The Clumsiness of Russia’s North Caucasian Policy – Part I

Uncle Volodya says, “When you’re unemployed, it’s because you’re lazy. When I’m unemployed, it’s a depression.”

Late night boozin’ – oh, I’m out of control
Red light cruisin’ got no sense of soul
I knew, you knew; we both knew the crime
Blacker, bluer;  I’m back in line…

From “Makin It Work”, by Doug and the Slugs

I’m pleased to announce the return – at last – of kovane, who has presumably been partying it up in the fleshpots of the decadent and too busy with dilettante distractions for political and sociological rhetoric. But here he is, like Doug and the Slugs’ lead vocalist Doug Bennet – blacker, bluer…but back in line. And there the resemblance ends, because Doug Bennet, tragically, is dead and kovane, demonstrably, is not.

This marks the beginning of what will hopefully be an evolving series of posts on the Caucasus, and why Russia just can’t get it right. As you’ll see, the government and the country both are trying, and both are likely well aware that some western analysts see the region as a powder keg: more importantly, that some see it as an advantage to be exploited as well as a knife to turn in Russia’s side.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

The Clumsiness of Russia’s North Caucasian Policy – Part I

Hardly a couple of months goes by in Russia without some major event that brings public attention to the problems of interethnic relations. The assassination of former Colonel Budanov, the conviction of nationalists Khasis and Tikhonov, the terrorist attack on the Domodedovo airport, unrest on Manezhnaya square; even such a minor, at first glance, incident as the severe beating of a football player in Grozny – all of them sparked heated debates throughout the country. What’s more, hundreds of less conspicuous incidents evade the scrutiny of the press. Despite that, they also influence  public opinion, often to a far larger extent. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – and a written account of the most dramatic story pales in comparison with some banal, but brutal incident that has happened directly to a person.

The results are clear – the last 10 years have seen a steady growth of nationalist sentiment. According to the poll by Levada Center, the number of people who generally support the slogan “Russia is for Russians” rose from 43% in 1998 to 58% in 2011. And Russia’s national policy is being constantly criticized by all spectrums of the political scene. While statists see dangerous pandering to some ethnic minorities, the liberal wing has a field day finding the evidence of the “Hydra of Russian fascism raising its head”. All that is quite indicative of the point that, despite all the successes of Putin’s decade, one of the most threatening problems that Russia faces remains serious as ever and the approach to tackling it is in dire need of reconsideration.

Inconsistency begins even with the most basic rhetoric. For example, the notorious slogan of nationalists “Russia for Russians” was condemned by Putin and in 2010 made the federal list of extremist material. But it’s more than a hundred years old and was supposedly espoused by both Emperor Alexander III and Dostoevsky.And only 15% of the respondents interpret the term a “Russian” as an “ethnic Russian”. Others construe it as people of Russian culture and those for whom the Russian language is native. Some Russians bitterly joke that since the slogan was banned, the opposite must be true – “Russia is NOT for Russians”. And sadly, that’s how many of them feel. In a country where 79.8 percent of the population are ethnic Russians, it is they who are the most unprotected group.

Of the more than 180 ethnicities that inhabit the Russian Federation, only a few of them stir aversion. According to the poll by VCIOM, 29 percent of Russians feel negatively towards ethnicities that originate from the Caucasus, followed by only 6 percent towards people from Central Asia. If the enmity toward gastarbeiters from Asia is very like how Arizonians feel about Mexicans – the same “they took our jobs” trope, plus problems with drug-trafficking, the source of resentment toward Caucasians is much more complex. And stronger, as is seen from the poll.

What is it; simple racism because they aren’t white enough? Hardly so – Yakuts, Khanty and Chuckchi are much more likely objects of any white supremacist’s hatred but they weren’t even mentioned in the poll. Islamophobia? But other Muslim republics, like Tataria and Bashkiria,seem to peacefully coexist with the rest of Russia. Even the attitude toward different Caucasus republics varies – for example, supporters of the ultra-nationalist movement are calling for the separation of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, but are seemingly fine with North Ossetia, Adygea and the rest of the North Caucasus.

So what makes some republics of the North Caucasus special? Well, the history of this region has always been troubled, both before and after its annexation to the Russian empire. The Caucasus has seen numerous wars, religious movements and ethnic conflicts. But the key to its complexity lies in the socio-cultural mores specific to mountainous regions. Modern Dagestan, a republic a little larger than Switzerland, is inhabited by 14 distinct core ethnic groups that speak languages from 4 different groups while, on other hand, all Slavic tribes that lived in the European part of Russia fused into single a ethnicity with a single language. The Chechen nation is comprised of more than 150 teips: clans united by distant relation and common geographic location, while the Russian society is much more homogenous, atomized and European-like. These are only a few distinctions that show the root of the national problems plaguing Russia.

The two defining features of life in mountains are isolation and resource scarcity. The former contributes to the failure of the “melting pot” that works so well with peoples living on plains and clannishness, while the latter has more far-reaching consequences. For ages mountain communities were hard-pressed by food scarcity on the one hand and the increasing demand of traditionally large families on the other. Faced with that contradiction, clans worked out the only possible solution – the complicated custom of raids and plunder. It became so firmly incorporated in the culture and laws of Caucasian peoples that almost all aspects of life are affected by it. Taken herds supplemented food reserves of a settlement; raids provided a great opportunity for the hot-headed youth to prove their mettle, also directing aggression outwards. Finally, the casualties from raids and subsequent blood feuds kept the population size in check and balanced the number of mouths with the harsh conditions of the mountains. Even the potential problem of inbreeding was resolved through raids – to this day, bride kidnapping is common in the North Caucasus.

Such a way of life also shapes a system of values very different from what inhabitants of the plains are used to. The most interesting aspect of it is the contradiction between the primacy of collective interest and the honour that is bestowed upon the most skilled and brave warriors. On the one hand, the harsh realities of life in the mountains subject all individual freedoms to the goals of the clan. At the same time, men capable of holding weapons formed the backbone of the society and enjoyed a great level of independence. Moreover, clans were and often are governed by means of military democracy, where all men participate in making decisions to a different extent. The reason behind this is very simple – a skilled warrior could defend the settlement and provide for the clan, by keeping his household and clan safe from plundering neighbours. Another characteristic consequence of these specifics is the contradictory attitude to luxury. While maintaining a simple way of life, men had a penchant for ostentation – displaying trophies, quality weapons and mounts was a sure sign of the owner’s prowess and courage.

The established system of customs and laws that regulate the life of Caucasus settlements is complex and multi-layered. The most important set of laws, adat, is comprised of archaic customs that  are universally recognized among clan members. Adat mostly deals with criminal cases and related customs, such as blood feuds and bride kidnapping. In the Muslim republics, it is used concurrently with Sharia law, which mostly comes second and regulates civil relations. What’s interesting, clans living on plains typically adopted Islam a century or so earlier than mountain clans and therefore Sharia law is much more influential there. Even a glimpse of the North Caucasus’ de-facto legal system makes it clear what  a nightmare the official authorities have, trying to reconcile secular laws and the real underpinnings of life there. And it also has much to do with the legal troubles experienced by Caucasians coming to other regions of Russia.

To make matters worse, the said differences in cultural and social backgrounds create a lot of friction when young Caucasians come into more affluent Russian cities, looking for a better life. What do they see? Their male peers seem weak, unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves. They often shy away from sport in favour of strange and unmanly subcultures. And more importantly, they have very few friends who are ready to stick up for them in case of a physical confrontation. Local women dress provocatively and have a much more relaxed attitude to sex, one that would surely brand them as whores back at home. And the greatest unfairness is all those unworthy people often drive expensive cars, have a high income and live in luxurious apartments. Something that he, so strong, brave and righteous, doesn’t have – an injustice to be corrected, of course. Keeping in mind the fervent nationalism typical for small ethnicities, and it becomes clear why it is so hard for newcomers from the North Caucasus to feel any respect for the adopted home, let alone desire to assimilate.

There is also a certain feature of minorities that is, unfortunately, often overlooked, but nevertheless has a significant influence on interethnic relations. In Russia, ethnic Russians comprise 80% of the population, while the next largest nationality, Tatars, is only 4%. North Caucasians represent even a smaller share, and considering that most of them live in their own republics, their diasporas are only a tiny drop among people of other nationalities. That means that every Caucasian has to deal with Russians on a day-to-day basis a great deal more often than the other way round. And therefore, grounds for interethnic grievances, frictions and confrontations are also much larger. Moreover, when he or she comes home to family, every one of them faces the same difficulties and problems, so all these issues simmer in the inner circle. This creates a constant strong pressure that can easily contaminate the consciousness with a besieged castle mentality. And then many real interethnic issues turn into irrational resentment and xenophobia.

The picture from the other side is not prettier by any means. Caucasians coming to predominantly Russian regions are commonly seen as loud brutes having no regard for cultural norms and traditions of the place. Other accusations are that they are quick to pick a fight, bring friends and relatives into it and don’t hesitate to use knives and guns. The sizeable subsidies to the North Caucasus republics now regularly turn up on the agendas of fringe political movements. And finally, the most serious one is too-active participation of North Caucasian diasporas in organized crime. Unfortunately, there’s more than enough news and negative personal experience to bolster these beliefs, so they have become firmly entrenched among common Russians, something that doesn’t help in kindling interethnic friendship. There are other complaints, but they mostly coincide with those attributed to other minorities – excessive nepotism, sometimes weak knowledge of the Russian language and little desire to solve any of these problems.

So where does the invisible line between truth and stereotypes lie? Which issues are real, and which are just myths of ultra-nationalistic propaganda? Well, finding that out is complicated by the authorities’ deliberate effort to preserve the status quo. Thus, in 2010 the Moscow Duma put forward a proposal to forbid mentioning criminals’ nationality in the media. The infamous article 282 of the criminal code (hate speech against national and religious groups) is used almost exclusively against the most ardent Russian nationalists in order to prevent rocking the boat. And in most of the sharpest situations, the state readily sacrifices its own loyal servants in order to pander to ethnic minorities. This gives rise to justified anger even among people who don’t share strong nationalistic views and grants radicals a worthy cause. Looking at the most prominent cases will help to see the patterns that are the source of the problems.

News about shocking crimes and incidents involving natives of the North Caucasus crops up in public discussion with alarming regularity, but most of them quickly fizzle out. Well, the general public is not known for its great attention span. Thus, in 2010 protesters blocked one of Rostov-on-Don’s central streets after an incident in a dormitory of the city university. An Ingush student used a wrestling technique on a fellow student, Maxim Sychev, for refusing to do his homework. As a result, Sychev landed on his head and died later in a hospital. For all the righteous anger the public demonstrated, now the case is largely forgotten, and the culprit was quietly sentenced to only three years in prison. But not every case is this easy to hush up.

