as he predicted it would. Not, however, before inflation leaped from 5.73% in July to 84.47 in 6 months. There’s the Michael McFaul who “looks forward to engaging with Putin“, and the Michael McFaul who argued that Putin basically coasted through his previous presidency – that his autocratic tendencies, in fact, hindered things from being even better than they were, which would have happened anyway whether Putin governed or played the balalaika. High oil prices, you see. Elementary, my dear Watson.

Well, let’s take a closer look at that. How about we compare Russia to another autocratic power that has nothing going for it but lots of oil, what say? Can you think of one? I know!! How about Saudi Arabia? The USA – and by extension, Michael McFaul – loves Saudi Arabia, it’s a trusted and treasured ally, with a King and everything. Of course the government is autocratic: he’s a fucking King, weren’t you listening?

Here’s Saudi Arabia’s inflation rate between 2000 and now. Here’s Russia’s inflation rate between 2000 and now. One nation had Putin in charge, one nation had The King in charge. You probably noticed right away that one country had an inflation rate that trended steadily up from nearly nothing to about 5.5%. You’ll likewise notice that the other country’s inflation rate trended steadily down from a truly scary 28% to about 3.8%. Which is better for inflation: up or down? Come on, help me out here, I’m not an economics major. That’s right: down is better.

Now, let’s look at Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP, as a function of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. Here’s Russia’s. Here’s Saudi Arabia’s. Pretty close; Saudi Arabia is a little higher, about $3000.00 above Russia’s. Now, look where Saudi Arabia started from in 2000 – about $18,000.00. In 12 years The King of Oil And Pretty Much Nothing Else managed to raise his country’s PPP about $5000.00. In the same period, The Proud KGB Spy In Charge Of Oil And Pretty Much Nothing Else managed to raise his country’s PPP about $13,000.00.

Finally, let’s look at a mover that truly gets down where the poor and middle classes live – unemployment. The Saudi unemployment rate started at around 8.2% in 2000, and trended upward to 10.5% in 2010. Since the Saudi figures stop at 2010, we’ll do likewise for Russia; you can adjust the start/stop dates yourself. The Russian rate started at 12% in 2000, and descended to about 8.2% in 2010. The Saudi rate never went below 8.2%, and spiked at 12% in 2007. The Russian rate never regained the 12% it started at, and in 2009 had gone down to less than 6%.

Keep in mind that the metrics of comparison are forced upon us. You know, and I know, Russia is a very diverse economy. But the eggheads keep telling us that all Russia has is oil and gas. When you compare it to another country that has nothing but oil and gas, it does much better on social parameters than that country, but we’re supposed to believe that had nothing whatsoever to do with the first country’s leadership, even though every one of those metrics started in a worse position under the former leadership, and dramatically improved afterward. Uh huh.

Michael McFaul was thrust to the forefront of public attention recently when he had a bit of a verbal sparring match with an NTV crew, who followed him to a meeting with civil-rights activist and “Putin Must Go” manifesto signatory Lev Ponomarev, and wanted to ask him some questions. Mr. McFaul was visibly upset although he kept his smile in place, and I guess his tongue ran away with him a little. He complained that he was being harassed by reporters, and said “Aren’t you ashamed of doing this? This insults your country, do you understand this? It looks like I am in a barbarian country. This is abnormal. It never happens in my country, in England, Germany, or China. It happens only here and only with you,” For the record, there is some discussion whether the word he used that is reported here as “barbarian” was actually “savage” or even “wild”. In any case, none of them are complimentary, and Mr, McFaul’s credibilty as an “open and friendly” diplomat who is “so familiar with Russia” has tipped over into a steep dive. The U.S. government has registered an official complaint, which is not a good start for a new U.S. envoy; it’s kind of hard to bounce back to a position of trust and friendship when it seems like your presence is kind of forced on the host country.

Was the press’s behavior abnormal? I’d have to argue it was not. And in case you think I’m biased, let’s confront both that and the assumption that it “never happens anywhere but here” at the same time with this clip of the press hounding Mitt Romney. The reporter is plainly aggressive, much more so than the NTV reporter was – but what is striking here is the post-game quarterbacking of the incident by David Shuster and Rachel Sklar. Shuster argues that it is their job as reporters to “be adversarial…our job is not to be the candidate’s friend, or his stenographer, or say whatever the campaign wants us to say”, and later, “the reporter was right”. Shuster’s opinion as an American TV journalist and former MSNBC News anchor is that as long as the reporter knows what he/she is talking about, it is his/her job to “ask the tough questions”. Reporters, in America, chasing people for the story? Happens all the time, I’m afraid; look at this clip, entitled, “The Running of the Reporters” – a seemingly endless stream of them chasing Lower-Manhattan maid Nafissatou Dialio after she bolted out the back door during testimony in the IMF bigwig Dominique Straus-Kahn rape case. Dialio had to leave her residence and go underground to avoid the international press. Here’s a funny one, involving reporters who hung out all night waiting for arrested University of Kentucky Quarterback Mike Hartline as he is released from jail; chasing him, swarming the car and shouting inanities like, “Did you do anything wrong, Mike? Did you do anything wrong?”

Never happens in England? Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling – who was driven out of her home by persistent reporters, and even had notes from reporters slipped into her 5-year-old daughter’s schoolbag at her school – would be interested in that viewpoint. She castigated the British Press Complaints Commission as “toothless”, and said it has no power to protect private citizens from rowdy reporters determined to get a story. One-time Formula One boss Max Mosely would agree; he won a £60,000.00 judgment against Murdoch’s News of the World for baselessly accusing him of a “sick Nazi orgy” in an attempt to grow a story. Speaking of Rupert Murdoch in the Country Where The Press Does Not Get Out Of Line, it should be remembered the Murdoch press hacked the phone account of a murdered teenage girl in an attempt to get a “scoop”, leading her parents to false hope that she was still alive when the reporter deleted some of her messages in order to make more room in her mailbox. That sick enough for you, Mike? Still feeling persecuted?

Granted, none of the people mentioned is a foreign ambassador. However, rather than wondering why his diplomatic immunity is not diplomatic invisibility, Mr. McFaul would be well-advised to take a look at what he’s doing that is different from other ambassadors. Like holding a meeting with anti-government opposition leaders the day after formally presenting his credentials as Ambassador. Like authoring books with titles like “Russia’s Unfinished Revolution” (informed by the insights of most of the charter members of the defunct Union of Right Forces, such as Leonid Gozman and brother of virulent anti-Kremlin agitator Vladimir Kara-Murza, Aleksey Kara-Murza, disgraced elitist economist Vladimir Mau and nutbag Lilia Shevtsova), and advertising your interest in regime change. Like setting up clandestine off-the-books meetings with political dissidents by phone, then getting a lip on when reporters ask you what you’re doing, and accusing them of tapping your phone and hacking your email. Like having your ambassadorial appointment endorsed in writing by the likes of Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman and Randy “Georgia on my mind” Scheunemann. Is it difficult to imagine that both the Russian government and major network reporters believe you’re in town to make sure Russia’s unfinished revolution picks up steam and gets back on track? I mean, since you’ve shown every sign thus far of doing just that?

You wanted attention, Dr. McFaul. Don’t squeal like a Girl scout when you get it.

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228 Responses to No Face, Mr. Putin? I’d Be Happy to Lend You One of Mine – The Many Faces of Russia’s New Ambassador

  1. yalensis says:

    In previous post we were discussing McFaul’s inappropriate use of Twitter. One of the more ludicrous revelations was McFaul’s engagement with a Twitter follower who calls him/herself “prostitukamila”, in other words, “Mila the Prostitute”. I could not imagine that such adolescent silliness was endorsed by U.S. State Department. However, others pointed out that McFaul’s superiors defend his aggressive use of social media on the grounds that it allows him to interact DIRECTLY with Russian public (i.e., bypassing official Russian channels). In thinking about this I achieved a mini-epiphany when I remembered that Americans totally believe that Twitter and Facebook are geo-strategic “revolutionary” technologies. In their tiny narcissistic minds, American officials believe these technologies brought about regime changes of “Arab Spring” and will march on to subdue all remaining enemy nations like Russia and China. Hence, their condoning of McFaul’s use of social media. In fact, his facility with these media (and his experience with Colour Revolutions) more so than his (dubious) command of Russian may have been what got him the job in the first place.

    • Misha says:

      To each his own.

      IMO, Tweets have a way of being short and tabloid, in a way that can over-simplify what was actually communicated. I prefer one on one, or one on several email exchanges, face to face meetings, and informally respectful online discussions like what’s evident at Mark’s blog. A good radio or TV point-counterpoint exchange is another preferred option.

      Regarding Tweets, someone stated that somebody else said that the recent Russian election was free and fair. In actuality, the latter individual stated the opinion that voting flaws aside, Putin was still very likely over the 50% margin to negate a runoff.

    • marknesop says:

      I remember a few people who tried to interact directly with the American public without government monitoring. The American government said they were spies and kicked them out of the country, and then acted extremely put out because Mr. Putin did not torture them or throw them in jail as soon as they returned to Russia. None of them broke any laws or did anything wrong – although they were expelled for “failing to register as foreign agents”, no evidence has been shown that they were anything of the kind.

      But at least TV crews did not follow them around and hassle them. I suppose there’s that.

  2. Moscow Exile says:

    And let’s not forget McFaul the hootenanny stomper and yodelling king:

    • marknesop says:

      I detect a distinct tone of approval in the description of his “sumptuous residence”. I notice it is not described as a “gluttonous Italianate palace” or anything of that nature. Apparently – at least in the eyes of quality news venues like Novaya Gazeta and the Moscow Times – the American ambassador is expected to live sumptuously, while the nation’s president is supposed to live in a trailer up on blocks in order to avoid the appearance of burgling state funds.

      Nothing wrong with having a party; Russians love to dance and sing and celebrate. Although I must admit I loathe country music, to each his own and I can’t hold that against McFaul. But in my personal opinion, those who defect to the United States because Russia limits their freedom to yodel and yell “Ya…HOOOOO!!!” during musical performances will be few. I imagine immigration will more than make up for it.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        There are certainly plenty of Russians who are into partying American style. I believe that the Fourth of July celebrations held at the Kuskovo estate, Moscow, and organized by the American Chamber of Commerce here, are the most well attended US Independence Day celebrations held outside of the USA. Funny thing, though, is that some Russians, apparently so overcome with euphoria in celebrating US Independence Day, each year wish me “Happy Indeprendence Day!” I also suffer from “Happy Thanksgiving Day” and – god preserve us! – “Happy Hallowe’en Day” salutations each year as well.


  3. Moscow Exile says:

    McFaul’s tweets to prostitutkamila as regards his reason for “misspeaking”, namely when he said “This is a wild country”:

    @prostitutkamila Were not just journalists there. Were men in military uniform. People w/ posters. All strange for me. Learning.

    @prostitutkamila Like I said, Im learning. I’m told they were Cossacks. In US, people in uniform do not show up at mtgs of ambassadors.

    Funny how Ambassador McFaul becomes fazed by people holding posters and people dressed in uniforms.

    At US embassies worldwide there are plenty of US marines to be seen in full ceremonial dress uniform. At the Moscow US embassy, as at all other US embassies and many US consulates and diplomatic missions, there is a US marines barracks.

    I wonder why there is such an open military presence at US embassies? You don’t see British Grenadier Guardsmen in full dress uniform at the British Embassy in Moscow or anywhere else for that matter; nor are there Russian Honour Guards in their Great Patriotic War (1812) uniforms at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C., although I am quite certain that a large number of the ambassadorial staff at any embassy worldwide consists of military personnel out of uniform.


    • yalensis says:

      McFaul to Prostitute Mila: This is wild country. Cossacks scare me!
      Mila to McFaul: Come to me, I show you wild time, my Dahling….

  4. Dear Mark,

    Another very good article.

    I have already set out my views about McFaul in comments to your previous posts. I thought his first meeting with the opposition leaders though unwise could (just about) be defended as within his legitimate work as an ambassador but I certainly do not think that the same can be said about his subsequent actions.

    McFaul needs to understand that an ambassador represents his country and his government and does not therefore have the same freedom as a private person. If an ambassador wants to meet with members of the political opposition that should be done in a proper formal way either through a proper appointment at the embassy or in a formal social setting as would be the case in the US if the President wanted to meet someone. An ambassador does not or should not meet people (especially not members of the political opposition) in the sort of private informal way in which McFaul has done. When McFaul was a visiting professor he could do so but as ambassador he should not. If he does he will inevitably attract the hostile attention of his host government and of the local press. If he does not like it then instead of hurling insults at his host country, which is outrageous conduct coming from an ambassador, he should examine and change his behaviour

    Just two more points:

    1. Though the kind of behaviour that McFaul engages in would once certainly have caused a major diplomatic incident and would have at the very least caused him to be expelled (or recalled by his government) it would be a disastrous mistake for Russia to expel him. The simple fact of the matter is that the US considers itself exempt from diplomatic rules and Russia (like every other country) has to accept this fact so that it can to work with the US however insultingly or provocatively the US behaves. Expelling McFaul would rally US opinion behind him and would cause a massive quarrel with the US jeopardising US/Russian relations on what at the end of the day is a minor issue. It is important to remember that it is the US which is ultimately the loser because of the failure of its diplomats to behave in an appropriate way. As Anatoly and Yalensis have said, McFaul’s actions pose no threat to the Russian government. On the contrary by discrediting the opposition as US stooges he does the Russian government an unintended service.

    2. The reason Amy Knight has given Masha Gessen’s book a poor review is because in spite of her many faults she is a genuine professional historian who knows how to distinguish between speculation and fact. I say this having read some of her books including her recent biography of Beria. I was distinctly underwhelmed by this biography, with which I have many points of disagreement and which I consider a much inferior work to say J. Arch Getty’s much shorter but much superior biography of Nikolai Yezhov, but for all that it is a genuine work of scholarship, which Masha Gessen’s book is not.

  5. Dear Yalensis,

    I completely agree that an ambassador should not run a twitter account at least in the way McFaul does. Again what McFaul fails to understand is that when he speaks he speaks not just for himself but for the government of the United States. An ambassador needs to choose his words carefully so as not to cause embarrassment to his government. Spouting comments on twitter in the way McFaul has been doing practically guarantees embarrassment.

    @ Moscow Exile,
    I have no idea when the practice of providing US embassies with marine guards began but there was one famous occasion in the mid 1980s when the marine guard at the US embassy in Moscow caused the US major embarrassment. Then as now the marines were very young men some in their late teens. Like young people do some of them got involved with the local Russian girls. There were parties on the embassy grounds some of which supposedly got very wild. Inevitably rumours of some of these parties leaked out to Washington and a massive public scandal followed with absurd claims that the girls (most of whom were as young as the marines) were KGB agents and that there had supposedly been a major security leak. Nothing of the sort was of course ever proved and the suggestion at the time struck me as absurd but some people did make the observation that it made little sense to entrust the security of the embassy to such young men. The story had an unhappy ending with one young marine singled out as the scapegoat and subjected to a court martial and a term of imprisonment, which struck me at the time as cruel and unjust. I remember that there were even hysterical claims that he had deliberately betrayed his country because of resentment at US treatment of his people (he was a Sioux Indian). The Russians by contrast treated the whole business much more sensibly with the chief Kremlin spokesman Gennady Gerasimov joking that the incident merely proved that the Reds were not just under the beds but were climbing into them as well.

  6. Mark:
    I liked the “mood ring” joke, and have been thinking how useful a feature that would be for politicians around the world. There would have to be different colors for different shades of “lying” (e.g. green for lying about the economy; aquamarine for lying about the mistress; cyan for lying about WMDs…).

    • marknesop says:

      Ha, ha!! That’s funny, I wish I had thought of it. Magenta means he’s thinking about stuffing his secretary. Puce means he lost a bundle on the Gee-Gees. I actually had a mood ring when they were popular. I learned that there was no colour which represented I’m thinking about driving over you in my car while you writhe and scream.

  7. hoct says:

    I didn’t know McFaul is actually a guru of color revolutions. A clip only just discovered in Serbia: link. How arrogant to send a man like that to Moscow. Also it would be interesting to hear the whole lecture this is from.

    • yalensis says:

      Yeah, McFaul is an “expert” on color revolutions, especially in post-Soviet space. That is his shtick, and I think that was precisely the reason they sent him to Moscow: to try to foment White Revolution and keep Putin from coming back to power. I am guessing that was Biden/Clinton’s big idea. McFaul failed in his assignment, so Ameris should probably pull him out now. But first they have to come up with some plausible excuse so they don’t lose face.

    • Misha says:

      Color revolution specialists (for lack of a better term) are often lacking on the more substantive of issues that concern the given country.

      An example of an oD propped Serb at this thread:

      Note how that person brings up ethnicity unlike the individual he answers.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        It seems that a line has been drawn in the sand: Lavrov has criticized, very diplomatically I may add, McFaul’s “arrogance” as regards the US ambassador’s recent comments concerning the US missile defence shield in Europe.


        As a counter, as it were, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, in reply to Russian criticism of continued US sponsorship of Russian extra-parliamentary political and civil organizations, has said in effect “F**ck you!”, stating that the US will continue to sponsor NGOs in Russia, which US sponsorship she says “is designed to support a vibrant civil society in Russia and to allow us to work with those Russian NGOs who want to work with us”.

        So the US government will do a deal with Chirikova, Navalny, Pomomarev and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, but the elected Russian government can go to hell because it is not a legitmate choice of the long suffering Russian people whom the collective heart of the present US administration bleeds for?


        • Any discussion of missile defence should never forget or overlook the fact that the US and the USSR once concluded a treaty to outlaw it.

          The story of this treaty (the ABM Treaty) began in the 1960s when both the US and the USSR launched anti ballistic missile defence programmes. The US programme was based on the Spartan and Sprint missiles, the very similar Soviet programme used missiles the US calls Galosh and Gazelle. It seems the US programme began to go wrong almost from the start so at the Glassboro Summit in 1968 between US President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin the US proposed a treaty outlawing such programmes. By all accounts Kosygin was furious when he received the proposal but nonetheless the USSR agreed and negotiations followed which in 1972 led to the Anti Ballistic Missile or ABM Treaty, which was signed by the US President and ratified by the US Congress.

          No sooner was the ink dry on this treaty than the US, which was the first to propose it, began to campaign against it. There was as I well remember a flood of scary science fiction based articles and TV documentaries in the late 1970s and early 1980s claiming as it turned out entirely falsely that the Soviets were developing various laser and particle beam weapons to shoot down US missiles at a facility in Kazakhstan called Sari Shagan. Then in 1983 Ronald Reagan announced his so called Strategic Defence Initiative to build an anti ballistic missile system in space, which would have been a clear violation of the treaty if it had ever been built. Then Bush II unilaterally withdrew the US from the ABM treaty and announced a plan to position missile interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland grossly violating along the way a promise his own father Bush I had given Gorbachev in 1990 that the US would never station permanent military facilities in those countries. Now Obama, having given Medvedev every indication that he was going to abandon Bush II’s anti ballistic missile plans and got a START treaty on that basis, is forging ahead with a missile defence programme of his own.

          The moral of this story is that the US not only cannot be relied upon to keep its promises (such as another one it made to Gorbachev in 1990 not to extend NATO beyond the borders of Germany) but cannot even be relied upon to stick by its formal treaty commitments. Instead it will enter a treaty such as the ABM Treaty when it is in its interests and blithely withdraw from such a treaty when it judges that it is not. In the light of this really quite extraordinary story of double dealing and bad faith it is actually something of a puzzle why Russia continues to negotiate with the US on arms control at all.

  8. Moscow Exile says:

    “The factors for success [in “democratic breakthroughs”] include 1) a semi-autocratic rather than fully autocratic regime; 2) an unpopular incumbent; 3) a united and organized opposition; 4) an ability quickly to drive home the point that voting results were falsified, 5) enough independent media to inform citizens about the falsified vote, 6) a political opposition capable of mobilizing tens of thousands or more demonstrators to protest electoral fraud, and 7) divisions among the regime’s coercive forces. We should also note that these cases were not wholly independent from one another, and indeed were most likely linked by demonstration effects. Moreover, identifying the commonalities may also help us to isolate other factors often regarded as vital to success that were not present in all these cases”.

    Michael McFaul, “Transitions from Postcommunism”, page 7:$FILE/McFaul2005.pdf

    “As he [McFaul] confessed publicly American non-government organizations spent totally $ 18,3 million to support Victor Yushchenko in the Ukraine presidential election in 2004. Though a history now, it’s curious to see how the US dollars were spent before and during the vote.

    As the new US ambassador to Moscow recalls, the money came mainly through USAID channels and was spent along five directions for propaganda and information to be distributed among the voters, as well as among the electoral committees. As Michael McFaul said the money defined the outcome of the Ukrainian 2004 elections that was greeted so enthusiastically in Washington…

    “Right now the US experts prepare recommendations for the administration on rendering substantial financial, political and moral support to the opposition parties and individual Russian media outlets before the 2012 presidential election. The worked out strategy envisions to purposefully influence the Russian citizens working in state structures, employed in private business and elected into the State Duma. Remembering the Michael McFaul‘s statements in 2011, as head of US embassy in Moscow he has an intention to establish the structures for dialogue on human rights, media freedom, fight against corruption in Russia. While expressing his views to Radio Liberty in June 2011, McFaul said he had an intention to make the “reset” concept an instrument of involvement of the Russian government into democracy and human rights discussions.

    It is suggested to support the individuals who possess the makings of leaders, no matter their views may be murky, during the elections. Special importance is attached to intensive propaganda activities among the citizens expressing their discontent with the incumbent regime’s policy, as well as with the young people who, as sociological centers studies show, make 60% of protesters gathered for the Academician Sakharov avenue for a meeting held on 24 December 2011.

    Coming to Moscow in his new capacity, the former director of Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law is to establish close contacts with the Russian “non-systematic” opposition hoping to prevent Vladimir Putin’s election victory at the coming presidential election, no matter Putin enjoys wide support among voters, as sociological surveys say. In Washington they would like to see someone else to win the race, someone with sympathy for the West and who’s plans do not include the defense of the Russian state interests. Michael McFaul thinks “some dictatorships” simply are not able to achieve progress in the development of democracy and should be assisted, as The New York Times wrote on February 24, 2011 in an article “Seizing Up Revolutions in Waiting”.


