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]

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.

Samizdata quote of the day

What is amazing is how the “Stab in the back” myth got going.

I’m watching a similar narrative unfold in Russia. The myth being propagated, and lapped up, is that Russia was strong and respected in the days of the USSR and then suddenly a handful of people (who naturally were nothing to do with Russia, really) gave it all up and surrendered unnecessarily. The West rushed in, led by the Americans, with the sole purpose of grinding Russians’ noses into the dirt and dismantling their country. They very nearly succeeded, but fortunately Putin descended from the clouds to save the nation, and is setting about restoring Russia’s place in the world and thanks to him Russia is strong again and will never again be subject to humiliation at the hands of the Americans.

Of course, the reality is that Russia persisted with an idiotic system of economic and political management despite the West telling them not to, and it inevitably collapsed around their ears. Rather than take the women and children as slaves, shoot all the men, and plough salt into the earth the West took pity on their former sworn enemies and offered them well-intended but hopelessly naive advice on how to build a market economy – naive because it failed to take into account the fact that far too many Russians would rather kill each other in order to get filthy rich than do some work and add some value. Having contributed to the almighty mess that Russia became, certain state-backed thugs rose to the top and accepted Putin as their leader who spent about 7-8 years providing some much-needed stability before the oil price rose, stoked his ego, and sent him into the delusion that he is some kind of Peter the Great figure who is destined to restore Russia’s place at the global top-table. Which is a fine aim, but thus far he’s managed to shoot down an airliner, ban the import of Lithuanian cheese, help himself to a peninsular he can only access in summer, and the traffic lights in most Russian towns still don’t work.

As with Germany, the second time around, the West might not be so charitable.

Jake Barnes commenting on a Samizdata article.

Who needs the Comedy Channel when you can have Russia Today?

I was only vaguely aware that Russia Today existed until our venerable chum Paul Marks mentioned it for the hundredth time, usually whilst he was sharpening a cavalry sabre (I may have imagined that last bit). So eventually I just bit the bullet (picked up on a battlefield in the Crimea I might add) and I actually went and found the damn thing on-line.

Oh boy what fun I was missing! Russia Today is as much of a hoot as listening to Radio Tirana back in the great old days of Enver Hoxha, which is to say, it is AWESOME. These guys actually play it dead pan most of the time, as if people are going to take them seriously! I really do LOVE them! Of course I am sure the people who work there don’t really think that, but hey, as long as they keep getting a pay check for providing us with giggles, it is a win-win for all concerned!

I mean they even have Steven Seagal! How cool is that? Seagal always wanted to be a good actor, a respected commentator and a friend of gay icon and all round great guy Vlad Putin… do not scoff! Do not titter! Face it, achieving one out of three of your life’s ambitions is more than most people ever do!