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539 Responses to The Clumsiness of Russia’s North Caucasian Policy – Part I

  1. Misha says:

    Concerning history, this piece is on how The Washington Times’ Jeff Kuhner suddenly and under-handedly changed his target from Mihailovic to Nedic:

    http://www.juliagorin.com/wordpress/?p=2849

  2. yalensis says:

    Here is supplementary info about that boat, I found this on the internet. Is called the “Alaed”. Belongs to a private (Russian) company, not Russian govt. Company is called “Fermco”. British insurance company is called “Standard Club”. Standard withdrew insurance not just from “Alaed”, but all 8 boats owned by Fermco. The “Alaed” is now stuck about 40 “sea miles” [?] from a Scotland port. Previously, European Union issued warning to Fermco, so this act of the insurance company is clearly political, egged on by European Union. [Is this the same European Union that Russia is being asked to help bail out with monetary hand-outs?]
    I doubt that Fermco could successfully sue Standard for breach of contract; Standard will just counter-claim that Fermco breached contract by putting its boats in harm’s way outside of what was allowed in the contract. Solution: Russian government needs to establish and fund her own state-owned insurance company that will insure her strategic objects, including privately-owned objects who happen to have a military/strategic nature. Putin could also issue executive order banning all Russian companies from having any dealings with Standard. Thirdly, like I said above, Russia needs to wage economic war against British banking/insurance moguls. Time to bring down that house of cards!

    http://www.dni.ru/society/2012/6/19/235611.html

    • marknesop says:

      Europe is already in deep trouble of its own, and looking increasingly like fragmenting back into the individual countries it once was. That affects the UK less since it did not adopt the Euro (wise decision, in retrospect), but such a collapse of the union would hardly leave Britain unscathed. As to the issue of the insurance cancellation, I agree that was clearly political and therefore I would take the matter to court and pursue it there to the ruin of the company. Provided Russia can prove there was no prohibited cargo – I read a mention somewhere of missiles as well as helicopters – it was simply a delivery of refurbished equipment that broke no laws and was the expected result of the contract since it was signed a considerable time ago. If Russia truly was a country careless of the law, Alead would simply forge ahead to Syria without the benefit of British insurance; coverage or no coverage, the ship is unlikely to spontaneously sink or anything like that. Instead, Russia is waiting until it all gets sorted out.

      Distance at sea is measured in nautical miles (nm): a nautical mile is 2000 yards versus 1,760 yards to a land mile. This also reflects the ship’s speed, in “knots”. Although it was once actually measured by knots in a piece of rope, more of which would be visible from the surface as the ship’s increasing speed forced them to rise out of the water, it now reflects speed in nautical miles. Economical speed for a cargo ship is probably about 12 – 14 knots, while a carrier can do 35+ with the pedal to the floormats. But that’s all just some journalist talking salty who probably does not understand the concept. Distance from one country to another on the map is measured in land miles just like everything else, even if a piece of ocean intervenes between them. Nautical mile measure is typically used for station-keeping between ships in formation (because it’s easier to compute 4000 yds for 2 miles than figuring out 1,760 X 2 while you’re busy with a million other things) and for rated missile ranges although those often appear in miles and kilometers as well.

      • yalensis says:

        @mark: Thanks for explanation to land-lubber (me) of nautical miles.
        Follow-up question: what is a league?
        (As in Jules Verne, 20,000 leagues under the sea?) I believe that is the distance that Captain Nemo travelled from the surface down to the bottom, in his submarine. What would that be in nautical miles?

        • marknesop says:

          I can’t think what possessed Verne to use the league as a measure of depth, but it was a land measure and was originally set as the distance a man or horse could walk in an hour. It has since been computed as 5.5 kilometers or 3.4 miles, but as you can probably appreciate, it was imprecise and if someone had said to you, “the town you seek lies a good 4 leagues hence”, it probably meant if it’s getting dark you’d better look for a place to sleep, because you’re not getting there tonight. No two men walk at exactly the same speed, so it was kind of vague.

          The fathom is the measure Verne should have used; 6 feet, and still used in marine charts. There’s an excellent seafood restaurant in Vladivostok called Syem Foota (Seven Feet) which many do not understand as wordplay, meaning a fathom plus one (much like 70’s avant-garde rockers 10cc, who chose their name based on the premise that the average male ejaculate was 9cc). Like many things to do with ships and sailing, the fathom is part of a romantic language mostly a mystery to landsmen; Mark Twain used it to great advantage in his tales of riverboat men. A line with a weight on the end was used to “sound” the depth in uncertain waters; it often had a coating of wax on the heavy end, so the leadsman could hazard a guess if the bottom were sand or rocks. There were all sorts of variations on the fathom – “deep six”, for example, has now evolved to a term meaning “get rid of it where nobody will find it”, but it actually meant a full six fathoms or close to it. “And a half nine” meant 57 feet, and so on. “By the mark 4” meant exactly 24 feet with the knot that marked 4 fathoms touching the water. Mark Twain is itself a depth term that meant 2 fathoms, or 12 feet.

          Anyway, the fathom is one of the archaic measurements that are still around, there were loads of them that are no longer used. The rod, for example, was a land measure which meant 5.5 yards until it was driven out of use by the international yard, at 3 feet. Homemade whiskey was sometimes referred to as “40 rod”, meaning how far you would make it before you collapsed after drinking it.

          Anchor cables are still measured in shackles, which if my far-distant seamanship training serves me correctly, is 90 feet per shackle. When heaving in the cable it is reported as “so many shackles on deck” which is read by the links to either side of the joining shackle, the link that holds them together (anchor cables are made of forged solid links, except for the joining shackle which can be opened up by taking out a pin). The first shackle is marked by painting the link to either side of the joining shackle white, then two to each side and so on. As you can imagine, if you’re told to put out 6 shackles, after you back off the brake and knock off the slip with a hammer, the cable runs out pretty fast, and the paint-marked portions are about the only way you could count them.

          • Moscow Exile says:

            I should just like to add to Mark’s comments that, in the UK at least, fathoms were also used to designate the depth of coal seams and mine shafts. The pit were I spent my formative adult years had three shafts and the one which was used mostly for man-winding was 460 fathoms, or 920 yards (841.25 metres) deep.

          • yalensis says:

            Hm… this is all quite fascinating nautical information, thanks! Almost makes me want to run away to sea and become a sailor. (Or a pirate.)
            Anyhow, if one League is, say, 5.5 kilometers, then 20,000 leagues would be [let me peck at my trusty calculator…] 110,000 km. Right?
            I just typed into the Google, “What is the diameter of the Earth?”, and it came back with “the diameter of the Earth [at the equator] = 12,756.2 kilometers. (Or, 7926.28 miles.)”
            Hm… that’s all? somehow I thought the Earth was bigger than that? Oh well….
            In summary, if I did my math correctly (and I think I did), then 20,000 leagues under the sea would be all the way through the Earth, out the other side, and well out into space. So, Captain Nemo’s submarine was actually a planet-burrowing half-rocketship? No?

            • Sam says:

              20,000 leagues is the distance he covered while under the sea, not the depth at which he was🙂

              • marknesop says:

                I didn’t know that. See, you learn something new every day if you pay attention!!

              • yalensis says:

                Of course, Sam, sure, I knew that! Heh heh…. [embarrassed chuckle]…

                Okay, Smartie Pants, for extra credit try your hand at the follow-up math problem: If Captain Nemo sailed 20,000 leagues in his submarine, then how many times did he circumnavigate the planet? (Hint: first calculate the circumference of the Earth from the diameter, as given above.)

                • marknesop says:

                  You probably shouldn’t feel too badly, because no matter what dimension you speak of, the Nautilus of the day (not the imaginary one in the book) could not have really done anything like 20,000 leagues of it. It likely could not have achieved 2 leagues “under the sea” if all that implied was traveling said distance completely submerged, never mind 20,000. So, although it was probably foolish to assume it referred to depth, that’s what I thought, too. And for my part at least, if that’s the last time I do anything foolish, I’ll be lucky indeed. You too, probably.

                • yalensis says:

                  Last time I read this book I was 12. My memory is obviously faulty. Time to re-read!🙂

                • Smartie Pants says:

                  Hehe, well, to quote you, errare humanum est!

                  As for your question (and precious hint), I can never say no to extra credit. we would need to know his latitude, but assuming he was always sailing on the equator and in a “straight’ line (impossible since he had to make detours to avoid continents), he would navigate almost 3 turns of the earth.

            • marknesop says:

              Never heard the expression, “It’s a small world”? Yes, you’re correct. And don’t forget, we’re talking a time when considerably less than 1000 ft was crush depth for a submarine – remember the tense crowd watching the depth gauge in “Das Boot“? Those were probably the best-built submarines on the planet in the 1940’s, and you were in the red at 200 meters and off the gauge at 260: around 850 feet. Here’s a shot for nostalgia – they look to be at about 280 meters. But Jules Verne wrote “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” in 1870. Here’s a rough timeline of early submarine evolution – at that time there certainly was such a thing as a submarine, but it pretty much only had to be able to travel a little way, deep enough that you couldn’t see anything sticking out on the surface, to qualify. Note the entry for 1833: “Frenchman Brutus de Villeroi demonstrated what he called a “WaterBug,” a submarine 10 feet 6 inches long, just over two feet diameter, with a crew of three . . . maybe; that would be a bit tight. Propulsion: three pair of duck-paddles. Over several years, he demonstrated (and tried to sell) his submarine to the Dutch and the French, without success. He moved to Philadelphia in the late 1850s (listed in the 1860 Federal Census, occupation, “natural genius”)…Speculation: de Villeroi may have called his little submarine “Nautilus,” in reference to Fulton’s effort, in France, three decades earlier. Also, the young Jules Verne was a student at a college where de Villeroi was a professor and may have seen a demonstration of the submarine in the local (Nantes) harbor. Might the student have been influenced by the teacher? Whatever, Monsieur Verne was later to write (published 1870) the prototypical submarine novel, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” which featured, well, a submarine named “Nautilus.

              I can only conclude that M. Verne’s story was so captivating that his readership let him get away with a little…shall we say, artistic license. If he wrote it today, it’d be “A Zillion Miles Under the Sea”, but if it were as conceptually brilliant as “20000” was then, he probably would get away with it today as well.

  3. Misha says:

    Another wonky article with selective name dropping that doesn’t deal with workable options for resolving a dispute:

    http://russiaprofile.org/international/60217.html

  4. Moscow Exile says:

    I still reckon if it should be decided that the Alead continue her voyage to Syria, then all things being equal, the best possible insurance cover she could have would be an escort by a vessel of the Russian Baltic fleet.

    The London Telegraph reported that after having had her insurance cover withdrawn, the Alead changed her course for the Straits of Dover and was reported to be off the Hebrides. Those islands are situated off the western, Atlantic coast of Scotland. So the Alead had headed north across the North Sea between the UK and the European mainland, but had then headed westwards around the north coast of Scotland and into the North Atlantic: she had not headed for the Skagerrak in order to head eastwards around Jutland and thence into the Baltic, bound for Kaliningrad, which I should imagine is her home port: it’s where she was outward bound from, in any case, and where the helicopters had been refurbished.

    This means that after having reported the withdrawal of her insurance cover, she may have been ordered not to enter the Atlantic by way of the English Channel, but to enter that ocean the long way round, namely around Scotland and towards the Western Isles.