  9. yalensis says:

    For semi-autocratic regimes: non-violent colour revolution is preferred method.
    For more autocratic regimes: violent overthrow and regime change considered only possible option.
    Americans are deceptively undercutting Kofi Annan’s peace mission to Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov believes Americans are trying to do an end-run around Annan by secretly arming Syrian rebels (who, I add, are linked to Saudi Arabia/Qatar/Al Qaeda):

    While Russia and China have been criticized for vetoing two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria, Moscow has long accused certain members of the international community of taking sides in the conflict.
    Lavrov said that “promises and intentions to deliver direct military and logistical support to the armed … opposition that were voiced in Istanbul unquestionably contradict the goals of a peaceful settlement to the civil conflict in Syria.”
    The Russian FM also viewed the Friends of Syria decision to recognize the oppositional Syrian National Council as the “legitimate representative” of all Syrians as counterproductive.

    “When decisions are made to call one group the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, one might jump to the conclusion that the other Syrians … are not legitimate,” Lavrov said.
    “I think this approach is dangerous and works against the efforts being put forward by Kofi Annan.”

    During the 70-nation “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul this weekend, several Gulf States in attendance pledged to create a multimillion-dollar fund to finance rebel fighters.
    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also promised more aid to the Syrian rebels, while her Saudi counterpart said “the arming of the [Syrian] opposition is a duty.”

    • marknesop says:

      Whatever else you might say about the west, you have to admire their grim determination when an initiative is in their best interests. They have set toppling Assad as a goal, and no conditions on the ground – not a slackening of violence, not pro-Assad demonstrations such as those shown in photos we received here, not an intervention by the Pope himself would deter them from their course. Sarkozy is hopping like a little boy who needs to pee in his eagerness to use his “Libya Method” to depose Assad, and the west is content to continue getting its casualty figures from the Muslim Brotherhood and all its publicly-disseminated information from “activists”. It is crystal clear that destabilization is the goal; well, a “must do” marker on the way to the goal.

      Whether or not they will be successful depends on the willingness of the rest of the world to stand up to their bullying. The west finally has all the elements of the Middle East it actually likes in its pocket and on-side with the mission, and it will gladly accept a little post-revolution sheepishness (“Gee; I guess Assad really didn’t kill 10,000 Syrians, the casualties were much lower than we thought and it’s not certain who caused them”) in exchange for a post-Assad Syria with the flip-flops-and-AK’s crowd in the driver’s seat. Then it’s on to Tehran!!

      The western coalition already despises Russia, all the while it cannot openly oppose it on an international level without sending the price of oil through the ceiling. It should be remembered that the open-market concept for oil futures was a western initiative, so that it would not be possible to shut off the export of oil to a specific country or even from a specific country; all sanctions do is drive prices up, and there is very little difference if any in the available supply. Do you suppose Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco and Conoco-Philips are upset if prices climb for a commodity whose availability has not actually been seriously affected? I doubt it. Anyway, Russia has absolutely nothing to lose by standing firm, least of all because it is right. Putin will be demonized as Public Enemy Number One, but that was always going to happen. The west will not go as far as war with the world’s biggest energy producer over Syria, especially when the world’s second-biggest economy might well be Russia’s ally.

      I was interested to see our Mr. Harper the other day, when questioned on Syria, say rather casually that he just didn’t think the opposition was strong enough to get it done. That was as an aside in response to a question during a discussion in the USA in which Canada’s oil sales to Asia were the point. There, too, he surprised me, saying that Canada would continue to exploit the Asian market, and could not in the best interests of the country subordinate itself as a “captive producer” to its biggest ally. I may have misjudged him, and might even vote for him again if I continue to see evidence of a spine such as that.

      • Dear Mark,

        No they have not given up on their objective of regime change in Syria. There has always been an obsessive side to US policy, witness its unending feud with Castro and its failure even now to re establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam 37 years after the war there ended. To expect the US to abandon its longstanding objective in Syria after a few setbacks and a few months of trying is to hope for too much.

        The same I am afraid is true about the regime change agenda in Russia. The failure of the Snowflake Revolution does not mean that the objective has been abandoned or that Russia can afford to become complacent. Already the Congress is insisting on stepping up funding for the “democracy promotion” policy in Russia as a reward for repealing the Jackson Vanik amendment. There will surely soon be more attempts to destabilise the situation in the Ukraine as well.

  10. yalensis says:

    Kimmie’s latest opus.

    INOSMI translation:

    By now translators must be used to her stock phrases: “proud KGB spy”, “braying jackass”, and so on…

    • Misha says:

      Pretty much in line with some of the criticism about RIAN – InoSMI being an affiliate.

      InoSMI ran a recent NR gem by David Satter.

      • Misha says:

        Such a great source to promote on a frequent basis:

        • Dear Yalensis,

          I am coming round to the view that La Russophobe alias Kim Zigfeld is altogether too intelligent for the task she has set herself. Her article is supposed to be a critique of Obama’s supposedly pro Russian foreign policy. From a Russophobic propaganda point of view the proper line of attack is to criticise Obama for failing to understand Russia’s “true” nature as revealed by NTV’s “outrageous” harassment of McFaul. That is the line that an Ed Lucas or a Luke Harding or a Masha Gessen would have taken. Instead Kimmie criticises McFaul in a way that shows that it was his behaviour and not NTV’s that was completely out of order. Indeed when I read the article it was her entirely pertinent criticisms of McFaul that stood out. This violates the basic principle of good propaganda, which is that you always put your side in the right and the other side in the wrong.

          This follows Kimmie’s remarkably shrewd assessment of the prospects of the protest movement, in which she was almost alone amongst western commentators but in which she was proved completely right.

          It is well known that close and critical study of a subject can sometimes radically alter a view especially if the person carrying out the study is critical and intelligent. The medieval Catholic Church constantly faced this problem with its inquistors and theologians who it used to send out to combat heresy. I wonder whether Kimmie is on her own road to Damascus?

          • marknesop says:

            I wouldn’t go that far – there’s still ample stupidity on show, such as the non-stop canonization of Ronald “Saint Ronnie” Reagan although this is the same guy who “flooded Iran with weapons” and built it up into the 80’s Muscleman of the Middle East it was, all the while using the profits realized to support a rebel movement in Nicaragua. This was specifically forbidden by an Act of Congress, and the USA was found guilty of war crimes against Nicaragua by the World Court in 1986. Quite a record, although the only facet of Reagan that concerns LR is his lockstep opposition to Communism. Who’s to say what Reagan’s view of Russia today might be, now that it’s no longer Communist? He certainly supported far worse regimes.

            Kimmie was indeed dead right on Navalny, right from the time he was nothing to the peak of the west’s lovingly caressing him in the media and marveling at his power. She was not fooled, but her motives were entirely different from yours. She despised Navalny as a weakling because he allowed what power he was gifted with to be diluted by fooling about in politics, when what she wanted was a bloody revolution with lots of dead Russians, probably culminating in a western intervention after the howling mob had torn all the government figures to pieces. Navalny certainly fell far short of that. Her rant on the subject of the Russian language demonstrates that she has not warmed to any kind of affinity for the Russian people; she loathes them and continues to see them as savage beasts – the Janus face to America’s gentility and sophistication.

            The reaction to Navalny’s fizzle by the rest of us was astonishment that he turned out to be such a hollow man. In Kimmie’s case, it was disappointment that he was not the Berian psychopath she was hoping for.

            • Dear Mark,

              You are almost certainly right. Still like the good Christian in the story I will continue to hope for the sinner’s repentance even if I am overwhelmingly likely to go on being disappointed.

              • marknesop says:

                Ha, ha!! The scales falling from her eyes are far more likely to be inspired by psoriasis than by enlightenment.

                • yalensis says:

                  Yow! You are an evil man, Mark Chapman. I must be evil too, because your psoriasis comment made me laugh my ass off. Alex Mercouris, unlike you, is a godly man, nay a Saint! He will reform and redeem Kimmie, you shall see. She will turn over a new leaf.

  11. Here is a very good discussion of the NTV/McFaul incident on Voice of Russia by Dmitri Babich

    • Misha says:

      Suggestively, there’s the good cop/bad cop image of Obama versus how McFaul has carried on.

      Recall that Obama earlier reached out to Medvedev in a way that appeared to indicate negativity towards Putin.

      In the coming months if not years, let’s see what issues will be used to go against improved Rusian-American relations.

      • Dear Misha,

        Two things to say:

        1. The overwhelming impression I get is that Obama does genuinely want an improvement of relations with Russia. However he is surrounded by people like Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, Susan Rice and McFaul who are heavily entrenched within the Democratic party and who was are committed to the policies of the previous Clinton administration of which they were all a part. Given the opposition Obama faces from the Republicans in the US it is understandable even if it is unheroic that he has not been able to break with these people whose support he needs for his re election. The result is that foreign policy has been largely under Hillary Clinton’s control and the re set has been hobbled.

        Hillary Clinton is supposed to be leaving the State Department in the autumn. My take on Obama’s comment to Medvedev is that he was telling Medvedev that with the election out of the way he will be in a stronger position to pursue with Russia the more constructive line he wants and not just on missile defence. Having said that, I accept this view is born more of hope than experience. Anyway we shall see.

        2. The Obama administration whether with Obama’s knowledge or not made an obviously stupid mistake when it tried to play Medvedev off against Putin. One really does wonder who was the genius behind that policy? I gather that Biden actually had the effrontery in the summer to warn Putin against standing for the Presidency again. This was a crazy policy given the US’s own assessment that Putin remained at all times the country’s dominant political figure. In the event the policy simply caused trouble between Russia and the US and potentially between Putin and Obama over something which is none of the US’s business. Once again we see an example of how the US’s compulsive habit of trying to manipulate events from a distance ended up producing the opposite result to the one it says it wants.

        • Misha says:

          Hi Alexander,

          I don’t rule out what you suggest of Obama versus others around him. American presidents have been known to drift away from their surrounding influences.
          At this point in time, I’m not so certain on the extent that Obama is willing to greatly change the status of the Russian-American relationship.

          • Dear Misha,

            Even if he wins and even if he has the best intentions I doubt that Obama will be politically strong enough to change anything fundamental. If he does make an effort for a real improvement in relations with Russia then Obama will actually present Putin and Russia with a difficult problem. In order to show to his US critics that his pro Russia policy was achieving success Obama would need to show that he had obtained concessions from Putin and Russia. In that case Putin and Russia would have to decide whether they should make the concessions Obama will demand from them notwithstanding that past experience suggests that once Obama goes the US will revert to its traditional anti Russian policy; or should Putin and Russia refuse to make whatever concessions Obama asks of them notwithstanding that if they do so they might forfeit what could turn out to be the last and best chance of putting relations with the US on a stable basis?

            The Russians were faced with this same choice once before back in the early 1970s when Nixon and Kissinger also sought a long term improvement in relations with Russia. In return for this promise of an improvement in relations the Soviet leaders made a whole succession of concessions on a wide range of issues in order to help Nixon and Kissinger face down their internal critics. However when Nixon and Kissinger departed from the scene it did not take long for the US to revert to its usual anti Soviet and anti Russian course. At that point the Soviet leaders found that they could not take back the concessions they had made but that the improvement in relations with the US they had been promised had failed to happen.

            • rkka says:

              “At that point the Soviet leaders found that they could not take back the concessions they had made but that the improvement in relations with the US they had been promised had failed to happen.”

              Exactly. Putin’s early experience of making concessions to Dubya is another example.

              The approach of the Anglosphere Foreign Policy Elite and Punditocracy to Russia was summed up by Bill Clinton:

              “We keep telling ‘ol Boris: “Okay here’s what you’ve got to do next. Here’s some more sh*t for your face.”

              And the entire problem the Russian government has with the AFPE&P comes from its fury that the Russian government no longer feel this is an adequate basis for Anglosphere-Russian relations.

              The “reset” is failing in US politics because Putin will not submit on everything, everywhere, forever.

            • marknesop says:

              I would have to argue the most unforgiveable betrayal came later, in the 90’s when – after having promised no further expansion of NATO – the west invited 7 more countries to join the alliance. That was the kick in the shorts that told Russia the west could never be trusted to keep its word. But I agree that U.S. policy is likely to move to the right after Obama, even if he wins a second term as he likely will. Nations have to think long-term, and I agree Russia would be unlikely to make any concessions by which they would be bound, yet which would likely not even have entered into force before there was a new President. Four years is only a long time to children.

          • rkka says:

            “The overwhelming impression I get is that Obama does genuinely want an improvement of relations with Russia”

            The evidence is very much against this idea. Obama is a 1980s Republican. You know what he wants from who he fights against and what he fights for. He fights the “liberal” wing of the Democratic Party, and nobody else (certainly not Congressional Republicans). He fights for balanced budgets and lower spending in the aftermath of a global financial collapse. He fights to wage a senseless “drone war” that targets mid- and low-level Taliban rather than promptly end a ruinously expensive lost war in Afghanistan. He fights for the ruinously expensive health insurance industry and against “single payer”. He fights for the lunatic financial industry (the loan guarantees, purchases of deeply discounted assets at face value, loans, and bailouts of the US financial industry have come to a cumulative total of about $29 trillion) and against relief for underwater homeowners.

            Do not believe a word the man says. Watch what he does, and on US-Russian relations he’ll sit with Dima and eat a burger, but he hasn’t expended any political capital on even Jackson-Vanik repeal.

            Then there’s the non-congratulatory phone call to Putin a week late. Speaks volumes.

            • Dear RKKA,

              You may very well be right about Obama. I was merely speculating about him. Still he did pursue the reset and he seems much colder than Bush was to the likes of Saakashvili and Yushchenko. Still I don’t hold out too much hope.

            • yalensis says:

              @rkka: I think you are exactly right about Obama. It’s a shame. African-Americans put up with a lot of shit over the centuries and waited a very long time to get one of their own into the White House; and when they did, it turned out to be this empty shell of a man, who doesn’t deserve their loyalty. Obama is a parvenu who seeks to assimilate into the upper class. Lower-class Americans did better with a rich white guy like Franklin Roosevelt, who was born into the upper class, but he had switched sides, and had a very close knowledge of the people he had to fight.

              • marknesop says:

                Well, disappointed as I am in Obama, I can’t see him piled on for everything without defending him a little. I believe he actually meant to do all the things he promised – he just had (and has) no concept of what a dirty power game politics is. He actually believed all that rhetoric about bipartisanship and coming together for the good of the country. I don’t think it occurred to him that the GOP would be quite happy to see the country tip into a death spiral if only it gave power back into their hands, and they have proved over and over that they care nothing for the average American and what plight he might be suffering, by opposing middle-class tax breaks and minimum wage increases while holding presidential appointments hostage to approval of sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy and cheering fellow Republican state-level executives for engaging in union-busting and discriminatory immigration laws.

                Everything Obama touches turns to shit in his hands. He got a health care law through, and the CBO agrees it will improve health care for ordinary Americans while saving costs over the long term – but the Republicans are committed to repealing it and the papers are full of bullshit about how the country’s gonna go broke trying to pay for it. He got Osama bin Laden, America’s biggest villain – and America’s real biggest geopolitical enemy, someone should have shoved down Romney’s throat – but got no credit for it because he did not drag his body down 5th Avenue by the heels behind a pickup truck, and now he has acquired the reputation of being some kind of drone murderer. But before that, Republicans said he was a pussy and “kind of feminine”.

                Yes, he made a mess of Libya, but he’s always thinking about his re-election and I believe it is making him act without thinking anything through but how it’s going to play to his ratings. What the fuck do you want, America??

                • yalensis says:

                  “United States” of America are coming apart at the seams, they will not be able to survive until the end of this century as a single state. At the root of it all is the racial issue: A significant segment of population was never able to accept descendants of African slaves as equal citizens. This racial ennui inspires these people to tear down Federal government (because it is perceived as providing too many social services to undeserving ethnic minorities), so they will devolve into local states/confederacies. This devolutionary process is inevitable.
                  By the way, I like the new maroon background to your blog. It looks nice.

                • marknesop says:

                  Ha, ha! Conspiracy theory number 173. I think what we now know as America will collapse before the next century, too – although talk is cheap as I will never be around that long. But I doubt racial issues will tear it apart; those are serious, but the views of a very small – just very vocal – minority. The trend in the USA is generally toward liberalization, with the occasional conservative clawback, and the comforting contention that “America is a center-right nation” has been nonsense for a long time. The USA will (probably) collapse because of overextension on several fronts, including its reliance on its all-powerful military to make other countries toe the line and do as the USA wants them to do. The imperial gambit has consistently failed to deliver the expected rewards, while America has outsourced its manufacturing base to China. The latter is the second-largest economy and forecast to overtake America in 2014. America is going to wait too long to diversify away from an oil-based economy, relying instead on subjugating oil producers. I can’t see that working; it has certainly been a failure thus far. Meanwhile, it costs a fortune to keep that military machine running. And while I think Obama will win another term, I expect a correction to the right after that; it would probably happen this time around if the GOP could field a smart, persuasive, charismatic candidate. So the overspending on the military and reliance on it to keep striving for the new world order is only going to get worse.

                  Thanks on the background; I was just fooling around because Augis (from RedHot Russia) had suggested a way to get rid of the “just another WordPress site” tag from the top. I tried it and it didn’t work – or I couldn’t find it – and I think it’s something you have to keep if you have a free blog, as this one is. But I found background colour, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

                • Hunter says:

                  I very much doubt the USA will end up divided going into the end of this century. Despite the minorities, the USA as a whole is generally homogeneous. White Americans constitute something like 70% or more of the population (60-65% if you exclude Hispanics I think). Even by 2100 the figures are not expected to change much except in the proportion of Hispanics and other Whites (combined they would be over 70% of the population with Hispanics expected to constitute a third of the US population by 2100). Maybe New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California could see some kind of fringe Hispanic separatism, but I doubt it. The US has had a good record of incorporating immigrants (note how some (NOT all) of the advocates of stricter immigration reform are descendants of recent immigrants themselves). Unless there developed a history of Hispanic separate identity in the the southwest (as opposed to a Hispanic American) then what is more likely to happen is greater Hispanic assertion of political power (so we will see more Hispanics in top positions, probably even a Hispanic person as President). It is similar to how African American separatism never took off even during the worst excesses of Jim Crow (and during the Civil Rights era it was limited to fringe (but very vocal) groups in the African American community). African Americans didn’t like the system, but they didn’t want to separate, they wanted their fair share of the pie.

                  If the US were to decline, its decline would probably resemble the decline of Britain or France in the 1900s. France and the UK remained whole (mostly, excepting the independence of Ireland and Algeria) but found themselves with much less clout globally and needing to severely reduce their military presence around the world. At most with the US there might be some fission of a few overseas territories (maybe American Samoa’s and Puerto Rico’s voters choose to adopt independence under a Compact of Free Association like Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands) but the 50 states themselves are very, very unlikely to separate anymore than Essex is likely to secede from the UK or Aquitaine is likely to split from the rest of France.

              • Hunter says:

                Well the thing is that Obama is “one of their own” in the most basic sense that his Kenyan father is African. Obama just doesn’t have the same background as most African-Americans (indeed, one could easily label him “Kenyan-American” – he is definitely African-American and his wife and daughters are also African-American in the more common sense, but it’s asking a lot of a guy to completely identify with people simply because of his skin colour while ignoring his background).

                • yalensis says:

                  Good point, @Hunter, and I need to clarify my own point. I was surprised myself to see the fierce level of loyalty towards Obama on the part of “real” African-Americans (those of more classical “black” background, descendants of slaves, living many generations in U.S., etc.). Obama didn’t seem to me to have much in common with this segment of the population, which is why it confused me that so many African Americans fiercely rooted for him on the eve of the election (and they continue to root for him now), they half expected the election to be stolen from him, and they would have been extremely upset if he didn’t win. I read that some black people said they would go out and riot in the streets if Obama lost, and I was confused, like, “Why do you even care? This guy isn’t even one of you.”
                  Anyhow, basically, to explain my comment, I wasn’t really talking about Obama himself, who comes from an unusual background. His father was a Kenyan of somewhat radical views, and his mother was a leftist, anti-imperialist too, so by all rights Obama should have been a lefty, but instead he went over to the side of Wall Street, so frankly, I would not expect this narcissist to represent anybody except his own glorious self. But in my (inept) comment I was mainly talking about all the hopes and expectations laid INTO him by ordinary African Americans, who wanted (and deserved) to see “one of their own” finally make it all the way to the White House. Unfortunately for them, this wasn’t the guy they had hoped for. Although I think I can understand why they like to see Michelle and the kids in the White House, they were sick of seeing only white faces in power, this helps their self-esteem, etc., and based on this they will probably go out and vote for him again, even though he didn’t do anything for them.

                • yalensis says:

                  I also need to clarify my “USA will break up” comment. I was NOT talking about ethnic separatism. I agree with you that ethnic minorities (including African-Americans) have only ever wanted to assimilate and get their fair share of the pie.
                  I was actually talking about secessionism from the other side: disaffected majorities (i.e., ethnic whites) who believe the federal government does not represent their interests; that it represents the interests of lazy, shiftless minorities who don’t want to work for a living and just want a free hand-out. (Their perception.) Therefore, in their view, the states need to secede and get the federal government “off their backs”.
                  You don’t believe me? I travel to Texas sometimes, because I have relatives there. I swear to you that 40% of the Texan population would vote for secession TOMORROW if it were on the ballot! If Obama is re-elected in November, this number will increase to 50%. And this wouldn’t be blacks or Hispanics, God no, those people would suffer the most if Texas actually did secede. Same goes for a lot of the other southern states. This factor is a ticking time bomb for American unity, and it is only bound to get worse as the American economy slowly collapses.

