Today’s fear-mongering

Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail newspaper writes some good op-eds. But like a lot of commentators he seems to go completely off the rails when the subject of Russia comes up. His latest piece entitled ‘Is Putin scoring political goals on an empty net?’ had me spluttering over my breakfast cereal this morning, and merits a detailed response.

Saunders writes that during the past week,

After his U.S. success, the Russian President appeared to launch a two-pronged assault on the stability of Europe. On its eastern front, it took a violent form. Starting Sunday, after Mr Putin’s very cordial phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian forces began attacking Eastern Ukraine … This, military observers said, was Mr Putin’s new push to destabilize and gain influence over Europe’s eastern flank. … On Wednesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer, when asked about this apparent Russian invasion, declined to mention Russia.

Although I cannot prove it, I’m pretty sure that the Russian Federation has supplied most of the shells that the armed forces of the Donetsk Peoples’ Republic are using in current battles. I don’t see where else they could have come from, it being a long time since the rebels overran any Ukrainian supplies. But Saunders talks about ‘Russian forces … attacking Ukraine’, and an ‘apparent Russian invasion’. That implies that troops of the Russian Army have entered Ukraine in recent days and are leading the fighting around Donetsk. Not even the Ukrainian government has claimed that! Saunders is making this up.

Moreover, his claim that it was ‘Russian forces’ who ‘began’ the recent combat doesn’t fit the facts. As I pointed out in a recent post, even some very pro-Ukrainian sources admit that the Ukrainian army has been consistently breaking the ceasefire in order to conduct a ‘creeping offensive’ against the rebels in Donbass. Meanwhile, Ukrainska Pravda, which can be taken as reliably reflecting the official Ukrainian position, depicts a rather more nuanced story than that described by Saunders – namely that a minor clash between Ukrainian troops and a rebel reconnaissance unit escalated out of control.  If that is the case, the current fighting isn’t the product of any grand strategic design at all. Saunders quotes a former deputy secretary-general of NATO as saying that Russia started the combat in order ‘to test’ the Trump administration. But he fails to point out this is mere speculation without any factual basis.

Next, Saunders continues:

On the Western front, the Moscow incursion took a now-familiar political form. France’s presidential election campaign was tripped up by the sudden leak of thousands of candidates’ private emails, the largest pile of them from conservative candidate Francois Fillon.

Saunders blames Russia for this leak. But why would Russia try to harm Francois Fillon? The international press repeatedly refers to him as ‘pro-Russian’. The main beneficiary of the leaks appears to be independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, the one serious contender for the French presidency who is not considered ‘pro-Russian’. Why on earth would the Kremlin manipulate the French election to help Macron? It doesn’t make any sense. But Saunders fails to mention this. Rather, alluding to potential Russian interference in other European elections, he says:

The chaos serves the interests of those political parties … that regularly express support for Mr Putin and his agendas. … Their leaders all model their political agendas on Mr Putin’s combination of ultranationalist militancy, racial intolerance directed at religious minorities and opposition to the liberal democratic institutions of international cooperation.

Putting aside the obvious objection that far-right political parties in Europe developed their own agendas by themselves and not by copying Putin, this statement reveals a stunning ignorance of what Putin has actually said about nationalism, racial tolerance, and international institutions. Far from preaching ‘ultranationalist militancy’ and ‘racial intolerance’, Putin has often denounced these things, stressing Russia’s multinational and multi-confessional nature. Take, for instance, a speech Putin once gave in Kazan, in which he said:

Without exaggeration the principle of toleration, both national and religious, was central to the formation of Russian statehood. … Thanks to its multiethnic unity our country withstood many trials … the preservation of social, interethnic, and inter-religious peace is the basic, fundamental condition of Russia’s successful development. … In opposing nationalism and extremism the state must rely on all the Federation’s subjects.

This is fairly typical of Putin’s rhetoric. Has Saunders ever read Putin’s speeches? Has he studied Russian nationality and immigration policy under Putin? If he had, he couldn’t possibly make these claims.