    So despite Hague and the British press crowing about the Russkies having been turned back, it seems that although the Alead had indeed been turned back from her original course, she had not turned back homeward bound, but had headed for the North Atlantic by a circuitous route.

    Yesterday evening the Telegraph was gleefully reporting that the Alead was off the coast off Scotland, nort mentioning, of course, either through its reporters’ ignorance of geography or trusting that its reader’ knowledge of the geography of the British Isles was minimal, that she was off the West coast of that country and not heading on an easterly course back towards the Evil Empire.

    Perhaps a Russian Baltic escort is outward bound to meet her? I wonder what that jumped up little, pompous “I-drank-twelve-pints-a-day-when-I-was-a-lad” Hague will do if that happens?

    Send out the might of the Royal Navy Home fleet?

    • marknesop says:

      A warship escort sounds like a good idea, but you have to look at every decision at the state level in terms of optics, and a warship escort would just not be worth the gesture. The Alaed was never in any danger of attack; instead, attempts to turn her from her purpose were made from ashore using government pressure and legal maneuvers. Sending a warship escort along would stamp a mission by a private company as state-approved and supported, and would make Putin’s arms-length arguments vis-a-vis Syria much more difficult to defend. As it is, the British are merely embarrassing themselves, and the British government is not only clearly involved, its members are jumping up and down and hooting like howler monkeys in their eagerness to strut. Involvement now by the Russian government would just make it look like they were right to assert themselves, and taking the role of the hurt and surprised honest broker is much more delicious in terms of the teeth-grinding it must inspire. The Cameron government looks like a bunch of overexcited children who threw a net over some poor passerby because someone tipped them he was Father Christmas.

      No, I would play it pretty much as Putin is currently playing it, which is to shrug and say that the vessel is operated by a private company and is certainly not carrying any state property that might be used against Assad’s enemies. What he does with his own bought-and-paid-for attack helicopters when he eventually receives them is his own affair. God knows there are enough examples of the U.S. and British governments arming dictators for profit to prevent them from pursuing that argument with much energy. Meanwhile I would quietly let the owners of Fermco know that, should they be interested in suing the British insurance company shirtless, they would never want for money or legal advice in the pursuit of that goal provided the Russian government was never verifiably connected.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        The London Independent, whose owner, “former KGB spy” Alexander Lebedev, has announced that he supports “opposition leader” Navalny (see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/lebedev-pledges-support-for-russian-opposition-activist-alexei-navalny-7870085.html) reports today that there was almost a “High Noon” scenario played out as regards the MV Alaed incident, when “all options” were considered, including sending in a daring-do Royal Navy boarding party. However, the Independent reports that the former Bullingdon Boy, that priviliged toff Cameron, UK Prime Minister of Her Britannic Majesty, sorted things out by having a word in the Evil Sauron’s ear at the G-20 conference.

        Golly gosh! What a ripping yarn!

        See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/tensions-between-uk-and-russia-soared-over-syriabound-helicopters-7869850.html

        The London Telegraph also reported today that the Evil Sauron is going to visit Moskva-na-Temze during the Olympic games. This news has prompted that rag’s Colonel Blimp readership to kick off ranting about allowing ex-KGB mafia-boss thugs to visit the Sceptered Isle etc., etc. ad nauseam.

        I wonder if that squeaky clean defender of all that is good and free and “democratic” in the “free world”, that citizen of the UK and erstwhile “Kremlin Godfather” Berezovsky, will attempt a citizen’s rrest of Mr. Putin when the Russian president is in London: that’s what he has on several occasions publicly urged his former fellow Russian citizens to do in the Evil Empire.

        See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/9344345/Vladimir-Putin-to-attend-London-Olympics.html

        Right! The sun is shining, I have a day off work today, god is in his Russian Eastern Orthodox heaven and smiling down on Muscovy; my wife and brood are out of town, so I’m off to my dacha.
        🙂
        🙂

        • marknesop says:

          The Cobra Committee??? What is this – government maritime situational awareness by Clive Cussler??

          If that were my country, I should squirm with embarrassment.

          At least this article tells us a few things. One, the number of helicopters the Alaed was carrying – three. Apparently that could ensure an Assad victory, as we are breathlessly assured it would increase the Syrian attack helicopter stable ” by 10%”. Two, it also admits the helicopters are Syrian property already, and were merely being serviced in Russia, which is unsurprising since they were built there. It closes with a mumbled maybe about a rumor of air defence weaponry also being aboard, but that’s just an attempt to save face. There is no substantiation for that at all.

          While it is apparent from this table that the United Kingdom is the Boss Dog of maritime insurance, it is by no means the only game in town. I count 10 Russian maritime insurance firms that would no doubt be pleased to provide coverage. Some sound as if they are foreign-owned, and so should not be considered. But it need not necessarily be a Russian firm, although that would provide the best hedge against foreign meddling of this sort. I count 4 firms in China and another 9 in Hong Kong. In any case, I doubt it would take more than a couple of days of paper-shuffling to get a contract with a non-British insurance firm that would be delighted to provide coverage, and therefore restore legality to Alaed’s transit. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Stopping her in international waters under those circumstances might well be interpreted as an act of war, and I doubt anyone is willing to go that far. There appear to be no reasons one must be a British company in order to legally sell maritime insurance, only that such a company display the ability to underwrite its policies. I can only imagine the wincing on the part of the British marine insurance industry at Cameron’s announced intention to press for insurance coverage to be included in an embargo, so that any vessel deemed carrying prohibited cargo to Syria would lose its coverage. My, yes, that’ll be good for business.

          If I were Fermco, I would sever all connections with the British firm and obtain new insurance from a reliable company, while putting it about that British firms could not be trusted, since they are susceptible to political pressure and influence from the government, and all the money you paid would be wasted. Much like the American government’s propensity for seizing the funds of foreign governments outside the country as a prelude to deposing them, then giving the cash realized to the rebels it uses to overthrow that government.

          • Dear Mark and Moscow Exile,

            A much simpler solution has been found to the Alaid story than to send the Russian fleet to carry her cargo.

            Contrary to what you read the Alaid was not prevented from sailing to Syria by withdrawal of her insurance cover. As an article in the Maritime Bulletin has explained mere withdrawal of insurance cover does not prevent a ship sailing. Why should it? All withdrawal of insurance cover does is withdraw the risk from the insurer and transfer it to the ship owner. Given that the Russian authorities would almost certainly have been willing to cover the owner for any losses withdrawing the cover would not have prevented the ship continuing its journey.

            What has caused the Alaid to turn back is not that her insurance cover was withdrawn but the fact that though she is a Russian owned and crewed ship she is actually registered in the Dutch Antilles. This meant that the Dutch authorities had jurisdiction over her and had apparently sent instructions ordering her to port for an inspection of her cargo. Obviously if the Alaid had docked in any European Union port her cargo would have been impounded under the terms of the EU arms embargo.

            What has instead happened is that apparently on direct orders from the Russian Foreign Ministry she has sailed for Murmansk. There she will be re registered under the Russian flag and presumably new Russian cover will be sorted for her. She can then resume her journey to Syria unhindered.

            As for her cargo, it seems she was carrying only three MI 24 Hind helicopters, which had been sold by the USSR to Syria in the 1980s and which Syria sent back to Russia last year for routine refurbishment and maintenance. These machines are now almost 30 years old and given that there are only three of them I cannot see that they have any real relevance to the Syrian crisis. Incidentally the only evidence that helicopter gunships have been used by the government in the Syrian crisis comes from rebel reports, which have been consistently unreliable.

            I had originally thought that the entire episode of the helicopters was simply a grandstand stunt to embarrass Putin ahead of the G20 summit. However I know whether there isn’t a more serious explanation behind it. It seems that along with the three helicopters (which by the way are in dissassembled form and will have to be reassembled in Syria) the Alaid was carrying new anti aircraft missiles to Syria. These missiles would of course pose a potential threat to any US or British aerial bombing campaign of Syria that is being planned. I wonder the real purpose of the antics around the Alaid was to prevent her from delivering these missiles to Syria or even to seize them in transit. The furore around the helicopters would in that case have been merely a cover. Obviously spreading lurid stories about helicopter gunships heading to Syria to mow down defenceless protesters makes seizure of a ship and her cargo far easier to justify than admitting that the true purpose of the seizure is to prevent delivery of anti aircraft missiles, which are by definition weapons of self defence.

            There remains the risk that the US and its allies will seize the ship in transit regardless of the fact it will now be sailing under the Russian flag. That would be an act of pure piracy on the high seas and would bring US Russian relations to a crisis point not seen since the end of the Cold War. I cannot believe that the US is that reckless especially since it depends on Russia to supply its troops in Afghanistan. The US did not interfere with Soviet ships ferrying weapons to the North Vietnamese port of Haiphong during the Vietnam war or to the Soviet re equipment of the Egyptian and Syrian armies during the Yom Kippur War. With the US however one never knows.

            • Dear Mark,

              I understand that the anti aircraft missiles the Alaid was carrying belonged to the Buk family. This is your area of expertise not mine but the Wikipedia article suggests that they are modern and quite sophisticated though it is not clear which amongst the various generations of the family the Syrians are getting.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buk_missile_system

              I think I am right in saying that the US and other western airforces have never come up against this missile, which looks to be a lot more advanced than anything they have confronted before. Given the trouble even 1960s vintage anti aircraft missiles seem to have given them during the 1999 Yugoslav bombing war it is not difficult to understand why they might not want the Syrians to have them especially if they are planning some sort of bombing offensive. Presumably it will take some time after they have been delivered before the missiles come into operation and one has to wonder whether the Syrians are up to operating them.

              • Dear Mark,

                “COBRA Committee” is silly journalist speak. No committee of the British government actually has such a ridiculous name. The British government sets up crisis committees on an ad hoc basis and these meet in rooms within the Cabinet Office. One favoured room for such meetings is “Briefing Room A” in the Cabinet Office building in Whitehall, thus “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A” = “COBRA” and a committee that meets in that room is a “COBRA committee”.

                There is in fact no permanently constituted anti crisis committee in Britain and by no means all ad hoc anti crisis committee meetings, what the press calls “COBRA committees”, actually meeting in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.

                PS: Remember this is the country where a journalist, Ian Fleming, invented James Bond. How much more exciting than the banal reality to have a secret all powerful committee and to call it COBRA?

              • yalensis says:

                This all makes sense now.
                The Russian military has provided, and will continue to provide, technical advisers to help Syrians operate the latest anti-aircraft equipment.
                NATO bombers will get a run for their money this time around. It won’t be a cakewalk for them, unlike Lybia.

              • marknesop says:

                As usual, Alex, you are correct; Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg at the authoritative Russian Military Reform blog credits Syria with having been upgraded to the Buk M2E (the most sophisticated variant) more than a year ago. Purchased, that is; I am not sure how many were delivered, but they were known to have some in service and they bought 8 battalions for $1 Billion. A battalion, for missiles, usually comprises 8 – 10 launchers.