                • marknesop says:

                  I don’t think so. I’m sure that’s what some people say – but when they are faced with backing up their words, they usually mutter under their breath and walk away. An excellent example is the number of people who swore that if George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term, they would move to Canada. This provides a good test lab, because they didn’t say they were simply going to move “away”; they intended – by their own words – to move to a nearby country that is in many ways so like America that they might not even notice a difference except in neighbourhood scenery. As we all know, George W. Bush was re-elected. Immigration to Canada from the United States has been rising at a rate of about 1000 a year since 2001. Applications from the USA, which at that time would likely have taken no more than 6 months to process, did undergo a modest bump for the years 2005 – 2008, before dropping off again in 2009, so a case could be made that some people actually did make good on their threat – but it was less than 2000 people per year. In a country with a population the size of the United States’, that’s breaking the proverbial drop in the bucket down into mist.

                  I never meant to associate myself with the view that America would be torn asunder by racial tensions, and I thought I specifically said I did not think that would happen. I believe America as we know it now will undergo a dramatic readjustment and probably lose its position as world leader in this century, but I believe that will result from imperial and economic overreach.

                • marknesop says:

                  People from Texas – to use your example – make me laugh when they talk about secession because they don’t have the first clue what it would entail. They think nothing much would change from what it is now, except when you got to where the state border used to be it’d be a big hedge of yellow roses and a huge glittering sign that said “Welcome to the Nation of Texas!!!” When they learned that they would no longer be able to use the U.S. dollar unless it were backed with unique national securities, the U.S. postal system, the FBI, Bank of America and so on and so on, all the federal services they today take for granted, secession would lose its zippy flavour in a hurry.

  12. Moscow Exile says:

    Whilst browsing the net a couple of hours back, I came across this CNN crock of shite which is dated March 6th. It’s the usual western crap about Putin’s presidential victory despite last December’s “spontaneous popular demonstrations in Moscow against the ‘results’ of the parliamentary elections”.

    Note how these demonstrations are now described as “spontaneous” or even as “flash mobs”. Udaltsov’s promised milllion strong demonstration at the presidential inauguration has already been labelled a “flash demo” for several weeks, even though Putin’s swearing-in is still just under a month from now.

    The CNN article is called “Despite protests, Russian spring still distant dream”. Here it is:

    Take a look at the picture again and what’s written under it:

    “Thousands of protesters flooded through Moscow streets Saturday, calling for fair elections”.

    Remember, the article appeared on Tuesday, March 6th. So, presumably, “Saturday”, when the picture was taken and when “thousands of protesters flooded through Moscow streets”, was Saturday, March 3rd, right?

    Wrong! The picture is of Sakharov St. and shows the demonstration that took place there on December 24th 2011, which just happens to be when the “spontaneous opposition” demonstrations “calling for fair elections” peaked.

    At the following “flash demonstration” that took place on February 4th at Bolotnaya Square, the number of “opposition” demonstrators had noticeably declined – no doubt partly because the maximum daytime temperature on that day was minus 22C (minus 7.6F). However, on that same bitterly cold February 4th there were considerably more participants at the “anti-orange” rally at Poklonnaya Hill than there were at Bolotnaya. There were so many that day at Poklonnaya, in fact, that “Paris Soir” even published a picture of it saying it was the demo at Bolotnaya, presumably because they couldn’t believe so many demonstrators were not supporters of the “opposition”: either that or Paris Soir was simply lying through its teeth.

    By the time of the election it was clear that the “anti-Putin” demos were in terminal decline. The day following Putin’s electoral victory, March 5th, there was Navalny’s and Udaltsov’s occupy-the-Pushkin-Square-fountain farce that took place the day before the CNN article linked above appeared.

    These liars just never give up, do they?

    Or perhaps they have come to believe their own propaganda?

    • Sam says:

      On the subject of media false stories, the Moscow times (Kevin O’Flynn) wrote the following story:
      on a blog by Putin’s youngest daughter describing at great length the contempt she has for her father. This story is of course a joke for April’s fool day, however as of today, nowhere on the Moscow times it is acknowledged as a fake story, and it’s only reported as invented by O’Flynn on his twitter’s account. Now the story has been translated by inosmi ( and the comments so far indicate that people are actually believing this crap, since it had been nowhere acknowledged as crap.

      On the funny side though, you can see that Larussophobe was the first one to avidly fall for this “story” as her comment on MT shows:) Really clueless!

      • marknesop says:

        Ha, ha!!! That’s great!!! What a sucker! I see that O’Flynn writes, “I may only do made-up stories from now on”. I mustn’t be greedy, but please God let it fool Luke Harding, too.

      • cartman says:

        I am sure the brigade will think every bit of it is true like they did with that rumor that Mrs. Putina was hidden away in a nunnery. (Instead of the more mundane explanation that she suffers from back problems. They wouldn’t want to look foolish.)

  13. cartman says:

    Anatol Lieven tends to write reasonably-supported, less polemical articles:

    Mirage of the Putin Protests

    • kirill says:

      I am waiting to read an article that does not conform to western political correctness. Lieven talks about the first four years of Putin’s presidency as if it was somehow better than the second term. Reading between the lines it is clear that Putin’s crime was breaking up the western backed trust rackets in Russia. Putting poor dissident Khodorkovsky behind bars since he had a real chance to become president and not because he was a big time crook. Making humanitarian Berezovsky run away to London. In other words, reform in Russia is a code word for comprador regime installation. This allegedly necessary reform, which is never clarified by the way, will never be complete as long as the elected leaders don’t kowtow to the West.

      The reasonable tone in the first few paragraphs is not motivated by an unbiased approach to Russia. It is merely an acknowledgment that there is nothing of substance to the anti Putin fanatics. They do not represent Russian society and the idiotic western coverage of them as the “voice” of the Russian people only serves to marginalize them in the long run. They are “important” only in their usefulness as western stooges. For an American to be counting how many votes Putin got is beyond obscene coming from a country with a two party regime where only 40% bother to vote. There is no evidence that 55% is what Putin got. At the very least it was 58%. All that bleating about fraud from a country where the electronic voting machines run a version of Windows and are internet connected. I will take an election in Russia over one in the USA any day.

      • marknesop says:

        I struggled to hold in my laughter, but it totally got away from me at, “Making humanitarian Berezovsky run away to London.”. Damn. Who knew you had such a flair for comedy?

        I found myself nodding along with the last paragraph, and not just because I was sleepy. Well said.

        • Anatole Lieven is definitely one of the better writers around about Russia. I suspect that the reason the article is so affected by a liberal bias (it takes it for granted that the way forward for Russia is for it to embrace liberal reforms in exactly the way Kirill says) is because otherwise Freedom House for whom it appears to have been written would not have published it. The point of the article is surely to explain that liberals however articulate are only a fringe force in Russia and to warn (as the article does very eloquently at the start) against the sort of sloppy journalist which leads to westerners getting a completely distorted view of the country.

      • cartman says:

        That article seems to have annoyed Khodorkovsky’s representatives. They do not think Western media coverage should be critiqued.

  14. Moscow Exile says:

    As regards this constant sniping concerning the absence of Putin’s wife from the public gaze, as though she were under some kind of obligation to ape the “first-lady” antics that the US president’s wife and the spouses of some other heads of government or, as the case may be, heads of state traditionally play, many Russia observers in the West seem unwilling to accept that Lyudmila Putina simply neither feels it necesssary nor, indeed, wants to be seen in public constantly at her husband’s side.

    One duma United Russia party duma deputy, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, when asked whether Putina’s absence from the public eye is bad for her husband’s political image, said: “For western people, maybe it’s strange. For Russians, it’s totally normal”. (See: But no matter whether such behaviour is “normal” in Russia, it seems that because Russian “normality” does not reflect that of the West, Russians find themselves, as usual, being criticised by western journalists for doing things their own way.

    When he was “Russia’s First President”, did western journalists repeatedly ask about the whereabouts of Yeltsin’s wife? Does anybody in the West recall Yeltsina being constantly at Boris the Drunk’s side, if only to support the tottering man in her life? I don’t think so.

    Helmut Kohl was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998. His wife, Hannelore, kept herself and the couple’s two sons out of the public spotlight throughout Kohl’s whole political carreer as he rose through the ranks in post-war Germany’s Christian Democratic party. Did western journalists ask repeatedly about Frau Kohl’s public abscence during her husband’s chancellorship? I don’t think so.

    In 2001, Frau Kohl was found dead in her home. She had apparently committed suicide after having suffered for years from what was claimed to have been a very rare and painful allergy to sunlight, which had led to her to not going outside. Although some journalists cast doubt upon this official explanation of Frau Kohl’s public absence over the years and the cause of her death, the press at large hardly ever queried Frau Kohl’s whereabouts during her husband’s long political career and chancellorship.

    Compare the western media reports concerning Lyudmila Putin’s public absence: her husband beats her; her husband has a mistress and has disowned her; she has been locked away in a nunnery…

    It seems that Putina’s abscence from the public gaze is simply being used by the Western media as just yet another weapon to attack the “proud ex-KGB spy” Putin:


    • marknesop says:

      Very much on point and extremely solidly substantiated. Round One, Moscow Exile.

    • yalensis says:

      It’s all part of Western psy-ops game. Now they are also going after Putin’s daughters. West spends a lot of time trying to “turn” family members of enemy leaders. They turned Khrushchev’s children, and even Stalin’s daughter. Castro’s sister too, I believe. The list goes on. They consider it a great propaganda success when they can get a family member to defect to the other side and denounce the “tyrant”.

      • The speculation about Putin’s wife says more about the trivial nature of the western media than it does about Russia. Anyone with any knowledge of recent Russian history knows that it is not the Russian tradition to give the husbands and wives of political leaders prominence. When Gorbachev arranged for his wife Raisa to get public attention this only did him (and her) harm. Frankly I prefer Russian practice to western practice. The private and family lives of political leaders should be kept private.

        • marknesop says:

          Ditto Ukraine – see much in the press about Mr. Tymoshenko? I certainly haven’t, and her daughter only attained momentary semi-notoriety for (a) marrying some rock star from Leeds, and (b) taking an active part in politically promoting her mother.

        • Misha says:

          Should be a matter of personal preference of the given first lady.

          Some are more reserved than others.

          Part of the trivial coverage are claims that the marriage of the Russian-president elect has been on the rocks.

          People in all walks of life go thru a problematical spousal relationship, without it being an issue in the work place.

        • yalensis says:

          As opposed to Sarkozy’s wife, who is a swimsuit model:

      • AK says:

        Good point, yalensis.

        I always find it hilarious reading Nina Khrushcheva, who manages to utterly smear and condemn both the USSR and today’s Russia while making out her daddy to be some kind of people’s hero.

        Incidentally, the soon-to-be Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has a daughter studying at Harvard. I’m amazed it’s allowed there.

  15. Moscow Exile says:

    ” ‘There are exotic rumours, that she’s been hidden in a monastery or somewhere in the Kremlin, somewhere against her will’, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a deputy with Putin’s United Russia party and an expert on the Russian elite” reports the Guardian’s Mirian Elder.

    This rumour might have arisen because of the fate of Ivan IV’s (The Terrible) fourth wife, who was banished by her spouse to the convent of Vedenski-Tikhvinski, where she assumed the name of Daria.

    Get it?

    “Vlad” Putin and Ivan the Terrible are two similar tyrannical and crazed Russian monsters?

    Get thee gone to a nunnery!

    What nonesense!


    • marknesop says:

      Some schoolyard games never go out of fashion, and “King of the Castle” seems a perennial favourite.

    • kirill says:

      Vlad Putin, like Ivan the Terrible, is serving Russia’s interests and not those of her enemies (these actually exist believe it or not). But unlike Ivan Grozny he is playing by modern rules and is not filling the streets of Novgorod with blood to achieve unity. His fight is at the ballot box and he is winning. And the sore losers and their foreign backers are crying.

      • marknesop says:

        Here’s an interesting item I didn’t see anywhere else, by way of the Emerging Ties blog (in the blogroll);

        “Last week, World Bank President Robert Zoellick endorsed a new bank to be created by the top five emerging economies. The countries include: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. These five countries account for almost 30 percent of the global economy. The new BRICS bank will almost certainly rival the western and U.S. dominated IMF and World Bank. However, Zoellick said that not having Russia and China as part of “the World Bank system” would be a “mistake of historic proportions,” according to GoldCore.

        One of the biggest developments that is likely to occur with the new BRICS bank is the promotion of the five countries to conduct trade in their own currencies, avoiding the U.S dollar as the global reserve currency. GoldCore explains, “The leaders of BRIC nations and other emerging market nations have adopted the idea of conducting trade between the five nations in their own currencies. Two agreements, signed among the development banks of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, say that local currency loans will be made available for trade between these countries.”

        This will doubtless be shocking news for that smug “Time to de-Russianize the BRICs” blogger, since Russia accounts for a full 50% of BRIC total FDI. Hmmm….acceding to the WTO, and promptly starting a new bank which is projected to rival the strength of the western banking bloc.

        Maybe Putin’s Eurasian Union doesn’t look so silly after all. Certainly suggests a motive for the recent western conquistadorical interest in Africa, too, doesn’t it?

        • yalensis says:

          BRICs better watch out: Pindosi go ape-shit every time a country tries to get off the dollar. If you don’t believe me, just ask Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi!

          • marknesop says:

            Not to mention everyone’s favourite demon, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. Iran opened Phase 1 of its Oil Bourse (“Bourse” is a French word meaning “stock exchange”, but you probably knew that) in 2008 (about 2 years late), and planned to expand once the startup was running smoothly. I’m not sure at what stage they are now since there is almost a complete news blackout on it. Anyway, such a bourse is actually an international oil-trading instrument, like the IPE or NYMEX – except it is denominated in international currencies tied to the Euro, not the dollar. Maintaining the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency is all that permits the USA to run such enormous deficits without going under, because countries that buy oil futures in dollars invest the money in U.S. T-Bills, which prompts the issue of trainloads of dollars by the Federal Reserve.

            Opening of a new international bank that scrupulously avoided the dollar would probably be seen as encouragement by Iran, who had quite a tough time getting their bourse to meet opening day deadlines; oddly enough, seabed cables supplying internet service to the entire Middle East were cut just days before opening of this internet-based service.

            I wonder if South Africa’s integration with the BRICs had anything to do with the west’s sudden interest in Africa after mostly ignoring it for the better part of 20 years except for the occasional intervention. This suggests so; wonder of wonders, al Qaeda is trying to regroup….in Africa. And the War on Terror is “at a critical stage”. The cheek it requires to recite that on TV after overthrowing Gaddafi to install an al Qaeda “government” must be some kind of record for breathtaking ignorance of irony. You’ll be interested to know that western counterterrorist officials were “unsighted” by the “apparent shift to Africa”. I’ve never seen “unsighted” used in that context, but it must mean, “pathetically tried to pull the wool over the world’s eyes while lying faster than a horse can trot in pursuit of clandestine goals which necessitate getting into bed with one’s former blood enemies, who must now be legitimized and rehabilitated as ‘rebels'”. I notice favoured bogeyman Ayman al-Zawahiri gets top billing, but never a mention of al Qaeda thug Abdel Hakim Belhadj. Whoops: he’s an ally now. That means he’s not al Qaeda, my mistake.

            Hey; you know what we need to get everyone’s attention off Africa and the stupid-right-to-the-bone adventure in Libya that recharged the enemies’ batteries? A WAR!! Yes, right on schedule, Hillary is ramping up the hawkish rhetoric again on Syria. She announces more “non-lethal” aid for the “rebels” (might as well just put them all on salary, why not?), now to include “communications equipment” that will allow them to “avoid government forces” (read “know where government forces are so as to be able to coordinate attacks on them”) and “help them get their message out to the world”. What do you want to bet it includes the latest in those nifty little “internet in a suitcase” kits? Then with a little help from al Jazeera on the “Phony Fall Of Tripoli” set, they’ll be broadcasting atrocities that will make your hair turn white, if it isn’t already; in which case it’ll make it fall out. I’ll never trust western propaganda again after that coached tearing-babies-out-of-incubators bullshit involving the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter in the first Gulf war.

            You know the really sad thing? Once upon a time, the western powers (chiefly the United States) didn’t need to throw their weight around to get what they wanted. What was that old inspirational line? The power of our example, rather than the example of our power. Everybody admired the USA and wanted to be like them – rich, but humble and aw shucks about it, originator of the “can do” ethic that most of the world wanted to see succeed. The Soviet Union had a hard time repressing the American out of the kids, because American freedom and American music and American movies were everywhere and everybody wanted a piece of the action.

            But somewhere along the line what was a gift, for free, became assessed as a tool. American influence became a way of promoting the overthrow of governments and institutions the U.S. government just didn’t like – or who, once removed, would give way to pliant allies – rather than systems that genuinely needed to be overthrown. And the message, instead of welcoming and open, became bold and aggressive and you’re-with-us-or-you’re against-us, and if you’re with us, I’m in charge. It’s a pity, really. But, as a friend of mine likes to say, it is what it is. Once, the USA had few real enemies. Now it has few real friends.

            • yalensis says:

              Well said.
              In terms of propaganda atrocities, Hillary claims that Assad is torturing to death children as young as ten. (I personally do not believe this lie even for one second.) Hence, in Hillary’s motherly heart, Syrian (=Al Qaeda) rebels need to be armed to protect these innocent children.
              Meanwhile in Libya, Al Qaeda rebels lynch and behead anybody who happens to be an ethnic African. But Libyan Al Qaeda are the good guys, because they are allied with NATO, and NATO contractors are guarding the Benghazi oil refineries and the oil is being shipped out like crazy now (and Europe is getting it for free).
              Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa, Al Qaeda is the bad guy and ominously “regrouping”, hence time to send in the marines!

              • marknesop says:

                Hillary Clinton is likely very aware of what is probably true and what is probably not; she’s been around the block a few times. She, like the rest of the current political establishment, simply knows not to ask too many questions. Activists give you some info, and you pass it on without investigating where in other circumstances – such as if they were saying it about you – there’d be a rigorous investigation and a pushback that’d make you dizzy. But the thing to do when the narrative suits your aims is just to go along with it. After all, Hillary Clinton didn’t say Assad was torturing kids: activists who are supposedly there said so. Who is she to disagree? When it turns out to be untrue, she can say they tricked her, playing both upon her maternal love for all children and her sense of decency as an American citizen.

                • cartman says:

                  She voted for the Iraq War, but she did not vote for THAT. (Just what she was expecting is still unknown.)

                • cartman says:

                  Actually she is part of the DLC, which is a sub group to keep only establishment Democrats on the ballot. Bill Bradley was definitely not one when he was running against Al Gore. Suddenly Gore was the “underdog” though he had the huge machine behind him.

      • AK says:

        Ivan the Terrible was actually nowhere near as terrible as he was later made out to be, and had impressively advanced ideas on modernization for his time.

  16. Moscow Exile says:

    I have often wondered why Ivan IV’s soubriquet “грозный” (grozniy) has always been translated into French as “le terrible”, whence the modern English term originated: one could also use the derived from Old English “frightful” as a synonym for “terrible”, which is really “страшный” (strashniy) in Russian.

    Ivan IV is known as “Iwan der Schreckliche” (Ivan the Terrible) in German as well, even though Germans concede that “грозный” means “bedrohlicher”, i.e. “menacing”, “threatening”, “dread” in English.

    I rather feel that the Russian soubriquet “grozniy” is not really such a pejorative one, at least not in 16th century Muscovy it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, a “dread Lord” in English was not necessarily a pejoritive term as well, but one of respect, albeit grudging. I think in in modern colloquial English “Ivan Grozniy” really means something like “Ivan-Who-You-Don’t-Mess-Around-With”.

    Perhaps this “terrible” tag that has been latched onto Ivan IV in the West is an early example of “negative spin” as regards anything emanating from Russia or, as in Ivan IV’s case, from Muscovy.

    Whatever! Old Ivan certainly let those boyars know who was boss and some may think there are still far too many latter-day boyars hanging around in present-day Muscovy.

    • yalensis says:

      I saw one possible translation of грозный into English as “awe inspiring” or “awesome”. So, he’d be, like, Ivan the Awesome!

      • kirill says:

        I think awe is a relevant meaning to the term. The Russian word for thunder storm is “groza”. Thunder storms have been the root of mythology around the world (Zeus and his thunderbolts or Thor’s Mjolnir — which is the origin of the word for lightning in Russian). So “grozniy” can mean “awe inspiring” although not so much in modern Russian.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          Of course, the meanings of words often change with the passage of time. About five hundred years ago, “naughty” in English meant “wicked”; now it is usually only applied to children and means “mischievous’, “disobedient”, although it is sometimes used by adults to mean “sexually alluring” as in “a naughty nightie/swimsuit”: “wicked”, on the other hand, I’ve heard used in recent years by people much younger than I am, to mean “great” – as in, “Wow! Wicked music”.

        • yalensis says:

          Ivan was said to have a bad temper, so it must have seemed to people around him that he was a walking thunderstorm, just waiting to explode. Maybe he was bipolar? I had a bipolar boss who was compared to a walking tornado: one minute he was Mr. Nice Guy, treating everybody to lunch and drinks; then two seconds later, somebody says the wrong thing, and he is on a bloody rampage and putting everybody on stakes. It was safer to simply keep your mouth shut and not say anything to him; but sometimes your very silence would set him off too: “Why are you ignoring me, you little bastard!” The guy was a raving lunatic! I am guessing Ivan Grozny was like that too. I mean, the dude killed his own son in a fit of rage, and then 2 minutes later he was sorry. “Oops! My bad!” Too late, daddy-o.

    • hoct says:

      Probably should be Ivan the Terrifying. The same thing, but without the negative connotations.

      • Dear Mark,

        On the subject of the word Grozny, obviously I cannot comment on its precise meaning. However you might be interested to know that it is one of the two traditional names the Russians give to capital ships of their fleet, the other being Varyag. There were sister ships called Varyag and Grozny in the tsarist navy and the Soviet navy had two missile cruisers which were also sister ships that were also called Varyag and Grozny. The aircraft carrier that was being built that the Ukrainians sold to China would have been called Varyag if it had ever entered Soviet or Russian service so one presumes that the next aircraft carrier that would have followed on from it and work on which had actually started before the USSR collapsed, would have been called Grozny.