Of course, we all have our biases; we all weigh some evidence more heavily than others; we all interpret evidence in a subjective manner. But at the same time, we have an obligation to check the facts, and not to make them up. We also have an obligation not to stoke fears based on ignorance. Journalists writing for a prestigious newspaper ought to do a better job than this.

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25 thoughts on “Today’s fear-mongering”

  1. I understand your frustration (of course he hasn’t read anything Putin has said!) but it’s only the G&M; a rag designed to make smug Canadians feel comfortable with their preconceptions. Never, ever, will it say anything to disturb them. Ditto CBC.

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    1. The problem, Patrick, is that the G&M is what Canada’s political and intellectual elites read over their breakfast coffee each morning, and most of them will no doubt believe every word of it. One article like this is nothing to worry about. But the weekly drip-drip-drip of it has a highly deleterious effect.

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      1. Of course, you’re right. But they won’t be reading you. Because it would make them feel uncomfortable. Plus, you’re not “fact checked”, just a “blogger” and all the rest of that stuff.

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      2. I emailed a ‘letter to the editor’ to the G&M. I have not heard back. It appears that my message is unwelcome!

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  2. “Although I cannot prove it, I’m pretty sure that the Russian Federation has supplied most of the shells that the armed forces of the Donetsk Peoples’ Republic are using in current battles. I don’t see where else they could have come from, it being a long time since the rebels overran any Ukrainian supplies.”

    Have you ever considered the option of the Ukrainian side selling them guns and ammo?

    “Of course, we all have our biases; we all weigh some evidence more heavily than others; we all interpret evidence in a subjective manner. But at the same time, we have an obligation to check the facts, and not to make them up. We also have an obligation not to stoke fears based on ignorance. Journalists writing for a prestigious newspaper ought to do a better job than this.”

    Not if we want our side to win in this not informational, but, to use more correct and nuanced term, semantics warfare.

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    1. ‘Have you ever considered the option of the Ukrainian side selling them guns and ammo?’

      Giving the scale of shelling, this could not account for the extent of rebel supplies.

      Also, I have never seen any evidence of such selling taking place after 2014.

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      1. “Giving the scale of shelling, this could not account for the extent of rebel supplies.”

        This presupposes several things:

        1) We (“we” understood boradly) know the initial extent of supplies availble to the militias in the East at the beginning of the hostilities.

        2) There were NO guns and ammo trade between the forces involved in the ATO and the People Republic’s. We are also told, by official Kiev, mind you, that there is no coal trade between L/DNR and the rest of the Ukraine.

        3) That the scale of the warfare facing Novorossian forces did deplete the military supplies got via 1) and 2) so it warranted ressuply from Russia.

        Just because you never heard about it doesn’t mean that it never happened. What, you read all Russophonic articles about the situation in the Ukraine? Or do you really think that your own Media reports anything concerning said situation, especially if it runds against the mainstream nrrative created by said Media sources?

        Just a few examples, if I may:

        Avakov steers up the scandal after it was discovered, that Ukrainian forces in the zone of the ATO sold recently supplied by the West Humvee to the People’s republic forces for just $5000. The article also lists other instances of warprofiteering and gun-running with ties and connections of the local “lords of war” stretching as high as to Poroshenko’s administration. This is article from Dec 2015 – well past 2014. Allegations about Poroshenko’s busnissess direct involment are nothing new. In fact, even most recent articles also mention the fact of Ukrainian military in the ATP still selling weapons and ammunition to the People Republics.

        And let’s not forget that besides the trade there were many trophies taken after several “cauldrons” suffered by the armed forces of the Ukraine.

        Whether you found these explanations plausible or not does not matter. The fact remains – you have no proof or evidence of Kremlin supplying anything.