                The M2 is better known by its NATO codename, the SA (Surface to Air) 17 Grizzly. You are quite correct that the western air forces have never faced it. I certainly wouldn’t suggest they were afraid; there can’t be too many sissyboys who will get in one of those things in the first place, and I would say an increased threat only adds to wariness, not fear. But part of wariness is putting off the time when you have to face it for as long as possible, which makes the transition to national caution, so such a missile serves its purpose. From unclassified sources we learn the Grizzly can engage a wide variety of targets at altitudes of between 10,000 and 24, 000 meters out to a range of 50 km (in ideal conditions) with a high probability of success. It can also simultaneously engage up to 24 separate targets approaching from any direction. The missile itself is more or less a copy of the widely exported and very successful American RIM 66 Standard missile, which the navy calls the SM2. Here’s some excellent detail on the TELAR (Transporter/Erector/Launcher and Radar) and the missile. The most interesting feature for me is the radar – a mast-mounted passive phased array which gives extended surface and low-altitude coverage. The missile also is a semiactive homer, which means it does not need to be radar-locked on the target all the time with its onboard seeker, so the pilot of the aircraft does not necessarily get the warning that a missile is inbound and locked on him.

                The last time the Israeli Air Force waxed Syria, the air attack was preceded by heavy jamming and a variety of deception attacks, with heavy use of drones. A passive system is much less susceptible to these, while a phased array typically allows an air picture even in the presence of heavy jamming. A typical Soviet tactic, known in the trade as “SAMbush” was to pair an older system with a newer one, bringing up only the radar of the older one for the initial search and saving the newer one until the last moment. The enemy aircraft would often execute a proven avoidance maneuver to get out of the acquisition envelope of the older system – straight into the acquisition envelope of the newer one he did not know was there.

                Syrian Air Defense, as even a layman can quickly appreciate, anticipates attack from Israel and from seaward, and has a weak spot at its back. However, although this reference was updated in April of this year, it does not include or factor the SA-17. That may be because it restricts itself to the “fixed network”, while the SA-17 is a mobile system and might be anywhere. Difficult to say, though, because the SA-6 is as well, and it is covered. In any case, this analysis is interesting because it points out Syria regularly rotates and pulls older systems out of service to save money and streamline efficiency – but they’re not necessarily gone. They’re still in the country somewhere. Where is anyone’s guess, and discovery could be linked with some unpleasantness.

                Also interestingly, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been predicting for almost a year now that Bashar el-Assad would fall in weeks. If he was wrong about this, as has now been ruefully acknowledged – what else doesn’t he know?

            • Moscow Exile says:

              The US did, in fact, on at least one occasion resort to such an act of piracy in 1861 during the first year of hostilities now known officially as “The US Civil War”, when the British North Atlantic packet Trent, bound for Liverpool, was stopped on the high seas by a US navy vessel and thereafter boarded by US navy personnel, who seized two Confederate States of America diplomats bound for Europe.

              This “Trent Affair” gave the British foreign minister Palmerston a blue fit at the time, British troops were embarked for Canada and the CSA hopes for intervention by a European power and recognition of its statehood looked to be on the cards.

              The US federal government got out of this tricky situation thanks to the cool head and political skills of Abraham Lincoln (“Let’s just fight one war at a time” I think he said, or something like), even though many US blowhards at the time thought that they were quite capable of fighting both the British Empire and the Confederate States of America at the same time, which was an extremely cocky attitude considering that in 1861 the latter were running rings around the US federal forces and would indeed continue to do so for another two years.

              The US Secretary of state duly wrote a very long winded apology to the British government, which apology wasn’t, on close analysis, an apology at all but an asssertion of what the US government considered its justifiable right to apprehend any of its perceived enemies whenever, wherever.

              Nothing much seems to have changed in this regard.

              • Moscow Exile says:

                The US secretary of state that wrote the apology demanded by Palmerston was William Seward, an extremely skillful and somewhat slippery character – at least according to the Confederates he was. Seward wriggled his way out of saying that the US was wrong in apprehending the two Coinfederate diplomats as they were voyaging on the high seas in a neutral vessel by writing in his “apology” for the US naval action known as the Trent Affair that the commanding officer of USS San Jacinto, Wilkes, who ordered the Trent to heave to and then sent a boarding party to the British vessel, had erred in his judgement, in that he had failed to bring the Trent into port for adjudication.

                So Seward was saying that the US wasn’t wrong in stopping and boarding the Trent, but was wrong in not bringing her into Boston, where a US judge would have decided the issue about the Confederate diplomats.

                The sugar on the cake, as it were, that Seward presented as an apology to Her Majesty’s Government at the time, was that the Confederate “commissioners” were released shortly after Palmerston received the apology, which release was no big deal to the US government because the “commissioners” were not where the CSA government wanted them to be, namely in London and Paris.

              • Misha says:

                A historical example of Russia showing a preference for the Union in contrast to the sentiment of Britain and France.

                There’re numerous other examples which debunk the suggestion of Russia having a certain kind of inherent geopolitical stance.

                • All very interesting.

                  @ Yalensis, yes I agree, it will not be a cakewalk like in Libya. Lavrov has today said Russia will not allow a repeat of what happened in Libya, but I presume what he was referring to was the way the US and its allies hijacked the Security Council to pursue its war against Libya. However it is interesting to consider what weapons Russia is actually supplying to Syria. It is not supplying tanks or artillery, which could be used against the rebels, but advanced anti ship and anti aircraft missiles. Again Mark is the person who understands these things but it occurred to me that the anti ship missiles, which are supersonic, would be there to protect the Syrian coast in the event of an attempted US naval blockade and the anti aircraft missiles would be there to protect Syria from air attack. The North Vietnamese air defence system in the late 1960s operated with Soviet crews using North Vietnamese uniforms. By all accounts it became very effective and shot down so many B52 bombers over Hanoi during the 1972 so called Christmas bombings that the crews came close to mutiny. However presumably it will take many months before the Syrian air defence system can be brought to that sort of level of efficiency if it ever can.

                  @ Moscow Exile, very interesting as always. Is Seward by the way the same man who bought Alaska from the Russians?

                  On a slightly preposterous note, the whole of London is plastered with posters of the new Russian made English language film about Abraham Lincoln directed by the same man who directed the Night Watch/Day Watch films. It is apparently set in an alternative reality in which Lincoln becomes a vampire fighter. The mind reels. One wonders what our American friends will make of that.

                  @ Misha, the US and Russia were firm friends and allies during the nineteenth century. The US gave verbal support to Russia during the Crimean War and Russia gave the US extremely strong diplomatic support during the American Civil War. Indeed Prince Gorchakov, who had by then taken over from Nesselrode as Russia’s foreign policy director, came close to threatening war on Britain and France if they intervened on the side of the South.

                  The friendship between the US and Russia remained firm until relations were broken following the October Revolution with many commenting on the paradox of the world’s greatest democracy being friends with the world’s greatest autocracy. The reason for this friendship was of course that both countries had throughout the nineteenth century very difficult relations with Britain, which was then the dominant world power. As they say, my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

                  There is incidentally in the grounds of the Peterhof palace near St. Petersburg a physical monument to the friendship between the US and Russia in the nineteenth century. It takes the form of a tree planted in Tsar Nicholas I’s private garden in the 1840s which was gifted by the US and was taken from a sapling in George Washington’s private garden. There is a bronze plaque on the tree with an inscription explaining the gift, which I seem to remember is written in English.

                  Incidentally there was a brief revival of US Russian friendship in the 1930s. Stalin and Roosevelt re established diplomatic relations in 1933 and the USSR imported a lot of US technology and technical know how to get its industries going during the early Five Year Plans. US engineers were heavily involved in developing the steel industry in Magnitogorsk and the Soviet truck and heavy vehicles industry was developed along American lines (Stalin’s own car by the way until the Zil came along was an American Packard). The T34 as everyone knows was based on the US Christie chassis and the most common Soviet passenger and transport aircraft of the 1940s and early 1950s was the Lisunov 2, which was a licensed copy of the DC3 Dakota. This was also of course the period of the great trans Atlantic and trans polar flights from Russia to the US (Chkalov and all that – there is a hilarious episode commemorating one of these flights in the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera).

                  There was also quite a lot of contact between the two film industries with Eisenstein going for a time to work in Hollywood (though not successfully) and the Soviet film industry reorganised on American lines. US films of the period (eg. Ninotchka, Comrade X etc) though critical of the USSR in many ways avoid the unrelenting hostility that came later.

                  Of course during the Second World War the friendship deepened into outright alliance with Roosevelt consistently getting on better with Stalin than with Churchill much to British annoyance (the story of the great friendship between Roosevelt and Churchill is a myth). All that unfortunately came to a grinding stop with the onset of the Cold War. The academic consensus today is that Stalin and the Soviet leadership were anxious to maintain good relations with the US after the Second World War and that the turn to the Cold War came from the US. That is a huge subject better discussed elsewhere.

                • Here is the Daily Telegraph’s editorial on the Alaed affair.

                  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/9347153/Gunship-diplomacy.html

                  Notice how it puts all the emphasis on the three helicopters. The “advanced anti aircraft system” that was the Alaed’s cargo is mentioned only once, briefly and in passing.

                • marknesop says:

                  The closing paragraph just made me laugh and laugh: “It would be tempting to waylay the MV Alaed if it comes again within striking distance of our shores. Sadly, any such action would be imprudent and probably illegal.” Classic example of the armchair soldier. Tell you what, then, editor – get your tin hat and your flak jacket, don’t forget your SA80. You get out there and waylay them, if they come within striking distance, you lionhearted journalist.

                  The flag of the Dutch Antilles, we learn, is a “classic flag of convenience”. Too right, Chuck – as are the flags of Gibraltar and Bermuda; both British Overseas Territories. The pirate calls the kettle black. British Luxury Cruise Line company Cunard’s president, Larry Pimintel, was quite clear back in ’98 when the Queen Mary II was being built that she – flagship of Britain’s most prestigious liner fleet – would sail under a flag of convenience if the company could not come to an agreement with the unions on variables such as vacation days, salaries and benefits, as British union crews were “more expensive”. Incidentally, I think the article got her displacement wrong by a bit, as she’s actually over 1000 ft long and 14 decks high – I doubt she could weigh 100 tonnes. As of 2009, more than half of the world’s merchant ships were registered with open registries, and the Panama, Liberia, and Marshall Islands flags accounted for almost 40% of the entire world fleet, in terms of deadweight tonnage. The practice of flagging ships under open registry actually originated in the United States in the 1920’s, as a means of ducking perceived over-regulation and rising labour costs. Oh, my – lookie here: as of 2011, all 3 Cunard superliners were to be registered in Bermuda…a “classic flag of convenience” made all the more hypocritical because it still allows them to be referred to as “British ships” and to fly the red ensign. Is that bullshit enough for you, Cap’n Telegraph, you sanctimonious prick? I’m saying that here because if I said it there it would be immediately deleted.

                  The boffins at the Telegraph confidently assure us the Mi 25 gunships are “ideally suited to combating insurgents”. I confidently assure you they do not know if their asses are bored or punched. The smallest weapon on the Mi 25 is a 12.7mm gun, use of which against personnel would be in violation of the Geneva Conventions and would constitute a war crime. The Mi 25 is ideally suited to killing tanks, for which it was designed, and the flip-flops don’t have any. Yet. Maybe that’ll be the next gift from Qatar by way of Turkey.