        I understand that the present Russian navy does not have ships called Varyag and Grozny in service. Since these names are traditionally given to capital ships rather than smaller ships such as frigates they are presumably being held back until ships worthy of such names (missile destroyers or aircraft carriers) are built.

        • yalensis says:

          The etymology of Russian “Variag” is Varangian, which I am guessing is some Old Norse word, probably meaning “warrior”. Through predictable sound changes, the word “Varingian” or “Varangian” became Slavic “Variag”. The Varingians were basically an elite unit of ferocious axe-wielding Vikings who served in the army of Tsar Valdemar (Vladimir) of Kievan Rus. (And, BTW, the word “Viking” through the same set of sound changes became the Slavic “vitiaz”, “knight”.) Around this time, Slavs were heavily interacting with Norsemen, Goths, and other Germans, and many Germanic words flowed into the Slavic language.
          The most famous “Variag” ship of all, as every Russian schoolchild knows, is the one which sank in battle against the Japanese in the War of 1905. The Japanese naval officers and men were astonished by the courage of the Russian crew, and it takes a lot to impress Japanese, who have very high standards in this regard.
          The heroic feat of the “Variag” lives on in fable and song (I have posted this song before, so forgive me for repetition, but it deserves an encore, and it will certainly wake you up if you are snoozing):

          • Dear Yalensis,

            Thank you for this. I had heard about the story of the Variag in the Russo Japanese war but I did not know the origins of the name.

            • Yalensis,

              That song is magnificent!

            • yalensis says:

              I am glad you like the song, @Alexander. It is a classic of Russian military/patriotic music. Here are the lyrics so people can follow along. Even without the music, this is a brilliant poem, with a very strong anapestic meter, perfect rhyme, and vivid imagery. I added an English translation, with the understanding that it is not possible to really translate poetry, and I didn’t even attempt to match meter or rhyme, but just to get a very basic feeling for what the words are saying. So, here for the sing-along, without further ado:


              Наверх вы, товарищи! Все по местам!
              Последний парад наступает.
              Врагу не сдаётся наш гордый “Варяг”,
              Пощады никто не желает.

              Все вымпелы вьются и цепи гремят,
              Наверх якоря поднимая.
              Готовятся к бою орудия в ряд,
              На солнце зловеще сверкая.

              Свистит и гремит, и грохочет кругом.
              Гром пушек, шипенье снарядов.
              И стал наш бесстрашный и гордый “Варяг”
              Подобен кромешному аду.

              В предсмертных мученьях трепещут тела.
              Гром пушек, и шум, и стенанья.
              И судно охвачено морем огня,
              Настали минуты прощанья.

              Прощайте, товарищи, с богом – ура!
              Кипящее море под нами.
              Не думали, братцы, мы с вами вчера,
              Что нынче умрём под волнами.

              Не скажет ни камень, ни крест, где легли
              Во славу мы русского флага,
              Лишь волны морские прославят одни
              Геройскую гибель “Варяга”.


              Everybody up, comrades! All hands on deck!
              It’s time for the final parade.
              Our proud “Variag” will not surrender to the foe.
              Nobody is begging for mercy.

              Pennants flap, and the chains are groaning,
              As the anchors are raised up.
              A row of guns prepare for battle,
              Gleaming ominously in the sunlight.

              Whistles, booms, explosions all round,
              Thunder of cannons, squealing of grenades.
              And our proud and fearless “Variag”
              Has become a hellish pandemonium.

              In pre-death agonies bodies writhe.
              Thunder of cannons, roars and groans.
              And the vessels is encased by a sea of fire.
              The time has come to say our goodbyes.
              Farewell, comrades, go with God – Hurrah!
              The seething ocean is beneath us.
              We did not think, brothers, even yesterday,
              That we would meet death now under the waves.

              No stone or cross will show where we died
              For the glory of the Russian flag.
              Only the ocean’s waves will proclaim,
              The glorious demise of the “Variag”.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            The arc of trade that stretched from 10th century England, then under Danish rule and influence, through Rus and down to Byzantium, resulted in social and trade intercourse between the Old English/Danish state (often wrongly termed Anglo-Saxon England) and Rus. When the last English King, Harold II (Godwinson) fell at Hastings in 1066, his Swedish wife, Edith Swanneck, fled to her homeland with her children. One of her daughters married Vladimir II (Monomakh) of Rus and she may have been the mother of Yuri Dolgorukiy, “founder” of Moscow. So Yuri Dolgorukiy’s granddad might have been Harold II f England.

            Harold was defended to the end by his Husceorls (Housecarls), English elite guards armed with battle axes. Those Husceorls that survived Hastings also fled England and most of them joined the Varangian Guard, the elite bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. Their route to Constantinople would have probably been via Denmark, Sweden, Novgorod and thence by river and porterage down the Moscow, Oka. Volga and Don rivers to the Sea of Azov and thence across the Black Sea to Byzantium.

            • yalensis says:

              Thanks, @Exile, fascinating history! I am always amazed how “global” the world was, even before the word “globalism” was invented. Seems like everybody knew everybody, even back then.

        • marknesop says:

          I think you meant that reply for hoct, but indeed there is a VARYAG in service with the Russian Navy. She is a SLAVA Class Missile Cruiser, in service with the Pacific Fleet and based out of Vladivostok. I’ve seen her many times, close enough to touch, but I have never had the pleasure of being aboard.

          Even American senior officers have been known to remark, “The Russkies sure do build ’em pretty”, and it’s true that Russian warship designs feature daringly raked bows and a menacing silhouette while projecting the impression of speed and power. Unfortunately, many of the older designs draw their menacing attitude from sensor arrays that are horribly inefficient; huge, hulking gunnery and missile control radars that need to be that big and powerful because they are so technically unsophisticated. Still, Russia has made many breakthroughs: when the KASHIN Class were launched they were both the first all-gas-turbine warships and the fastest warships in the world. The AKULA Class submarine hull was built of titanium – at, I imagine, horrific expense, and welding titanium was something entirely new at the time. They also featured a liquid-metal reactor when everyone else in the world used a pressurized-water reactor. It ran hot and there were a couple of early accidents, and in the end it was judged too dangerous – but the AKULAs could dive deeper than anything else at the time owing to the strength and design of their spindle hull, and they were so fast they could outrun a torpedo if they were able to hear the launch.

          VARYAG was originally named CHERVONA UKRAINA (Red Ukraine), but her name was changed with the birth of the Russian Federation.

          • rkka says:

            “Even American senior officers have been known to remark, “The Russkies sure do build ‘em pretty”, and it’s true that Russian warship designs feature daringly raked bows and a menacing silhouette while projecting the impression of speed and power.”

            The rakish bow does more than look pretty. They greatly help seakeeping, which is critical in the rough, stormy seas of the North Cape and North Pacific, where Russian ships spend a good deal of time.

        • Misha says:

          Among the extremely fluent of Russian and English language speakers I’ve questioned, the Ivan the Terrible translation from Grozny is lacking in accuracy.

          “Fierce” has been periodically mentioned, along with some of the other alternatives to “terrible.”

          • yalensis says:

            Yeah, in idiomatic (American) English, “terrible” just isn’t so terrible any more. People talk about the “Terrible Twos” meaning bratty 2-year-olds. Surely Ivan Vasilievich was more scary than a toddler?

  17. Moscow Exile says:

    How exactly does Amnesty International define the term “prisoner of conscience”?

    According to an article written by Shawn Walker of the UK Independent, that’s how that organization now describes those women who performed uninvited in the Moscow Christ the Saviour Cathedral recently, singing to the person whom many believe to be the mother of god incarnated and asking her to drive Vladimir Putin away as though he were some kind of malevolent spirit. The “punk rockers” were arrested and are still on remand awaiting trial.

    According to Walker, Amnesty has said that the women’s arrest was “not a justifiable response to the peaceful (if, to many, offensive) expression of their political beliefs” and has called on Russia to release the three women.

    Bear in mind, Amnesty International classes Khodorkovskiy as a “prisoner of conscience” as well.

    Walker goes on to say that because of their arrest, Russians have now “turned against the church”.

    Really, Mr. Walker?

    He also discusses in the same article whether Patriarch Kirill wears a Swiss Breguet watch that is worth over £20,000.


    • cartman says:

      Walker is one of those liberals of moral relativism. To them, indignation of Christians towards Serrano’s Piss Christ is the same as the reaction of Muslims to the publication of pictures of Mohammed (including the murder of Theo van Gogh). I think more Russians were offended by Pussy Riot’s performance because it was in the cathedral. They are not punished for their message, they are punished for the place they chose to deliver it.

      • marknesop says:

        “They are not punished for their message, they are punished for the place they chose to deliver it.”

        Exactly. And because their message is not interesting to a broad cross-section of society, they feel they must project their message linked to an outrageous situation, in the hope they will win more converts or at least get their message out. The western press is doing its part by chuckling at their antics as if they were naughty schoolchildren, then finger-wagging at the authorities for making such a big deal of it.

        Please note that explicit in the definition of “Prisoner of Conscience” is the codicil, “We exclude (from the definition of prisoner of conscience) those persons who have conspired with a foreign government to overthrow their own”. This was the same exemption that excluded Boris Nemtsov from the prisoner of conscience label, although he was quite eager to accept it – he spoke in public at American venues and argued there could be no peaceful end to the Putin/Medvedev government, and later participated in private meetings with U.S. government officials. Ding!!Ding!! conspiring with a foreign government to overthrow your own. Ditto Navalny with his Yale Fellowship and I-see-enough-people-to-take-the-Kremlin. And Pussy Riot explicitly broadcasts an anti-government message while seeking western publicity of it and directly benefiting from it.

        What would be the reception in the western press of a punk band staging an impromptu performance called “Fuck Obama” in the Old North church in Boston? I somehow doubt it would be rueful chuckling followed by, “But seriously, why are these artists in jail? They’re prisoners of conscience!!”

    • AK says:

      Walker is the type of person who seems to think everyone shares his liberal beliefs and that of the small coterie of Russian liberals he is in constant contact with, whereas in reality they constitute a vanishingly small percentage of the Russian population.

      For the record, I don’t think PR should get anything more than a dozen or two hours of community service for their stunt – i.e., their likely sentence in most of Europe (though Poland with its blasphemy laws may likewise give them a few years). But according to opinion polls, most Russians don’t mind several years imprisonment. This may be grossly unfair and disproportional, but claiming that Russians “turned against the church” in favor of some shrieking weirdos with colored sacks over their heads is very dishonest.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        Walker’s at it again in this morning’s UK Independent, where he reports that “a prominent Russian journalist has become the latest reporter from Novaya Gazeta newspaper to be attacked”. He then goes on to describe what at first sight appears to have been a mugging, but adds that “a number of Novaya Gazeta journalists have been killed in recent years, most famously Anna Politkovskaya”.

        At the very end of his article, Walker then concedes that “it was unclear if the latest attack was connected to her [the attacked journalist’s] work”, but mentions that the jounalist in question “focuses on Chechnya and the North Caucasus”.

        Granted, the journalist who was attacked, Elena Milashina, seems to have taken it upon herself to don Politkovskaya’s mantle and is apparently much revered by Human Rights Watch (see:, one of George Soros’s initiatives (see:

        Somehow, though I may be wrong, I suspect that Walker is already at this stage of the game attempting to suggest that certain conclusions be drawn concerning this street attack and theft perpetrated against Milashina, namely that it had been undertaken clearly on the orders of someone in authority.

        I wonder who?


        • marknesop says:

          Nobody from Novaya Gazeta is a “prominent Russian journalist”: what’s its circulation in Russia, again? They claimed 270,000 in 2009, in a country of more than 140,000,000. If not for its constantly being cited – like the Moscow Times – by western sources, you would probably never hear of it.

          • Dear Moscow Exile,

            Thanks for this latest demarche from Walker’s pen.

            There is absolutely nothing about this incident that suggests that it was anything more than a sordid street robbery of the sort that unfortunately blights many big cities. That a political dimension should be placed on this affair shows how paranoid the Novaya Gazeta crowd have become. Walker obviously shares this paranoia so that we now have the incredible spectacle of back street mugging being treated as a major news story in his newspaper. Of course this sort of paranoia is constantly on display. Luke Harding’s preposterous book is a lengthy exposition of it.

            Incidentally I notice that Milashina when she was mugged was in the company of someone from Freedom House, who is described as her friend, and that she is being touted by Human Rights Watch as Politkovskaya’s successor. In other words she is part of the liberal magic circle on the receiving end of Washington’s “democracy promotion” efforts and of which Walker himself as a former Moscow Times staffer is indirectly a member. One way of looking at Walker’s article is as a device to raise Milashina’s profile, I had not heard of Milashina before. I will watch out for her from now.

            • Moscow Exile says:

              Dear Alexander Mercouris,

              Well according to Walker, she’s a “prominent journalist”.

              So now you know!
              To update Mark’s comment above about Novaya Gazeta’s circulation, states: “According to the National Press Audit Service (NTC), Novaya’s Gazeta’s circulation throughout Russia AND ABROAD was 129,456 in January of 2010”.


              That’s a circulation of 129,456, both at home and abroad, of a newspaper where “home” is a country with a population of more than 140,000,000.

              I should think that not a lot of people in Russia read much of what Milashina writes, no matter how prominent a journalist Mr. Walker thinks she is. And if very few read what she writes, why should the assault and robbery that she recently suffered have been of political significance, which, I suspect, is what Mr. Walker is insinuating in his article?

              I posted the above information about Novaya Gazeta circulation etc. to Walker’s article about the “prominent” journalist’s mugging: it was blocked.

              This argument that I use concerning the political insignificance of Milashina is similar to the one used by Putin when accusations immediately began flying about his involvement in Politkovskaya’s murder. Following Politkovskaya’s murder, Putin said, amongst several other things, that “her political influence…was insignificant in Russia”. He was then immediately panned (and still is) by the Western media for “playing down” that journalist’s murder.

              As is often the case, the statement that Putin used concerning Politkovskaya’s “insignificance” was taken out of context by the Western media, the context in question being a press conference in Dresden with Chancellor Merkel and an October 10, 2006 interview with the Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ).

              Here is a translation from the Russian presidential administration website of an excerpt of the Oct 10, 2006 Putin-SZ interview:

              “First of all, I should like to say that the murder of a person is considered a very serious crime, both by society and by God. The criminals must be found and stand trial. Unfortunately, this is not the only such crime in Russia. And we are going to do everything so that the criminals are identified. As far as the political side of this matter is concerned, the investigation is examining all possible motives. And of course one of those, one of the main ones, is the (nature of the ) professional activities of the journalist. She was a critic of the powers-that-be, like all members of the press, but she was quite radical. She had recently concentrated her attention on criticizing officials in Chechnya. I must say that her political influence (I think experts will agree with me) was insignificant in Russia and, she was probably better known in human rights circles and among the western mass media. In that regard I think –as one of our newspapers today correctly pointed out –that the murder of Politkovskaya did greater damage to the current powers-that-be and especially to the administration of Chechnya than her publications. In any event, I repeat that it is absolutely unacceptable. This horrible crime is damaging to Russia and must be solved. It is damaging both morally and politically. It is damaging to the political system which we are building, in which there must be a place for all people whatever their views; on the contrary they must be given the possibility to –unhindered– to express their views in the mass media. As you know, several years ago an American journalist of Russian background Paul Khlebnikov was murdered in Russia. He also was involved in Chechnya and wrote a book, which he called “Conversation with a Barbarian.” According to the investigation, the main characters of the book were not pleased with the way that Khlebnikov portrayed them, and they destroyed him.”

              The source of the above quoted text is the US Embassy, Moscow:


              It’s a WikiLeak.

              Out of all the above quoted text, the Western media still continuously bangs on about Putin saying that Politkovskaya was “insignificant”, thereby revealing to all the callous, bestial nature of the “proud ex-KGB spy” who is the despotic ruler of the Evil Empire.

              The Western press also hardly ever lets the opportunity go when writing about Politkovskaya’s murder that she was killed on Putin’s birthday.

              Walker of the Independent certainly never does.

              • Dear Moscow Exile,

                The Politkovskaya case is turning for the western media into a major embarrassment. I remember Putin’s visit to Germany that you discuss. I remember the hysterical atmosphere in which it was happened with the angry crowds following Putin around with the “Putin murderer” placards and with western media blaming him for Politkovskaya’s death. I was aware of the grotesque way in which Putin’s entirely proper and factual comments about her were misreported.

                I was also troubled both at the time and later at the demand that Putin “find” her killer. No criminal justice anywhere in the world is capable of guaranteeing a successful outcome to any particular criminal investigation and it is unreasonable to demand it. Indeed when demands of this sort are made their only effect is to put undue pressure on the police and law enforcement agencies that can result in miscarriages. A gross example happened in Britain where the police came under pressure from the BBC to find the assassin of the BBC crime journalist Jill Dando who was shot to death at the door of her house. The police arrested a mentally ill man called Barry George who was duly convicted for the crime. At the time I was working at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and as part of my work I corresponded with Barry George and familiarised myself with the case. I became convinced of his complete innocence. Indeed I was incredulous that he was ever convicted given the absence of convincing evidence against him. I concluded as did many other people that the only reason he was convicted was because of the hysterical and grossly prejudicial atmosphere at the time of his trial. Eventually after the hysteria died down the case was reviewed, Barry George’s conviction was indeed quashed and he is now free.

                In the event the much maligned Russian police seem to have done a remarkably thorough job in investigating Politkovskaya’s case. Though we should not anticipate the result of the trial the evidence they have assembled against the people they accuse of carrying out her murder seems to me compelling. Needless to say none of the evidence bears out the hysterical accusations that were made against Putin and the Russian government or Ramzan Kadyrov in the immediate aftermath of Politkovskaya’s murder. I noticed by the way when I checked the Wikipedia entry on Politkovskaya a short time ago that it skates over the latest developments in the case in a single two line sentence whilst the separate Wikipedia entry on her assassination fails to mention the new developments at all.

                Lastly, as I think I pointed out on in an earlier comment on this blog, it seems that the police officer who the Russian authorities allege was the actual mastermind of the murder, and who has confessed his guilt, is now implicating Berezovsky and Zakayev in the crime. If this turns out to be true, as I believe I have also previously said in an earlier comment on this blog, this could become for the British government a major cause of embarrassment given that the British authorities not only refused Russian extradition requests for Berezovsky and Zakayev but have also granted Berezovsky British citizenship.

                I think I also pointed out in the same comment that since Politkovskaya was a US citizen at the time she was killed convincing evidence of Berezovsky’s and Zakayev’s involvement in her murder also raises the interesting possibility of Berezovsky and Zakayev being extradited to the US to stand trial for her murder there since the US authorities would in that case be under a legal duty to prosecute Politkovskaya’s murderers whilst the British authorities under the terms of the present extradition treaty between Britain and the US are in no position to refuse a US extradition request if one is made.

      • yalensis says:

        Frankly, I wish more Russians WOULD turn against the Church. But the way to do that is via more science education, not ridiculous punk stunts. Bolsheviks didn’t stage obscene rock concerts in Churches, they simply closed them down or converted them to museums. Bolshevik propaganda of atheism was fairly successful: by the 1980’s, more than half Russians were basically atheists or agnostics. Current Putin government attempts to reverse Russians’ natural materialist inclinations by helping religion regain its footing. Atheism and Socialism go hand in hand. Analogously, Religion and Capitalism go hand in hand, because both are based on unprovable myths.

        • Misha says:

          I can somewhat respect that advocacy if it’s applied with other religious denominations as well.

          It’s hypocritical BS to single out the ROC.

          BTW, one can find fault with those who closed (inclusive of destroying) the churches.

          • yalensis says:

            Oh, trust me, Misha, I am Equal Opportunity opposed to ALL religions. That’s why EVERYBODY is annoyed with me! (Even the mild-mannered buddhists, because on one blog comment I called the Dalai Lama’s grandpa a torturing genocidal psychopath.)
            On closing churches, well, I agree with you, that is a tad intolerant, and if I were in power I wouldn’t do that. But nor would I give them government grants or tax exempt status. Let them raise their own damn money to befuddle people’s minds. Grrrr!

            • cartman says:

              The people who closed the churches did much worse than what any of their enemies ever did. Crucifying and torturing priests and sending the religious out to starve shows that atheism has its brutal side.

              The Orthodox church gets money from the state because its followers do not have the deep pockets that those from congregations in the West do. If not Orthodox, then Evangelicals, Aum Shinrikyo, or Salafism will gladly take over the vacuum. The latter two are just terrorist organizations whose damage to Russia is known. Evangelical Christians have hurt reputations of Russian immigrants who coincidentally live next to some of the biggest gay communities in the United States. It never crosses peoples’ minds that they are following an American innovation in religion which came to the Soviet Union in a less filtered form.

              • marknesop says:

                “It never crosses peoples’ minds that they are following an American innovation in religion which came to the Soviet Union in a less filtered form.”

                Provocative, and profound. Well said.

              • yalensis says:

                Sorry, I messed up my comment, everything became italicized.
                My responses to the 2 quotes were not supposed to be italicized.

              • yalensis says:

                Yikes! Everything I type is italic now. Okay, let’s try boldface.

              • yalensis says:

                Still italic. Okay, I give up!

              • cartman says:

                “WTF? I contend that never happened.”

                Over 1200 priests were executed by the Soviet authorities in the first five years of their rule. There was a lot more religious persecution. But most humans are still attracted to religion.

                Reagan – who had an Evangelical following more than any US president in memory – was able to use the issue of Christian persecution to allow Evangelicals into the Soviet Union, and their followers out. For some reason Christians were tolerated more in Ukraine – though usually Orthodox ones – because a majority of the churches of the Soviet Union operated there. As a result, large congregations (primarily from Ukraine) moved next to some of the most politically liberal communities in the United States (such as West Hollywood). A number of high profile incidents happened in the last decade where young members of these evangelical congregations have beaten and even murdered gay men nearby. Some of these youth were also drinking – despite the religious prohibition on alcohol. Because a lot of people have heard of these cases it has really internalized in some liberal minds that Russians are drunk religious fanatics that will beat up all gays.

              • Misha says:


                I think Cartman is referring to how the Bolshes initially treated the ROC, which wasn’t just a simple matter of non-violent anti-ROC propaganda.

