Three headlines

Three headlines have caught my eyes this week, all of them deserving a short commentary:

  1. Russia claims the North Pole.  The Russian government has just submitted a revised claim to parts of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole, in accordance with the process laid out by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). You can read the executive summary of the claim here. To my surprise, so far the media here in Canada have been remarkably fair in their coverage of the issue. The Ottawa Citizen, for instance, cited Arctic affairs expert Professor Michael Byers saying that, ‘Russia showed surprising restraint in its new Arctic claim compared with Denmark’s provocative bid last year, and diplomats should be relieved that Russia has chosen to follow to international rules in its submission and not create tension in the area.’ Indeed, in putting forward its claim, Russia is following the procedure laid out by UNCLOS, and the matter is now in the hands of the United Nations. There is no cause for alarm.
  2. Russians are dying more and giving birth less. The last decade saw a significant improvement in Russia’s demographic situation, with Russians living longer and having more children. But, according to the Russian statistical service Rosstat, this trend has now been reversed. The death rate in the first quarter of 2015 was 5.2% more than a year previously, while the birth rate was 5.7% less. According to the Deputy Minister of Health, Veronica Skvortsov, ‘This is not because the population is getting older. The death rate is increasing among young people, aged 30 to 45 … For the first time in years the number of suicides and alcohol poisonings … have increased. This is a big problem.’ It is not clear yet whether this is a one-off or the start of a new negative trend, but either way it is undoubtedly bad news.
  3. Robert Conquest has died. During the Cold War, when the true nature of the Soviet Union’s communist regime remained disputed, the works of British historian Robert Conquest were revelatory. Books such as The Great Terror, The Nation Killers, and The Harvest of Sorrow exposed the enormous extent of Stalinist repression, and ensured that public opinion in the West would remain resolutely anti-Soviet. Like many other Cold Warriors, however, Conquest didn’t manage the transition to the post-Soviet era very well. Documents from newly opened archives revealed that some of his claims were exaggerated, but rather than accept this, he clung to his original position. As a result, his reputation suffered somewhat. Still, despite its faults, his work provided the foundation on which a generation of historians built. As a young man, I found his books enthralling, and they helped to inspire me to become a historian myself. Conquest was one of the giants of Soviet studies, and his death is a great loss to the field.
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13 thoughts on “Three headlines”

  1. Thinking about the increased Russian death rate and lower birth rate, it seems to me that Russians are thoughtful and practical people (on the whole). 25 years ago, the entire ideological system to which everyone in the USSR had pledged allegiance collapsed. But never mind: it would be replaced by the shining city on a hill of free-enterprise democratic capitalism. After a painful transitional period, things would get better in the future.

    Now Russians have caught more than a glimpse of the fiery pit that lies before them. In the wealthiest and most “advanced” nations of the West, the very financial system that was supposed to ensure peace, progress and prosperity has turned on its citizens, methodically impoverishing them for the enrichment of a small, entirely undeserving, clique of rich people who control everything.

    As the old Soviet-era joke had it, “The bad news is that everything our leaders have told us about socialism was a lie. The even worse news is that everything they told us about America was true”.

    So maybe Russians are acting somewhat rationally by committing suicide and not having children. Would you want children of yours to live in the kind of world that will exist in 20 years from now?

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    1. Thanks for the link – I had not seen that. A terrible article, but I’m not sure about ‘a new low’, given how low some have already sunk.

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    2. the author of that Huffington Post piece is not exactly “informed”:


      Ukraine’s volunteer battalions are slowly coming under the tent of the Ukrainian government, after having been born as private units in the chaos of Yushchenko’s abdication, Russia’s invasion and Russian-created dysfunction at Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense (Yushchenko’s defense minister was actually a Russian citizen). And to be sure, the Azov Battalion has not always been a public relations darling. The battalion ceded the early information war, shying from an aggressive defense against Russia’s propaganda, and from putting out PR fires.

      He starts off with confusing Yushcehnko and Yanukovich.
      Seriously, that is like confusing President Abraham Linclon with president Jeferson Davis.

      It is usefull because it shows just how “accurate” this “analysis” is.

      While Russian media certainly exaggerates the Nazi movement in Ukraine (according to Russian media, the proportion is like 50%, in reality it is more like 10-15%, which is still very dangerously high), the fascists are gaining strength as long as violent conditions persist, and the fascists are also armed, which gives them effectively a veto over any peace process, and since they like thing staying violent, they will veto any peace agreement by force of arms. These fascist forces are also the ones willing to kill and die, which makes them more effective in fighting in Donbass then the regular army.

      As it stands, the rebels fight to not be ruled by Kiev, while Kiev/Lviv/Dnipro fights to rule over them. Unsurprisingly, this makes the rebels far more motivated.
      The incredibly law draft turnouts also state clearly that few Ukrainian citizens are much interested in fighting and dieing to make Kiev rule donbass.

