When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn’t a sign that they don’t understand each other, but a sign that they have at last begun to.
James Nixey has been doing a considerable bit of compositional prancing lately over at The Moscow Times, and since it has been a long time since we visited that American rag, let’s drop in for a bit. James Nixey is head of Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program, and the current British passion for sanctions based on the supposition that Russia is masterminding – not to mention extending – the war in eastern Ukraine should tell you quite a bit about his position on Russia. But if you’d like to form an opinion yourself, by all means check out his latest effort, published at The Moscow Times: “Russia and EU are Signing Their Divorce Papers“.
Those who are regular readers will know I rarely write of an opinion on Russia which is approving and supportive, both because it hardly ever happens in the English-speaking press and because I naturally prefer an adversarial role. You might therefore presuppose I view James Nixey as a pretentious toad and pompous British windbag, and his learned scrivening as the polar opposite of the gritty realism he obviously fancies it to be. And you’d be right. All in favour? Carried. Shortest post ever, for me.
No, seriously; it’s true that among those who know me even peripherally, my distaste for those who slag Russia day in and day out based on non-facts and silly prejudices is a given, but I like to have a go at convincing those with whom I engage, to try and make a case. So let’s see if I can make a case that James Nixey is full of tightly-compacted dung.
This is an opinion piece, of course, and James Nixey is certainly entitled to his opinion. However, it is presented as the high-intellect musings of one who knows Russia from muzzle to buttplate, in a tone that suggests not only the most self-evident moral superiority, but an air that one should be grateful for the free life-lesson. Condescending British smugosity, with a soupçon of patronization to season it withal, in other words. And that just makes me mad.
But there’s no need to take my word for it; let’s have a look. Oh, dear; right away, we learn that Russia has not turned out as Europe had hoped. I was surprised to learn that Europe had hopes for Russia over and above their status as slab-faced goons who supply its gas: you’d certainly never know otherwise from the British press, or the eagerness with which European leaders jumped on the sanctions bandwagon even though the loudest shouter about Russian culpability – the United States – could not and cannot offer any proof at all.
“The EU, with its usual schizophrenia, hoped that there was a mini-Gorbachev reformist lurking somewhere within Vladimir Putin’s soul, but at the same time was embarrassed to sit at the same table while Russia contravened internationally accepted rules and norms of behavior.”
Mmm, yes, the stuffy old EU, what? Bound up in its silly antiquated notions of humanity and justice for all, fair play and decency, what, what? While those bounders, the Russians, steal and lie and cheat and have no respect whatever for “internationally-accepted rules and norms of behavior”.
All right, Nixey – there goes your ass.
Internationally-accepted rules like you’re not allowed to shut off fresh water to a civilian population as a means of extortion or punishment, you mean? When Ukraine did it to Crimea, what did you say, Mr. Internationally-Accepted Rules? Fuck all, is what you said; not a dickie bird.
Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited. It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.
Did you know that using international insignia to protect against being shot at which you have no entitlement to wear pertinent to your current mission is a war crime? True story – it’s called perfidy. What’d you say when Ukraine was caught using a UN-painted helicopter in local combat operations against “separatists”? I’ll help you – fuck all. Zip; you said not a word in demurral.
It is prohibited to kill, injure or capture an adversary by resort to perfidy. Acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute perfidy. Examples of perfidy are…the feigning of protected status by the use of signs, emblems or uniforms of the United Nations or of neutral or other states not parties to the conflict.
What about indiscriminate attack, like when a jet fighter flies through downtown and shoots the place up with anti-tank ammunition, causing horrible casualties? Illegal as can be. What’d you say when the Ukrainians did it to downtown Lugansk? Not a squeak: never a peep.
Russia hammered on the United Nations to do something to end the slaughter. Warhag Samantha Power ensured that nothing happened. What’d you say, Mr. Norms of Behavior? Nothing.
Little things like values and the rule of law were ignored in the quest for healthy profit margins.