                It isn’t just one isolated instance of levelling one major church in Moscow that has since been rebuilt.

                Below this thread, someone suggests a tolerant accord among ROC in his family. I’m aware of numerous other situations that include “mixed” (if you may) marriages involving ROC-Catholics (include Denikin’s own background) and ROC-Jews.

                Pre-1917 Russia had an internationalist dynamic which has been downplayed.

              • Dear Yalensis,

                The curse of Patriarch Kirill has descended on us all italicising everything!

                On the subject of Soviet persecution of the Church, so far as I can tell there were ebbs and flows. The revolutionary period saw a great deal of violence against the Church though it is important to say that this was a time of civil war and the Church and its Patriarch were at this time also hostile to the new Soviet power. Apparently there was a further attack on the Church at the time of collectivisation and the Terror in the 1930s. Stalin then famously ended the persecution of the Church during the Great Patriotic War and this continued throughout his lifetime. Khrushchev then carried out a further anti Church campaign at the end of the 1950s start of the 1960s, though we are not talking about anything like the violence of the earlier campaigns, but this seems to have come to a stop under Brezhnev when relations between the Church and the state were cordial.

                The Catholic Uniate Church in the western Ukraine was a different matter. It was banned outright and relations were always hostile because it was perceived as anti Soviet and anti Russian, which it was and is. In other words hostility to the Uniates was ultimately political rather than ideological. I do not know about Soviet attitudes to the Catholic Church in Lithuania but I presume it was similar though it was never banned.

                My overwhelming impression from Russians I know is that the Church’s influence is exaggerated as is the extent of the religious revival, which seems to me very superficial in so far as it has taken place at all. I have seen by the way completely contradictory opinion poll results on this subject. My impression is that though most Russians now declare themselves Orthodox Christians where in the Soviet period they would have declared themselves atheists, they do so mainly as an expression of national identity rather than out of any very strong sense of religious belief. I notice by the way that the KPRF now admits Christians and seems to have good relations with the Church.

                None of this excuses or justifies the Pussy Riot episode. Gratuitously offending religious believers and desecrating a place of worship in pursuit of some sort of publicity stunt is irresponsible exhibitionism. Soviet destruction of Churches was done as a revolutionary act in revolutionary times as part of the goal of creating a new society. This was simply a crude form of semi juvenile Narcissism. The fact that it was done in a country where the Church and believers have had a recent traumatic history of seeing their places of worship destroyed makes it even more selfish and insensitive and doubly irresponsible.

              • Misha says:

                The origin of the Greek Catholic (or Uniate) Church involves discrimination against Orthodox
                Christians. The ancestors of Greek-Catholics were previously Orthodox-Christian.

                So there’s no misunderstanding, this background IMO doesn’t justify suppressing the Greek Catholics.

                When western Ukraine (where the Greek Catholics are the most numerous in Ukraine) became part of the USSR, the Soviets suppressed the Greek-Catholic denomination. The ROC had already been greatly compromised by the Soviet government. Given the centralizing nature of the Soviet government, there was a reasoned, although ethically challenged basis to curtail the Greek-Catholic activity.

                BTW, in the early days of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church was encouraged to limit ROC influence. That church still exists as a considerably lower level in popularity denomination to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.

        • Moscow Exile says:

          The singing’s good, though.

          In Russian churches, I mean.

          Funny thing is though, my wife is Russian Orthodox: she was christened as a baby in 1965, even though her granddad, who lived to a grand old age, was an old Bolshevik and fought in the civil war. She too was a party member, but only for about 3 years before the USSR turned turtle and the Communist party was wound up.

          My three children were all christened into the Russian Orthodox faith as well.

          I’m a devout agnostic though.


          • My background in Greece is Greek Orthodox and I was brought up in the Church. My grandmother in particular was a religious fanatic. Seeing the influence the Church has over political and social life in Greece and the entirely malign effect this has had has made me a convinced believer in the need to keep the Church and the State separated. Over time I have become quite militant about this. As in France I would for example ban any religious teaching in state schools.

            • yalensis says:

              The curse of the Italic Patriarch, ha ha! I don’t even know what I did to turn everything in this thread (and below) italic. Sorry, Mark! Maybe it wasn’t even me. I put in the usual html tags for italic/non-italic, I even proofread my comment before posting, and I am 95% sure that my tags were correct. So I don’t think it was even my fault. On the other hand, it is an indisputable fact that everything turned italic the moment after I posted my comment! Coincidence? Perhaps…. Oh well, could be worse, could have all turned into Wingding fonts.

              Anyhow, for @cartman: Thanks for clarification. I still dispute the number of 1200 priests killed. I don’t doubt priests were killed during Civil War, but they were probably serving in units of White Army, and killed in combat. In any case, need to keep in mind that a lot of historical sources are tainted. In particular, you cannot believe ANYTHING that Solzhenitsyn writes, the guy was a pathological liar.
              Re. Reagan bringing in Slavic fundamentalists to live in gay neighborhoods in West Hollywood, well, that would have been funny if it had not resulted in violence, and, anyhow, what else can you expect from the Gipper? He had a secret government program to smuggle Bibles into Soviet Union, he thought benighted natives would rise up against Communism once they were exposed to Word of God. By then Russian Church had (uneasy) détente with government anyway, and Russians never lacked for Bibles, but Reagan probably imagined these abused but devout peasants huddling in cellars to secretly read bible in candlelight, he was probably thinking in terms of Hollywood Roman/Christian movies like “Ben Hur” or “The Robe”, where the persecuted Christians huddle in caves (bearded men, saintly women and big-eyed children).

              • Dear Yalensis,

                I agree with you about Solzhenitsyn. His book the Gulag Archipelago is in some ways a very strange work since it not properly speaking a work of history but neither is it intended to be simply a work of fiction. Nor can one call it a statement by a witness since so much of its content is (by Solzhenitsyn’s own admission) simply invented. Certainly it should not be used as a source book about the Gulag even though Solzhenitsyn clearly intended to be in some way a statement of truth. Academic studies that have been done of the Gulag on the basis of Soviet archives (including a surprisingly good one by of all people Anne Applebaum) show a much more complex and radically different picture from the one Solzhenitsyn gives. That of course is not to downplay the reality of the Gulag. Conditions in the camps on the Kolyma river in particular were simply frightful.

                The problems become worse with some of Solzhenitsyn’s other books such as Lenin in Zurich and August 1914 where his strong political bias seriously effects his use of historical material with much less excuse or justification.

                By the way my Russian friends tell me that Solzhenitsyn is a more highly regarded writer in the west than he is in Russia. I don’t know whether that is the case or not.

                • marknesop says:

                  “…Solzhenitsyn is a more highly regarded writer in the west than he is in Russia. I don’t know whether that is the case or not.”

                  I have heard the same, and some Russians are openly contemptuous of him. Others respect him for his obvious learning, but believe he was misguided. I had to do a report on “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” in school and found it profoundly affecting, it informed my earliest impressions of the Soviet union.

    • Misha says:

      Walker’s prior service with The Moscow Times and Russia Profile is in line with the kind of predominating media bias that’s out there on the coverage of Russia, among some other issues.

      Such people are likely clueless or not willing to call out oD for posting an article stating that Jews arguably ruled the Russian Empire (the silence on that one is otherwise noteworthy) and that the crowns on the Russian two headed eagle represent Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (when in actuality they symbolize the Russian acquistion of kazan, Astrkhan and Siberia).

  18. Dear Moscow Exile,

    To answer your question, a “prisoner of conscience” is someone that Amnesty claims is being held because of their race or because of their religious or political beliefs. Here is an article by Wikipedia, which for once provides a reasonable definition and explanation for the term, and which also lists the countries that Amnesty claims have “prisoners of conscience”. The article also gives a reasonably up to date list of who Amnesty says these people are (Pussy Riot is there).

    Like you I struggle to understand how Pussy Riot can fall within Amnesty’s definition of “prisoners of conscience” given that they are being held and prosecuted for an action that as I have discussed previously in response to another article of Mark’s would certainly be treated as a crime if it happened in Britain. As I also discussed in that same comment some of the other actions Pussy Riot and Voina have engaged in would also be classified in Britain as serious (indeed very serious) crimes and it is quite inconceivable to me that two such groups who habitually break the law in the frequently violent way that they do would have been treated with anything like the same level of tolerance in Britain that they have been extended by the authorities in Russia. As an ex miner and a veteran of the miners’ strike you know that what I say is true.

    You will notice from the list of countries in the Wikipedia article that Amnesty claims have “prisoners of conscience” that not a single NATO or EU country appears amongst them, which when you think about it is quite extraordinary given horrors like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the British terrorist acts and the treatment of Bradley Manning. Putin has joked that Julian Assange should also be the subject of an Amnesty campaign and given the nebulous nature of the rape charges against him (which would not be considered rape if they happened in Britain) he is surely a more proper subject of Amnesty’s attention than Pussy Riot. Just over the last few days in Britain there has been serious discussion of setting up secret courts, an utterly outrageous idea, which just goes to show how oppressive the legal and police climate here has become.

    Bluntly, the time when Amnesty has been anything other than a hired gun for the British Foreign Office and the US State Department has in my opinion long since passed. Unfortunately it still commands (and abuses) the good it accumulated for the good work it once did. I say all this with deep sorrow. My brother and I as children were detained as hostages for our parents’ good behaviour by the Greek dictatorship back in the 1960s and though it was the Swiss Red Cross that actually got us out Amnesty, in those days still a young and idealistic organisation, played its part. It upsets me to see what it has become. However I have to be careful expressing my views about Amnesty even in my own house because my dearest friend and her parents are still believers and she continues to be a member.

    • AK says:

      Assange is nowhere on that list. Neither is Abdulelah Shaye, a Yemeni journalist kept imprisoned on Obama’s insistence he is a Terrorist for reporting on the aftermath of drone strikes. I could probably come out with a number of other convenient omissions.

  19. Dear Moscow Exile,

    Here is a recent article from Counterpunch that shows how senior State Department officials are now appointed to head Amnesty’s US branch, which has to be seen as a branch of the US foreign policy establishment

    I understand that many people in the US have complained bitterly to Amnesty about its refusal to take a stand on behalf of Bradley Manning. The US branch of Amnesty referred these complaints to the head office in Britain, which after many months eventually got round to expressing some mild concerns about Bradley Manning’s conditions of imprisonment, but which pointedly refused to declare him a “prisoner of conscience”. As it happens I don’t think Bradley Manning is a “prisoner of conscience” but I have no doubt that Amnesty would have declared him one if he had been a Russian or a Chinese or a Cuban soldier who had been treated in the same way.

    In total fairness I should quickly say that in contrast to the policies and statements coming out of its headquarters many of Amnesty’s field workers are honourable and decent people who do genuinely good work. They recently published a good report on conditions in Libya following the “liberation” there, which was based on the work of Amnesty’s field workers.

    • Misha says:

      Alexander, your last point relates to some other orgs as well.

      On another point, the selective use of certain terms ranges in a number of instances.

      In English Wiki, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki doesn’t get classified as a slaughter or massacre, unlike the civilian casualties incurred when Suvorov’s forces attacked Warsaw, which was inhabited with arms against the Russian army.

      • Here is the actual report by Amnesty International declaring Pussy Riot “prisoners of conscience”.

        The report is obviously written by a lawyer and like many statements written by lawyers is superficially persuasive but is actually seriously misleading and in fact completely wrong. Its fundamental error is that it pre empts the Court process.

        The three girls who have been charged do have a defence based on the right of free expression that is in the European Convention of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has said that freedom of expression includes the right to say things that are shocking and offensive. Indeed that is completely obvious. Any expression of opinion is going to be shocking or offensive to someone. Forbidding any expression of opinion simply because it is shocking or offensive to someone would mean that there is no freedom of expression.

        However what the Amnesty report fails to say is that as the European Convention of Human Rights itself says and as the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly said, freedom of expression is a qualified not an absolute right. You are not allowed to say anything you want anywhere you want regardless of the effects and consequences on others. Statements that incite or threaten violence or disorder or racial or religious hatred have for example always been illegal and are not covered by the right.

        If the girls at their trial want to argue that what they did in the Cathedral was a legitimate exercise of their right of free expression then that is up to them. In that case the Russian Court will have to conduct a balancing exercise to decide whether the right of free expression outweighs the crime of hooliganism that was committed. If the Russian Court carries out this balancing exercise in a proper and objective way but still decides that the girls are guilty of hooliganism then the European Court of Human Rights will not interfere with its judgment.

        The point is that the girls have not yet been tried, have not yet made this defence and the Russian Court has not yet undertaken this balancing exercise or ruled upon it. The reason the girls have not yet made this defence is because at the moment they do not even admit that they were in the Cathedral when the crime was committed. Obviously they cannot claim they were exercising their right of free expression if they were not there. Amnesty for its part has no right to second guess what the Russian Court is going to do before it has even done it and nor is Amnesty, which is not a Court and which has no jurisdiction over the case, in a position to decide on the correctness or otherwise of a defence before that defence has even been made.

        In other words here we have here is yet another example of western meddling in the work of the Russian Courts. At least in the Khodorkovsky case Amnesty waited until he had been convicted before it declared him a prisoner of conscience. It seems that the Russian authorities are now not even allowed to charge or prosecute people for serious crimes without Amnesty in London sticking its oar in and saying before anything has been decided whether they are innocent or guilty on the basis of defences that have not been presented or made.

  20. yalensis says:

    I saw this interview in “Le Fig” (via INOSMI). This guy, Michel Kilo, who is a Christian Syrian Oppositionist, is trying to make the case that Assad could be overthrown in a non-violent manner with nice (secular) democrats like him coming to power, instead of Muslim Brotherhood. He is forming a political party to this effect. Well, lots of luck, but I doubt he will get many votes. Seems like it is coming down to a choice between Al Assad and Al Qaeda.
    Anyhow, from a Russian POV (which is probably why it got translated to INOSMI), Kilo is holding out an olive branch to Russia: Support Opposition (i.e., ME), help us get rid of Assad, and we’ll let you keep your damn naval base. What is interesting is that Kilo reveals that Russia considers TURKEY to be her main enemy in the region:

    L’opposition doit coopérer avec les Russes, car à un moment donné, Moscou pourrait envisager une solution sans Bachar el-Assad. Les Russes veulent trouver un partenaire au sein de l’opposition qui garantit leurs intérêts: rester influents au Moyen-Orient, garder leur position de partenaire privilégié avec l’armée syrienne. Nous devons leur offrir une alternative à Bachar. Les Russes ont l’impression que le CNS est sous l’influence des Occidentaux et des Frères musulmans. Or pour Moscou, l’alliance de l’opposition avec la Turquie est une ligne rouge. Ils l’ont dit au CNS et ils nous l’ont dit: nous ne permettrons jamais que la Syrie tombe entre les mains de la Turquie. Or Moscou a fait un pas très important en approuvant, fin mars à l’ONU, la déclaration présidentielle sur le plan Annan. C’est le signe qu’ils sont prêts à travailler avec l’opposition. Au lieu de cela, qu’a fait l’opposition? Elle a laissé la Turquie et d’autres pays injecter des combattants islamistes dans la révolte, alors qu’ils étaient inexistants au début. Le résultat? Les indécis en Syrie restent nombreux: entre 30 et 40%. Ils ne sont pas avec Bachar. Mais ils ont peur de l’après-régime et du chaos. C’est à nous de les rassurer.

    • marknesop says:

      “Kilo reveals that Russia considers TURKEY to be her main enemy in the region”

      Yes; also that of Syria – “…we will never permit Syria to fall into the hands of Turkey.” The speaker also interprets Moscow’s acquiescence to the U.N.’s plan to allow Kofi Anan to spearhead the cease-fire initiative as a signal that Russia is “ready to work with the opposition”. I’d submit that’s a bit of a leap. He suggests this willingness hinges on the perceptions of Russians that they have “found a partner in the opposition that guarantees their interests” and is a real “alternative to Bashar (Assad)”. He sounds like a nut to me; it’s difficult to imagine he could really have that kind of clout and remain an unknown. What is interesting to me is that he emerges as – at least in his own mind – a political alternative who might command the loyalty of Syria’s alleged “30 – 40% undecided” while sweeping the rest of the country along with his plan…but he elects to appeal to Russia rather than the west. Or maybe his aim is to get Russia onside with a new and stiffer U.N. resolution which will permit the west to dispose of Assad militarily, while assuring Russia the balance of power will remain afterward and that Russia will have the same influence in the region it had before. If so, it’s amazing someone so crazy could actually string words together. The west is not going to depose Assad just so everything can go back to the way it was, just under a different leader. A crushed and ruined Syria would be a stepping-stone to Iran.

      A big part of the reason the western political elite despises Putin is that he is too savvy and cynical to be taken in by a bargain that relies entirely on trust of the west to keep its word. The west could play Medvedev like a fiddle – except, curiously, on Georgia, when they either listened to Saakashvili and were taken in by his brash confidence, or underestimated what a hothead he is. I’m inclined to suspect the latter, since the western trainers made the mistake of praising the Georgian troops and saying what a crack outfit they were, “ready for anything”. They quickly reversed themselves after the shattered remnants of the army streamed back into Georgia in full flight, saying, “there’s just no way those guys were combat-ready”. They’d have been singing an entirely different tune had they been successful.

      At any rate, this Kilo guy – who sounds as if he has smoked at least that much – appears unlikely to command much support. But we’ll see; you never know. I’d be interested to know (1) the western reaction to his perfidy in trying to form an alliance with Mordor, and (2) just how much of the Syrian population really does or would support him. In the meantime, I doubt he has made it onto Putin’s appointment calendar just yet.

  21. marknesop says:

    Remember, you heard it here first; there is a rebellion in the provinces, and the liberals are moist with excitement about it. They seem to have a pretty low excitement threshold. To hear them tell it, the election of Yevgeny Urlashov to mayor of Yaroslavl is the thin edge of an “electoral uprising” that spells the end of the line for Putin. In fact, according to Vladimir Milov – in an incredibly cliché riff on the popular “the road to Tehran goes through Damascus” – expounds, “the road to the Kremlin runs through Yaroslavl.”

    In a comment that is waiting to clear moderation, I pointed out that the west (not to mention the liberals) really wants rid of Putin, and could care less about United Russia. And that’s a problem, because Putin has near-Godlike status in Yaroslavl after saving the major regional employer Yaroslavl Engine Plant from going under in 2008. Still, they persist in seeing this as an enormous, inspirational victory.

    In fact, in this reference we learn “thousands of journalists and independent observers” descended on Yaroslavl for the vote. Although the contest is described as “very competitive” (of course, because a liberal oppositionist won), it appears Urlashov got nearly 70% of the vote. And he must have gotten nearly 90% for real, almost a Chechen-level victory, since there was of course widespread ballot-stuffing and vote-for-pay schemes, all of it – of course – calculated to benefit the United Russia candidate, Yakushev. They even have a scenario in which a cop says to another cop, obviously where he can be overheard by a reporter or an election observer, “Let’s wait for Yakushev’s representative’s call”.

    The funny thing is, though, if you notice – Urlashov is mentioned in the second reference cited, and in February he had about 30% support. Here we are barely 2 months later, and he pulls off a 70% win under conditions of extreme cheating for the other side. Huh?

    What do you suppose Golos and all the liberals would have called it if it had gone the other way – the United Russia candidate had zoomed from 30% support to a 70% victory in just 2 months? I can help you if you’re not sure.

    • Dear Mark,

      Well they didn’t win the Presidential election in Russia but at least they won the Mayoral election in Yaroslavl…

      Seriously though as I understand it the whole point about Urlashov irrespective of his personal politics or any question of ballot stuffing is that he was supported by absolutely everybody apart from United Russia whose candidate he was running against. The KPRF also backed him. Given that this is so I struggle to see how his victory can be called a liberal victory.

      Again I think we need to take a step back. It would be completely unnatural and frankly sinister if United Russia won every election in which it participated whether at local or national level. In every country where there are real elections parties win and lose elections (especially local elections) as part of the natural dynamic of politics. Why should Russia be different? Why should an opposition Mayoral victory in Yaroslavl have any greater significance than say a Republican victory in Dallas? The fact that the opposition is able to win local elections in places like Yaroslavl does not mean Russia is heading for revolution any more than the fact that the opposition was able to stage a few demos in Moscow did. What it means, but what the liberal opposition in Russia and their cheerleaders in the west don’t want to admit, is that Russia is a democratic country where peaceful protests can take place and where free elections happen.

      • I now understand that Urlashov was also a member of United Russia until shortly before the election when he chose to stand on an anti corruption platform. That does not suggest that he is much of a liberal. The fact that the liberals supported him rather than one of their own candidates suggests that they do not have a strong candidate in Yaroslavl or that there are not many liberals in Yaroslavl even though United Russia did badly there in the parliamentary election with just 29% of the vote suggesting that it was vulnerable in the Mayoral election. Frankly I do not think that this result has anything more than local significance. The same is true of the Mayoral election that was won by another independent in Togliatti.

        • marknesop says:

          That’s interesting; where did you find the information that Urlashov was United Russia? It’s curious that Gazeta reported the United Russia candidate was “not directly associated” with United Russia, but the gimlet-eyed newshounds of Gazeta had “found his agitation materials”. If he was not directly associated with United Russia, what was he?

          • Dear Mark,

            Here is an article in Russia Profile about the Yaroslavl election that not only says that Urlashov was a member of United Russia but also says that he was elected to the city council as a member of United Russia.


            My impression is that the election in Yaroslavl was fought over local factors. Given the (typically) poor reporting of the affair I do not exclude a party split possibly over corruption issues which may also explain the poor result United Russia achieved in the parliamentary election. If so then it could be that the opposition (including the KPRF) is simply capitalising on the split. I want to stress that the last comment is speculation on my part. Clearly there are specific issues in Yaroslavl that concern the people there and Urlashov was able to capitalise on them. There is of course nothing wrong in that. It is the stuff of politics in Russia and everywhere else.

