Crimea Info

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

It’s very uncharacteristic of the Kremlin to blatantly violate international law (they typically make sure to follow its letter). So what explains the increasingly unequivocal signs of Russian military involvement in Crimea?

The fact of the matter is that Russia has a legal right to military transit across Crimea SO LONG AS it informs the Ukrainian authorities. THE CATCH – whom does it consider to be such? Yanukovych, not the putschists in Kiev.

Russian Federation Sitrep 2014.02.27

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP

27 February 2014

Olympics. A triumph, no question about it, with the added  unexpected pleasure for Russia of topping the medal list. A Levada poll showed something less than enthusiasm at the start: 53% were glad Russia was hosting but 26% were not. Bet there’s more support now! Perhaps connected is a poll rating that puts Putin up to 68% approval. So, after all the toilets, fake pictures, (intentional fakes too), breathless warnings, subtropical, they were safe, everybody had a private toilet and food, the athletes seem to have enjoyed themselves. Will Western opinioneers and media outlets admit to getting it wrong? (“Sochi has been utter embarrassment for Vladimir Putin”). Silly question: “away from all the cameras, there are still many glaring questions”, “these games were anything but carefree”. I believe they went too far: in the event, millions and millions of viewers have seen the Western MSM’s coverage of Russia revealed to be largely lies and propaganda and the happy, modern ordinary Russians shown are a contrast to the grey, miserable, downtrodden Russians we’re told about. So, while they are indeed only sports, the Games’ success is another bucket of paint remover thrown at the Western portrait of Russia.

Corruption. Investigations chew away: an investigation into fraud at the Defence Ministry re-opened upon new testimony. Perhaps connected is a report that the former minister seeks amnesty. Seven generals and admirals investigated last year for corruption. A senior official in Interior Ministry detained over claims of bribery and abuse of office. Another senior Interior Ministry official dismissed with no reason given.

Bolotnaya case. Jail sentences for seven (longest 4 years, shortest 2 ½ – less double time served I presume as is usual) and probation for one. An anti-Putin rally turned violent in 2012. My sources tell me the violence was organised to happen (one of the principal Putin opponents said she wouldn’t appear because she knew there would be violence) but the WMSM of course pretends that this is a terrible outrage.

[Read more…]

Propaganda and the Narrative

I assume that most of the people who read this blog agree that a great deal of what might be called the “Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine” could better be termed propaganda. That is to say that it is a constructed narrative designed to produce deep-rooted convictions. Or, more bluntly, constructed lies and selected truths designed to shape opinion.

Let’s get the truths out of the way: Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych ran a corrupt and inefficient government. The condition of life for a great many Ukrainians is dreary, disappointing and declining. EU association had serious, perhaps majority, support in Ukraine at the time Yanukovych abandoned it. A lot, perhaps even a majority (but no one knows), supported, at least to some extent, the Maidan protesters and are glad to see the back of Yanukovych. Those could be agreed to, with some discussion about how big the support was and how bad Yanukovych was, by practically all people with any degree of informed knowledge. But those aren’t the things I am talking about.

The “Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine” (SWMN henceforth) goes quite a bit further than that. It would, I would say, consist of the following assertions

  1. Yanukovych was very much under the thumb of Putin (It’s very personalised: Russia is Moscow is Putin. But that’s another story.)
  2. A key Putin policy is to keep Ukraine and the other former USSR countries under his influence.
  3. Putin will not allow Ukraine or any of the former USSR countries to form an association with any other power.
  4. Using his influence, in furtherance of his aim to keep Ukraine under control, Putin forced Yanukovych to cancel the EU agreement.

Perhaps a little variation in the SWMN; maybe Putin bribed Yanukovych rather than ordering or threatening him. But these variances are unimportant and these four assertions are taken for granted in almost every Western report on recent events in Ukraine.

I say that these four are propaganda and I say they are because there are huge logic holes in them; therefore they cannot be true. They can only be believed if they are repeated so loudly, quickly and routinely that none of the audience gets a chance to think.

[Read more…]

“Everything is Annihilated”: The Economic Split of Ukraine

The attention of political analysts around the world is focused on the events in Ukraine. But at a certain moment, the fires die out and the riots subside – what will remain are the dry statistics.