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      2. Consider also the possibility that many Ukrainian soldiers have defected to the Donbass rebels’ side, taking weapons and ammunition with them, and the Donbass rebels had among their ranks veterans from the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan during the 1980s who kept guns, ammunition and other equipment from that war.

        https://www.sott.net/article/303431-Ukrainian-official-admits-16000-troops-have-defected-to-Donbass-rebel-forces

        If the Ukrainian army itself is using outdated weapons, ammunition and equipment, then trying to tell the difference between what the army is using and what the rebels are using from evidence left behind in the field will be impossible.

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  3. Back in 2014 I read somewhere that there’s only one ammunition factory on the territory of former Ukraine.

    And it’s in Lugansk.

    Therefore the real question is: where does the Kiev regime get its ammo?

    As for innocent well-meaning western politicians being ruthlessly destroyed by the Putin’s fake news machine – yawn. The western establishment seems to be firmly committed to the course of self-destruction now. It’s not even like the Soviet elite anymore, it’s more like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette…

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  4. Interesting thought, Mao… Here’s an article from 2016 apparently asserting that Ukraine is about to START developing and implementing a state program for domestic ammunition production:

    http://en.censor.net.ua/video_news/393494/about_800_ukrainian_enterprises_to_be_involved_in_munitions_production_nsdc_secretary_says_videophotos

    And here’s another brief article from DONI on (unspecified) ammunition production in Lugansk:
    https://dninews.com/article/lpr-lugansk-ammunition-factory-resumed-its-work

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    1. There are plenty of videos showing not only the vast numbers of Ukrainian tanks, BMPs, BTRs, MLRS,. etc recovered from the cauldrons but also the vast stockpiles of Ukrainian ammunition located nearby. Weapons need ammunition and the two are usually found in very close proximity.

      This video shows a captured ammunition cache from just one Ukrainian position after the Ilovaysk cauldron. There were dozens of bases and multiple cauldrons.

      Given the Novorossians do not waste ammunition firing at civilians and civilian infrastructure, such caches will go a lot further with them than with the Ukrainians.

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    2. Ukrainian arms’n’ammo and military hardware industry sufferes from the rapid de-industrialization – just like the rest of the country. Does anyone recall the Ukrainian “wunderwaffen”, over-hyped “Armata’s killer” new tank “Oplot”? It’s been produced in 1 (one) copy more than a year ago and now everyone in the Ukraine tries to pretend that it never existed. Malaysia refused to accept apreviously order big number of Ukrainian BTR due to their shitty manufacture. Btw – the government of Iraq also refused any dealings with Kiev after they “field-tested” same Ukrainian-made BTRs against the ISIS. Lviv’s tank factory went bankrupt last week, ceasing the production of “Dozor-B” armoured cars. Kharkov’s tank factory had to fire (“grant non-paid vacation for undetermined period”) 350-400 workers last month.

      And the less is said about the new “Molot” mortar (made by Poroshenko owned factory, btw) – the better. It was pure ganbna zrada.

      At the same time, since at least late 2014 the Ukraine became a dumping ground for previously mothballed and not yet sold for scrap hardware from the former Warsaw pact countries now in the NATO. Apparently, this is prime reason why the Ukrainian military can patch things up given their impressive loses (see lostarmour.info). Hpw long this will last I, honestly, don’t know, because I don’t have access to such, probably classified information. But that’s been happening for more than 2 years now.

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  5. Unfortunately, the media here, particularly the Globe & Mail, are part of the oligarchy and the unwavering sycophants of the political class. Much the same as the New York Times, Washington Post etc, in the US, the propaganda is now Fake News most of the time. Notice that reporters’ opinions are passed off as analysis or fact.

    It is to Trump’s credit in the US that he is treating the MSM with the contempt it deserves. Even after only two weeks in office, I’ve noticed people asking, when some outrageous claim appears on the media, is that Fake News? The label has now stuck to the MSM, not the alternative media. It seems that Kiev is getting nervous that a real rapprochement between the US and Russia will leave them out in the cold.