            Incidentally I don’t think we should be in too much of a rush to suspect election fraud in Yarolsavl. Yumashev, the United Russia Mayoral candidate, got 27% of the vote which is not far out of line with the 29% of the vote United Russia got in the parliamentary election. Apart from the KPRF electorate, party loyalties in Russia are very brittle and there is no reason to think Russian voters have any very strong loyalty to United Russia, which we should not forget is actually a very new party and one which has so far failed to define its ideology. Big swings particularly in local elections are therefore to be expected.

            I should say by the way that the big election to watch out for will in my opinion be the Mayoral election in Moscow, if it ever happens. The liberals as we know are particularly strong there. Moscow provided Yeltsin with his original base from which he challenged Gorbachev’s Kremlin. If there ever is a Mayoral election in Moscow we can expect the liberals and their foreign backers to pull out the stops. I do not exclude Navalny standing.
            The one thing I would say is that my impression is that Sobyanin is for the moment a popular and successful Mayor and that as a result of the protest movement the Moscow electorate has become highly polarised with the working class electorate strongly committed either to Putin or to the KPRF and strongly distrustful of liberal candidates and therefore likely to rally strong behind Sobyanin if the liberals challenge him. Certainly as things stand it does seem to me that a liberal candidate can hope to win in Moscow only if he has the support of the KPRF. Having said this the situation is dynamic and Putin of course failed to win a majority in Moscow so a strong united opposition challenge there is not to be excluded especially if there is some big local scandal or if Sobyanin runs into trouble. Could it be the case that the reason for making Shoigu the Governor of Moscow Region is to keep him on hand in case Sobyanin runs into trouble and the Kremlin needs a popular candidate in Moscow?

      • marknesop says:

        I completely agree, and your point that Urlashov had broad support – which likely but not necessarily suggests he has a plan for Yaroslavl that will mean jobs and progress, or says he does – is well taken. However, what struck me was how formulaic and stereotyped such reporting has become. Whether or not the opposition candidate wins, United Russia always cheats outrageously, stuffing ballot boxes right in front of election observers as if begging to get caught. It’s a given that some confused cheater will always wander up to an honest observer, show the talisman of the day and ask where they go to pick up their cash reward for voting for United Russia. I didn’t see anything in this report about carousel voting or United Russia voters being ordered to vote that way by their bosses or be fired; maybe they decided to give that one a rest for awhile. You would think they’d refine their tactics a little, after getting caught over and over again, but no; they keep trying the same old schtick.

        Either that, or it is staged or fabricated. Just saying. And, as I said, the tone is totally different depending on the winner; if it is the liberal oppositionist, there’s nothing remotely unusual about his support more than doubling just before the election. If it’s the “establishment” candidate, it is the best evidence you could ask for of systemic fraud. But the tone-deaf nature of western or western-publicity-seeking reporting never changes – it’s always an epic battle of good against evil, and the good are always pure to the bone while the evil are rotten to the core; it might have been written by George Bush’s speechwriters.

        • Dear Mark,

          You are absolutely right about the quality of the reporting of the election in Yaroslavl. It is not merely formulaic, it is actually wretched. You are also entirely right to say that if United Russia had won with a swing as big as the one achieved by Urlashov everbody would be shouting fraud. Unfortunately the problem of poor reporting extends to those parts of the Russian press where one would not normally expect to find it where reporters seem to think that in order to prove their independence of the government they have to report the news in a strongly anti government way as opposed to merely reporting the facts as they are. The result is that we are simply not getting a proper analysis or explanation of the Yaroslavl result in the we that in Britain say we are getting in respect of Galloway’s victory in Bradford.

    • marknesop says:

      Ha, ha!!! My wife mentioned this at dinner, and I thought she had been into the bootleg whiskey. Lily Tomlin was right; no matter how cynical you get, you can never keep up.

      In fact, the “death ray” idea has been around since the 1940’s. And while indeed Soviet scientists were among the first to study the concepts of microwave weapons, electromagnetic pulse weapons and charged particle beam weapons, all of those have existed in concept for decades. And they have been deployed in reality, the best-known instance being those on-scene with the FBI and the ATF in the siege against David Koresh and his Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. The government swore they were never used, and they might be telling the truth, but the weapons existed and they were there.

      I can only assume the Daily Mail is trying to be comical; they couldn’t be serious.

  22. Moscow Exile says:

    They are being serious – very serious.

    They find Vladimir Putin and the “former Soviet Union” to be an extremely serious matter.

    • marknesop says:

      You know, I sometimes think Putin could do worse than to fly every journalist in the United States and the UK to Moscow at state expense for a blowout weekend of booze and pretty girls (except attractive young men for those who are girls, and others of different persuasions) complete with guided tours and frank answers to any questions, no matter how bold or rude. How often has your impression of a place been informed by the fact that you had a really, really good time while you were there? When we were children, our perceptions of where we spent summer vacations was directly influenced by how much we enjoyed being there, and we might afterward have clung stubbornly to our impressions of the place as a little bit of heaven on earth even were we to learn as adults that the population lived in abject poverty and the police chief was a predatory pedophile. My own impressions of Russia are profoundly coloured by my personal experience of friendly, engaging people who were no different from me except that they spoke a different language – they wanted the same things out of life, had the same hopes and fears. Before I visited there, if I heard the phrase “pretty Russian girls”, I would laugh to myself; as if. Everybody knows Russian girls are plump and somewhat hairy, with scrubbed red cheeks and a yearling pig under the left arm (the right must be left free to drive the tractor). Consequently I was completely unprepared for the parade of long-legged beauties on show everywhere one looked. That’s only the most dramatic example of my misconceptions about Russia. The small towns were a little bit run-down, but not much different to the same kind of poverty I’d seen in Portugal or Mexico or a number of other places. And the biggest city I saw was Vladivostok; there were areas of it that were as bright and clean and modern as anywhere else. I can imagine Moscow or St Petersburg as very impressive indeed. I did not get any sense of brooding malice and repugnance for every western value – in fact, many of the people I met exemplified western values at least as much as westerners I knew.

      Quite a few journalists who write scathing diatribes against Russia have never been there, have but never left their hotel and didn’t meet ant Russians excedpt for dissidents specially arranged for the interview, or otherwise had a shitty time there because they only hung out with other westerners and couldn’t wait to leave. A fun vacation at state expense would not change everyone’s minds, of course – people like Luke Harding and Ed Lucas have a considerable investment in hating and disparaging everything Russian, and may well rely on it for their own feelings of superiority. Meanwhile, Russians must wonder how any nation that could believe in zombie ray guns designed to suppress dissent and protest ever built an Empire.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        There are plenty that come to Russia with the sole objective of reinforcing those preconceptions that they hold about “the former Soviet Union” and “Commies”. Some even return to “the free world” with a view to making a living out of the tales of horror that they can recount concerning their brave foray into that brutal (favourite Harding epithet concerning matters Russian) world of Soviet darkness and malevolence in their search for the truth which they can use as a warning to the rest of the world.

        I was a student in the USSR in the last full year before the Soviet Union was dissolved. I returned to the UK in June 1990 from Voronezh, where I had been a student at the State University. I don’t know why the powers that be sent me to that city to study. After having stayed in Moscow for three weeks following my arrival in the USSR, I was one of only a small number sent there out of that year’s batch of British exchange students: the rest either stayed in Moscow or were sent to Leningrad. In both cities, they stayed in “international student hostels”, where they spoke English most of the time, whereas I, in Voronezh, lived in a Russian student hostel. Apart from the handful of British students that accompanied me there, the only other foreign students in that city were from “friendly socialist countries” – mostly from the German Democratic Rrepublic.

        Voronezh at that time was in certain respects a city of restricted access to Westerners: amomgst other “sensitive” ones the aviation industry was prominent there 25 years ago. I think that I might have been sent there because of my background: I was 40 at the time and was most definitely a former proletarian.

        In Voronezh, it soon became clear to me that the majority of the British students there absolutely loathed the place, nor were they over enamoured with the natives. I, on the other hand, got on with the locals like a house on fire. I quickly went native. I liked the Russians: I still do. I went on fishing trips with them and broke the 20 kilometre rule pretty quickly. (You were not allowed to travel further than 20kms from base; the same rule applied to the very small number of Soviet students that studied in the UK.)

        We had all received strict instructions from the Foreign Office in Westminster about the dangers that we faced in the USSR and had been given a list of what not to do. The biggest “no-no” was not to stay overnight with a Russian family, no matter how welcoming an invitation might be. In fact, we were strongly advised not even to enter a Russian home. That warning soon fell by the wayside as far as I was concerned: I started a relationship with a Russian girl that lasted for several years. I rarely slept at the student hostel. I was treated like a son at her place. (Her mum and the rest of the family thought I was a good catch, and though I say it myself – I was :-). Correction: should have been. We never married.)

        Most of my compatriots stayed huddled together in their pokey little hostel rooms and hardly every fraternised. They were counting the days to their return to civilisation. Some used to get the train every weekend to Moscow so as to buy English tea and buiscuits at a little shop at the British embassy there. They looked at the Russian food that they were served with total disgust. In short, they were suffering from severe culture shock. It was noticeable, however, that the small number of my fellow countrymen that had gone just as native as I had were, like me, from the North of England or Scotland or Ireland. The majority of British students there were girls, and those that were suffering their personal hell in Russia were what I mockingly used to describe to my Russian friends as “nice, well brought up giirls from bourgeoise homes in the South east of England”.

        I began to wonder why these people, who so obviously detested both Russia and Russians, had decided to study the Russian language. For my part, it was mere chance how it came about that I was in Voronezh studying Russian, but these obvious Russophobes had chosen to study Russian over 10 years previously when they had been at school and had then gone on into higher education to continue their Russian studies. They were all about 20 years of age when they arrived in the USSR.

        Were they all some kind of masochist, I began to wonder. Did they chose to study Russian so as to gain a perverse pleasure out of the Russian experience that they were clearly not enjoying. Or had they some other motive?

        Shortly before returning to the UK, I heard word of a “tradition” amongst British students that would be performed on board our BA return flight from Moscow. (Not Aeroflot, mind you – too risky!) At Moscow Sheremetevo airport in June 1990 all the British students that had been studying in the USSR came together like a gathering of the Highland clans and rowdily boarded the aeroplane that was to wing us back to civilisation. The “tradition”, I had been told, took place at the very moment when one could sense that the aircraft undercarriage had left the runway tarmac; at the very instant when we physically lost contact with “The Evil Empire”.

        And it happened thus: they all screamed out “Yob tvayoo mat!”, which for the uninformed, is roughly the Russian equivalent of “Fuck you!”

        There were Russian passengers on board, of course, but no matter: these petite-bourgeoise “intelligentsia” were publicly voicing as one their utter contempt for Russia and the Russians, and they didn’t give a damn if anyone might have been offended by their behaviour.

        Needless to say, I didn’t take part in the tradition; nor did the handful of students who, like me, had embraced Russia and its people.

        Again, I asked myself why these juveniles had chosen to study Russian? Several had already informed me that they had no intention of returning to the Soviet Union. (Remember, no “Soviet experts”, no one – absolutely no one – at that time believed that the “Soviet monolith” would collapse like a house of cards within the year). Did they all intend to work for the diplomatic corps or the secret service or for GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters – the British government electronics “eavesdropping” complex near Cheltenham, England – where graduate linguists stay tuned-in to the conversations and transmissions of Her majesty’s Government’s enemies)? Or perhaps they intended to become journalists?

        Shaun Walker might have been one such student that shouted “tvoyoo mat” on his return from Russia. (Too young, I think, for the USSR.) And Harding as well.

        No! Harding studied English and “picked up” his Russian during his two-year stint as the Guardian’s man in Moscow.

        However, the majority of those curious Russophobes that had chosen to study Russian whilst hating Russia, I am sure, did none of these things: they are probably still entertaining their guests over coffee and cognac with after dinner descriptions of the horrors that they experienced in the Evil Empire.

        As it happened, I was back in Voronezh in 1992, having graduated the previous year. I had to go back to see that girl! I always used to say to those that came to work belatedely in post-Soviet Russia that one of the Soviet Union’s best kept secrets was the beauty of its womenfolk. As I was strolling down Prospekt Revolyutsia, the main drag of that city, with the girl that I had left behind me, I heard my name called out from across the street. It was an old Russian boozing buddy of mine, an Afghan War veteran, who was clearly overjoyed to see me back. “We knew you’d come back!” he said. “We always know the ones who will come back!”

        The next year I was back for good.

        But who knows what might have happened if I had decided to stay in England? I might have found work as a journalist and used my nightmare experiences of life in the USSR to give the voice of authority to the shit that I should have been paid to throw on a regular basis at the Evil Empire and its vile tyrant and brutalised people.

        • marknesop says:

          I’m pretty sure “Yob Tvayoo Mat” means “fuck your mother”, or a pretty close equivalent to the loathsome “motherfucker” that has become a part of common speech among a certain element of society. I don’t think it’s quite as rude in Russian as it sounds, and might be used to express a profane sort of wonder, as in this joke;

          Boris returns from a trip to New York, during the years when such trips were a rarity due to tight controls on foreign visas. The people of his small village are excited and consumed with interest to hear impressions of the United States directly from the mouth of one who has actually been there, and quite a crowd gathers at his home. “What were the restaurants like, Boris? Was the food wonderful??” one shouts, “Oh, fuck your mother”, moans Boris, rolling his eyes heavenward to express his admiration. “The women, Boris; were American women very beautiful?” calls another. “Oh, fuck your mother” breathes Boris, sketching a voluptuous figure in the air with his fingers. “What about the museums, Boris? Is there any culture there at all??” “Oh, fuck your mother”, says Boris, tears running down his face as he shakes his head at the wonders he has seen.

          “Oh, Boris”, says his friend admiringly, “you tell such wonderful stories.”

          Anyway, you would certainly never say it in mixed company and I’m sure it is at least a mild profanity, but I don’t think it works particularly well as the vituperative curse the snotty English brats obviously intended it be. I know some of the things I did and said when I was young make me squirm with embarrassment today, but I imagine visiting Russian students to England kept any negative thoughts to themselves and had no such “tradition” of insulting the country they had just visited.

          A similar phenomenon is noticeable in multinational naval task groups when they are away from home – because servicemen, naturally, are simply a microcosm of the society they came from. I noticed that when visiting Asian countries, most sailors headed straight for the nearest McDonalds for the same burger they could have bought a couple of blocks from their home. Why, I wondered, would you travel thousands of miles to eat the same food you eat at home? When we visited the Toshiba Research Museum in Tokyo, we were offered the “Western meal” or the Japanese meal in the company cafeteria. I and a few others chose the Japanese meal, and it was delicious; green tea, rice, pickled vegetables and a seafood stir-fry. The western meal was a burger patty with no bun and french fries plus a bread roll, and looked singularly unappetizing. You could hardly blame the Japanese; that kind of food is not what they would eat and was likely outside the experience of cafeteria cooks. When in a foreign country, I try to eat what the locals eat and to learn at least a few words of the language, and I’ve never found it a wasted effort.

          I, too, was treated as a son in the home of the girl I had met, only I did marry her, and now I have an opportunity to repay her parents’ hospitality and warmth, because they live with us.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            Word for word, “yob tvayoo mat” means “[I] fucked your mother”. The first person personal pronoun in the nominative case, “ya”, is not spoken. “”Yob” is the masculine past participle singular of the verb “yebat” (to fuck) and “tvayoo mat” is literally “thy mother”. The full expression is usually shortened to “tvayoo mat”, hence the word “mat” is often used in Russian to signify obscene language, as in: “He spoke ‘mat’ “, which is like saying in English “He said the “F” word”.

            The obscenity is hurled all too frequently by many Russians as the ultimate insult, which is why I feel it is roughly equivalent to “Fuck you!” However, it’s the way you say it that counts.

            I just cannot possibly imagine Russian students homeward bound from Heathrow screaming out “Fuck you!” as their aeroplane undercarriage leaves the tarmac, which for me reveals the singular arrogance of many of those British students whose action I witnessed 22 years ago.

            As regards your former shipmates dashing off for the nearest McDonald’s in the Far East, I experienced something similar when studying in Voronezh. At that time, McDonald’s had not long been in business on Pushkin Square, Moscow. During my first, brief sojourn in the city that was later to become my home, I almost daily witnessed the queue of Muscovites who were patiently waiting to enter what was then the only McDonald’s retail outlet in the USSR. The queue used to go around three sides of the square and was huge. I used to say to my first Russian acquaintances in Moscow: “Don’t waste your time standing in the McDonald’s queue. They’re not worth it. Russian ‘kotlyetiy’ are much tastier”. They always ignored my advice, though; I still think “kotlyetiy” are better. Those fellow countrymen of mine in Voronezh who were ticking off the days of their imprisonment on their calendars used to constantly wail: “Oh, I could kill for a Big Mac!” In fact, their yearning for a hamburger was one of several reasons for their regular toing and froing between Voronezh and Moscow at the weekends.

            Incidentally, the British English word “yob” accordingly causes raised eyebrows when heard by Russians. Younger Russians who are football fans and follow the progress of British football teams often come across this term when reading English sports columns and they often ask me in disbelief: “Is this a real English word?”

            As regards the term “tvayoo mat” being used to express surprise, that’s also true, and again, I think that when used in that way the expression is similar to the English: “Fuck me”, which expression, of course, is not, under the circumstances, an invitatation.

            A Russian expression of wonder and astonishment which is not obscene and often makes me smile is “Moya mat- zhenshina!” – “My mother is a woman!” The expression at first seems to suggest obscenity, in that the word “mother” is used, but then this suggestion is quashed by the completion of the sentence into a statement of the obvious.

      • Misha says:

        The Valdai Discussion Club get togethers is kind of like what you suggest Mark.

        It seems that most, if not all of the folks invited continue to slant along their existing lines.

      • yalensis says:

        Mark: Was this your image of Russian womanhood?
        Plump? check.
        Hairy? check.
        Red cheeks? check.
        Pig under arm?? I take your “pig under arm” and raise you a pig troika!

        • yalensis says:

          I wish I could find the scene where Marfushka eats a bag sunflower seeds. That’s my favoite scene in the whole movie. This girl has an amazing productivity, and can consume an entire bag of seeds in just a few minutes. Her basic technique is this: She tosses a seed into her mouth, punches herself in the jaw, spits out the shell whole, swallows, and repeats. When you watch the film you are supposed to fall in love with Nastenka, and I did, but I also fell in love (a little bit) with Marfushka too!

          • Dear Yalensis,

            I entirely endorse Mark’s memory of the shall we politely say curvaceous image of Russian womenhood. I remember the cruel jokes one used to hear on the subject on British television back in the 1970s. In this respect if in no other Russia’s image today is transformed with Russian women almost universally admitted to be amongst the most beautiful in the world. Of course, since the Russians cannot be allowed to win, this means that they have gone from being fat milkmaids and tractor drivers to being glamorous femmes fatales and seductresses.

        • marknesop says:

          Well, I didn’t envision them with quite such bushy brows, and the chin whiskers were never part of my imaginings.

          Oh, you meant the other one. Actually, yes, more or less like that. I thought they would need a little extra weight, you know, because it’s always very cold there. It’s amazing how ignorant we can be when we simply rely on “common wisdom”. My ex-wife, for example, was from the South of England (Bournemouth, lovely town), and when she came to Canada in 1981 she believed – from what she had been told by friends – that the East Coast of Canada (I lived in Halifax at the time) was so bitterly cold in winter that the inhabitants rarely came above ground; that we had tunnels linking our homes to shopping malls and various such services, like Hobbits or something. She believed nobody in Canada got home mail delivery, that there were common mail drops and that you had to walk a long way to get your mail. We lived in an apartment at the time, and the mailboxes were in the front hall (it couldn’t properly be called a lobby, it was military housing), and while it is true that common mailboxes were just being introduced for new housing complexes (as we have now), detached houses had their own mailbox and still do. A supervisor of mine when I joined the navy confided to me that the English do not eat corn because it is believed to be only fodder for animals. Lots of young fellows who should have known better believed the first time we visited Russia (1998) that girls would sleep with you (although God knows why you’d be interested, since they were all plump and hairy) for a pair of jeans or stockings. Travel not only broadens the mind, it is the enemy of ignorance provided you are willing to learn.

  23. yalensis says:

    @mark: I think I figured out the cause of this Italic Curse thing. I looked thru the HTLM source code of the blog, and looks like I accidentally inserted an unacceptable tag through a slip of the finger. I can’t actually type it again to show you, or it will get rendered again, so I will describe it: .
    Instead of typing “triangular bracket, forward slash, little i, triangular bracket”, I accidentally typed “triangular bracket, little i ,forward slash, trinagular bracket”.
    This is an “unapproved” HTML tag, and had the unintended effect of turning everything below to italic. I already tried throwing in an extra “un-italic” tag to try to fix it, in a subsequent comment, but that didn’t work. Only solution: please delete my comment above, my first reply to cartman, it starts with “crucifying and torturing priests”. Once you delete this comment, everything should revert to normal. (Jeez, maybe there IS a punitive god, after all, he works in mysterious ways…)

    • Moscow Exile says:

      Nay! If it were god’s punishment for the comments you made about the Russian Orthodox Church, everything following would have been in Old Church Slavonic fonts and not italic.

      Я – сущий!


      • Misha says:

        The suggestion of pathological lying on what happened to the ROC is off. As someone noted at this thread, it was definitely persecuted in the early days following the Russian Civil War – something that post-Soviet Russian authortities have acknowledged. I don’t see Solzhenitsyn as such a liar – especially when compared to some others. This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be the subject of constructive criticism.

        On the surface, I don’t have a problem with Motyl expressing a disdain for negatives that happened during Soviet rule. However, his suggestive linking of Russian with everything bad of that period has a bigoted aspect to it. Russians suffered as well, with some non-Russians as contributing negatives. It’s therefore inaccurate for some to suggest a collective Russian fault for what happened. Conversely, Russians aren’t all free of fault.

      • yalensis says:

        Good point, @Exile. Let’s see what Old Church Slavonic looks like in italic font:

        въ оно врѣмѧ изідє заповѣдь отъ кєсарѣ авгоста напісаті в҄сѫ вьсєлєнѫѭ
        сє напісаніє пръвоє бъістъ владѫщѹ сѹрієѭ и кѵрінієѭ

        • Moscow Exile says:

          Cла въ въішніих богѹ и на зєми миръ въ чловѣцѣхъ благоволєниє!