Translator’s notes: This is a translation of a post on the weblog “Sputnik and Pogrom”, the authors can be described as Russian Nationalists. But that does not make it any less true, the reason that I translated this is that you will never read something like this in the Western Media, Russian Nationalists do not fit the narrative.

Original post by Kyrill Ksenovontov, 28th of January 2014

Translation: Nils van der Vegte

everythingisannihilated

Ukraine showed itself and the world in 2013 that the country is not important: instead of the planned 3.4% economic growth, it achieved something close to zero. 2013 was a negative year for almost all its economic sectors, except for agriculture (industry decreased by -4.7%). Most experts expect no more than 1% GDP growth in 2014. The irony is that the final fall into the abyss of economic crisis was prevented only by trade with Russia. But in 2014 even trade with Russia will do nothing to prevent that: The budget deficit for 2014 is 4.3% of GDP. The worst thing is that, economically speaking, the two halves of the country vary even more than the Czech Republic and Slovakia once did.

For example, the share of the Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk regions of total Ukrainian exports  is 35% , whilst the 7 most western regions (some of which have a serious historical bonus), make up for just 1/14 of Ukrainian exports. Regionally speaking, the highest number of people living below the poverty line can be found in the north-western and south-central regions (in the Lvov region, 30% of the people live around the poverty line).

[Read more…]

Shredding Sochi… in a Good Way

After a long break, a new contribution to the Experts Panel:

Shredding Sochi… in a Good Way

Western journalists have been in the business of dismissing Russian achievements and magnifying Russian failures ever since Putin drove them into a collective derangement syndrome – he even haunts their dreams, as recently revealed by the Guardian’s Shaun Walker – so the preemptive besmirching of the Sochi Olympics can’t have surprised anyone.

What is startling, though, is the unusually low competence of the effort, even by the standards of these people that are sarcastically referred to as “democratic journalists” in Russia.

The first and foremost attack revolved around the supposed corruption surrounding the Sochi Olympics. In 2010, the Russian magazine Esquire estimated that 48km of roads around Sochi consumed a cool $8 billion of taxpayer money, a sum that implied the asphalt might as well have been made of elite beluga caviar. Julia Ioffe cheerily transmitted these sophomoric calculations to the Anglosphere. The only problem with these actuarial wisecracks? Said road also included a railway, 50 bridges, and 27km worth of tunnels over mountainous terrain… which presumably made it something more than just a road. What was intended as a metaphor for Sochi corruption turned out to be, ironically, a metaphor for unfounded attacks against it.

There are incessant comparisons to the $8 billion spent during the 2010 Olympics in Canada. But this sidesteps the fact that Whistler was already a world-class ski resort, whereas Sochi’s infrastructure had to be built from scratch and at relatively short notice. The actual event-related costs of the Sochi Olympics are $7 billion, of which only half was directly drawn from the state budget. This is not to say that there was no stealing – of course there was, as corruption is a real problem in Russia, and is especially endemic in the construction industry. Navalny has created an entire website about it, and coordinated a campaign against Sochi with Buzzfeed and The New York Times. But what’s striking is that far from the pharaonic levels of misappropriation we might expected from the tone of the coverage, in most cases the markup was in the order of 50%-100% relative to “comparable” Western projects (and that’s after selecting the most egregious cases). This isn’t “good,” needless to say, but it’s hardly unprecedented in Western experience. In any case, a number of criminal cases have been opened up, so impunity is not guaranteed. (The most prominent “victim,” Akhmed Bilalov, has fled the country and claimed he was poisoned – all true to the form of emigre oligarch thieves from the ex-Sovie Union).

The lion’s share of the $50 billion investment in Sochi – some 80% of it or so – consists of infrastructure projects to make Sochi into a world-class ski resort that will provide employment in the restive North Caucasus, kickstart the development of a Russian snowsports culture, and draw at least some of the more patriotic elites away from Courcheval.

[Read more…]

A Bizarre Pardon

I have no idea what possessed Putin.

Did he think that it would spare him Western criticism in the run-up to Sochi? Of course not. Khodorkovsky was on the back-burner. LGBT rights are West’s stick du jour to beat up on Russia.

Did he think it would improve the legal and investment climate? I sure hope not, because it would mean he is an idiot who laps up the propaganda of those who loathe him.