    Could that happen? Sure, you’ve got two alpha males dealing with the real world, not some panty-waist policy wonk from Harvard.

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  6. *reads source article*
    Sorry, but I had to stop at “After his U.S. success, the Russian President”. You know this “Trump is the Kremlin’s candidate” theory is utter BS when even Galeotti is skeptical of its plausibility.

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  7. We were both attracted to a similar favourite quote, but you stopped before my favourite part:

    “…As was the case with last year’s leak of U.S. Democratic Party e-mails, none of them appeared to contain anything very controversial or contentious, but their existence polluted the waters and added to Mr. Fillon’s existing scandals.”

    There you have it, folks; emails which revealed a deliberate and malicious conspiracy within the Democratic party to torpedo one candidate – who had a good chance of winning the election – in favour of the vanity candidate ideologues had convinced themselves was the must-have historic opportunity…is just ho-hum stuff, another day in the beacon of freedom and the breadbasket of moral values. Nothing very controversial or contentious: malicious maneuverings and clandestine hatchet jobs happen every day in the Land of the Free. Except the chair of the Democratic National Committee had to resign over the issue. Probably she just needed to spend more time with her family.

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  8. Once again, back to our dead horsie, i.e. the topic of Ukraine supplying Donbass Republics with guns and ammo:

    Yep, all done with SBU’s silent approval for a cut in profits (“geshaft”). That’s the first one they heroically prevented from delivering a “special order”. Surely, it wasn’t the first and only one in history.

    Paul, now do you consider the possibility of Ukraine supplying military materials to the People Republics a reality?

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  9. Absolutely, it’s important to have some balance here, and, as always, you make great points. I didn’t get the part about “Russian nationality and immigration policy under Putin”, however. Yes, Trump’s “Muslim ban” might temporarily make Putin’s RUssia look good viz. Muslims, but in general??? If I recall correctly Rogozin’s 2005 campaign slogan was “let’s clean out Moscow’s garbage” by which everyone understood he meant various “chornis”, no? Policy & practice are different things–and have always been different (I am specifically thinking of Ron Suny et al on ;nation-making in the age of Lenin and Stalin.’)

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    1. “Yes, Trump’s “Muslim ban” might temporarily make Putin’s RUssia look good viz. Muslims, but in general???”

      Yes, what in general? Pray, tell us!

      “If I recall correctly Rogozin’s 2005 campaign slogan was “let’s clean out Moscow’s garbage” by which everyone understood he meant various “chornis”, no? “

      It was in 2005. Now, tell me – is Moscow chornis (not a word I’d use, really) free?

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    2. It seems odd that Rogozin’s campaign slogan would somehow characterize in your mind a Russian “policy under Putin”. I see that Rogozin and Putin don’t even belong to the same political party.

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  10. Ok, gentle anonymous sirs/madams, I get all that, Putin & Rogozin, you being there, me never being there etc. Do note I used the scare quotes around the word, which is to say that I don’t like it either–and no thinking person should.

    My comment was about racism in contemporary Russia. If you think I am wrong to even raise this point, how would YOU characterize it in comparative terms? What is the predominant social hierarchy like? Who’s comes out on top in most contexts? Who’s always on the bottom? What are the intersections with language, class, gender and ethnicity, for example? Is it better/worse to be a Muslim in Putin’s Russia than in comparable societies, past or present? P.S. please don’t tell me about Jean Gregoire Sagbo, Shoygu and individual cases of “minorities doing well.” I do mean “in general”.

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    1. I was there once, for a few days, in Siberia, during the last 24 years.

      There’s a problem with your comment: talking with someone who seriously writes “Putin’s Russia” makes about as much sense as talking about US politics with someone who refers to the US congress as ‘jew-occupied territory’. The mind is set.

      As for being Muslim, it depends. There are problematic majority Muslim regions (e.g. Dagestan), where it could be hard, although it doesn’t appear to be driven by an anti-Muslim sentiment.

      I’d recommend Maxim Shevchenko; he a human rights activist, and exactly in this area.

