Welcome to Wonderland
My God it’s half past eight
Who cares if you came late
We don’t care where you’ve been
You’re gonna fit right in
A little fun detour
A little crazy, sure
Don’t get all insecure…
It’s afternoon all day
There’s lots of games to play
Flamingo lawn croquet
So please enjoy your stay
Everyday it’s something new
Problems up the old wazoo
Rumors of a palace coup…
From the Musical, “Wonderland”
Perhaps I should mention at the outset, for anyone just joining us and for those who rather anticipated an outing, we are not actually going on a trip to Wonderland. Not exactly. What I meant was that we are going to visit the Hall of Amusements where Gideon Rachman – English crazyman and sometime analyst, please don’t get too close to the cage, little girl – goes when he writes. So, no need for sandwiches and lemonade, we’ll do that another time. Nonetheless, prepare to be amazed, and fascinated, in that vertiginous way you are when the car in which you are riding passes a bad car crash, or an arrest in which the subject is drunk and fancies himself a comedian, and the police slam him up against the wall repeatedly for his smart mouth. You’re afraid to look, lest you be drawn in yourself, but you can’t look away because you sense it is an important moment that may shape future beliefs. About something.
It’s tough, every post, to come up with descriptive words for the crazy things people say, because it is essentially the same story every time, just with different players. And Gideon Rachman is very crazy indeed, so much so that he may even believe the things he says are true. But they’re not. They’re a fantasy, playing out in a fantasy world where a space-helmeted Rachman is at the helm of the starship “Sanctions”, and you better believe it is kicking ass and taking names. In the mind of Gideon Rachman, it is only a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before Russia crumbles, unable to take any more because a hundred or so of its people are no longer allowed to travel to western countries, assets they had which are long since withdrawn are subject to freezing (a nice word for “stealing”) and so are any they might be so foolish as to place in future in banks of countries where they can’t travel, and because its banks have lost access to western capital lending markets.
Let’s put that last bit in perspective, before we go any further; Russia has reserves which will enable it to last for two years, without having to endure starvation and suffering or any old babushki losing their pensions, and without having to start appropriating private wealth. Life as normal, more or less. And that’s without doing anything – just sitting tight and waiting for the west to get over its pique. Does anyone think Russia is likely to do that? No, indeed; it is paying down its debt to the west rather than default, and taking steps to extricate itself – to the extent it is possible – from western financing links. Should Russia’s measured, deliberate and cautious decoupling from the west for some reason fall apart or prove impossible to maintain, behind Russia lies the massive wealth of its neighbour and growing ally – China. China has already taken a stand against the western sanctions, and warned that if Russia gets into financial trouble it can’t handle, China will step in. Yes, that was a warning, and the west would have been wise to heed it. But it had the bit of stupidity and self-love firmly in its teeth, and it only galloped on toward ruin.
Not to put the conclusion first or anything – we haven’t even looked at the article yet – but what would lead Gideon Rachman and the millions like him to accept these fantasies as a true picture of the state of affairs? Short answer, because he is a fucking idiot. And he is. But more than that, the faith of these people in the western banking and financial empire and the overall superiority of western goods is such a teflon barrier to reality that they are unable to conceive of a world in which other countries can do business and trade with one another without having to go through or partner with the west.
Let’s look at Rachman’s latest pearl of journalistic wisdom (thanks to et Al for the link!). Don’t take my word for it, I want you to read the whole thing; but I believe you will conclude – as I did – that Rachman was so tickled with that line “a contest between the television and the refrigerator” that he decided to build a whole story around it, and it would not have made sense without a bucketful of bullshit mixed in.
That’s the whole pretext of this shallow and fantastic piece from a shallow and delusional author; that there is a war on for the mind of the average Russian, and it is between the propaganda he sees on the television – exhorting him to support the Dear Leader in the country’s dangerous game with the mighty west – and the barren wastes of his empty refrigerator telling him, repent! Repent, and rise up in your masses and demand that the leader turn aside from this mad course, and take instruction from the west on how to help it achieve its objectives. Obey, or be starved into submission, which is a concept – coming from an Englishman – that is so eye-opening that I was quite taken aback by it, and readers will want to remember it for the next time that poxy git who is the current British Prime Minister gets up in Parliament and runs his chip-hole about this or that dictator being the living embodiment of evil cruelty.
“But the refrigerator lowers the spirits, with its increasingly sparse and costly contents“, crows Rachman triumphantly. Let’s just dispense with this canard right now – the ruble is taking a shitkicking on foreign exchange, because it is the target in a currency war designed to force it downward until it’s worthless and so create a panic among the population when they have to take a wheelbarrowload of them to buy a loaf of bread, like the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic in the early 20’s. Like the unfortunate Germans did, the west is trying to force Russia into a cycle of crazy inflation and printing more and more money. Which isn’t happening. The ruble still buys more or less the same in domestic products as it did before. If you buy your milk from the Pepsi Company like Alexey Navalny does, the price has achieved escape velocity; too bad for you. But suggesting that Russians are now cut off from reasonably-priced food, and soon their shrunken bellies will force them into the streets, is lunacy. Lunacy that assumes Russians don’t know where milk comes from if they can’t buy it from an American company, don’t know what the ingredients are for cheese, are too squeamish to butcher a pig, and run farms for chickens which lay pebbles instead of eggs.
