A Short Guide to Lazy Russia Journalism

To commemorate the final closure of the Da Russophile blog and its permanent transfer and redirection to this site, here is a reprint of an excellent article by Nils van der Vegte (with a little editing from myself) that appeared in Jon Hellevig’s and Alexandre Latsa’s 2012 anthology on Putin’s New Russia.

Truly Will Rogers’ observation in 1926 that “anything is true if it’s about Russia” remains as prescient as ever.


 

A Short Guide to Lazy Russia Journalism

Nils van der Vegte

economist-welcome-to-moscowSo you’re a Westerner who wants to become a Russia journalist? Once you get past the self-serving bluster, it’s really a very safe, well-paid, and rewarding job – but only on condition that you follow a set of guidelines. Inspired by a post at the blog Kosmopolito on lazy EU journalism, I decided to provide a similar service for work ethic-challenged Russia journalists. Enjoy!

1. Mastering and parroting a limited set of tropes is probably the most important part of your work as a journalist in Russia. Never forget to mention that Putin used to work for the KGB. Readers should always be reminded of this: The “former KGB spy”, the “former KGB agent”, etc. Other examples include (but are not limited to) “Putin destroyed democracy”, “The Russian economy is dependent on oil”, “There is no media freedom”, “Russia is more corrupt than Zimbabwe”, “Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner and Russia’s next Sakharov”, “Russia is really weak” (but also a dire threat!), “Russia is a Potemkin village” and “a dying bear” that is ruled by “a kleptocratic mafia.” You get the drift…

2. Not sure who is doing what? Not sure how Russia works? Just make a sentence with the word “Kremlin”. Examples include “this will create problems for the Kremlin”, “the Kremlin is insecure”, “the Kremlin’s support of anti-Western dictators”, etc.

3. This “Kremlin” is always wrong, and its motives are always nefarious. If it requires many signatures to register a party – that is authoritarianism, meant to repress liberal voices. If it requires only a few signatures to register a party – that is also authoritarianism, a dastardly plot to drown out the “genuine opposition” amidst a flood of Kremlin-created fake opposition parties.

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Russian Liberals and China

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Russian liberals (Vladimir Milov this time) continue claiming the China gas deal is disastrous for Russia.

His argument this time? That Japan pays $200/mcm more for gas than what China gave Russia.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/milov/1330024-echo/

He is either ignorant of or ignoring the fact that Japan imports gas as LNG, because it’s an island LOL. And the costs of liquefaction are not insubstantial, in fact they are around… well, $200/mcm LOL.

The “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in the Ukraine has been a Disaster

In a short piece I wrote on 11th April 2014 on my Facebook page under the the title “More evidence of the Ukrainian security forces’ refusal to carry out Kiev’s orders” I said:

“A report I read on Novosti citing an anonymous but apparently senior source in Kiev suggested that the force deployed today in Slavyansk consisted of all the available units in the western Ukraine that could be deployed there. If so then this may explain why the unit that will be sent to the eastern Ukraine tomorrow is according to Turchinov so small……If this does indeed turn out to be the case then I for one cannot help but think that Kiev is going to have to rely increasingly on the right wing militias to enforce its control since it doesn’t seem likely that such small forces would be sufficient to suppress such a large territory as the eastern Ukraine. Given how people in the east feel about the militias and given their lack of discipline and propensity for violence deploying them on any significant scale in the east must however run the risk of inflaming the situation even more”.

At the time a month ago when the above words were written, shortly after the “anti terrorist operation” was launched, most cities and administrative centres in the Donbas were at least nominally under Kiev’s control with only Slavyansk being in open revolt. Today there are more reports of defections from the regular military including incredibly from the supposedly politically reliable National Guard (http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_17/Ukraine-National-Guard-soldiers-accused-of-treachery-7264/), the junta’s forces remain bogged down around Slavyansk – which they have so far repeatedly failed to capture despite boasts from the likes of Yarosh that he was engaged in “mopping up operations” there – Mariupol (Donetsk’s second biggest city) is lost, more towns and territory are being lost, border posts are under attack and are in the process of being lost, a large swathe (in my opinion a substantial majority) of the local population has voted for some form of independence from Kiev, alternative bodies of power and administration independent of Kiev’s are being set up and the junta has been forced to call off its plan to hold its second “roundtable” conference in Donetsk (it took place in Kharkov instead).

By any objective measure the “anti terrorist operation” has from Kiev’s point of view been a total disaster. Far from securing the Donbas and suppressing the resistance there it has antagonised the local people and confirmed them in their support for the resistance and in their hostility to the Maidan movement and to Kiev.