Did he think it would reflect well on him? Journalists are rushing in to confirm that Putin’s pardon is just as arbitrary as the original indictment. (They have a point – about the former). Even pundits who once excoriated Khodorkovsky as the criminal he was, such as Mark Adomanis, now talk of the “trumped-up charges of fraud and tax-evasion” that put him in prison.

Did he think Khodorkovsky would shut up in gratitude? There was no admission of guilt involve, and the Menatep bandit has begun agitating from his 5-star Berlin hotel already.

Russia desperately needs more Westernization. In any truly civilized country, YUKOS’ campaign of tax evasion and contract killings would have ensured Khodorkovsky would have been locked up and the keys thrown away forever.

Instead, he will busy himself with plotting intrigues, as oligarchs are wont to do in banana republics. The only difference is that Russia doesn’t have bananas.

12/22/2013 EDIT: Alexander Mercouris has penned what I consider to be the defining article on this: Khodorkovsky – The End of the Affair? Go, read.

From RIA to Russia Today* (not RT)

RIA Novosti, Russia’s main state-run news agency, is going to be dissolved. So is Voice of Russia, a publication that I’ve written for, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta and its Russia Beyond the Headlines project*. They are to be merged into a new organization confusingly called Rossiya Segodnya (“Russia Today”), which is NOT the same as the (in)famous TV station. The Russia Today that we know and love (or hate) has long formally rebranded itself as RT, though it continues to be colloquially referred to as “Russia Today” by friends and foes alike.

This is an important point to make, as some Western media outlets – most notably, the Guardian – have claimed otherwise. Amusingly enough, a few of their commentators now say they are boycotting RT (the TV station) because the new director of Russia Today (aka Rossiya Segodnya), Dmitry Kiselyov, is apparently somewhat of a homophobe. At least, that is the only information about him (other than being pro-Putin) that the Guardian deemed worthy to include.

Why is RIA being folded up? I think there are two main reasons. Reading their article on their own demise will give you a clue as to the first:

The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.

In a separate decree published Monday, the Kremlin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent Russian television presenter and media manager recently embroiled in a scandal over anti-gay remarks, to head Rossiya Segodnya.

This is representative of RIA’s typical editorial slant, which is usually critical of the government position. (So much so that The Independent’s Shaun Walker described it as “surprisingly decent”).

This is okay and indeed appropriate if RIA was primarily a Russian language service catering to a Russian audience. But its not. Its primary audience are Westerners, who don’t exactly suffer from a lack of access to negative Russia coverage. To take but the latest example, their coverage of the recent unrest in Ukraine was explicitly pro-Euromaidan. Konstantin Eggert has a column there called “Due West,” which is exactly what it says on the tin: A pulpit from which to incessantly proclaim how Russia sucks, why RT should be defunded and Assange imprisoned, and why the West and Saakashvili are the best things since sliced white bread. Vasily Gatov, one of RIA’s most senior people, claimed that “Grozny” was afraid that the FBI would take the second Boston bomber alive (presumably, because the FSB trained him up, or something). Make no mistake, I do think that freedom of speech is good and it’s great that Eggert enjoys it in Russia – though it’s worth mentioning that the sentiment is not reciprocal – but the notion becomes rather absurd and even distorted when a state news agency consistently attacks and undermines the government in the eyes of foreigners.

This does not happen in the West. Whatever their domestic disagreements, there is an implicit understanding among American politicians that criticism of the US and the US government is off limits so far as foreigners are concerned. The same goes for America’s “soft power” media. You will simply not find much anti-US material on RFERL or Voice of America. The same goes for the BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV, France 24, and Deutche Welle as regards the foreign policies of their respective countries (aka sponsors). Russia making an exception on this issue is maladaptive and not even widely appreciated to boot.

In this respect, RIA has long been somewhat of aberration, and frankly the only thing surprising is that it took the Kremlin this long to comprehend and rationalize the situation. Western journalists complain about clampdowns and neo-Sovietism all they want. The Russian taxpayer owes them nothing. In the meantime:

“Russia has its own independent politics and strongly defends its national interests: it’s difficult to explain this to the world but we can do this, and we must do this,” Ivanov told reporters.

In that respect, RIA didn’t help; it hindered.

[Read more…]

Translation: Nemtsov for Europe!

Opposotionist Boris Nemtsov arrested in Moscow for showing his support for Kiev mob actions, as reported by Moskovsky Komsomolets’ Natalia Rozhkova, December 2, 2013.