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    2. “Ok, gentle anonymous sirs/madams…”

      Hardly anyone can call *me* gentle.

      “I get all that, Putin & Rogozin, you being there, me never being there etc.”

      I was born and raised here.

      “My comment was about racism in contemporary Russia.”

      What do you understand by the term “racism”? Yes, this is important before we go further, because, as, unfortunately, any Net-debate shows, there are A LOT of people who apply lables right and left if you dare to disagree with their extreamly handshakable attitudes and social norms.

      “What is the predominant social hierarchy like?”

      There is nothing akin to the Nurmenberg laws in Russia, therefore there is no “social hierarchy” of ethnicities. Trying to find out “the Truth” in this sphere is more like to pass the “statistically average body temperature in the sick bay” as some sort of very important scientific data.

      What do you want to hear, really? About lynching? About skinheads? About “Putin’s Regime sponsored new wave of Russian nationalsim” (c) whatever this crap means? That creeping “Orthodox Christian Jihadism” (c) is taking over the social sphere?

      No. Nothing of the sort. I consider my life in Russia normal. And, most of all, I can and *do* say that out loud without fear of triggering someone.

      “Is it better/worse to be a Muslim in Putin’s Russia than in comparable societies, past or present?”

      There is no such country on the face of the Earth as “Putin’s Russia”. My country’s name is Russian Federation. There was also no such country as “Soviet” or “Stalin’s” Russia as well. There was a country once called the USSR.

      Now, care to rephrase you question, without singling out my country as some sort of unholy theme-park version of the Hollywood stereotypes?

      When I grew up in school we had Armenians, Georgians, Kalmyks, Buryats, Yakuts, Ukrainians. I served in Russian Army. We had a “multi-cultural” make up.here also, with a large contingent of Kalmyks assigned to my company. They were berated by grandfathers not because they were Mongoloids – they were hazed because they were rookies, knowing full well, than after we will demobilize they in their turn will do the same.

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  11. Here’s what I know. It comes not from lived experience but rather from scholarly works I’ve read over the years–like you, I am not interested in Hollywood stories. Overall conclusions based on a dozen pieces listed below? 1) What is or is not “normal” is always defined by the majority 2) The Soviet rule was better for racialized minorities (ethnic minorities, visible minorities, ‘chornis’ etc) than Putin’s rule.

    Blakely, Allison. 1986. Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought. Washington DC: Howard University Press.
    Fikes, Kesha, and Alaina Lemon. 2002. ‘African presence in former Soviet spaces’. Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 497–524.
    Baldwin, Kate A. 2002. Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters Between Black and Red, 1922–1963. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
    Roman, ML. 2002. “Making Caucasians Black: Moscow since the Fall of Communism and the Racialization of non-Russians,” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 18, no. 2, 2-25.
    Baum, Bruce. 2006. The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity. New York U Press, Ch. 7.
    Matusevich, Maxim (ed.). 2007. Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa: Three Centuries of Encounters. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
    Arnold, R. 2010. ‘Visions of Hate: Explaining Neo-Nazi Violence in the Russian Federation’ Problems of Post-Communism 57: 2, pp. 37-59.
    Matusevich, Maxim. 2012. ‘Expanding the boundaries of the Black Atlantic: African students as Soviet moderns’. Ab Imperio 2: 325–50.
    Sahadeo, Jeff. 2012. Soviet Blacks and Place Making in Leningrad and Moscow” Slavic Review, 71, no. 2, 331-358.
    Arnold, R. & Romanova, E. 2013 ‘The White World’s Future? An Analysis of the Russian Far Right’ Journal for the Study of Radicalism 7: 1: 79-108
    Zakharov, Nikolai. 2015. Race and Racism in Russia. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Sahadeo, Jeff. 2016. Black Snouts Go Home! Migration and Race in Late Soviet Leningrad and Moscow” Journal of Modern History 88, no. 4, 797-826.

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