We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Exactly what does the Kremlin expect people to hear?

When the Kremlin says something like this

In an interview in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, said he did not think Danes fully understood the consequences of joining the programme.

“If that happens, Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” Vanin told the newspaper.

What exactly are people supposed to hear? What I am hearing is…

“Yes I know you would rather spend your taxpayer’s money on outreach programmes for gay radical muslim single parent transgendered climate change threatened whales, but we really really want you to get those defence budgets up to the NATO required 2% figure!”

What reaction are they expecting to overt threats pretty much explicitly saying “if you, as a NATO nation, assist NATO with the deployment of a defensive weapon system within NATO borders, we will point nukes at you!”

Might this not be a tad counter-productive when the Russian Troll Army are tirelessly trying to convince assorted useful idiots to push the line that “Russia is no threat to anyone, honest guv!”…?

I guess the the Russian ambassador to Denmark did not get the memo ;-)

An enemy’s enemy is sometimes an enemy

One of the oddities (well, it may not be that odd) of our time is when people who wax lyrical about liberty or the evils of oppression of certain kinds seem to be, well, rather weak at the knees when certain “tough guy” rulers flex their muscles in ways that seem hard to justify by reference to any sort of principle other than naked territorial aggression.

And sometimes defenders of these “tough guys” (or women) are so appalled at what they see as the behaviour of the “other side” in a dispute (such as the European Union or the current leadership of much of the West) that they want to make excuses for such tough guys’ actions, often excusing behaviour that one might assume they would, in other cases, condemn or at least question. . There has been a fair amount of “we had it coming and you cannot really blame X or Y since they were were brutalised by us” sort of thinking long before 9/11. (People sometimes excused Germany’s aggressions in the 1930s by invoking Versailles in a knee-jerk fashion, and for all I know, the Ancients were indulged in similar ways.)

A recent example of this sort of behaviour comes from Peter Hitchens, a columnist who, for those who haven’t encountered him before, is almost self-parodic in his scolding right wingery. (He’s the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens). Peter Hitchens is a lapsed Marxist and I sometimes wonder just how deep any conversion away from that intellectual foolishness has ever taken place. Anyway, it appears Mr Hitchens has big man love for Vladimir Putin, so to speak:

Col. Putin, he says, is at odds with the West because he feels unloved. By us, that is. This is an injustice Peter has set out to correct, sticking out for his bit of rough. Vladimir, according to his swain Peter, is like a murderer who, according to his lawyer, only killed because his Mummy was a whore, he never knew his Daddy and the flat-screen TV set in his room was only a 19-inch.

Thus the object of Peter’s affection is only raping the Ukraine the way he previously raped Chechnia, Georgia and his own people because “We have been rubbing Russia up the wrong way for nearly 25 years.” Had we been rubbing Russia up the right way, Col. Putin wouldn’t be murdering everyone he dislikes, including, incidentally, dozens of Peter’s Russian colleagues. He wouldn’t have blown up blocks of flats in his own country to provoke aggression against Chechnia. He wouldn’t have turned Russia into a giant crime syndicate. And he wouldn’t have waged nuclear war in London by using polonium to murder Litvinenko.

This broadside comes from some fellow called Alexander Boot, of whom I had not heard before. Judging by some other postings, I suspect I won’t be in much agreement with Mr Boot about a lot of issues, but he’s right here.

Some weeks ago, when the issue of Russia’s activities vis a vis the Ukraine came up, one commenter sniffed that we libertarians should not be so beastly about Russia, since for all its brutality/corruption/etc, that we must focus our efforts more on Islamic fanaticism, and that Russia, because of its brutality under Col Putin, was a sort of useful, if rather unwholesome, ally. I don’t fully buy that analysis on even the most hardnosed basis, and on a more highminded view, think that genuine defenders of liberty and justice should raise the bar a bit. Part of the dislike of the Putin regime and what it represents on my part comes from a disappointment in what now holds sway in Moscow. It could and should have been far better than this. Much better.