          Пасха, Светлое Христово Воскресение, в 2012 году – 15 апреля

          Христос воскресе!

          Болшой пасхальный привет всем от англичанина в московской ссылке.

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, you were right – that appears to have fixed it. And I was going to blame WordPress!!! Uncle Vanya doesn’t know anything about html, so this can be expected to happen from time to time, and it could have been worse – it could have turned everything to Urdu or something. But it was pretty smart of you to figure it out.

      • yalensis says:

        Yes, yes, of course that was Uncle Vanya who screwed up, not yours truly!
        That guy can be such a klutz at times.

  24. Moscow Exile says:

    Further to the Daily Mail Putin story, it should not be forgotten that that paper supported Hitler right up until the UK declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939; it then had to do a policy turn-around, otherwise it would have been closed down.

    In 1933, the proprieter of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, who considered himself a friend of Hitler and also of the leader of the British Union of Fascists (the Blackshirts),Oswald Mosely, wrote in his newspaper:

    “I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia. They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call “Nazi atrocities” which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny”.

    As circumstances would have it, in 1939 the Daily Mail was forced to drop its fawning support of the Nazis; however, in true British imperial style, it never ceased to view the Russian Empire and its successor states as, to partly borrow Mitt Romney’s phrase, the United Kingdom’s number one foe.

    • Misha says:

      Churchill wasn’t so bad as some others in this regard.

      He earlier went against Lloyd George’s suggestion that Britian shouldn’t support the Whites on account of that group seeking a strong Russia. Pilsudski thought along George’s lines as well.

  25. Misha says:

    Very dishonest anti-Russian propaganda:

    What a pile of crap. At play are Sunni extremists in bed with some screwed up in thinking neocons and neolibs.

    Many Russians have left Chechnya. It’s being governed with great autonomy by a Chechen, with the two prior Chechen governments having considerable autonomy as well. In each instance, the problems in Chechnya were mostly Chechen as opposed to Russian. The Russian government has forwarded a great deal of aid to Chechnya.

    As for the more distant past concerning Chechnya, Russia isn’t the heavy as suggested in some influential circles.

    • Dear Misha,

      My perspective as a detached non Russian outsider of Russian affairs is that Russia in the twentieth century lived through a revolution. As all revolutions do this revolution provoked and provokes passionate actions and responses. The same was true of France. Solzhenitstyn’s books should be seen as one such response born of his own particular experience. They are valid in those terms but should not be confused with academic history. Solzhenitsyn was not a historian and in fairness to him he never really pretended that he was. The trouble is that in the west many treat his books in precisely that way. No one today reads the great early nineteenth century French monarchist writer Chateaubriand as an authority on the French revolution and it is equally wrong to treat Solzhenitsyn in that way.

      Making now a personal comment, I have found Solzhenitsyn’s books whenever I have tried to read them extremely heavy going and I have always found myself after a while giving up on them. I do not know whether the fault lies in Solzhenitsyn or in his translators. I would make the same observation by the way about Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which I did successfully finish but which came across to me in translation both as poorly written and as very incompetently constructed. That the fault may be with the translators is suggested by the fact that I also initially found Sholokhov’s two novels about the Don Cossacks in the revolution extremely heavy going. In the end I persisted with them and found them brilliant but there is no doubt the translation was terrible. There is a very fine 1955 Soviet film of Sholokhov’s books, which I was able to see, which also helped a lot and gave me a feel for the books that the translations simply don’t capture. If the translations of Solzhenitsyn’s books are as bad as I think then that makes it impossible for me to judge their literary merits.

      • Dear Misha,

        Saudi Arabia is so far as I am concerned the Heart of Darkness in the Middle East. The fact that it has been on bad terms with Russia for most of its history so far as I am concerned is much to Russia’s credit.

        That the Saudis should be threatening Russia with loss of friendship because of Russia’s stand on Syria should impress and intimidate no one in Russia. The Saudis have been consistent enemies of Russia for as far back as I can remember. They are invariably the sworn enemies of Russia’s friends in the Middle East be they the Nasser regime in Egypt, the Assad regime in Syria, Gaddafi and the various popular movements in Lebanon and Yemen. Indeed the Saudis can be reliably counted upon to oppose any progressive or democratic movement or government in the Middle East. They also largely funded and sponsored the anti Russian insurgencies in Afghanistan and Chechnya. One of the reasons why even former rebels in Chechnya such as Kadyrov today prefer Russia is because of the way the Saudis and their jihadi stooges tried to manipulate them into a Holy War against Russia that they never wanted. I would add that though the Saudis pretend to be the great leaders of the Muslim world and of the Arabs their relentless hostility to Russia, which has at various times tried to help the Arabs, has been in stark contrast to their tacit alliance with Israel, which is supposed to be the Arabs’ and Muslims’ great enemy. Compare Saudi support for jihadi movements in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Libya and Syria with the complete absence of Saudi support for the Palestinian national movement against Israel.

        When the Saudis therefore threaten Russia with loss of friendship they threaten Russia with loss of something Russia has never had. When the Saudis threaten Russia with support for anti Russian jihadi movements in the Caucasus and elsewhere they merely threaten Russia with what they are doing already. This at least means that Russia can ignore Saudi threats and on Syria and other questions should simply tell the Saudis to put their head in a bucket and go take a running jump. I am delighted to see that on Syria, which unlike Saudi Arabia has always been a good friend of Russia, that is exactly what the Russians are doing.

        • Misha says:

          Hi again Alexander,

          Things relating to that part of the world appear geopolitically screwy.

          Not so long ago, the Turkish leader had an upbeat visit to Russia, which included a stay in Tatarstan. The atmosphere of that meeting was said to be motivated by Ankara’s and Moscow’s displeasure with certain trends evident in the West. At the same time, others have felt that in the long run, Russia and Turkey wouldn’t be able to successfully put aside their different outlooks on a number of issues.

          In recent times, Greece and Cyprus appear to have improved their relations with Israel, as Israeli-Turkish relations have taken a hit. Offhand, the decline in Syrian-Turkish relations doesn’t seem to have improved the Israeli-Turkish relationship.

          In the US, there’s a bit of a scare regarding Iran. I’ve repeatedly noted that Iran wasn’t involved with 9/11, the Taliban, as well as the destabilization in former Soviet space – in addition to having a population which comparatively speaking is arguably less fundamentalist in overall terms than the populations in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

          The etnno-religious population diversity in Syria reminds me a bit of Lebanon – which has had a tragically violent past. For now, a betting person might likely favor Assad’s government prevailing. To be continued.

        • yalensis says:

          Very well put, @alexander! It is in Russia’s geo-strategic interests to regard Saudi Arabia (and her satellite emirates, especially Qatar) as sworn enemies, and to regard with heavy suspicion everything that they do. Russia made a huge mistake in throwing Libya under the bus; but at least they are not making that same mistake with Syria. (I hope.)
          By the way, wasn’t Saudi monarchy originally installed by Lawrence (AKA “Please whip my pale white heiny and whip it hard”) of Arabia?

          • Dear Yalensis,

            The story of the origins of the Saudi monarchy are actually more complex. T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Lawrence the Self Flagellator” etc) supported a rival Arab family, the Hashemites who were originally from Mecca and who claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed. After the First World War the British installed them as monarchs of Jordan and Iraq. In order to balance the Hashemites and to prevent them becoming too powerful the British quietly helped the Saudis drive the Hashemites out of the Arabian Peninsular. The British agent who was involved with the Saudis was not Lawrence but a person called Philby who actually converted to Islam and whose son became a Communist and the USSR’s most successful agent in Britain (“Kim” Philby). The British maintained control over the Arabs in classic imperial style by playing the Saudis and the Hashemites off against each other. In 1945 the Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud seeing the way the wind was blowing arranged to meet with the US President Franklin Roosevelt on Roosevelt’s return trip from the Yalta Conference with Stalin and Churchill. At this meeting the Saudi King basically transferred his loyalty from the British to the Americans, establishing the US/Saudi alliance that continues to this day. The British remained entrenched in Iraq and Jordan where the Hashemite monarchs continued to be loyal to them until 1958 when a revolution led to the fall of the monarchy in Iraq causing the collapse of the British position in the Middle East. A Hashemite monarchy however still survives in Jordan and relations between the Hashemites in Jordan and the Saudis continue to be prickly.

            As a minor footnote I would just say that the Bolsheviks initially completely misunderstood the games the British were playing in the Middle East. When the Saudis drove the Hashemites out of the Arabian Peninsular in the 1920s the Bolsheviks thought they were anti British and could make an alliance with them. The USSR as a result became the first country to recognise the new independent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the late 1930s relatioins deteriorated and I think in 1937 Stalin for reasons unknown to me broke off relations with Saudi Arabia. The USSR did not restore relations with Saudi Arabia until the late 1980s during Perestroika.

            Lastly, I would add that the Saudi Kingdom today is the second Saudi Kingdom that has existed. The Saudi family had previously established themselves as rulers of a territory in the Arabian Peninsular of roughly similar dimensions to the one they have today in the eighteenth century. It was during the period of this first Saudi Kingdom that the Saudis became the protectors and patrons of the fundamentalist Muslim religious thinker Al Wahhab and forged the alliance with his fundamentalist Salafi movement that continues to this day. This first Saudi monarchy was overthrown by the Ottoman Turks in the early nineteenth century.

            • cartman says:

              The Saudi kingdom must be a bad investment if you remember that the vast majority of oil in the Middle East is under lands where Shia Muslims live. The Saudis promote sectarian hatred which they are quite vulnerable to as well. They keep the Washington busy trying to keep Iran from penetrating their oil rich eastern province where they practice apartheid against the indigenous Shia communities.

              Why do they bother Russia? For Gorbachev and Yeltsin, US relations were their only lifeline so neither was in a position to confront the KSA. Today Russia is an oil exporter that is at least as important as Saudi Arabia.

            • yalensis says:

              Wow, what a fascinating history! Thanks for that, @alexander. I am a bit of a spy buff, so, of course, I am familiar with Kim Philby (one of Soviet Union’s best spies, who also recruited Guy Burgess and other important moles in British intelligence); but I was not aware of his father’s equally checkered past. Importance of strategic alliance between Saudi monarchy and USA cannot be underestimated. Not even the horrors of mysterious 9/11 terror attack on lower Manhattan (carried out by Saudi agents) could break that bond.

      • Misha says:

        Hi Alexander,

        I don’t mean to lecture people on what to say about others. Referring to Solzhenitsyn as a pathological liar, while second guessing the destructive acts against the ROC in the early years of the USSR is off the mark IMO.

        At times, there appears to be a crock factor involved with determining what does and doesn’t pass as credible academic history.

        I don’t agree with everything Solzhenitsyn said. I’m of the impression that the view of him in the West varies as it does in Russia. His book on the history of the Jews hasn’t made the English language market. One Russian academic who seems relatively level headed said it’s a good read, along with some other trusted acquaintances of mine. His book on WW I has received mixed reviews, that seem to be influenced on the political inclinations of the given reader. It has been noted that he wrote that book when he was still in the USSR, in a way that might’ve likely affected his takes. He remains misunderstood among many. My impression is that he wasn’t generally fond of the Russian monarchy. National Review (NR) selectively quoted him. Solzhenitsyn’s anti-Communist/the West is soft message was propped by NR, unlike his opposition to the bigotry of the Captive Nations Committee – which NR has (over the years) tended to favor.

        Are you able to recall if your reads of Sholokhov were from the Stephen Garry translations that were published by Alfred A. Knopf?

        • yalensis says:

          Yeah, getting your history of Russian Revolution from Solzhenitsyn is like getting your history of French Revolution from “The Scarlet Pimpernel”.

          They seek him heah, they seek him theah,
          Those Bolshies seek him everywheeah…

          • Dear Misha,

            I am afraid I cannot remember now which translations of Sholokhov’s books I’ve read. All I can tell you is that I read Sholokhov in the 1970s and the translations so far as I can remember dated from the 1960s.

            On the subject of Solzhenitsyn it tells you a great deal about how these things are covered in the west that until I read your comment I was not even aware that he had written a book on the Jews.

            • Dear Misha and Yalensis,

              Whilst on the subject of English translations of Russian literature I should say that I have come to realise that Chekhov is also badly served by his translators not so much because the translations are difficult to read but because British translators entirely fail to understand him.

              The British have an obsession with Chekhov. At any one time in London some theatre or other is performing one of his plays. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that on the London stage he is second only to Shakespeare in popularity.

              I have not seen a single British theatre adaptation of Chekhov I have liked. All of them invariably make his characters sound like polite middle class English people enjoying a pleasant time in the country. It was only when I saw Russian performances of his plays given by Russian theatre groups in London and after I saw Russian films of Uncle Vanya, The Lady with the Little Dog and Platonov (Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano) that I realised how utterly wrong and mistaken these British adaptations of Chekhov are and how he is completely misunderstood and mistranslated. I would add that I think British and US film versions of Chekhov of which there are many are just as bad. As a matter of fact I have not seen a single British or US film adaptation of a Russian play or novel I have liked (the two worst were the 1970s BBC adaptations of War and Peace and Anna Karenina).

              • Dear Misha,

                Are you perhaps a Cossack? I have just been watching a Soviet film adaptation of a Gogol short story set in a Ukrainian Cossack community around 1800. The film is called Viy and is basically a horror film. I thought it great fun and I found the life of the Cossacks that it showed fascinating.

                • Misha says:

                  Hi Alexander & Co.,

                  No, I’m not of Cossack origin, while nevertheless subscribing to some of the virtues that Cossacks have been known for.

                  This looks like a good read on them:


                  I’ve not read this book in detail.

                  The same author wrote what seems to be the best English language overview of Suvorov:


                  Imperial Russian, Soviet and Western sources are used, with the author addressing some of the biased positions taken against Russia’s arguably greatest general.

                  Regarding movies, I’ve yet to see the Bondarchuk film on Taras Bulba. In The WSJ, Karatnycky and Motyl gave it a negative overview, in line with their biases. The two of them don’t seem to have a great problem when Ukrainian nationalist versions of Taras Bulba insert the word Ukraine, in a way that’s different from what Gogol actually wrote.

                  The movie on Kolchak is another one that I’ve yet to see.

                  The Soviet movie version of War & Peace is better than the American variant.

                  Concerning your comments on translation, the thought of how things get lost in translation comes to mind. The ideal translation neatly familiarizes the foreign reader with the significance of what has been translated.

                  As far as the Dr. Zhivago character goes, war isn’t always a simple matter of one side being so much more virtuous over the others. Hence, the on the fence stances which are periodically taken.

                • Misha says:

                  The movie version of novels frequently have alterations. The Godfather has noticeable differences from Mario Puzo’s book. I suspect the Fiddler on the Roof movie has some changes from what Sholem Aleichem (who is considered a Russian literary figure) wrote. The movie has one scene depicting a St. Petersburg government emissary asking the local government official to stir up some trouble with the Jewish population. In actuality, the reverse was often the case – locals initiating violent manner, with the central authorities periodically intervening to calm things down, partly out of concern that such mayhem could spiral out of control.

              • marknesop says:

                You can add Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” to that list. Although it made a big splash in the west in translated form, western idealizations changed the thrust of it greatly. To be fair, it was still a pretty good movie; I think that was my first revelation that people cried at movies. I didn’t see it at that time, but my Mom did and she and all her friends were quite swept away by the pathos of it.

                • Moscow Exile says:

                  Problem with that Zhivago for me was that the Ural scenes were shot in North America – in the Rocky Mountains in fact, which are considerably loftier than the rolling Urals.

                • yalensis says:

                  I never bothered to read the Pasternak novel, but I did see the film. “Zhivago” is considered a chick-flick, but my girlfriend and I both hated it for the same reason we hated “The English Patient” – because it promotes the hyper-individualistic notion that “romantic love” is more important than anything else, including major political events and wars that happen to be going on at the same time. Like, Doc Zhivago wants to be neutral in the middle of a civil war, but he really needs to take a side: Red or White? He can’t decide, just like he can’t decide between his wife and his mistress. What a wimp! He reminds me of Boris Nemtsov. Similarly, the romantically besotted hero of “The English Patient” really should not have given the Nazis the map to enter Cairo. That was kind of a rotten thing to do, and he should have been court-martialled and shot for treason.

                • marknesop says:

                  If you found a girlfriend who eschews the hyper-individualistic notion that romantic love is more important than anything else, I hope you married her.

              • Moscow Exile says:

                Some of the biggest blunders in a Western film version of a Russian classic took place in Warner Bros. 1997 “Anna Karenina”, which was filmed entirely in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Count Vronskiy was played by British actor Sean Bean – a Russian count with a Sheffield accent no less! – and a French actress, Sophie Marceau, was chosen to play the eponymous role – complete with French accent.

                The film premiered in Moscow at the cinema that faces the fountain on Pushkin Square that Nemtsov, Udaltsov and friends nobly defended in March.

                As the film begins, title cards inform the audience that the story unfolds during a period lasting from 1880 to 1882, which for Russians that know their history is rather hard to accept in view of the fact that at the end of the story Vronskiy leaves Russia to fight in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877- 1878.

                And for those that know their music – as many Russians do – Rakhmaninov’s Vespers and Second Symphony were used throughout the film, which was a glaring anachronism, as those works were not written until at least 30 years after the novel was written and 20 years after the film says it is set.

                I also remember reading at the time of the Russian premier of the 1997 “Anna Karenina” a review in which a Moscow critic panned the film and especially for the most glaring error of them all: in the film, Count Alexei Kirillovitch Vronskiy has his uniform adorned with Soviet “boards” (epaulettes).

                The first Russian film that I ever saw in Russia – as a student in the USSR to be exact – was “The Lady with the Lapdog” (1960). It is in black and white and is, in my opinion, a wonderful cinematographic adaptation of this Chekov short story. The Yalta scenes in the film where shot in Yalta, where Chekov wrote the story, and the picture is perfection.


                • The Lady with the Lap Dog or the Lady with the Little Dog was one of the first Soviet films I ever saw. I was absolutely wowed. The two other Chekhov adaptations I have on DVD, Uncle Vanya and Platonov (also Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano) are every bit as good.

                  On the famous 1960s version of Doctor Zhivago, which I believe is actually British rather than American, I consider it an excellent film in absolutely every respect if you completely forget that that it is supposed to be set in Russia. There is absolutely nothing about the atmosphere or look of the film that reminds me of Russia at all whilst the early scenes that are supposed to be in pre revolutionary Moscow look much more like the old Europeanised quarters of Istanbul, which the director David Lean may have seen when he was making Lawrence of Arabia. The one thing I would say for it is that it actually follows the narrative of the book much more closely than does the recent Russian television adaptation. Whilst that adaptation is beautifully filmed and does get the authentic Russian feel and look its maker obviously decided that he had to repair the many problems with the plot by adding a great deal of new material and several important secondary characters who are not in the book at all. The result is a strange hybrid that is part Pasternak and part someone else.

                  As for the 1997 Anna Karenina, that is as bad as Moscow Exile says but is nonetheless better than the truly awful versions that preceded it including the undeservedly famous version with Greta Garbo. The best adaptation by far that I have seen is the 1967 Mosfilm version though it too has problems. I gather that there is a new Russian television adaptation but I have not yet seen it because so far as I know it has not yet come out on DVD.

                • yalensis says:

                  Who knew that Count Vronsky was a sovok?

        • hoct says:

          Solzhenitsyn was a darling of the West when they could use him as an instrument of the Cold War. But they grew appalled with him when Communism was overthrown and they discovered that underneath the emigre Cold Warrior was a Russian patriot who was not going to bash non-Communist Russia, but would stick up for it so overnight he became for them an ‘Orthodox mystic’, ‘Russian nationalist’ and possibly a suspected anti-Semite.

          You have to respect the man just as a Red Army veteran, victim of Soviet repression and a Russian patriot. Opinions on his history and philosophy can be varied, but in his works what always shines through is his affection for his people and culture. Reading through The Russian Question and Russia in Devastation one is struck at just what an emotional effect lost opportunities and disasters that struck his country had on him personally. This was without a doubt a man who loved his country deeply .

          Personally, I recognize in his prescriptions and visions, and undercurrent of (in his case conservative) anti-statism, and like him for that. He also did valuable work in showing the nature of the Soviet regime, but it must be said he was way off with the numbers which were in fact many times less than he believed. That does not make him a liar since as said he believed them himself. However, it is the case there was evidence he was off even then and this was being pointed out by the “revisionists” among the western historians of the Soviet Union (who had the better arguments, but didn’t have the same influence over the general public perception as the regime-favored “cold warriors” like Conquest).

          • Misha says:

            Well said.

            Within pro-Russian circles (be they on the left or right), I find it perplexing that Solzhenitsyn should come under more criticism than someone like Motyl.

            • Dear Misha,

              Just to make clear, I absolutely do not place Solzhenitsyn in anything like the same category as a straightforward and in my opinion ultimately racist Russophobe like Motyl. My observation about Solzhenitsyn, which is essentially the same as Hoct’s, is that he was not a historian and should not be read as one. That he was a patriot who loved his country of that there is no doubt.

              Incidentally as I very well remember western opinion turned strongly against Solzhenitsyn almost as soon as he arrived in the west and started to level criticisms of the US and the west. Indeed the fact that Solzhenitsyn dared to criticise the US and the west as an anti Communist made his criticism even less tolerable and more infuriating. From the American and western point of view an anti Communist had no business criticising the US and the west and the fact that Solzhenitsyn did could only mean that he was some sort of freak. I remember reading a furious but entirely representative attack on him when his views became known by the British commentator Auberon Waugh (the son of the British writer Evelyn Waugh) the essence of which was that if even an anti Communist Russian writer like Solzhenitsyn had the sort of opinions that Solzhenitsyn had this could only mean that all Russians were “shits”. The article used that very word and I remember being astonished that the editor of the newspaper or magazine in which it appeared allowed it to appear. In Britain today whilst Solzhenitsyn is still occasionally cited approvingly as an anti Communist Russian writer (though with little emphasis on his wider views) and though his books like the Gulag Archipelago, Cancer Ward and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich are still read, the role of “greatest twentieth century Russian writer” is now mostly given to Vassili Grossman, who is assumed to have been both safely anti Communist and (because he was a Jew) safely pro western and liberal as well.