Oh, yes, ‘pon my soul, values. Yes, the EU is just stiff with values. Like what? Well, family, for starters. “The family is one of the domains where the greatest changes have taken place over recent generations. The traditional nuclear European family consisted of a married father and mother with a several children but today this is only one option among many. Declining marriage rates, an increased number of divorces, the wide acceptation of co-habitation, the legalization of same-sex marriage and dropping fertility rates have caused the size of the average household within the European Union to drop to 2.4 people.”
The EU enthusiastically put its shoulder to the wheel of the gay agenda forged by the United States in the run-up to the Olympics in Sochi, to see if it could help ruin the games for Russia, or – most motivational of goals – get them moved someplace else. After the Olympics was over, Europe lost interest in the Worldwide Plight Of Homosexuals, and you hear nothing about it now. It was all just a stick to beat Russia with, while Russia defended traditional family values. What was the EU’s position? If you didn’t educate your children in a positive, gay-friendly way about alternative lifestyles, you were stifling their natural development. Don’t talk to me about values.
How about work? That’s a value, surely? Well, less so in Britain, these days. “The conviction that work is a virtue is predominantly found today in the countries of Eastern Europe, namely Kosovo, Bulgaria and Turkey. The weakest sense of work ethic is currently to be found in Iceland, Great Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands. Maybe it is time to consign the concept of “Protestant work ethic” to the history books. Interestingly, there has also been a notable decline in work ethic in Poland over the past twenty years, despite their reputation as hard and skilled workers.”
Society. That’s a value – we all need to feel like we’re part of something. “This summer’s riots, together with the immoral behaviour of City bankers and Premiership footballers, were seen by journalists as evidence of a widespread moral decay in Britain. What indicators are there in the European Values Study that morality is breaking down?…Most Europeans consider that it is (almost) never justified to cheat on your tax return but the unreliability of this statistic is highlighted by the fact that the country which is most willing to countenance tax evasion is the Netherlands! This says more about the honesty of the Dutch (even when they are confessing to dishonesty) than it does about the rest of Europe.”
I think that’s all I want to say about that, if I may borrow from Forrest Gump.
“Europe’s leaders are just as bad. Most chalk up poor relations with Russia to their predecessors’ ignorance or incompetence, and egotistically believe that their administration will be different. But over the course of their term in office, they eventually realize that “it’s not us; it’s them.” But by then it’s too late: Either the presidency or prime ministership is almost at an end, or the relationship has degraded to the point of no return. European leaderships refresh themselves. Putin and his cronies stay on and stand tall.”
Yes, poor good Europeans; hobbled by their essential humanity, they care too much. It’s not us – it’s them. I wonder if current Ambassador of the UK to Russia Tim Barrow subscribes to that worldview? He very well might, considering he was a compatriot of former British diplomat David Manning, whose most stirring memories of foreign service in Russia, together with his good friend Tim Barrow, were those of Boris Yeltsin ushering in a new age of freedom and joy for all Russians. We all know how that turned out. Life expectancy for Russian men fell by six years almost in less time than it takes to say it, alcoholism and despair intersected in a perfect storm, and the savings of a generation – including those of my wife’s parents – were wiped out as the nation’s wealth was transferred to a handful of venal oligarchs. Good times – provided you were from Europe and not Russia.
In the next breath, Putin and Russia are blamed for the murder of western Europeans, aboard MH-17. Even if Russia shot them down “unintentionally”. In fact, Russia had nothing whatsoever to do with it, and the analysis is trending more and more toward Ukraine’s having done it, perhaps even deliberately. I tell you candidly, that’s a case I can’t wait to see solved. I’d be interested, in a sort of detached academic way, to see if there are going to be any apologies for the gusto with which Europe took up the “Russia dunnit” narrative – including, obviously, James Nixey.
It’s only a matter of time before they come crawling back, though, Jim tells us – and Europe, the much put-upon, loving and munificent spouse, will forgive Russia provided it is prepared to buckle down and do as it’s told.
No, you were right in the earlier passage I quoted above, Jim: the relationship has degraded to the point of no return. So thanks for the memories, Europe: fuck you, and I’m lookin’ forward to lookin’ back. Let’s talk again in, say, six months, and see who’s crying.
Words have a way of hidin’ what’s real; I’ll let my actions tell you just how I feel:
I’m lookin’ forward to lookin’ back – got my ticket to ride and my bags are packed…