There is no evidence however that either the junta or its supporters in Washington have learnt any lessons from this debacle. Whilst one of the key reasons for the failure of the “anti terrorist operation” (as I predicted a month ago) has been the violent and undisciplined behaviour of the right wing paramilitaries enlisted in the National Guard upon whom the junta is increasingly coming to rely (see their actions in Mariupol) the junta is astonishingly proposing to rely on them even more.. See this comment on VoR.

I reiterate what I said on 11th April 2014: reliance on right wing militias to suppress resistance in the Donbas is a certain guarantee of disaster given (1) their violent and undisciplined behaviour and (2) the feelings the local people have for them.

After the Odessa fire and the response of Maidan supporters to it I have lost the wish I once had to see the Ukraine hold together. However to those in the west who still want that I say do what Russia urges and what was agreed on 17th April 2014 in Geneva and pressure Kiev to:

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Ukrainians on Federalism

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Comprehensive, very important PEW poll on attitudes in Ukraine towards federalism, Russia, Crimea (after Crimean referendum, but before the Odessa massacre):

http://www.pewglobal.org/…/despite-concerns-about-governan…/

Two critical points can be made:

(1) There is virtually unanimous support in Crimea for recognizing the results of its own referendum (only 4% are against). This indicates that that referendum was pretty fair and certainly closer to the “real” results than that survey by the President’s Council on Human Rights which does not provide any details of the sample size or methodology.

(2) While easterners are unhappy with the Kiev regime, a solid majority of them are still in favor of keeping Ukraine united (even the Russian speakers in the east) – though this figure will probably be somewhat lower now than before Odessa. THIS IS WHAT MAKES PUTIN SO RIGHTFULLY CAUTIOUS AS REGARDS THE SOUTH-EAST. The reality is that any military intervention there beyond Donbass will be plagued by a fifth column that is simply absent in Crimea. Getting bogged down in a guerilla war is something that Russia simply just doesn’t need.

Massacre in Odessa

Russia’s Channel Odessa has done a real piece of investigative journalism on the Odessa massacre.

It appears to show that the street fighting in Odessa that preceded the massacre bore the hallmarks of a carefully staged provocation in which sections of the police and of the local authorities were actively involved. It shows that the “pro Russian protesters” (if such they were) who initiated the street fighting were a different group from the anti Maidan activists who were driven out of their protest camp and who were then burnt alive in the most barbaric way in the Trade Union building in what can only be called a massacre. These “pro Russian protesters”  appear to have started the street fighting with the active assistance and complicity of the local authorities and of the Odessa police. Once the larger group of Maidan activists who were involved in the street fighting moved towards the anti Maidan protest camp where the local anti Maidan activists were based the “pro Russian activists” who started the street fighting simply melted away.

I understand Channel One did not try to identify who these “anti Russian protesters” actually were.  Given that the local authorities in Odessa support Kiev if this was a provocation as seems likely then their  involvement and that of sections of the police tends to suggest that it was aimed at discrediting the anti Maidan protests in Odessa.  Certainly the provocation cannot have been arranged by Russian Special Forces unless one accepts the entirely farfetched possiblity that they have successfully suborned Odessa’s local administration and polce department.

At this stage any views as to who was responsible for instigating the provocation that led to the street fighting must be tentative. In order to arrive at a definite conclusion there would need to be a proper, impartial and independent investigation. Of course that will not happen at least whilst the present political conditions prevail just as there will not be a proper, impartial and independent investigation of the sniper incident on Maidan.

A few further points:

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Why Constitutional Talks in the Ukraine Should Start Now

The US, Kiev, their EU allies and their media echo chamber are up to their invariable game of rewriting last week’s Geneva Statement to mean not what it says but what they want it to say.

To repeat the Geneva Statement contains NO time line (see my previous post where I discussed what the Geneva Statement actually says). It does NOT require buildings and public places in the east to be evacuated before buildings and public places in the west. It does not require people in the east to disarm before people disarm in the west. Above all it does NOT require the vacation of buildings and public places in the east and the disarmament of the people there before the start of negotiations on constitutional change or make the vacation of buildings and public places in the east or the disarmament of the people there a pre condition for the start of the negotiations on constitutional change.

I make this point because that is how Kiev and its present supporters are currently trying to misrepresent the Geneva Statement. Needless to say if the buildings and public spaces in the east were vacated and the people there disarmed he pressure there currently is to start serious negotiations on constitutional change would abate with the strong probability that negotiations would then never take place at all. In reality there is nothing in the Geneva Statement that says that negotiations cannot start right away whilst the buildings and public places in the east remain occupied and the people there remain armed with the buildings and public places in the east (and the west) and the people in the east (and the west) disarming as part of an overall settlement achieved as a result of the negotiations. Given the history of broken agreements on the part of Kiev and its western sponsors (eg. the 21st February 2014 agreement) the continuing mobilisation of the people of the east whilst the negotiations are underway and until an agreement is reached and secured would seem to be a basic precaution.