                  What an outrageous load of smug rubbish.

                • Misha says:

                  Alexander & Co:

                  This part of the thread is getting thin. I’ll note some other points on miltary action in Syria at the bottom.

                  In the late 1800s/early 1900s, US-Russian relations did take some turn for the worse on the notion that Russia was acting aggressive in the Fareast. When Japan attacked Port Arthur, there was liittle sympathy for Russia. The pogroms also served as a negative talking point.

                  During this period, the Fareast saw other forms of European imperial manner. Singling out Russia has a bit of a hypocrisy factor. Likewise with the pogroms, when considering the lynchings and discriminations against Blacks and some not so nice things happening elsewhere at the time.

                  The opposition to the USSR became less ideological as evidenced by the influence of orgs like the anti-Russian captive nations Committee.

                • Moscow Exile says:

                  Dear Alexander Mercouris,
                  Yes, Lincoln’s Secretary of State Seward who wrote the apology over the Trent Affair is the same man that later did the Alaska deal with Tsar Alexander II’s ministers. I think “snake oil salesman” is the epithet that some US citizens reserve to describe the likes of Mr. Seward.

                  As regards Imperial Russia’s support for the US during the US Civil War, this was made abundantly clear during that conflict with the arrival of a Russian navy squadron “courtesy call” to New York and its cruise along the eastern seaboard of North America when it looked very much like the UK and Napoleon III’s France were about to intervene in the hostilities. In fact, that meddlesome Napoleon had already, the Monro Doctrine notwithstanding, intervened in the riven by revolutionary turmoil Mexico, where the French Foreign Legion and other French units were supporting a French installed puppet state with one of Buonapart III’s relatives as its monarch.

                  Tsar Alexander II’s support of the US government 1861-1865 was duly mocked in London – by the satirical journal Punch in particular – as a curious bonding between a Tsarist autocratic state and a republic which then, as now, never stopped pontificating about “freedom” and “democracy”. However, when Alexander II showed his support for the US, serfdom had already been abolished in Russia (1861), while negro slavery was only abolished in post-bellum (1865) USA, albeit that Lincoln had already declared the abolishment of slavery in the USA after the Union victory at Antietam in September 1862, but which abolishment only applied to those territories calling themselves the CSA and not the ante-bellum territory of the USA. It goes without saying that no matter what Lincoln said after Antietam, negro slavery still continued in the CSA right up to its defeat by the US federal government in 1865.

                  Lincoln’s 1862 abolishment was just a trick whereby any European power that would be tempted to support the CSA could then be accused of supporting negro slavery. Lincoln’s 1862 emancipation of slavery declaration was simply an attempt by the US federal government to seize the “moral high ground” over its dispute with the secessionists, and an extremely successful one at that.

                  I have never seen the term “moral high ground” used in 19th century documents and Lincoln certainly never used it.

                  All very much off topic, I’m sure. But on more than one ocassion I have pointed out these facts to US Russophobes concerning the support offered by Russia to the USA during its struggle to become the state that it now is. (Before the US Civil War, one could arguably have said “the United States of America are a federal union of member states”; now one says “the United States of America IS a federal union of member states”.)

                  The usual response to my attempts at enlightening them in this matter is “We were never told that in our school books!”.

                  used it. He more than once made it abundantly clear that his task was to as he

      • yalensis says:

        And, just to add to the hypocrisy, New York Times “broke” the story today about CIA helping to funnel weapons to Syrian rebels:

        http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2012/Jun-21/177617-cia-vetting-arms-flow-to-syria-rebels-report.ashx#axzz1yQUfNbLB

        • Misha says:

          The NYT report acknowledges that some of the anti-Syrian government opposition are especially suspect.

          Reminded of what Afghaniatan might’ve been had the US and USSR pushed for a settlement involving the Soviet backed Afghans and the more reasoned of the anti-Soviet Afghan opposition. Even with the improved US-Soviet relations of that period, the American government had a payback mindset pertaining to the Vietnam War.

          It’s difficult to reason with people who think along these lines:

          http://juliesthinktank.wordpress.com/

  5. yalensis says:

    Okay, here is a synopsis of Putin’s interview at the G20.

    http://www.vzgliad.ru/politics/2012/6/20/584558.html

    The overall tone is one of philosophical resignation. Remember that philosophical cliché about “courage to change what you can change, patience to accept what you cannot change, wisdom to know the difference”? Putin’s interview embodies that concept. I think his judo training and learning the ways of the inscrutable Orient help him out when dealing with ignorant and infuriating partners like the Americans. Major points:
    1) American determination to build missile defense in Europe [against Russia, obviously] is pretty much set in stone. This project will continue regardless of who is elected Prez in November. Russia has said all it can say, and done all it can do, to prevent this. Nothing left to say or do. All diplomatic avenues have been exhausted. “It is not up to us,” Putin remarks resignedly.
    2) Putin also commented pessimistically on the possibility of reaching any kind of agreement on the Syrian conflict, and made it crystal clear he will not go along with any regime-change project: “We believe that nobody has the right to decide, on behalf of other peoples, who gets to stay in power, and who has to leave…”
    3) Putin also shrugged his shoulders when asked about the Magnitsky law, which is in line to pass American Congress. “As far as this law is concerned, connected with the Magnitsky tragedy, well if it passes, then it passes. We don’t personally believe this is any business of Congress, however, if they decide to limit the ability of certain Russian citizens to enter the United States, well, then there will be corresponding legislation regarding entry into the Russian Federation of N number of American citizens. I don’t know why anybody needs this. But if this is what they [Americans] do, then so be it. It is not up to us.” Que sera sera..

    • marknesop says:

      I think that’s just the tone to take. Westerners want to see another Khrushchev shoe-hammering, Putin crimson with rage and spitting and shouting. Denying them that is worth whatever self-control it takes, and while it is unfortunate that it will cost good money to build a counter to the missile defense system, it is money Russia can afford without going into debt and – look on the bright side – it will provide work for somebody. Russians can also have all kinds of fun with the radar that will be snooping deep into their airspace and watching everything that flies. They can also likely learn much about methods of degrading or negating its effectiveness when it’s right there transmitting day after day. And the USA cannot afford the huge defense budget it already has, never mind adding another dimension and a raft of costly precision equipment to it. And in a way, it would be a double blow if the Americans built it and were then forced to abandon it, worse than if it had never been built at all.

      As far as Syria goes, Putin’s position appears to have not changed at all. He still hammers on sovereignty, and insists that while he is not necessarily defending Assad as an individual, Russia supports the right of sovereign nations to decide the course of their own affairs insofar as they do not attack others. What happens in Damascus, stays in Damascus, as it were. I hope it’s a major embarrassment for Cameron when Putin is forced to clarify again that he never said he was okay with Assad being forced from power by western interests and their Gulf toadies.

  6. Misha says:

    Re: http://gulftoday.ae/portal/438ad60c-c07e-4515-bca1-9c80093c97b3.aspx

    Rhetorically put –

    How progressive for a UAE based venue to uncritically reference a particular Israeli report and Konstantin von Eggert.

    It’s perhaps expecting too much for that venue to quote Saudi and Bahraini based media versions of von Eggert. Specifically, journos who openly criticize these two governments.

    On the matter of uncritically citing Israeli sources, one wonders if the UAE venue in question has given space to a Likud and-or Labor view of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?

    ———————-

    Re: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/3908aff0-b576-11e1-ab92-00144feabdc0,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F3908aff0-b576-11e1-ab92-00144feabdc0.html&_i_referer=#axzz1yO5W4KFE

    Respectful issue can be taken with the image of Russia “stonewalling” on Syria.

    ———————-

    Re: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2012/06/19/the-foreign-policy-initiatives-plan-for-worsening-relations-with-russia-and-weakening-american-interests/

    Excerpt –

    I’m highly skeptical that Russia and America will ever fully agree on the major foreign policy issues because their interests are so different: the countries, in case we forget, occupy radically different geographical and economic positions, and a certain (probably significant) amount of tension in the relationship is unavoidable. In case we forget, the Yeltsin government, about as pro-Western a government as Russia’s ever likely to get, was also strongly opposed to the Western intervention in Yugoslavia, waged a horrifically brutal and bloody war in the North Caucasus, and did its best to maintain influence throughout the post-Soviet space.”

    ****

    The past and present provide a basis to be more optimistic. Russia didn’t go along with Britain’s request to actively oppose the American Revolution. During the American Civil War, Russia expressed sympathy for the Union, unlike the stance of France and Britain.

    Upon reviewing what transpired in former Yugoslavia, there’s good reason to believe that the West erred in some of its stances developed in the 1990s. As for the more distant past, the Communist Yugoslav, pre-Communist Yugoslav and pre-Yugoslav Serb situations don’t reveal a set pattern of inherent Russia-West confrontation. During two world wars, the Russians and Serbs showed a preference for the US over the Central Powers and Axis. Germany directly opposed the US in two world wars. On the flip side: in the latter part of the 1800s, Germany, the Western powers and Ottoman Empire became concerned with an increased Russian influence in the Balkans. These historical contrasts show fluctuation as opposed to a set pattern, that relates to the faulty suggestion of inherent differences, which can’t be overcome.

    In stark contrast to the eras of the Cold War, WW I and II, most Americans aren’t particularly concerned about the civil war in Syria, unlike some influential American and other Western foreign policy politicos. At times, there’s a sense of irony when stressing the need for Russia to be more open. One can see a lack of openness on what is and isn’t stressed in Western neolib to neocon leaning foreign policy circles. Still yet, some (IMO) of the more reasoned venues within the American foreign policy establishment are prone to running seemingly obligatory negatives about Russia that are arguably questionable.

    The last part of the above excerpted Forbes piece is overly broad in rehashing (without a substantive follow-up) the image of Russia waging a brutal military operation in Chechnya and trying to maintain influence in former Soviet space.

    During the periods of the two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya, the Russian military was underfunded and not so well trained, in confronting some brutal adversaries. (The quality of Russia’s armed forces remains a talking point.) A good deal of funding and proper training is required to better fight a “clean war.” Even then, there’s a likelihood for considerable civilian casualties. Regardless, brutally separatist activity shouldn’t be given carte blanche.

    In one form or another, major powers seek to have influence in their respective part of the world. Russia having closer ties with some other former Soviet republics isn’t necessarily aimed against the West. Moreover, it’s in the interest of some of the non-Russian countries in question to be on closer terms with Russia.

  7. Misha says:

    Plenty of this to be found elsewhere:

    http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,16038278,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-world-4025-rdf

    Another example of selective outrage in which the otherwise noble cause of human rights is used as a propaganda tool.

    • Misha says:

      Cut and paste full link as written above.

      Don’t be surprised if DW hasn’t given space to an article written in the same way, but from an opposite view.

  8. kirill says:

    @Mark, re British perception of Russian military equipment

    This is the wanker mentality that predominated during the cold war. Western ubermensch and their vastly superior technology. This is coming from armchair scientists and engineers who wouldn’t know what a differential equation is let alone how to solve it.