          • marknesop says:

            Of all the Solzhenitsyn reviews I have read, this is without a doubt the most compassionate and is to my mind the closest to capturing not only his intent but his effect.

    • marknesop says:

      The comments certainly do not sound like her article achieved the desired effect.

      • Misha says:

        Very often the comments are more spot on with reality.

        Imagine having someone like her as a professor. Her views on the subject aren’t accurate.

        • Dear Misha,

          Why shouldn’t RT criticise the US or do a programme with Julian Assange? Nothing RT has ever said about any US politician including diehard Russophobes like McCain comes close to the sort of things the US and western media routinely say about Putin. Imagine the effect if a book in Russia were published saying the sort of things about Bush II, McCain, Romney, Hillary Clinton or Obama that appear in Masha Gessen’s book about Putin though the material to do so in respect of the first four is certainly there.

          • Misha says:

            Hi Alexander,

            Any particular reason why hat question is specifically posed to me?

            Any updates on the earlier stated arrangement with Assange and RT?

            • Dear Misha,

              Simply because you found the Ann Cooper comment.

              There’s been nothing on Assange and RT. I suspect he has more to worry about at the moment with his pending appeal to the Supreme Court against his extradition to Sweden.

              • Misha says:

                Understood Alexander.

                The accountability on her part is lacking – something that I especially don’t find appealing in someone who teaches and writes about media issues.

                For its part, RT said that Assange’s show will begin this past March. On March 27, it had a linked item saying his show would be aired later this month – as in March.


                As recently expressed by yours truly:

                RT received increased publicity after the announcement that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will host a series of shows on that network. Assange’s background and RT’s seeking to offer something different is a definite match. The success of this endeavor remains to be seen. Heading an organization involved with releasing confidential diplomatic messages does not necessarily make for an insightfully interesting television news personality and successful show. Meantime, RT could be doing more to substantively address anti-Russian biases, in a way that does not compromise a firm and journalistically ethical manner.

  26. marknesop says:

    Hey, what do you know? Augis Barkov (RedHotRussia) was right – I could get rid of that “just another site”. I should have read his message more carefully; he said it was in Settings/General/Tagline. The description beside the box says, “describe in a few words what the blog is about”. So I’m going to put in a new tagline. What do you think this blog is about?

    • AK says:

      DR’s current tagline is “Exposing Western myths about Russia.”, but I think I’ll soon change it anyway.

      Your site is better suited for that tagline anyway, so feel free to steal it. 🙂

      BTW. Have you thought of getting a custom domain for your blog? It’s only $30 for the domain and mapping, and is available.

      • marknesop says:

        Thanks, Anatoly: perhaps I will!! I’m sure we could pick up an enthusiastic endorsement from the Streetwise Professor, where we seem to be of the same mind.

        What are the advantages of having one’s own domain? I’m not overly technical, and WordPress is easy to use. What’s mapping? Is that the transfer of all your current material to an owned domain?

        • AK says:

          (1) “Domain mapping”, in your case, would be that you continue blogging at, but readers and search engines will se it as For instance, my blog is at, but domain mapping makes it into the much nicer

          (2) No transfer. Think more like “mirroring”, or “reflecting.” Virtually no work on your part, its super easy. If you need tips, just write on support forums. But you should be able to do it from the backend. Just go to STORE, then “Add a Domain” (Registration: $5; Mapping: $12).

          (3) The advantages?
          * It looks a lot nicer.
          * “marknesop” has no clear connection with the title or theme of your blog.
          * There is an opinion that custom domains are slightly better for SEO purposes.

          • yalensis says:

            What does SEO stand for?

            • AK says:

              Search Engine Optimization. The better it is, the higher your site appears on Google, Yahoo, etc. It’s very important for people who want to draw bigger audiences, be it for a commercial product or political arguments.

  27. Moscow Exile says:

    The White Ribbon brigade were out demonstrating on Red Square today. They were allowed by the cops to do their thing, which was mostly to hold each other’s hands and form big circles and walk around and around and chant. From pictures that I have so far seen, they look to me mostly like the youngish middle class demonstrators of previous “anti-Putin” rallies.

    Chirikova was there. She’s bourgeoise. Runs two businesses with her husband I believe. But despite her looks, she’s no spring chicken.

    She decided to pitch a tent on the square and was arrested.

    I should have thought it prettty hard to bang tent pegs into the paved square.


    The sign on the person wrapped in the bedsheet says: The Ghost of the Constitution.

    Funny that, because none of the demonstrators on Red Square had any of their constitutional rights infringed.

  28. Moscow Exile says:

    Looks like the tree hugger might get banged up for 15 days:

    Another martyr for the cause? I’d just let her out of the slammer at 3 o’clock in the morning if I had anything to do with it, and do that every time she got lifted.

    Tree hugger on Red Square:

  29. Moscow Exile says:

    Judging by the Snegurochka type costume that she seeems rather fond of wearing at demos, I wonder if she is trying to create an image for herself rather as Tymoshenko did with her faux-peasant Ukrainian braids and dyed blonde hair?

    Chirikova the snowmaiden?

  30. Moscow Exile says:


  31. Moscow Exile says:

    Having a wonderful time on Red Square, Moscow, April 8th 2012:

  32. Moscow Exile says:

    According to “The Voice of Russia”, rallies at the weekend seem to have become a “tradition”.

    I wonder how long a social group has to do something before it becomes a “tradition”?

    I think the Russian translators at “Voice of Russia” should check out “tradition”. Same goes for “flash mob”, a term which the Russian media seems to think is used to describe any planned mass demonstration.


  33. Moscow Exile says:

    Looking at the images that I have seen here of today’s demonstrators, many of them must have still been at kindergarten during the Yeltsin years and not a few of them, I should think, would have been born after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. They would have, therefore, received their higher education and professional qualifications and gained employment during the past decade, namely during the presidency and premiership of Vladimir Putin.

  34. Moscow Exile says:

    Here’s yet another Shaun Walker spin put on a Putin story in this morning’s UK Independent:

    “You can have any car you want, as long as it’s Russian, orders Putin”.

    And the story goes that on a visit to a car plant, Putin said “I believe that all state and municipal authorities, customers and companies who receive funding from the budget, should have to start buying cars produced on the territory of Russia and the Common Economic Area in the near future”.

    Since when has the expression “should have to start doing something” mean “must start doing something”?

    According to the article, Putin only expressed his opinion concerning the advisability of undertaking an action, that such an action would be the right thing to do.

    Walker’s headline to the article states, however, that Putin has ordered that only Russian cars be purchased.


    • marknesop says:

      When’s the last time you saw anyone from the U.S. government driving around in a foreign car that was part of the government fleet? Don’t be fooled by Toyotas, either – made in America, probably in many cases more so than some Buicks, which are made in Germany. The United Auto Workers will not allow any car that is not made in America on Union property, and they know from the VIN number.

    • yalensis says:

      Is good that Putin is encouraging domestic auto industry. On the other hand, by allowing Russia to be taken into WTO he already did something to harm Russian light manufacturing. I think Russian Federation needs to become manufacturing powerhouse like China.

    • Hunter says:

      Actually the headline alone is inaccurate just because in the story Putin clearly says that he believes state and municipal authorities should by cars produced on the territory of Russia and the “Common Economic Area” (which I assume means the customs union territory of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan). So firstly it would mean Russian, Belarussian or Kazakh cars AND it should also mean any foreign car brands produced under licence in Russia (rather like those American Toyotas). Since companies ranging from Toyota to Volkswagen have factories in Russia then it should mean those same authorities could still use a wide variety of vehicles if the government were to actually make it policy (as opposed to recommending it). He doesn’t seem to have said that they should only buy cars produced by Russian companies.

      • Hunter says:

        Sorry, should have written “So firstly it would mean Russian, Belarussian or Kazakh cars AND it should also mean any foreign car brands produced under licence in Russia (rather like those American Toyotas) and in Kazakhstan and Belarus…”

  35. Dear Moscow Exile,

    1. Yesterday’s “demonstration” on Red Square seems to have been a trivial affair. If protests are becoming a “tradiition” then that is an infallible sign that they are political irrelevant. There are protests every Sunday In London on Speaker’s Corner. It is a tradition. Who cares? Actually Russia would benefit from this kind of tradition. Let people enjoy themselves and let off steam in this harmless way. Most people will quickly lose interest. In time it will even good for the country’s tourist industry.

    2. I think Putin’s suggestion that the state only buy domestically built cars is a very good one. Russia has a burdgeoning car industry and it makes complete sense for the government to do what it can to support it. Incidentally the practice of the government using domestically built cars is pretty universal in countries with large car industries.

    • Here is another article about Russia from the Economist, Anatoly’s favourite magazine.

      It seems that local election results in Togliatti and Yaroslavl (both of which voted strongly for Putin in the Presidential election barely a month ago) together with unreleased polling data from a liberal think tank offer “proof” of a tidal wave of distrust towards the government and of a “loss of motivation” amongst Putin’s supporters at the same time as Putin’s opponents are “becoming more determined”. Supposedly this “loss of trust” offers more evidence that Russia is heading for revolution unless action is taken to “rebuild trust in the country’s institutions” (by handing them over to the liberals) though “time is short”.

      In the meantime the article grumbles despairingly about the liberals’ failure to unite in contrast to the Communists whilst it contains an extraordinary description of protest actions in Moscow as an attempt to “recapture physical space” supposedly “occupied” by the authorities. The latter comment is of course a follow up to the ludicrous description of the pro Putin rally on 4th March 2012 as some sort of physical occupation of Moscow by the government and the pro Putin forces.

      The only comment I am going to make about all this nonsense is that so far from the government capturing anyone’s “physical space” it is the Economist and its ilk by their constant threats/calls for a revolution in Russia that who are limiting the political space for ordinary politics to develop.

      • marknesop says:

        If I were not already writing on something else (almost finished!!), I would be all over this “in your dreams” silliness like Rush Limbaugh on a baked ham. This blog is making me lazy, as I rarely have to search outside it for ideas for posts – the rest of the group takes care of that for me.

        Perhaps the west no longer cares about its credibility in countries it considers barely-undeclared enemies. But the bubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble nonsense it continues to stir up on a daily basis for domestic consumption is so glaringly at odds with what people in those countries can see for themselves that western “news” sources must be perceived there with the sort of hard-hitting realism normally accorded to children’s books.

  36. yalensis says:

    The road to war: This article relates about military exercises in Bahrain of 10 nations, this is the coalition being built for possible war against Iran. The 10 nations listed are: (1) USA (2) Bahrain (3) Saudi Arabia (4) Oman (5) Emirates (6) Kuwait (7) Jordan (8) Egypt (9) Turkey (10) Pakistan.

    If they go to war against Iran, then Syria has to jump in, as Syria has strategic treaty with Iran. If Syria jumps in, then Russia has to jump in too, as has strategic treaty with Syria. So could be WWIII. Well, at least we had a few good years. Fatalistic sigh….

    • yalensis says:

      Addendum: If there is war against Iran, then Gruzia will play important role as staging ground for American military forces. In this article from 3 months ago, a Gruzian oppositionist politician claims Saakashvili is building (with American $$$) military hospitals and other facilities in preparation for war against Iran. I don’t know this politician (Elizbar Javelidze) or how credible he is, but there are many other reliable indications that Gruzia is being groomed to play this role of staging polygon (also place close by to bring back wounded). If you look at a map, Gruzia is practically neighbors with Iran. Thus, I am not sure about this, but one purpose of American anti-air program (PRO) might be to protect Gruzia against Iranian rockets? As prophylactic measure, to defend American ability to launch against Iran from Gruzia while depriving Iran of retaliatory capability back to that staging area? Americans always claimed their PRO is directed at Iran, not at Russia. There might be a grain of truth in their assertion, if the purpose is to use Gruzia as staging ground against Iran, then block Iran from rocketing that nest.

    • Hunter says:

      World War III over Iran is a very remote possibility I would think. While Syria and Iran have a mutual defence agreement (I haven’t seen the details reported) I’m sure it is left up to each party to determine the response necessary to a foreign attack. And the Syrian-Soviet treaty on friendship and cooperation (which is what Russo-Syrian relations are based around) apparently includes no mutual defence clause. So while Syria may assist Iran in some way (and Syrian assistance will probably be limited by various factors such as the ability to send assistance to Iran without interdiction), Syria and Iran would very much be on their own.

      However, that won’t spell doom for them. Out of the 10 countries you listed I’m pretty certain only one (the United States) would be capable of attacking Iran and would actually do so. Egypt and Jordan are not going to attack Iran at all and are most certainly participating in the exercises for the purpose of training their military forces generally. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Turkey and Pakistan are not insane enough to actually launch an attack on a neighbour that they know can retaliate and do so very violently. At worst they may simply facilitate an attack (officially or unofficially), but none of their forces would be involved unless Iran retaliates to an American or Israeli attack by launching missiles and airstrikes against the neighbours it claims would be involved.

      Georgia may also provide a support role and surprisingly Azerbaijan might provide a similar support role for an Israeli attack since it seems there is an Azerbaijani-Israeli deal on the use of some Azerbaijani airfields. The current speculation is that the deal is not to facilitate an Israeli attack but to allow for Israeli aircraft to have a place to refuel on the way back to Israel (thus extending the range of the Israeli aircraft in the first strike) and a place from which to conduct search-and-rescue operations for downed pilots. The Azerbaijani base could also facilitate follow-up Israeli airstrikes (maybe a second or third wave).

      So World War III? No. But it would still be very bad. Hundreds, if not thousands (military and civilian) dead in airstrikes and missile launches, oil prices rocketing up to maybe $200 a barrel, infrastructure destroyed in Iran, possible global economic downturn due to higher oil prices……all because a few people in powerful positions in Israel and the United States have convinced themselves that Iran is trying to make a nuclear weapon (even when average Israelis try to counter the insanity with a facebook campaign expressing love for the Iranian people)

      • marknesop says:

        I completely agree with all the positions you have taken, and am impressed with the analysis, except for the part about “a few people in powerful positions in Israel and the United States have convinced themselves that Iran is trying to make a nuclear weapon”. There is nobody in the United States government who truly believes Iran has an active weapons program, because they have spared no effort to uncover such a program and would know if any substantiation had been found. Such substantiation would be kept secret for less time than it took to pick up the phone, after which it would explode across the networks. There is none. The west does not talk about the NPT, mostly because Israel has not signed it and India – a nuclear customer – refused when invited to, but it specifically authorizes its signatories to exploit nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The west knows this very well, and the gobbling about centrifuges and suchlike is simply playing on public ignorance to stoke fear, in the hope that fear will lead to public pressure for an attack.

        The USA knows quite well that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, just as it knew Saddam had none. The government merely pretended to believe it because it enabled the attack the government wanted, and afterward they just shrugged sheepishly and pretended to be honestly bewildered. There are plenty of numbingly ignorant people who think might makes right, and who enjoy war against Ay-rabs for the color and drama of its entertainment value. Those people will pull the handle for the same deceptive politicians over and over, even if they knew they were being lied to.

  37. Dear Yalensis,

    If you read the article Putin wrote during the election about Russia’s economy you will see that in it he lays great stress on renewing Russia’s manufacturing.. He also takes the unfashionable view that the state should play an active role in promoting it by focusing and promoting investment in certain industries. Anatoly posted on his facebook page an article about proposals to revive Gosplan though apparently in a form that would make it more like the former Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) which spearheaded Japan’s industrial growth. Since the article is in Russian I obviously cannot read it but if the proposal is real then it would fit in well with Putin’s proposals.

    Dear Anatoly,

    One of the (many!) ideas I have had for my retirement is of writing a book concerning the competing ideas about economic policy in the late Soviet period.

    I do not think it is widely known that Gosplan and the other central economic agencies by the late 1970s had highly developed plans for economic reform, These were focused on re balancing the Soviet budget, which was becoming overextended (the budget had been in deficit since 1966), by phasing out subsidies and by carrying out a price reform that would eventually have ended with enterprises being allowed to set their own prices. There was a clear understanding of the importance of the banking system and in particular of the key role of the central bank in controlling inflation. Though care had been taken to limit the size of the budget deficit to the size of bank deposits held in the national savings bank (today’s Sberbank) the central budget deficit combined with budget deficits in the republics and regions was causing serious inflation, which in a system of fixed prices was causing mounting shortages despite rising production.

    The envisaged economic reform was intended first and foremost to address this problem of inflation whilst moving the economy forward to a system that would have reflected the much more sophisticated society and economy the USSR by the 1970s had become. The model of Japan was carefully studied with Baibakov in particular taking a great interest in Japan. As far back as 1965, shortly before he became Gosplan chief and when he was still oil minister, he had had meetings with senior Japanese officials and he famously made a fact finding trip to Japan in the late 1960s when he was almost assassinated by a nationalist fanatic who wanted the return of the Kurile Islands (some things never change). Baibakov’s focus in the 1960s and early 1970s was on developing the oil fields in western Siberia and in establishing the country’s natural gas industry (not surprising in a former oil minister and far sighted as things have turned out) but by the late 1970s his attention was shifting back to economic reform and by 1978 he was in discussion with Brezhnev about it.

    The central planning agencies would in this scheme have retained their key role in the economy through their control of investment flows and other instruments and would have continued to set overall plans for the economy much as used to happen in Japan from the 1950s through to the 1980s and as continues to happen in China now (China still have Five Year Plans). Indeed by imposing tighter budgetary discipline on the republics and regions centralisation would in some respects actually have increased as Baibakov pointed out in a press conference he gave in 1983, which the western media typically completely misunderstood and which it misrepresented as an attack on Yuri Andropov’s reform proposals (in reality Andropov was a strong supporter of Baibakov’s ideas). The nature of Baibakov’s ideas is perhaps best expressed by a simile he was fond of making then and later, which is that if the economy was a ship then the plan was its rudder and the market was the wind in its sails.

    Whether these plans would have succeeded or not we cannot of course know and one should be careful about building up Baibakov as some sort of unsung hero of economic reform. What we can say is that what derailed these plas before they properly got started was Gorbachev’s election as General Secretary. Almost the first step he took was to dismiss Baibakov from his post as Gosplan head. Though his Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov was a former deputy head of Gosplan who was actually appointed to carry out Gosplan’s reform plans Gorbachev in the manner of a provincial party first secretary (which is basically what he always was) was deeply suspicious of Gosplan and showed absolutely no understanding of the need for budgetary control or discipline that it, the Finance Ministry and the central bank were calling for. Instead in typical voluntarist Bolshevik fashion he seems to have been intent on achieving growth at all costs. The result was that all the talk in his first years in power was of “acceleration”, which could only of course be achieved by higher investment and higher spending, which in turn of course required actual budgetary loosening. Since Gorbachev was also very concerned about his popularity he also resisted proposals for price reform that Brezhnev and Andropov had both previously supported and instead increased social spending and salaries even more. His anti alcohol campaign, whatever its other merits, also damaged the budget. I remember reading Gorbachev’s interminably long speeches back in the 1980s and noticing that he never mentioned budgetary or tax issues at all. The result was that though Gorbachev did in fact initially increase economic growth he did so at the price of making both the budget deficit and inflation much worse than they had been before.

    Gorbachev then made matters worse still by disorganising the economy even more by initiating various radical economic and political experiments, which he (like Yeltsin after him) was persuaded to adopt by the various western influenced radical liberal economists and pseudo intellectuals who gathered around him. They, like the similar group of even more radical liberal economists and pseudo intellectuals who later gathered around Yeltsin, promised Gorbachev that they could deliver for him the rapid economic growth he wanted if he took the extreme political and economic steps they urged him to take. The rest as they say is history. Gorbachev typically has never to this day grasped or admitted the full extent of his folly any more than have the various liberal economists and pseudo intellectuals who advised Yeltsin and him. Instead Gorbachev today explains his failure by the preposterous claim that his plans were somehow defeated by a nefarious Saudi/US plot to derail his reforms by lowering oil prices.

    For my part I think that Russia’s recent economic success is much better explained by the return since 1998 to sanity in economic decision making rather than by the rise in oil prices. For what it’s worth I suspect that once the political and economic processes that began in 1998 are concluded Russia and possibly the former USSR as a whole in the new form of the Eurasian Union will emerge with an economic model that is not so very different from the one that Baibakov and the other Gosplan reformers envisaged back in the 1970s.

  38. Moscow Exile says:

    From today’s Moscow Times, and they say there’s no freedom of the press in Russia:

    But who reads this crap?

    (Apart from me, of course. :-))

    • Dear Moscow Exile,

      I notice that in his article Alexei Bayer says that the Financial Times has “reasserted” claims that Shuvalov has taken bribes. For the record that is totally untrue. The Financial Times wrote a lengthy piece about the Shuvalov affair on 27th March 2012 (it is behind a pay wall), which was generally supportive of Shuvalov and in which it carefully explained that there is no evidence that Shuvalov has broken the law.

  39. eric says:

    Putin had to takeover the governorships and apoint them himself other wise the ngos would funnel money to their candidates and the United States would be running the governorships in Russia . This happends in the United States all the time . A glib talking potitician gets money from a big rich state and wants to be a senator of a small poor state in effect the big State ends up with 4 senators

    • marknesop says:

      That’s certainly a possibility I hadn’t considered, but I don’t think political advertising works quite the same way in Russia. In the USA it’s often true that whoever spends the most money wins the state – a good example is Bush rolling over McCain for the nomination in 2000. Although McCain was certainly not poor, he couldn’t match Team Bush’s resources, so he was unable to counter the Bush Team’s whisper campaign that he had fathered a black child (who is actually his adopted daughter, from Bangladesh). He lost both South Carolina and his momentum. But I think political advertising has less clout in Russia. However, it’s possible that money funneled to gubernatorial candidates could be used in other mischief-making ways, like straight vote-buying. Risky, though; if it were ever discovered, the governor would be sacked and the source of the money booted out of the country. But there might well be a connection between the new NGO law and the restoration of elected governors – interesting perspective.

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