I would remind everybody that the people who currently form the regime consistently refused to vacate Maidan whilst they were negotiating with Yanukovitch and he (wrongly in my opinion) never insisted that they do so.

I make this point because so far there is no sign from Kiev of any attempt to begin negotiations at all. We have not even had the announcement of a negotiating team or discussions about the venue for talks. Instead Kiev and the US administration are hiding behind the continuing occupation of the buildings and public spaces in the east and the presence of armed men there as a pretext for not starting talks. It needs to be said clearly and unequivocally that this is a false pretext and that there is no reason or excuse to delay the start of talks on constitutional change which is the overriding priority at the moment if this crisis is to be brought to a peaceful and satisfactory end.

Russian Federation Sitrep 2014.04.17

KIEV ATTACKS. On Tuesday what remains of Kiev’s army, accompanied with threats of destruction, entered two eastern cities, Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. The soldiers soon switched sides (or as they say in Kiev “Russian terrorist sabotage groups have been captured six units of armored vehicles”), up went the Russian flags and St George ribbons and the townspeople fed them; I guess the American rations didn’t get to them. Interview. And another column stopped. Good news – especially when you think of what the rhetoric of easterners as “terrorists” and Washington’s enthusiastic encouragement could have led to. Today will probably tell: if the attacks fizzle out, there’s still hope for a federalised Ukraine. I look forward to watching Washington, Brussels (and Ottawa, I am ashamed to include) try and spin their way out of this shattering confutation of their fantasies. Reminds me of the Ossetia War when Wikileaks revealed that the US Embassy had uncritically transmitted whatever nonsense it was being fed by the Saakashvili regime.

TIME TO GO? Staff in Kiev’s power ministries are changing sides, refusing to attack the protesters, melting away; there are more dismissals in the power organs. Kiev’s new rulers have, apart from the uncertain loyalty of the most extreme, little force available (vide Kramatorsk). Moody’s has dropped Ukraine to “default imminent with little prospect for recovery”. Their sponsors in Brussels and Washington have kicked in only a sum that would about cover what China is suing Ukraine for. Meanwhile conditions worsen for the ordinary stiff. Large areas of the east ignore Kiev and demand more autonomy or a referendum. And where’s Right Sector? Disarmed? Mobilising? Or beating up presidential candidates and demanding resignations in Kiev? Can’t think Yatsenyuk will be around for much longer: no power, no money, no support. A visit from the CIA head isn’t much comfort.

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My Advice to the Maidan

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

I’m not a Euromaidan supporter. But if I was, and was interested in the junta’s success and a smooth transition to an EU-orientated Poroshenko Presidency…

–> First of all, it has to be realized that Ukraine is weakest precisely in the short-term. An election would give Poroshenko a democratic mandate to carry him through the coming years of austerity and economic hardship, after which the situation will inevitably start to look up again (conveniently just in time for the 2018 elections). The pro-Russian electorate is getting older, and is concentrated in the demographically weaker eastern provinces; all else equal, the political power of the European vector is bound to increase over time at the expense of the pro-Russian vector. Meanwhile, passions in Russia over Crimea will die down, and Putin will start becoming preoccupied with the next election cycle.

The primary challenge, then, is just to survive the next few months.

I am assuming that Russia does not want to annex Donetsk – what for? it’s a subsidized rustbelt – but to use it as a lever for federalization, the consequent development of tight links between the SE provinces and Russia, and eventually, possibly, their independence (Novorossiya) or outright annexation. This can be preempted by Kiev offering decentralization itself, but in a manner that minimizes the actual political autonomy offered to the provinces. Incidentally, this is EXACTLY what Yatsenyuk and co. are doing – they are not the naive, limp-wristed fools that many here take them for.