 

The technical term for it is: maskirovka

Like so much electronic chaff dropped out of the back of a Tupolev bomber to confuse an incoming heat-seeking missile, the idea that there are multiple interpretations of the truth has become the founding philosophy of state disinformation in Putin’s Russia, designed to confuse those who would seek out the truth with multiple expressions of distracting PR chaff. The tactic is to create as many competing narratives as possible. And, amid all the resultant hermeneutic chaos, to quietly slip away undetected. It is a tactic straight out of Mr Putin’s KGB playbook from the 1970s. Generate a plurality of narratives, so the truth can be obscured.

Guardian editorial. Yes I know, chaff only confuses radar-guided missiles, you need flares for heat-seekers, but hey, this is the Guardian after all. Mangled metaphor aside, this is a very good editorial that will enrage all the right people.

Some context

mosc1

Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on the northern end of the Moscvoretsky Bridge, directly in front of the second closest to the camera of the green lamp-posts. In the background: St Basil’s cathedral on the right, the wall of the Kremlin on the left, Red Square in the centre. A more dramatic backdrop for an assassination in Moscow is hard to imagine.

Boris Nemtsov was assassinated within sight of the Kremlin…

… and twenty years ago today, TV journalist Vlad Listyev was also murdered in Moscow. No one was ever convicted. And there was investigative reporter Paul Klebnikov in 2004, no convictions. Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, with the alleged murderers convicted but not whoever ordered the hit.

No doubt opposition leader Boris Nemtsov‘s assassination will be put to good use though. Perhaps some expendable dupes can be found and somehow linked to the Ukraine because, well just because. I expect we will soon see arguments appearing like “Putin is so smart he would not have a political enemy killed in a well policed area near the Kremlin, so therefore it must be the CIA/International Zionist Conspiracy/Ukrainians”.

Russia has been attacking Ukraine directly

Nice work by Bellingcat showing what anyone not wilfully blind or on the Kremlin’s payroll already figured out, that Russian forces have been firing across the border into Ukraine.

Minsk ‘worse than Munich’?

If Russia now presumes to dictate what should be the constitutional order in Ukraine and if he has gained the assent of the German chancellor and the French president, Landsbergis continues, then the world has the right, even the obligation to ask, “when will you begin to observe the [Russian] Constitution, Mr. Putin?”

[…]

The Lithuanian leader said that he was disappointed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel apparently accepted Putin’s “puppet theater” when she suggested that the Kremlin leader had put pressure on the separatists to sign the agreement. To say that is also to give them a status independent of Moscow which they do not deserve.

Paul Goble discussing the views of Vytautas Landsbergis

Ukraine peace agreement?

Oh good, a peace deal has been hammered out for the Ukraine.

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France announced that a ceasefire would begin on 15 February. The deal also includes weapon withdrawals and prisoner exchanges, but key issues remain to be settled.

… and in other news that is no doubt unrelated…

Around 50 tanks, 40 missile systems and 40 armoured vehicles crossed overnight into east Ukraine from Russia via Izvaryne border crossing into the separatist Luhansk region, a Kiev military spokesman said on Thursday.

Thank goodness we have Putin’s word for it that Russia is not sending troops and large quantities of equipment into the Ukraine as part of a barely disguised invasion, for a moment then I thought there might be vastly less to this ‘deal’ than met the eye.

Oh this is going to end well…

Putin’s Russia has crossed a Rubicon: it now has sanctioned the Anti-Maidan Movement, a domestic version of Hitler’s storm troopers, and thus created a monster that almost certainly will engage in pogroms against one group or another in the future, according to Moscow commentator Matvey Ganapolsky.

Despite Putin’s ratings in the polls and the power of various state agencies, the Kremlin leader has clearly decided that it needs another weapon to control society and direct it along the lines it wants, and he clearly could think of nothing better than to adopt one of the “attributes of the Third Reich.”

“The times have passed” when the Putin regime used informal groups of bullies against those it doesn’t like or approve of, the Moscow commentator says. Now, those bullies are being officially recognized and legalized, they are holding press conferences, and they are “talking but the salvation of the Motherland.”

As Ganapolsky reports, “the new Russian storm troopers call themselves ‘the Anti-Maidan Movement” and have ostensibly been created by the Militant Brotherhood, the Union of Afghanistan Veterans, the Central Cossack Forces and the Night Wolves, thus allowing the Kremlin plausible deniability about who and what is really behind them.

