Let’s see…who will we hold up to ridicule today for their fanciful portrayal of current or past events in a manner which is strongly reminiscent of a certain story, in which one ate from different sides of the same mushroom to make one tiny or gigantic, and there was a lot of falling down rabbit-holes? I was sorely tempted to pick Luke Coffey’s entry, Ukraine’s Future is Brighter Than You Think, for The National Interest. You all remember Luke, former US Army officer turned think-tanker, perhaps for his public and very enthusiastic endorsement of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as a Swiss-army-knife solution to Ukraine’s corruption problems. Yes, it was hard to keep from laughing; I talked a bit about it here. Suffice it to say that here we are, a little better than two years down the road from that embarrassing moment, and Ukraine has made zero realistic progress. Its tubby oligarch President is still owner of all the businesses he promised to sell back when he was elected, is richer than ever, still hasn’t learned anything about running a country, and for its part the country was recognized – a year after Coffey’s exhibition of slobbering devotion – as the most corrupt country in Europe. Saakashvili was obviously about as useful as a chocolate teapot at fighting corruption, and now he has been stripped of his last remaining citizenship by Ukraine’s portly font of corruption himself, Petro Poroshenko. He’s currently hanging out in The Land of the Free, where he frequently couch-surfs between bouts of doing nothing about corruption in Ukraine, terrifying the fast-food population and adding to his gross tonnage. Lest you think I am gratuitously mocking him, see if you can name one useful thing he ever did to fight corruption in Ukraine – one official who was successfully prosecuted for corruption thanks to his whistle-blowing. Oh, I know he can generate no end of audio over his ‘reforms’, but that’s because he speaks fluent Washingtonian and knows all the ideological buzz-words. Word is he may have to seek asylum there. That was likely his plan since some time back, and he’s just testing the waters, because his support in Ukraine is even lower than Poroshenko’s. You can hardly swing a dead cat by the tail in Washington without hitting some exiled leader-in-waiting, and the regime-change auditioning steadily adds to their number, but I suppose there’s always room for 1.8 more (Saakashvili is almost two people, and has the chins for three).
The article in question is low-hanging, juicy fruit, packed with counterintuitive, crackpotty and easily disprovable assertions, such as that the macroeconomic situation in Ukraine is now stable. I guess he threw that big ‘macroeconomic’ word in there – six syllables!!! – so you would not guess that he does not know what ‘stable’ means. In fact, Ukraine is running a trade deficit of $442 million USD, unemployment is as bad as it was at the height of the global financial crisis in 2008 and headed north at a brisk clip, the country remains dependent on IMF handouts for its survival, and the forecast for GDP growth is regularly revised downward as the time for it to surge up into happiness figures draws nigh. The national debt as a ratio of GDP has doubled since the glorious Maidan. Ukraine is to stability what mud pies are to haute cuisine.
Exports are up, Coffey tells us. First off, I don’t know how he would know that, since economic data typically lags by nearly a year and he provides no figures. But in 2015 Ukraine realized twice as much money from exports of sunflower oil and seed as it did from agglomerated iron ores and concentrates, and metals are one of the fields he cites as growing. That same year, Ukraine exported $ 38,127 million worth of goods, and imported $ 37,516 million. Did I mention the balance of trade had worsened since 2015, which – all things considered – was actually a pretty good year for post-Maidan Ukraine?
Anyway, as I said, it was tempting. We could have had a lot of fun, making fun of Luke and his saccharine daydreams. But in the end, I let it go, in favour of this – Der Spiegel’s apocalyptic view of conditions in the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics…as they understand them from known crackpot and former Ukrainian SBU member Alexander Khodakovsky, whom they contacted via WhatsApp.
Yes, we all know – to our great sorrow – that journalists rarely go to the countries on which they report anymore, and are apparently satisfied to just call activists in war zones to see how the situation is shaking out. And Der Spiegel has a legitimate excuse – it sought accreditation for the Donbas back in March, and was refused.
I want you to imagine, for a moment, that you’re calling the Turks and Caicos, and you speak for a half-hour or so to the village idiot from Bottle Creek. You ask him how your offshores are doing, and he tells you they blew the roof off the bank, you’re richer than Bill Gates.
Would you call up your boss, tell him to go fuck himself, you don’t need his two-bit job any more because you’re a billionaire? I devoutly hope not.
It is remarkable how journalists appear to harbour no suspicion when a source is telling them exactly what they want to hear, and then some: losses on the front lines of the DNR are horrific. The military situation is deteriorating, and if not for Russia’s direct help, they would have had to give up a long time ago. All the plants which were nationalized by the government of Novorossiya were placed under the control of a company registered in South Ossetia, called Wneschtorgserwis, to cover up Moscow’s involvement and escape international sanctions. Russia is in it up to its ears, organizing, supplying, helping, advising and planning. The DNR leaders are basically just paper cutouts with Putin’s men standing behind them. All, all exactly the kind of stuff that makes western leaders go “A-HA!!!!! I knew it!!!!”
Curiously, the only mention of ‘Wneschtorgserwis’ is in the subject article. Companies whose names are close and which might indicate a transcription error, such as “Nestor Servis”, are based in the Netherlands and Serbia. No mention of any such company in South Ossetia. Graham Phillips – who actually did spend quite a bit of time in Donetsk and its environs – wrote a piece back in May of this year, cautioning against any attribution to Khodokovsky and citing material written by him in which he claims 100,000 Russian soldiers are in the DNR and if not for them, the whole place would have been rolled up like a carpet. Moscow is running everything. The rebels did have a Buk system – it was brought in from Lugansk, and then returned to Russia after they used it to shoot down MH17: Khodokovsky, with his thumb firmly positioned on the pulse of current events, knew all about it.
Even that veteran vampire of Russophobia, Catherine Fitzpatrick, was drawn from her box of dirt by the maddening inconsistencies in Khodakovsky’s storytelling. After allegedly having affirmed, in an interview with Reuters, that the rebels had possessed a Buk system which was brought in from Lugansk, that he absolutely knew all about it…he almost immediately said that he had never mentioned Buks in the interview, never told them anything of the kind and that he had a recording which would prove it. I wouldn’t doubt it, given the SBU’s ‘magic’ with recordings of conversations.
Except he also said it was the Ukrainians who shot down the airliner, and that they knew the rebels did not have any Buks. At about this point in the conversation, the word ‘Buk’ should have begun to lose all meaning for you, to become nothing more than a nonsense syllable, or a conversational overture from a chicken.
Alexander Khodakovsky is an attention-seeking charlatan, the ‘Curveball’ of Novorossiya. And Der Speigel got a scoop from him – Ukrainian factories are being dismantled and sold to Russia, masterminded by Surkov. Even though nobody knows anything about ‘Wneschtorgserwis’, Der Speigel is comfortable that it ‘knows’ – reportedly – that the company has delivered 140,000 tons of iron ore to steel mills in the Donbass region since April, for $18 million, and that it has begun exporting steel to Russia from there, as well as anthracite from the mines. That’d be from the steel plants which are all sitting idle with their workers sent home jobless, or broken up like Kuwait’s incubators and carted off to Russia under the acquisitive eye of Surkov. Khodakovsky almost set up an interview with the mysterious South Ossetian company’s ‘PR Representative’ – just what you need when you’re trying to fly under the radar and avoid sanctions; a local PR rep – Viktor Nikolayenko, but Moscow got wind of it and shut him down. Damned Putin – he never sleeps and he knows everything.
I can hardly wait for their sequel, in which a leprechaun leader rises to claim the throne of Donbas, and leads the cheering people to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
And they all lived happily ever after. Jesus Christ.