      Maidan was in some ways a fight to not be ruled by Donbass (people in Donbass were not very interested in ruling over Kiev anyway, but the overcentralized nature of post Soviet Ukraine means that ruling over Kiev is neccessary if you want to be left alone. The Donbass elites are of course another story), which made Maidan at that time more motivated.

      As long as the rebels dont make the mistake of advancing into areas where they would be opressors (Dnipro, Nikolajev, Kiev itself, Lviv taking those places and occupying them would completely outstrip rebel manpower), Russian support, Kievs mistakes and superior motivation will see them persist successfully.

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      1. “according to Russian media, the proportion is like 50%, in reality it is more like 10-15%”

        I don’t know what the proportion is (I don’t think it’s anywhere close to 50%, and I don’t remember seeing this number in Russian media), but that’s not important. What’s important is that their are armed, organized, and act with impunity. Like the Blackshirts in Italy and Brownshirts in Germany.

        “Maidan was in some ways a fight to not be ruled by Donbass”

        I heard something like this from Maxim Shevchenko (Russian journo); I remember he was saying that it was a fight was between Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk mafias; Kolomoisky against Akhmetov. And I’m sure this is a valid angle: after all both have a hell of a lot of money. But of course this is just one angle, and there are many.

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      2. …wait, as I recall now, the Shevchenko’s story was more conceptual than just Kolomoisky against Akhmetov. It was something like a fight of international financial capital against national industrial capital (personified in Akhmetov). Good story, I like this kind of stuff.

        And Shevchenko is a very interesting character; he is, like, a religious-conservative-humanist/marxist. Only in Russia. I looove it.

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  2. 15ish% is what you end up when you add Svoboda, Pravy Sector and the Lyashko party, while also taking into account that others went “legit” and joined Yatsenyuk, BYUT, or (to a lesser extent) block Poroschenko.

    But yeah, for what its worth, the Bolsheviks ran off to rule Russia with arguably way less then 15% popular support in the early civil war.

    And well, the “game plan” of the fascists is simple enough that they could pull it off (force the “mainstream Maidan” further to the right, while vetoing any peace agreement by shooting at the rebels until they shoot back, simply put pressure on the Kiev goverment to make them make mistakes, eventually, the normal people will likely be more exasperated by the central politicans then by RS, if they do things correctly that is), although Right Sector is derping quite a bit.

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    1. Yeah, for the far-right, their problem is that (fortunately) they don’t appear to have any passionate-charismatic-sincere leaders. Just thieves. On the other hand, it’s probably kinda natural, since they are, to a significant extent controlled, financed, and managed (not just helped, like Germany and the Bolsheviks) from outside.

      Here’s a good interview with a far-right militant, one who cuts off prisoners’ index fingers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s5GKe803no

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  3. Meanwhile, RFE didnt quite get the memo that Russias bid was quite rational, and then runs off.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/08/putin-russia-ukraine-energy/401003/

    I mean, RFE used to be a professional propaganda outfit.

    It would be quite trivial to turn Russias arctic bid into propaganda without being factually wrong, for example with:

    1: “Look, the Russians are behaving according to international law! This must mean they are weakening! They would never do this without sanctions! More sanctions, Regime change now!”.
    Or:
    2:”Look, the Russians are behaving suspiciously reasonable! They must be up to something, quick, send the Marines to Ukraine!”.

    What Russia is actually doing is, in my view, the following:

    1: Russias is seeking to decouple certain foreign policy issues from Ukraine. It is interesting to note that, in both Iran and the Arctic, these are issues where fault line exist in the Western coalition. By acting highly responsibly, they are waiting for bumbling mistakes by certain western actors to expose these fault-lines. They are betting that some of these fault-lines will rupture, and these ruptures will transfer, despite Russian decoupling, to the western “consensus” over Ukraine. The reason why such a transfer is likely that the fault-lines would put different western nations/interest groups in conflict, and these conflicts between western nations/groups may not at all be decoupled. F.e. Germany would most likely NOT decouple a US congress blowing up the Iran talks from Ukrainian issues.
    2: Russia is signalling to the rest of the world that her word is still good most of the time, and that she act as a responsible broker even under highish stakes and even towards states with whom it has some conflicts.
    Ukraine marked the first time in which post cold war Russia actually seriously broke international law, Russia is thus striving to regain/maintain her trustworthiness advantage over the USA/the west.
    3: At least regarding Iran, it may well be that the Russian were also betting on a US attack happening anyway, and in this case, having been completely in good faith and diplomatic earlier would give Russia certain advantages in this scenario.
    4: Even if the US gets this, and attempt to counter Russian events at decoupling different issues regarding Russia, US resistance to such decoupling efforts would be very very undiplomatic and put great strains on the cohesion of the western alliance.
    5: Concerning the Arctic, current international law would accord Russia a pretty comfortable slice of the Arctic, so why incur additional costs by grabbing more?

    I also wonder why the used an apparent Putin poster from the Republika Sprska (Serbian part of Bosnia) as the illustration for this.

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