    If I recall the Sheffield was destroyed by an Exocet. This French missile is vastly inferior to what the Russian Navy is packing these days. Basically no NATO ship is safe from being sunk by Russian missiles. So they can laugh all they want about Russian ships sinking en route. This is the same retarded hubris exhibited by Hitler and Napoleon. Underestimating Russia seems to be a genetic pathology in the west. Obsessing about it seems to be a pathology as well.

  9. Misha says:

    From Fred Weir:

    http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/21/russias-rational-and-moral-stance-on-syria/

    Excerpt –

    “The fixation on sovereignty is rooted in self-interest, and comes with its own healthy dose of hypocrisy. The Kremlin harbors a deep-seated fear that authorizing outside military force to support rebellious populations might one day be used to license intervention in Russia. And the principle does not seem to apply when Moscow is dealing with its own neighbors in the post-Soviet area; after defeating Georgia in 2008, Moscow effective dismembered its southern neighbor by granting independence to the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

    ****

    Note what is and isn’t highlighted. The above excerpted is in line with what Edward Lucas (at an RFE/RL sponsored panel in DC) and Andrei Zolotov (on a Wide Angle program that PBS used to air) said about the Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, serving to encourage separatism in Russia.

    At present, where’s there any greater evidence of this, relative to the separatist movement in Scotland? Some are of the belief that the American southwest might someday be ripe with the idea of separating from the US. The ramifications of the Anglo-American advocated dismemberment of Serbia gets overlooked, unlike the Russian position on the former Georgian SSR. Also downplayed is how a number of territories outside Russia would rejoin that country if given the opportunity.

    Another matter to consider is the degree that each separatist movement is influenced by others seeking independence.

    As previously noted, the Russian independence recognition of Abkhazia and Georgia came after the 2008 Georgian military strike into South Ossetia. Up to that point, Russia didn’t recognize any of the disputed former Communist bloc territories. Since the wars of the 1990s, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Serbia haven’t militarily struck into the respective disputed land that they seek.

    ——————

    Some issue taken with what was said in a recent RT segment:

    http://grayfalcon.blogspot.com/2012/06/scoop-of-quisling-pabulum.html

  10. Misha says:

    Some matters regarding Syria include Putin’s visit next week to Israel and comments made by an Arab League official:

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-to-press-visiting-putin-on-iran/

    http://arabnews.com/arab-league-urges-russia-end-syria-arms-sales

    At least for now, an Arab League declaration for direct foreign intervention against the Syrian government isn’t in the cards. Such a statement would serve the agenda of the humanitarian interventionists.

    A sort of proxy war in Lebanon between pro and anti-Syrian government forces and a tense situation along the Turkish-Syrian border are trigger points to serve as arguments for a direct foreign military action in Syria. Turkey is a NATO member, with that org. having a notion about how an attack on one member is essentially considered an attack on all of its members.

    • Misha says:

      Quickly offhand: regarding the Israeli linked piece above, perhaps an unofficial compromise can be worked out along the lines of Russia coming even closer to the Western/Israeli position on Iran, in exchange for a more balanced Western approach on Syria.

      • Misha says:

        The issue being can Russia really do anything more to move closer to the Western position on Iran in a reasonable enough way – reasonable taking into consideration Russian interests.

        Concerning the Moscow talks involving Russia, China, the West and Iran:

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18521630

        Linked earlier at this thread, Paul Saunders questioned whether Russian foreign policy had a constructive direction. With Iran included, could the US, host talks on the Iranian nuclear issue? Post-Soviet Russia is arguably playing the honest broker role better than the US. Hyper-military powers like the present day US aren’t as likely to pursue diplomacy to the degree of a militarily weaker entity.

        Doing things like bombing Yugoslavia serves to stress to others the importance of military might – a (not so) fine example of a non-violent approach to settling global issues.

  11. Misha says:

    This guy gets things partially right:

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ma%D1%85im-trudolyubov/kremlin%E2%80%99s-revolutionaries

    Agree that Russians at large aren’t looking for revolution in the sense of extensive nationwide protests and shutdowns.

    He’s off the mark on the suggestion of intimidation severely quashing a more critical media.

    As one of numerous examples, compare the range of commentary at venues like oD and RFE/RL, versus what’s evident within the Russian media and think tank spectrum. The author’s standing serves as evidence.

    As previously noted, the “corrupt” situation in Russia sees openDemocracy involved with the Valdai Discussion Club and a key RIAN person uncritically calling that anti-Russian leaning venue “a very respected London based internet magazine.”

    http://en.ria.ru/talk_shows/20100702/159666983.html

    It’s recorded (at the very beginning of the program) in contrast to what’s said in writing.

  12. Misha says:

    On the matter of how academic officialdom has gone along with deceit:

    http://serbstvo.yuku.com/topic/254/Philip-J-Cohen-s-Ustasha-work-Serbia-s-Secret-War-Propaganda

    For accuracy sake, the Harvard badge shouldn’t be so readily accepted.

  13. For anyone interested here is my post on Russian policy towards Syria and the west’s policies in respect of Syria. Apologies for its length.

    http://mercouris.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/russia-and-syria/

    • marknesop says:

      This is a very thoughtful and well-substantiated piece of work, Alex, and few English-speaking Russians would have been able to establish Russia’s foreign-policy position anything like as well. The country may not know it, but it owes you a debt of gratitude – I hope it gets picked up by inoSMI. Great job, I highly recommend it to all.

  14. Misha says:

    http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/understanding-moscows-mideast-policy-7092

    http://rt.com/politics/columns/unpredictable-world-foreign-lukyanov/russia-putin-east-israel/

    An informally brief sampling of this evening’s American TV national news suggests limited interest in the Syrian situation. This kind of media has a way of suddenly becoming top heavy on an issue. Sandusky is to the coverage of Syria what Monica was (for a period) with Kosovo.

  15. Misha says:

    Re: http://newsru.com/russia/22jun2012/22juni.html

    Shifting gears, someone sent me this piece highlighting a 12 volume work, where historians put the blame for Russian losses and unpreparedness for the Nazi invasion squarely on Stalin (He had a good amount of intelligence to know better.) This work is considered to be close to an “official” publication, with a preface by Putin saying that the Russian victory came at a huge human cost for having a Russia that those who died on the front lines wished for – the truth contained in this historic work about the war must be known.

    —————————-

    Re: http://www.rferl.org/content/ntv-vows-to-show-cpntroversial-film-on-wwii-anniversary/24622864.html

    As reported, Medinsky is saying the film in question shouldn’t be nationally televised on a WW II related holiday, as opposed to a complete ban.

    Nowhere near as censoring as what’s evident at some Western based venues which cover Russia.

    • kirill says:

      My eyes were opened by a series of short documentaries called: Weapons of Victory. You can find them on youtube. If Stalin and his purges and his total incompetence were so overwhelming as claimed by such “works” as you describe then the USSR would not have produced weapons such as the Katyusha. Superior Germany failed during the whole war to produce a propellant as good as that of the Soviet designers that would enable them to achieve the same range for their rocket-propelled mortars. I was lead to believe that Germany technological prowess was beyond compare. But the USSR was actually preparing for war in a serious way and not just sending all the talented people to the gulag.

      The whole “Soviet losses were much bigger than the Germans” propaganda is transparent BS. The clowns who do the counting never include the Hungarians, Romanians, Italians and any other non-German component of the Nazi armies on the eastern front. The wikipedia link on this subject is dubious since all three Nazi allied states are claimed to have lost 300,000 +/- 1,000 soldiers during WWII, which is just too coincidental. They give a single lowball number for Germany and take the worst possible upper bound to give a range for Russian losses: 8.8 – 10.7 million. The 8.8 million figure is the legitimate one and if they are going to get fanciful as with the 10.7 million figure they should apply the same methodology to every other participant of the war.

      Germany and its allies lost over 5 million men on the eastern front but unlike the case with the Nazis most Germany POWs survived. About 3 million Soviet POWs died in German death camps and POW camps. So there you have the main source of the difference in casualties. And this is Stalin’s fault and not Hitler’s?

      • Misha says:

        Re: “If Stalin and his purges and his total incompetence were so overwhelming as claimed by such ‘works’ as you describe then the USSR would not have produced weapons such as the Katyusha.”

        ****

        Despite the stated incompetence, the USSR nevertheless prevailed on account of its great human and natural resources.

        ————————

        Re: “Germany and its allies lost over 5 million men on the eastern front but unlike the case with the Nazis most Germany POWs survived. About 3 million Soviet POWs died in German death camps and POW camps. So there you have the main source of the difference in casualties. And this is Stalin’s fault and not Hitler’s?”

        ****

        A good idea to see a comparative breakdown, using generally well accepted stats. The immediate offhand impression is that Soviet and Nazi POWs on the eastern front didn’t (for the most part) come out alive.

        • kirill says:

          The Nazi POW death rate was about 18.5%. According to (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_%28World_War_II%29) the USSR took 4,450,000 of which 824,000 died (I am excluding the supposed 1.215 million Soviet citizens that fought on behalf of the Nazis since it is not clear how many there were and how many died at the hands of Stalin).

          The Nazis took 5,200,000 Soviet POWs of which 3,600,000 died, a 69% death rate.

          So “Stalin’s massive incompetence” was reflected in the taking of 5,450,000 Nazi and Nazi ally POWs vs. 5,200,000 Soviet POWs. I was always told that there were millions of Soviet POWs taken due to major Soviet blunders. So how does one explain a similar number for the allied Nazi forces then?

          Too much cold war propaganda. And apparently the cold war is making a come back.

          • Misha says:

            The stated incompetence being referred to in the piece linked several notches above this thread concerns the initial Nazi attack on the USSR and (what appears to a good number) to be a lack of appropriate preparedness on the part of the USSR.

            • kirill says:

              This is a typical hindsight 20/20 pontification. The whole of Europe was taken by surprise by the Blitzkrieg. Western resistance to it folded in a few weeks. The USSR went on to win the war. Don’t forget the Nazis turned Europe into one big factory for their war effort.

              I really take issue with the whole discussion. If indeed stupid Soviets blew several million soldiers in the first days of the war through incompetence then they would have had say 3 million fewer casualties at the hands of the Nazis if they “did it right”. At the same time they would have kicked Nazi ass much harder so the 5.45 million German POWs could have been over 6 million while the Soviets would have had under 2 million POWs (all of them dying in camps). This clearly is a distortion of the war potential of either side so the people arguing that the Soviets squandered men have nothing to back up their drivel. That Soviet and Nazi coalition forces had similar POW levels says more than all the screeds of these “historians” ever will.

              • Misha says:

                One can eventually win a war while having made a mistake or series of mistakes along the way, which could’ve been averted.

                There seems to be credible specifics concerning Stalin having advanced warning of a Nazi attack at the time range which occurred. In conjunction with that point is the note about Stalin having been notified about this by Soviet intell. As the Nazis attacked the USSR, the Soviets were sending supplies to Germany.

                I don’t think Putin would casually give an agreeing kudos to a historically challenged work on this kind of a subject.