Since the current authorities do not enjoy legitimacy in the east, especially in Donetsk/Lugansk, using force now is a pretty stupid idea. Especially since the local siloviki have either defected, or are apathetic. I suppose Kiev can still use units from the far west or mercenaries, but that would be doubling down on the stupid. Let them occupy administrative buildings for the time being, while painting them as foreign agents who don’t represent the will of the people (which is, again, what is actually being done). Administrative functions can be moved elsewhere for the time being. Absolutely no fire orders to avoid giving Moscow any kind of excuse for more overt intervention. Take solace in the fact that, at least before February, the opinion polls showed that no more than a third of Donetsk residents – the most seccesionist province – actually wanted full independence/merging with Russia. In the meantime, all efforts should be focused on stabilizing the economy. If that doesn’t happen – worse, if Crimea flourishes against this backdrop – then Kiev might have to deal with a Maidan 3.0 before too long, and not in the east but on the streets of the capital itself. How to stabilize the economy? Short of the EU/US putting their money where their mouth is, it will have to open up serious discussions with Russia. And this will require concessions. You might not think that fair, but it’s a fact. At least for the time being, promise to halt EU integration, and pointedly ignore Crimea (don’t accept it as Russian, but also don’t make scenes about it). Yes, this will enrage the Maidan, but unless I seriously underestimate Right Sector’s power, the caretaker government should survive long enough to run the elections and hand the Presidency to Poroshenko.

Once that is done, and full control over the country is regained as the effects of cadre replacements make themselves felt, promises made before can be broken (they can say they were made under duress, and/or that they were made by Turchinov, and Poroshenko is another Preisdent). As Kolomoysky said, “Promise the scum everything, then hang them.”

Russian Federation Sitrep 2014.04.03

 

THE FUTURE OF UKRAINE. The Ukraine of six months ago no longer exists; it has been destroyed by the scheming of Brussels and Washington. If there is to be something on the map named “Ukraine” at the end of the year that in anyway resembles what was there six months ago, Moscow’s plan must be adopted. Autonomy for the regions so that one half can’t bully the other half; minority language rights; neutrality, neither NATO nor Russia. As to Crimea, it is part of Russia; that is done. If it offends you to call this the Moscow plan, you may call it the Kissinger plan. If these principles are not accepted, and fairly soon, then by the end of the year south and east Ukraine (known as Novorossiya – New Russia – for two centuries) will be independent or part of Russia while rump Ukraine will be in full economic collapse and even civil war (and eventual absorption by Poland?). The only thing left undetermined will be the border of Novorossiya and rump Ukraine. None of this was necessary; all of it was predictable. (Here I am in December. But I claim no special prescience: everyone who knew anything about Ukraine knew it was fatal to the project to force an all-or-nothing choice. The West did this twice: ten years ago with NATO and now with an exclusive EU trade relationship, with NATO in the background). So here we are: hard times ahead for the citizens of any conceivable future Ukraine.

RUSSIA’S INVISIBLE ARMY. Much about how Russia is “massing” its army along the Ukrainian border. These reports are so confused as to be valueless – read this one carefully for example, noting contradictions; note the rag-bag elements tossed together of this one. No “massing Russian troops” were found in a 200 mile trip by Daily Telegraph reporters; nor in a 500-mile trip by NBC reporters. But it’s still hyped by NATO. (Once upon a time I believed NATO over Moscow. No more. Kosovo wounded it; Libya killed it; Ukraine has buried it. From now on my base assumption is that NATO is lying.) There is no need for “massing”: Russian troops in Crimea (already there, which is why US int couldn’t find them) were welcomed by an enormous majority and 90% of the Ukrainian forces either joined them or quit. There is every reason to expect that the reception of the Russians would be the same in Novorossiya, as we should perhaps get used to calling it.

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Navalny and Sanctions

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

While Gorbachev supports Crimea’s return, Navalny is helping the EU to compile sanctions on those who made it possible (http://www.alde.eu/uploads/media/Crimea_list_FBK_ALDE.pdf).

All ideology aside, I really do think that this marks the end of him as a serious politician. (Note that I say this as someone who unlike most pro-Putinists predicted he’d get a high result in the Moscow elections).

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Couple of quick notes:

(1) Agree with Alexander Mercouris that the US bought into its own propaganda of “Putin’s billions” and has visa banned/frozen the assets of Timchenko, Gunvor, Kovalchuk, Rotenbergs, and other businessmen seen as close to Putin. Looks like its following the lead of its media and Navalny on these matters.

(2) Speaking of whom, I’ve always thought those who said Navalny was a CIA asset conspiracy theorists. Considering the close correlation between his own suggestions in the NYT and those the US just sanctioned, I will now have to seriously reconsider. The only unusual thing is that it seems America’s asset is leading it by the nose, as opposed to the other way round (though this is by no means unprecedented, recall “Curveball”).

(3) At this point, it would be not only proportionate but also poetically just to visa ban those US journalists who spread the story of Putin’s billions.

(4) While noting that these steps are run completely afoul of the rule of law and due process that the West pretends to care about so much, it is my impression that the vast majority of Russians (including myself) either do not care or in fact support these sanctions. It will help Putin to nationalize the elites and (in the long-run) help Russia diversify its economy and its relationships with non-Western Powers.