Paul Goble

All this stuff about how clever Putin is needs to be re-thought

A few months ago, Nigel Farage, the grinning leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, in one of his many contributions to the gaiety of nations, said – about the time of the annexation by Russia of Crimea – that he “admired” Vladimir Putin. Farage said that he did not admire the goals of VP, oh no, but he did have a sort of admiration for the ruthless determination of the man. (One wonders whether Farage rather liked the idea of having the power to bump off opponents and over-inquisitive journalists. Politicians who grin as maniacally as he does make me nervous.) Those who must abide by the messiness and compromises of Western liberal democracy can sometimes, no doubt, dream of the sort of ruthless power wielded by a Putin, Stalin or a Mao. (We tend to forget, by the way, that even a supposedly tough politician such as a Reagan or Thatcher were more hemmed in by circumstances and debate than some of their more fervent admirers and detractors care to admit.)

Alas, it appears that the image of Putin as this ruthless, chess-playing genius wrongfooting silly old Cameron, Merkel, and the chap with the funny moonface from France is not quite standing up to scrutiny. Here’s a report by Bloomberg:

“The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way. The meltdown of the ruble, which has plunged 18 percent against the dollar in the last two days alone, is endangering the mantra of stability around which Putin has based his rule. While his approval rating is near an all-time high on the back of his stance over Ukraine, the currency crisis risks eroding it and undermining his authority, Moscow-based analysts said.

In a surprise move today, the Russian central bank raised interest rates by the most in 16 years, taking its benchmark to 17 percent. That failed to halt the rout in the ruble, which has plummeted to about 70 rubles a dollar from 34 as oil prices dived by almost half to below $60 a barrel. Russia relies on the energy industry for as much as a quarter of economic output, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Dec. 9 report.

Now might also be a good time to remind ourselves of the “curse of natural resources”.

It would be worth wondering what are the odds that Putin can last a lot longer in power. That said, a sobering thought is that when regimes are in deep trouble, they can do desperate, crazy things, as Argentina did in 1982 by invading the Falklands. If I were a planner for NATO right now, I’d be having a nervous Christmas and New Year ahead of me.

Samizdata quote of the day

President Vladimir Putin sees his country in an “information war” with the West. The underlying assumption is that Western media organizations are linked in a vast conspiracy to defame and undermine Russia, so the Kremlin has no choice but to reply in kind. Since the beginning of the month, Russia’s state media holding Rossiya Segodnya has launched an international news agency, called Sputnik, as well as RT Deutsch, a German-language version of broadcaster Russia Today.

The purpose of the media offensive isn’t so much to present an alternative point of view as to create a parallel reality where crackpots become experts and conspiracy theories offer explanations for the injustices of the world. The target audience is Western citizens skeptical of their own system of government. The goal is obfuscation.

Lucian Kim

Our old buddy, the law of unintended consequences

Hannah Thoburn has an interesting article on World Affairs called Putin the Unifier:

There’s nothing like an invasion to bring a country together. Ask any Ukrainian on any street and they’ll tell you the same thing, almost thankfully: Vladimir Putin has united Ukraine like never before. His actions in eastern Ukraine have proven a kind of catalyst that have forged a nation out of a group of people that once squabbled incessantly about politics, language rights, and tax dollars.

Southern Ukrainians who once sighed in exasperation at the “nationalists from the west” of Ukraine (as the common saying went) are now excited about the election to Parliament of a new, youthful, pro-European party, Self-Reliance, which hails from that region. Perhaps, one woman told me, they can teach us how to begin to “live in the European way.” Some in customarily Russian-speaking areas have taken to purposefully speaking Ukrainian so as to not perpetuate Russian soft power.

This pretty much squares with what I have heard from people I know or correspond with in the Ukraine. They tend to be deeply cynical about domestic corruption and local politicians generally, but all have told me hostility to the Kremlin and pro-western sentiments now largely transcends narrower political groupings, making for some eye widening collaboration amongst very unlikely allies. A guy I know also said much the same thing about many Russians becoming very vocally Ukrainian, with some going ‘deep nationalist’ as only Russians can these days, just not in the way the charming Mr. Putin might have expected.