                • kirill says:

                  The argument you are repeating is weak. If Soviet forces squandered soldiers in the first part of the war they would never match the Nazis in POWs: the Nazi take of POWs would be higher by the end of the war. You are completely ignoring the fact that out of the 8.8 million Soviet war dead there are 3.6 million who died in Nazi death camps and open field POW camps (Soviet POWs built Auschwitz and were its first victims). So Soviet WWII losses were 5.3 million men vs. 4.4 million for the German coalition forces. So you have 900,000 allegedly squandered Soviet soldiers.

                  BTW, there is an oft repeated claim is that Stalin squandered hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers during the taking of Berlin. So you got to keep up with the propaganda. If the Berlin campaign was so horrible then that means only a few hundred thousands of men were squandered during the initial stages and middle stages of the war. Does anyone with a clue seriously believe that several hundred thousand out of 8,8 million can be attributed to squandering and not to things such superior Germany performance during the initial stages of the war? The Blitzkrieg wasn’t just a gimmick.

                  So once again you have the anti-Russian schizophrenic analysis. Superior Germans who outmatched the Soviets in technology and tactics somehow failed to kill more Soviet soldiers than Stalin’s “incompetence”. They seem to forget about Hitler’s incompetence as demonstrated in the Stalingrad campaign. But these same western chauvinist tw*ts also accuse Soviet forces of using human wave attacks totally confusing the USSR with China. So there would have been millions of more Soviet dead than there were. But these same analysts pathologically ignore the 3.6 million Soviet POWs who died at the hands of the Nazis. You see this was Stalin’s fault too.

                • kirill says:

                  If Putin approved this English RIAN sort of western-pandering analysis then he really should resign. But I highly doubt it. The numbers don’t support the tropes.

                • Misha says:

                  You’re very much missing the point made. I’m not going to repeat it.

                  Moreover, there’s NOTHING “anti-Russian” in what I said and what the link in question presented.

                  I very much honor the people of the Soviet Union who defeated Nazi Germany as opposed to honoring the “genius” at the very top.

                  It might be a good idea to end this particular exchange as a difference of opinion. I’m trying to stay away from “you’re stupid” kind of exchanges.

  16. Misha says:

    This Syrian government view of the shot down plane has so far been downplayed in American TV media:

    http://en.rian.ru/world/20120623/174199373.html

    American TV media in its reporting has typically left in doubt where the plane was – in a way leaning towards the view that it was away from Syrian space.

    One think tank commentator (whose name I didn’t get) suggests a Turkish government trying to restrain itself from a justified rage. He added that there’ve been other incidents which have been downplayed.

    Why would Syria be unnecessarily provocative against a powerful military neighbor in NATO?

    • marknesop says:

      I think their angle on this one is the same as the one they hoped eventually to exploit in Georgia – an attack on a NATO country is an attack on NATO, justifying an armed response by all its parts.

      There is an established procedure in the event of sovereignty violation, and all countries with modern communications warn the intruder first, because a failure of onboard navigation equipment and honest error cannot be ruled out. Each country has slight variations, but it is usually something like, “Unknown aircraft in position xxxx, you are inside Syrian airspace and your intentions are unclear. Please communicate with me immediately, state your identity and your intentions, over”. Customarily the warnings escalate if the intruder continues to close without altering course, to something like “Unknown aircraft in position xxxx, you have disregarded previous warnings and continue to close. If you do not turn away immediately I must defend myself”. There are of course situations when the airspace violation is so sudden and at such close range that only reaction is possible, but these are extremely rare and usually the intruder is tracked from a long way out – if they could see him to shoot him, they could see him from a lot further away than that. Probes to test national will, reaction time, preparedness and resolve are common, maybe get you to light off your missile-acquisition radar so they could see how to jam it, and that’s what this sounds like. The F4 is a pretty easy target, although they were a lovely – and revolutionary – aircraft in their day. If this was a probe, Syria would be well-advised to not use it as an indication of what an actual attack would look like. It’d be a lot tougher than that.

      • Misha says:

        One senses that there’s likely more than what the initial reporting has been. In a not so detailed way, there’s acknowledgement of some prior provocative Syrian-Turkish incidents that haven’t been so openly detailed.

        Could be something along the lines (albeit with differences) with the situation leading to KAL 007.

  17. yalensis says:

    I saw this yesterday, and was suddenly reminded that the original topic of kovane’s blogpost was the Caucasus, so this is on topic:
    http://www.dni.ru/polit/2012/6/21/235737.html

    I don’t know quite what to make of this. Apparently still another Chechen “activist”, I guess you could call them, has returned to home base in Grozny, surrendered himself to Kadyrov, and dished out juicy details about the terrorist network he used to belong to.
    The defector, Aldamov, was a top ally of Dudaev, erstwhile president of “Ichkeria”. Dudaev appointed Aldamov his ambassador to Gruzia in 1994, where for years he worked with various Gruzian officials (including Shevardnadze and then Saakashvili), along with British, American, and Saudi operatives, to plot terrorist attacks against Russia.
    Other “revelations”: that George Soros financed Rose Revolution, etc. All of this is known stuff. Aldamov’s debriefing does not seem to have revealed anything that was not already known to everybody in the world. Aldamov says he is sorry for all the bad things he did and hopes to live out the rest of his days in his native Chechnya, atoning for his past misdeeds.
    Only significance to this is if Aldamov’s revelations help prevent any planned terrorist attacks against Sochi Olympics.

    • kirill says:

      The mind boggles at what the western elites have for brains. Did they think terrorism would bring Russia to its knees when der Fuhrer’s armies couldn’t? With bright minds such as these the west is on a one way ticket to oblivion.

    • marknesop says:

      “Only significance to this is if Aldamov’s revelations help prevent any planned terrorist attacks against Sochi Olympics.”

      Possibly, provided any potential terrorists out there who might have been connected to him remain unsure as to how much he may have told.

  18. Misha says:

    Oh!?

    http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/intervention-360290-regime-western.html

    Upon quick glance –

    Towards the beginning, this piece suggests that the chance of direct foreign intervention against Assad might very well not succeed. By the end of the article, the opposite is also suggested.

    Other factors like whether an overthrown-Assad Syria is a better ethical option and the so-so (perhaps put mildly) track record of “humanitarian intervention” are downplayed.

    • kirill says:

      The question I have for all the humanitarians is: if the Assad regime is so bad then why did the atrocities start happening only when there was a full blown militant insurrection by the FSA? If Assad gets off on killing innocent civilians why did he not do this 2 years ago and even during most of the protest period in 2011? He could have sent the militia he is alleged to have to start slaughtering babies from day one and even before.

      In other words, the whole humanitarian intervention business is a bloody fraud. First you arm and finance some “rebels” then you get some killings and then you use those killings to justify more support for the “rebels” and outright military support for the “rebels”. The ones with the motive for killing babies are not Assad and his regime. It is the FSA and its western patrons who need excuses to intervene and conduct regime change.

      • Misha says:

        A form of Kosovo.

        With Syria, reference has been given to an early 1980s conflict in Hama between Syrian government forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. There’s some dispute on the number of actual casualties in that particular conflict. In any event, choosing between the two sides in that instance isn’t a situation of one side being definitely more virtuous than the other. At the time, why didn’t the rest of Syria show signs of noticeable discontent? The present situation indicates a good number of Syrians preferring the Syrian government over its opposition.

        With Kosovo, the propaganda leaning towards bombing Yugoslavia included questionable portrayals in what was going on in that territory, along with the bogus image of Serbs starting three prevous wars in the 1990s.

      • marknesop says:

        An excellent point. I guess Assad decided to simply machine-gun his own people as an example of what would happen to the opposition resistance, if only he could catch them. Interestingly, we are seeing the emergence of a new journalistic model for war reporting, in which all the information being circulated is taken directly from anti-government activists, and no substantiation of figures is offered or solicited. Once in awhile a half-hearted caveat is inserted, like “the information in the report could not be independently verified”, but mostly it is presented as the truth, with the ubiquitous “according to activists” tag.

        I wonder what the reaction of the western press that pilloried Jane Fonda as a traitor during the Vietnam War would have been to reports of the massacre at Mai Lai written by peace activists, and reported that way with no editing. I wonder what the government that covered up the friendly-fire death of Iraq-war hero Pat Tillman (and he really was a hero, I don’t say that mockingly) by pretending he had been killed by the enemy in a fierce battle, resulting in his posthumous promotion and awarding of the Purple Heart and the coveted Silver Star would have thought about a New York Times article that drew on reports of eyewitnesses that said the government’s story was a lie, although neither of those are the best examples because both are true. Activists in Syria and outside Syria have an agenda, and it is regime change, and their information should therefore be immediately suspect and subjected to the most scrupulous verification. Instead it is uncritically reported as fact. In no other situation would an agent of regime change like the individual who calls himself the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights be allowed to simply make up casualty counts which the press uncritically reports as fact.

        Journalistic integrity, with the exception of a few sources, has been slipping for some time. But now we are seeing a media climate in which the press simply picks a side it intends to support, then draws all its reporting from representatives of that side.

        Reporting is supposed to present the story as it actually unfolded, and allow the readers to make up their minds based on what they already know about the participants. This angels-versus-devils nonsense is simply building a population of know-nothings who have absolutely no grasp of what is actually happening in the world, but are happy in their fool’s paradise while their taxpayer funds are used to pay for conquest abroad. And since they see only good results of it – as the same press ceases reporting on countries their government has successfully invaded – they believe without question in the essential rightness and goodness of their method.

        • Misha says:

          Many intelligent folks seem to get subconsciously duped in situations that are of a limited interest and don’t directly involve them.

          In addition, there’re the influential and committed agendacrats, who spin an incomplete line, which falls well short of the attempt to be relatively objective.

        • kirill says:

          “I guess Assad decided to simply machine-gun his own people as an example of what would happen to the opposition resistance”

          Even if this were true, starting a conflict and then using the ensuing chaos and bloodletting as a pretext to continue and escalate the conflict is inexcusable. This is exactly the routine followed in the Kosovo war of 1999. The mass flow of refugees out of Kosovo was used to justify the fighting: see them Serbs are ethnically cleansing innocent Albanians. As if refugees never fled from war zones. I clearly recall TV images of Albanian families with tractors and carts full of possessions in tow. This contradicted the ethnic cleansing claims since you would not have time to pack if some foaming at the mouth Serb paramilitary was waving a machine gun in your face after he had shot your relatives.

          CNN went as far as to compare the refugees riding passenger trains into Macedonia (aka FYROM) to Jews in cattle cars headed to death camps. Complete media insanity.

          • Misha says:

            One instance included Albanians staging an exodus for media consumption, only to return back later.

            A Canadian reporter caught up with an Albanian kid who was busted for lying about family members being killed as had been reported. He replied by saying that it was for the cause.

            I recall an instance of a widely circulated media report claiming that a JNA plane fatally mowed down Albanian civilians – with the survining Albanians as a reference. This very same report didn’t note that NATO had established a complete or close to complete air superiority at the time. There was a later acknowledgement that a NATO plane was involved in that mishap.

            These instances don’t deny that many Albanians suffered at the hands of others in the region. The reverse has been evident as well. Albanian on Albanian violence is another factor. Comparative breakdowns of civilian casualties don’t always tell the whole story. Doing such would make the US a greater aggressor over Germany and Japan in WW II.