Nemtsov shamefacedly arrested in Moscow city centre at a demonstration in support of the Ukraine

Activists from the Republican Party of Russia “Parnas” taken to local police station for showing their support for European integration

On Monday evening co-chairmain of the RPR “Parnas”, Boris Nemtsov, was arrested close to the Ukrainian Embassy in central Moscow during an unsanctioned rally in support of the European integration of our East European neighbour. MK was told this by Nemtsov himself, who telephoned the newspaper from the “Presnensky” precinct police station, where he had been taken after his arrest. Nemtsov hopes that after the charges have been made he will have time to get the evening train to Yaroslavl, in order to attend the regional parliament, where, as a deputy there, he is going to be to discussing budgetary matters …

“There were 11 people there. We went peacefully, without weapons; quietly and in full compliance with Article 31 of the Constitution”, the politician said. “Holding a banner reading: ‘Ukraine- we are with you!’, we stood for 10 minutes, after which all of us were apprehended”.

[Read more…]

Serdyukov is Charged

Here is the discussion at this on The Russia Debate.

My friend and DR commentator Alexander Mercouris correctly predicted this outcome – that Serdyukov would be charged, but that it is a complex case that will take a long time and likely avoid more the more serious allegations in favor of those that can be more easily proved in a court of law. So I’ll just quote his analysis:

As people who followed my opinions about this case will know, I have always thought it more likely than not that Serdyukov would eventually face a charge but I have also thought it more likely than not that it would not be a charge that reflected the seriousness of what he had done. I have also always thought and I still think (as does Anatoly Karlin) that this case is very likely to end in a plea bargain.

The reason I have always thought these things is not because I have any real doubt about Serdyukov’s corruption and of his personal involvement in the corrupt schemes that have wracked the Defence Ministry under his watch (see my very first comment on this thread) or because I thought he was being protected by someone (see my second comment) but because personal experience tells me how difficult it is in these cases of high level corruption and embezzlement to secure a conviction. Again I would repeat what I have said previously, which is that the mere fact that Serdyukov’s brother is rich or that Vasilieva has a stash in her multiroom apartment, is not in itself evidence against Serdyukov that can be used in a Court of law. There has to be witness evidence and/or a paper trail directly linking Serdyukov to some or all of these corrupt activities, which the prosecution is in a position to say cannot be interpreted in any way other than as evidence of his guilt. Given that Serdyukov was presumably taking steps to conceal what he was up to, that sort of evidence almost by definition is going to be difficult to find.

It has not helped matters in this case that judging from media reports Serdyukov is being investigated by two rival teams of investigators – one from the Investigative Committee and one from the military Procurator’s Office – who appear much of the time to be in bitter rivalry and disagreement with each other. Conflicts of this sort invariably complicate investigations and can even wreck them completely.

What I would say about this case at the moment is this:

[Read more…]

Could Public Opposition to Life Extension become Lethal?

I have managed to find 3 polls querying people on their attitudes towards radical life extension. By far the most comprehensive one is PEW’s August 2013 Living to 120 and Beyond project. The other two are a poll of CARP members, a Canadian pro-elderly advocacy group, and by Russia’s Levada Center. While PEW and Levada polled a representative sample of their respective populations, the average age of the CARP respondents was about 70 years.

On the surface, public opinion is not supportive of life extension. 38% of Americans want to live decades longer, to at least 120, while 56% are opposed; 51% think that radical life extension will be a bad thing for society. Only 19% of CARP responents would like to take advantage of these treatments, and 55% think they are bad for society. Though a somewhat higher percentage of Russians, at 32%, want to live either “several times longer” or “be immortal” – as opposed to 64% who only want to live a natural lifespan – their question is phrased more positively, noting that “youth and health” would be preserved under such a scenario.

For now, these figures are a curiosity. But should radical life extension cease being largely speculative and move into the realm of practical plausibility – Aubrey de Grey predicts it will happen as soon as middle-aged mice are rejuvenated so as to extent their lifespans by a few factors – public opinion will start playing a vital role. It would be exceedingly frustrating – literally lethal, even – should the first promising waves of life extension break upon the rocks of politicians pandering to the peanut gallery. This is a real danger in a democracy.

Still, there are three or four strong arguments for optimism in those same polls:

[Read more…]