Putin not our "friend"? So what?

Brian Tue, 2017-05-30 22:33
Seth Rich, RIP, murdered

(Achtung! I despise Donald Trump. Maybe even more than you. I've despised him for many, many years, since long before he decided to run for POTUS. This is not a pro-Trump piece. I discuss here what I believe to be the actual situation.)

One of the big problems of today, as far as I'm concerned, is the staying power in the "West" of Russophobia, or, more specifically, Putin-phobia. Considering how close we are to nuclear war with Russia, for no really good reason, it seems to me a lot of people ought to smarten up.

One of my favourite internet authors, one Caitlin Johnstone, is a major critic of the current wave of Russophobia that's clearly driving otherwise sensible people in the United States, mostly Democrats, to lose their minds—the apparent belief that every major problem in the U.S. is Vladimir Putin's fault.

Caitlin thinks, as I do, that the murder of Seth Rich, an employee of the Democratic National Committee, an apparent Bernie Sanders fan, and suspected world-wide as the guy who leaked the Podesta/DNC e-mails to Wikileaks, should be very publically investigated. Why? Partly because it may lead us to places we don't want to go. Especially because it may lead us to places we don't want to go.

But the suspicions about Seth Rich run up against some very powerful people, people who want us to believe Russia is responsible for the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. Not Seth Rich. Not the Americans who voted for him, but some foreign power.

Some people think that's ridiculous. But there are others who think we should still be frightened of Russian power and Russian ambitions, despite the "election," presumably because if Russia wins, we lose.

I'm not one of them. But author Kristoffer Hellén is. Even if we don't think Russia stole the US election, we should still be frightened of them, he says. In this article, which is in my view instructive, he takes issue with Johnstone, who says the current of anti-Russia hysteria is leading us to the abyss, and investigating Rich's murder is crucial to dealing with that hysteria.

Though he seems to have no objection to Ms. Johnstone's major thesis in the article he references, he takes issue with her understanding of Russian foreign policy. In doing so, he goes so far as to question her "intellectual honesty."

It seems obvious enough to me that if you're going to level such an accusation, you'd better be careful to be intellectually honest yourself. Among other things, in my opinion, that means citing your sources and interpreting them correctly. So let's just see if that's so.

Hellén says, "Putin's obsession since he took office has been to re-establish Russia's "superpower" status." Hellén gives us no reference for this. It's also different from what's usually said when Western writers try to convince us they're inside Putin's head, that he's trying to rebuild the Soviet Union. Usually also with no evidence. Hellén also doesn't tell us why having more than one superpower would be a bad thing.

He says, "I’m not going to go as far as Josiff Ezekilov, who recently accused her of being a paid Russian troll." Then why even bring it up? He's a smart writer, he knows what he's doing here.

"Let us not forget that internet troll factories, the precursor to Correct the Record, were pioneered by Putin." For evidence of this, he gives us an article from the UK's Telegraph that interviews a few Russians who say they worked for an internet trolling factory. There's no evidence offered that Putin "pioneered" the concept. I'm especially thinking of Israel's hasbara war-rooms here. And if you think there aren't paid groups of internet trolls operating in the US, well, I just might have some swamp real estate you'd be interested in.

For evidence of Putin's "popularity going down the toilet," he refers us to a Guardian (UK) article, that tells us Putin's poll numbers had deteriorated to 60 per cent (60%!!!) in 2013, but were back up to almost 90% in 2015. I can think of a lot of Western politicians (and journalists!) who wouldn't mind swimming in that toilet.

Hellén calls NATO a "defensive" organization. That's just ludicrous. NATO's been at war for most of the last 30 years, if not longer. How anyone who claims to be "progressive" can write that sentence is beyond me.

For evidence that "the Russian government has given clandestine funding to far right parties all across Europe," Hellén refers us to another Telegraph article that reports that the US is "investigating" whether the "Kremlin is infiltrating political parties in Europe." For most of us, suspicions are not facts, especially when those suspicions are mouthed by the usual US anonymous sources that have been spewing blather since before last November (IMHO, since forever.) Investigate away, by all means, but I'll wait for the results, thank you very much.

For evidence that Putin "has pursued [in Syria] the goal of targeting civilians in order to exacerbate Europe's refugee crisis and thereby weaken the EU," we are given yet another Telegraph article that quotes extensively one Gen Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the "Dr Strangelove" of NATO, whose pronouncements on Russian perfidy filled our news media with nonsense for years. As for who was deliberately creating a refugee crisis, perhaps Hellén's thinking of Turkey's Erdogan. (No, Russia and Syria did not deliberately target "civilian" areas, they targetted "rebel"-held areas. And, yes, there are always some civilians in such places.)