          • marknesop says:

            Hyperbole is all the rage these days, and so much the better if you can draw a comparison with Hitler or Stalin. Where would we be without media conditioning and mental pictures?

            • Misha says:

              I unhesititatingly violate Godwin’s Law by noting that Hilter’s presence in Germany during WW II didn’t make him a particularly trusted source on German issues – a pointed shot at a Vedomosti type, who questioned my taking issue with him on a Russia realted issue.

  19. kievite says:

    NYT David M. Herszenhorn on Ilya V. Ponomarev:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/world/europe/ponomarev-works-to-change-russia-from-the-inside.html

    It is his ability to maneuver in these conflicting worlds — operating as a pragmatist — that Mr. Ponomarev insists will prove invaluable to the political opposition in its effort to oust Mr. Putin and install a new government.

    “That is how I try to position myself — as a bridge, because at the end of time we need to negotiate,” Mr. Ponomarev said. “Whether there will be peaceful negotiations at a round table or negotiations of unconditional surrender, there has to be somebody who is capable of talking to those guys.”

    If Mr. Ponomarev gets his wish, the negotiations with “those guys” — meaning Mr. Putin and his supporters in the government — will begin soon rather than later. “I think that this regime will not survive another two years; it might not even survive a year,” he said.

    Conjuring how and when — not if — Mr. Putin will fall is the opposition leadership’s favorite, if far-fetched, pastime. Mr. Ponomarev has narrowed the potential chain of events to three.

    “Best case,” he said, “Putin would engage in some talks, negotiations, and we can do a peaceful, gradual transition of power. We will be ready to give him all the guarantees.”

    “Another scenario,” he continued, “is more violent, not necessarily violent like bloody, but outside the legal framework where he will be forced out of the Kremlin. And that’s the most likely scenario. I don’t know when it would happen. The movement would grow. There would be more and more people in the streets.”

    “Third case,” Mr. Ponomarev said, “is the worst scenario actually. There might be a coup within Putin’s own establishment, and most likely it would come from the security guys, which would make a car accident, heart attack or some other scenario like that and would nominate somebody from their own circle.”

    • marknesop says:

      So long as the opposition is led by crackpot elitist dreamers like Ponomarev, the Putin government is in no danger. He’s even riffing on a movement that is gathering momentum, with larger crowds every time, when the opposite is happening and people are losing interest. We can hardly blame him for that, since the New York Times helpfully doubled the size of the crowd for him. It staggers the imagination that the police – who I assume have some training in estimating the size of a gathering, especially as it might turn ugly on them, estimate the size of the crowd at 18,000 while reporters and event organizers gleefully estimate the same crowd at “more than 50,000”. They must all work for penis-enlargement websites.

      It’s also curious to see Americans apparently expressing admiration for a dissident who admits that the deposition of the leader both loathe could turn bloody and violent. Quite apart from that only happening in the dreams of both, the American authorities would fall like the great wall of China on a protester in the USA who threatened violent and bloody overthrow of the U.S. government. But everyone rhapsodizes about America the beacon of freedom, where you can say anything you like. In which country are dissidents who openly threaten the overthrow of the government still walking around free? Even American politicians – who presumably enjoy the same leeway as Russian ones who are immune from arrest as long as what they’re doing is not a crime – have been censured for crossing the line, as the famous Sarah Palin was when she advertised a “target list” of democratic politicians featuring a map showing their states with gunsight crosshairs superimposed; one of them was Gabrielle Giffords, who was later shot in the head by a nutty gunman.

      It’s typical of the Times, as it is of apparently all western media where Russia is concerned, that they portray Ponomarev as a major threat when he is nothing of the kind. I only hope Russians in general don’t have the misconception that all western readers of the western press believe its nonsense.

    • rkka says:

      You really have to wonder what Ponomarev is smoking. it seems to disable all higher brain functions. Why would a president with ~70% approval need to resign in a year??

      As for the Anglosphere reporter, he’s just engaged in wish fulfillment, reporting on Putin’s “likely” fall.

      • Moscow Exile says:

        These people, both Westerners and the likes of the traitor Ponomarev, have simply come to believe their own propaganda. It’s a kind of mass hypnosis, I’m sure, and as a result of which they live detached from reality.

        Only the other day, a keyboard warrior on a UK site was going on about how Putin would be taking a big risk if he visits the UK for the Olympic games because the streets of London will be packed with people, unlike the Moscow streets at the time of his inauguration as president, when they were all empty after having been cleared by the authorities.

        I had to take the idiot to task over this, asking him if he had been in Moscow city centre on inauguration day. “No”, he answered, “and I suppose you’re going to tell me you
        were”.

        He supposed right. And then right bang on cue came the accusation that I was receiving an FSB paycheck.

        • Misha says:

          When valid points running counter to their slant are brought up, the FSB bit is prone to being brought up, instead of following up with a substantive reply.

          Never mind how the stooge tag can be pinned the other way.

        • marknesop says:

          In similar fashion, the comment I left at the OC Register – vehicle for Gwynne Dyer’s pernicious piece suggesting that if Russia would only abstain at the next resolution vote rather than vetoing, everything would be all right because it would show the world Russia is on the right side, and it’s not as if the western powers were actually planning anything – was deleted after it had only been up an hour or so (maybe not even, I wasn’t monitoring it but I went back to see if there had been any decent argument) although it did not violate any comment rules. No published ones, anyway – there’s always that unwritten one, “Comments must imply agreement with the editorial orientation of the paper”.

          • Misha says:

            There’s also the ignore option when a propped commentator will simply not reply to valid points. In such an instance, a troll or trolls can appear with off topic comments directed against someone taking issue with the given establishment preferred line.

            Not too long ago, Fred Weir made an appearance at this blog to answer some views of him which he considers inaccurate.

            At this thread, some valid comments were made about his commentary of the past week. Perhaps he’s not paying attention like some others, which is all the more reason to seek changes in the media establishment.

            Alexander’s piece on Syria is comparatively better than much of the commentary getting the higher profile propping.

            • Ilya Ponomariev is not just an elitist crackpot. He is an elitist crackpot who has openly bragged to a foreign newspaper of his plans to overthrow the elected government of Russia. He has done so moreover as a member of Russia’s third largest party and as a member of the Russian parliament. Is it any wonder therefore that the government wants to know what he and his friends are hiding in their flats?

              • marknesop says:

                It would not be at all difficult to understand if it were only put in context – say, if it were happening in a democratic country with real values, instead of Putin’s autocratic hellhole. Then it would become crystal clear, and the people would say, “Why, that man ought to be locked up!!”

        • kirill says:

          The monkey accusing you of being on the FSB payroll couldn’t even back up his fantasies with western media coverage. I don’t recall any news pieces claiming that Moscow streets were cleared of protesters and there were many pieces covering the protests. This moron can’t have his cake and eat it too. Big demonstrations one after another at the same time that the streets are cleared by force. I guess some people need to find a target to hate and the western media shunts them at Russia.

  20. Misha says:

    Of possible interest:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/22/why-milosevic-yielded/

    Respectfully add –

    – that NATO bombs specfically targetted the Serb civilian infrastructure, leaving the Serbs to realize that their country would be in ruins.

  21. R.C. says:

    What I find so incredible, is that any leader who doesn’t fall lock-step behind Washington’s party-line is tarred a “dictator.” Chavez is a dictator, Putin is a dictator, Ortega is a dictator, Morales is a dictator, Correra will be the new “dictator” if he gives Assange asylum, etc; Reading the responses of imbeciles on message boards who can’t even find many of these countries on a MARKED map, I really am starting to wonder what’s happened to the level of education in America that people are unable to see through this BS. It’s simply irresponsible for mainstream publication like the NY Times and The Huffington Post to continually refer to Putin as Russia’s “autocratic leader” when it’s patently untrue. The article that Stephen Cohen published two months ago on the “pointless demonization of Putin” was not picked up by even so-called progressive websites. Many liberals in the US have been bamboozled by the Russian opposition and foolishly believe that they share some sort of solidarity with the protesters in Moscow, oblivious to the fact that most of them are neo-liberals who want to take Russia back to the 1990’s, do whatever the hell the west tells them to do & rally around presidential candidates (Mikhail Prokhorov) who are nothing more than Mitt Romney on steroids. By comparison, it’s hard to iamgine that the occupy movement in the US would ever rally around someone like Prokhorov.

    • Misha says:

      Among the regular of realists appearing in The National Interest, there’s some degree of what you mention R.C.; which is perhaps encouraged (though not admitted) by the throwing a bone route. Having some realists doing such, along with giving space to the Abramowitzs and A. Cohen’s better ensures being part of the establishment.

      BTW, S. Cohen has had his moments which come across as mainstreaming for the elites. That he’s a better overall option to many of the other talking heads serves as notice that there’s room to improve the situation at the more high profile of venues.

    • cartman says:

      It is perfectly okay and proper to send an ambassador to promote “democracy” and it is perfectly okay for ambassadors to take jobs with oil companies owned by a dictator’s family:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/matthew-bryza-azerbaijan-oil-job-controversy_n_1608830.html

      By the way, in the 90s he ran over a pedestrian in Moscow, and was recalled before his immunity could be compromised. Apparently this was a big problem among US envoys in Russia:

      http://exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=17524&IBLOCK_ID=35

    • marknesop says:

      Remember when the western world was ramping up to the war in Iraq, and the UK was all, like, we have a Special Relationship and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the USA? And at the same time around 50% of the British were opposed to the war and to England participating in it? By the time things were really getting going, Bush visited the UK, and then-mayor Livingstone called him the greatest threat to life on the planet? These are official government positions, and far from all the people believe in or support them.

      It’s true educational standards have slipped and the trend now is toward a daily diet of nonsense pablum from the media, shaping and directing our perceptions, but that doesn’t mean there are not a lot of Americans who see through the BS. It’s just not popular to go against the narrative, and those who do are seldom reported unless they are big names. In fact, we should spare a moment to feel sorry for America, because it is definitely worth saving and there are a lot of people who know better. Their voices are just drowned out by the monkey cage, and they have so many problems of their own that those of others must seem distant indeed.

  22. kievite says:

    Nice sample of anti-russian propoganda
    http://www.rf-agency.ru/acn/stat_ru

    See explanation of the importance of this finding at
    http://lj.rossia.org/users/bulochnikov/

    • marknesop says:

      What a bunch of crap. China has the second-most-powerful economy in the world, and the Chinese send their children abroad for their education in perhaps higher proportions than anyone else. That’s because they want their children and their people to be world leaders in business and politics, and to make the connections that will serve them well in their ambitions. Here Russia is portrayed as some kind of failure because a lot of Russians want to send their children abroad to study!! I seem to recall that a European education was highly prized in certain circles in the USA. Is that because American learning institutions suck? Of course not – if they did, they wouldn’t be full of foreign students with wealthy parents.

  23. G says:

    Why the iSLAMICS separatists want the christian region of Noth Ossetia?

  24. Pingback: Mark Adomanis Surprised Russians Don’t Hate Jews

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