Don’t take my word for it. Check. These are market prices for ordinary foodstuffs and domestic household products in Moscow. As you can see, some have even been reduced, and those that have not are by no means unaffordable. For example, a 2 kg bag of flour in the Moscow market costs 49.90 rubles. Let’s work the prices out to a third denomination – U.S. dollars. That bag of flour would cost the Muscovite 79 cents U.S. at today’s exchange rate. By way of contrast, a 1.25 kg bag of McDougall’s Plain Flour at Sainsbury’s London Bridge will set a British consumer back ₤1.40, or $2.15 in U.S. currency. Quite a difference. How about milk? In the Moscow market, same as the flour, 49.90 rubles for 950 ml; which is 79 cents U.S. At Sainsbury’s in London, 1 litre of whole milk goes for ₤1.15, which is $1.77 U.S.
But I think I see the problem. There are lots of sites like DailyFinance.com, which purport to tell interested people the price of common food staples around the world, and how much others have to pay in comparison with Americans. According to them, people in Los Angeles pay the highest for a litre of milk among Americans sampled: $2.49. But the poor bastards in Moscow are paying $3.89! I suppose they get that price fed to them by Pepsi Co. or some other American retailer in Russia. But ordinary Russians don’t buy their brand unless they want to show off how much money they have. And prices in country stores outside Moscow are lower yet.
So it’s probably misinformation like that which is making Rachman rub his hands together in anticipation of Russia coming around tomorrow, maybe next week, scuffing the dirt with the toe of its shoe and mumbling “Guess you can have your way in Ukraine; not much I can do about it”. Ha, ha!! Dream on, Gideon, you fucking crazy bug-eating, paint-chip-chewing berk!!
Get it, Rachman? The Russians are not starving. They’re not looking longingly at the refrigerator, hoping food will magically appear in it. You can’t get your end away with some tasty Russian girl for a pound of sausage, like you couldn’t with an English girl for an orange during the war, although some foreign servicemen liked to think so. There are no food shortages in Russia owing to sanctions by God-fearing Englishmen and Those Who Stand Shoulder To Shoulder With Them, and if you were not such a fucking chump chowderhead you would be able to look these things up for yourself. Oh, I forgot – you are an academic. You just know.
To be sure, there are profiteers – I wish I could say the Russians are different from every other people on the earth, and do not try to profit from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But it’s not true. Some Moscow food stores have hiked prices by 130%. And what happens then? They’re reported to the Moscow Public Prosecutor, and an investigation is carried out. I don’t know what the penalty is which is imposed by the state, but the name of the store is published on a list of businesses being investigated, and I should think a word to the wise is as sufficient in Moscow as anywhere else – it is perhaps no coincidence that one of these stores is the only one in which prices overall have fallen lately. People have alternatives, and nobody needs to pay crazy prices if they do not want to. And once again, there are no shortages. Poland is not the only place in the world that apples will grow, and Russia rapidly shifted its procurement to countries which are not part of the sanctions regime. This has a very important knock-on consequence, down the road – Russia’s food-products countersanctions are only in place for a year, but that’s a century in retail and unless the west is prepared to offer unbelievable deals and assurances, those markets are gone forever. Because the west can’t be trusted, as it has been at great pains to establish.
There’s another reason Rachman’s cackling would be more appropriate at Bethlem Royal Hospital, and it is that he does not understand poll variables or how to establish cause and effect. He just throws a bunch of numbers out there and says, “There, you see. That proves it”. Proves what? For example, he cites recent results which suggest 44% of Russians now see Americans as enemies, from 4% before the conflict started. How that is a net positive in England is beyond my understanding. But, wait for it, though – only 19% now think that Ukraine should be part of Russia, compared with about 50% from last March!!!
Ummm….what do those polls have to do with one another? Is there any evidence, any evidence at all which suggests that if fewer Russians now believe “Ukraine” (presumably only the disputed area in the East of the country) should be part of Russia, it suggests a weakening of support for Putin’s position on the conflict? Far more likely fewer Russians want to get stuck with the enormous bill for rebuilding it, since the Ukrainian army has shelled it to bits. That’s certainly something to be proud of, isn’t it, old chap? Just because fewer Russians favour bringing Eastern Ukraine into the fold does not indicate that they wish for a western victory in the form of a Poroshenko triumph: what’s his approval rating in Russia?
But Gideon continues to chatter on blithely about supermarket food shortages – with absolutely no evidence except what his “friend in Moscow”, likely another expat, told him.
Mr. Rachman believes the economy is Russia’s weakness, its soft underbelly. And that continued tightening of sanctions and efforts to hurt the Russian economy are the best course to achieve the desired result – a Russian capitulation. Since that is a relatively harmless belief (to Russia), let us hope he continues to believe it.
Editor’s note: I originally – and incorrectly – attributed the subject article to Edward Lucas, and I must confess I did not notice any glaring indications from the author’s stated beliefs which would suggest it was not he. Nevertheless, I humbly apologize to Mr. Lucas for attributing to him idiocies that there is no proof – on this occasion – he believes, and statements he did not make.