Hellén criticizes Johnstone's "intellectual dishonesty," and then proceeds to BS us about Crimea. He says Johnstone "completely ignores that the Crimean Tatars are the historical people of the Crimean peninsula and they have been unanimously opposed to the Russian annexation all along and to ignore their wishes is to deny their right to national self-determination." According to Wikipedia, in 1897 Crimea was 33% Russian, 35% Tatar, and 11% Ukrainian. In 1939, the last census available before the genocidal expulsion, it was 49, 19, and 14 respectively. It went to close to zero after the expulsion, but, finally, during the perestroika period, Crimean Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea, and in 2014 made up 10% of the Crimean population (68% Russian, 16% Ukrainian). (See here. )

So, in fact, while Crimea was certainly the home of the Crimean Tatars (they aren't called Crimean for nothing), since at least the late 1800s Tatars have been a significant minority there. I suppose Hellén would have us deny the 2/3 of Russians on the peninsula their "right to national determination" (as Khrushchev did when he "gifted" Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic without so much as a how-do-you-do).

Hellén also offers no evidence that Crimean Tatars would prefer to remain in Ukraine rather than move to Russia. While the turnout of 84% in the referendum, with 97% voting in favour of Russia, seems to indicate that many Ukrainians and Tatars voted, and that, if so, they would have voted mostly in favour (I know, I know, the results are disputed in the "West"), the results don't seem to have been divvied up by demographic categories. However, polling since the referendum in Crimea, including western polling, indicates that while Tatars are less pleased than the Russians and Ukrainians are about the move to Russia, the ones who are pleased amount to almost half. Polling previous to the schism in Ukraine indicate not that Tatars wished to remain in Ukraine (only ~25% did), but that some preferred Russia, while many wanted some form of autonomy, whatever the situation. Who could blame them, given their history? (See, for example, here. Yes, yes, I know it's Wikipedia, but I thought it a pretty reasonable encapsulation of the dozens of articles I read trying to find referendum results for the Tatars.)

Finally, Hellén is just completely wrong when he says, "the referendum did not include the option of staying part of Ukraine (it was either join Russia or separate from Ukraine)." Here's a translation of the actual wording of the 2nd question: "Do you support the restoration of the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea in 1992 and the status of the Crimea as part of Ukraine?" As I understand it, that constitution was the one in effect on the day of the referendum—Crimea was an autonomous entity within Ukraine. (I'm not sure why a word that means "restoration" would be there. It may be some Russian thing, or a weird translation. Feel free to correct me.) But, in any case, the phrase "as part of Ukraine" should be dispositive. It was the question, "Do you support the status quo?" (Mind you, it was the "status quo" in a situation where the entire constitution of Ukraine had just been trashed.)

Johnstone makes the "mistake" of referencing RT, "a news channel literally funded by the Russian government." Like many Western Russophobes, and never mind the close association of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and many, many other mainstream media outlets owned by our own oligarchs, with the CIA, the State Dept, and others, this is an unforgivable sin. Myself, I take RT seriously, based on its record, despite its funding, keeping in mind that its views on matters Russian, including foreign policy, should be read very carefully. Heck, I still read stuff from the Washington Post, just very carefully.

No, Vladimir Putin is not "our friend." Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is our friend. Binyamin Netanyahoo is our friend. Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is our friend. Petro Poroshenko is our friend. With friends like these...

And who does Hellén suggest has the right/duty to "contain" "Russian power"? The one superpower? Well, I'm old, but my distinct recollection is that when there were two superpowers, it was uncomfortable, but it was better.

Oh, and yes, I want Seth Rich's murder totally investigated. No matter what Putin says.Or the DNC/FBI.

(In deference to Hellén's qualifications, I'll have to admit I don't have a Master's degree in Russian history, nor did I pay $50,000 for the one I do have—linguistics. But I do tend to think Stephen Cohen knows what he's talking about. While Hellén offers that there are other distinguished academics that disagree with Cohen, he offers no names. That, in my opinion, was a missed opportunity. I would have been interested.)


(Postscript: While I was writing this, Hellén responded to a draft by giving me the name of Stephen Blank as someone who we should read in addition to Stephen Cohen. I will.)


Whitney, WT. Why Does the United States Beat Up On Capitalist Russia? 30 May, 2017

Syrmopoulos, Jay. Chomsky Exposes Russiagate as Propaganda: ‘It is a Joke’ & ‘The World is Laughing at Us’. 30 May 2017

Johnstone, Caitlin's 3-part series Debunking Russiagate

Crimea referendum, 2014: Map, facts