The Russians are coming!

Macleans magazine, which, roughly speaking, is Canada’s equivalent of Time or Newsweek, has published a couple of articles this week on the topic of the day – Russia.

The longer of the two, entitled ‘The Return of the Tsar’ is fairly innocuous. I have to confess that I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to achieve, apart from expounding some vague cliché about Russians wanting a strong ruler. It’s a fairly typical piece of impressionistic journalism, in which the author wanders around a Russian town, speaks to a few people, and based on a handful of anecdotes infers some broad-sweeping conclusions about the eternal ‘Russian soul’ and the like. By all means read it if you’ve got nothing better to do, but to be frank I don’t think you’ll get much from it.

The other article, by contrast, deserves a long reply, as it exemplifies fairly well what’s wrong with so much commentary on things Russian nowadays. You can get a sense of the thing just from the title: ‘Russia’s Coming Attack on Canada’. Watch out, Canadians, the Russians are coming, author Scott Gilmore warns, starting out by saying:

Moscow has been waging an increasingly daring clandestine war against western democracies. Under the direction of President Vladmir Putin, Russia is targeting most of the major members of the western alliance. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned of Russian attempts at cyber attacks. In France, Moscow has funded right-wing populist Marine Le Pen and is alleged to be spreading false propaganda about her opponents. There are now reports from British parliamentarians that Russia may have meddled with the Brexit campaign. And, of course, Putin’s interference in the U.S. Presidential election has lit a tire fire in Washington that may bring down the Trump administration.

Let’s take a look at this. Gilmore takes a bunch of allegations (Merkel has ‘warned’; Moscow is ‘alleged’ to be targeting Le Pen’s opponents; a single British MP (Ben Bradshaw to be precise) claimed that Brexit was the result of Kremlin interference’, etc), and without producing any evidence to substantiate these allegations uses them to claim that it is a definite fact that ‘Russia is targeting most of the major members of the western alliance.’ But accusations aren’t by themselves evidence. So what proof is there?

Well, according to Suddeutsche Zeitung, the German state security service, the BND, has found that ‘there is no evidence for Putin’s disinformation campaign’.  In France similarly, no evidence of Russian involvement of leaks targeting Francois Fillon has been forthcoming, and it would be odd if it were given that Fillon is considered ‘pro-Russian’. In Britain, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson declared a couple of days ago that ‘We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes at the moment. We don’t actually have that evidence.’ All the British have, according to Johnson, is ‘evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,’ which is not at all the same thing. And finally, in the USA, according to a recent report, ‘Even some Democrats on the Intelligence Committee now quietly admit, after several briefings and preliminary inquiries, they don’t expect to find evidence of active, informed collusion between the Trump campaign and known Russian intelligence operatives’.

So much for all that.

Undeterred by the lack of facts to support his thesis, Mr Gilmore nonetheless ploughs on, as follows:

Moscow is being forced to play these aggressive and risky games out of desperation. The country is in bad shape is getting worse. The once great superpower now has an economy smaller than Canada’s and it continues to shrink. … Even the ragtag Ukrainians have fought them to a standstill. Diplomatically, Moscow has never been so isolated and powerless. You can count its friends on one hand, and it’s not an impressive list: Syria, Iran, Belarus.

How true is all this?

To be sure, the Russian economy isn’t in great shape. It has pretty much stagnated over the past 10 years. But it isn’t ‘getting worse’ and it doesn’t ‘continue to shrink’, as Gilmore claims. In fact, the economy has begun to grow again (not by much, to be sure, but growth isn’t shrinking), consumer demand is rising, and inflation is the lowest in post-Soviet history. As for ‘ragtag’ Ukrainians fighting Russia ‘to a standstill’, that is a very odd description of events in Donbass – a more accurate description would be that it was a ‘ragtag’ bunch of rebels (with some help from Moscow) who fought the Ukrainian army to a standstill. And finally, as for Russia’s friends, they go beyond Syria, Iran, and Belarus. What about China, for instance? For sure, Russia has fewer friends than it did a decade ago, but it’s hardly ‘isolated’.

And here we reach a serious contradiction in Gilmore’s thesis – Russia is supposedly at one and the same time ‘powerless’ and a deadly danger. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, the article claims that Canada is likely to be the next target in Russia’s sights. Gilmore writes:

Russia has three objectives as it goes after Canada. The first is to undermine any policies or politicians seen to be against Moscow’s interests. For example, the Russian Embassy has already been trying to discredit Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, with a smear job about her grandparents. Russia also wants to discredit the broader political system, to undermine Canadians’ faith in “the system”, be it our own election process, our system of government, or parliamentary affairs. Finally, it wants to undermine Canada’s support for our allies, and for the international system including NATO and the United Nations.

All countries try to undermine policies which go against their interests. There isn’t anything odd about that. But the idea that the Kremlin wishes to undermine any ‘politicians seen to be against Moscow’s interests’ is rather problematic in the Canadian context, because that would be just about every politician. Say the Russians were somehow able to discredit the ruling Liberals. What then? They’d just get the Conservatives, who are every bit as Russophobic. Why would that help? Moreover, it’s rather strange to blame the Russian Embassy for the ‘smear job’ about Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather, as the story began not with the Embassy but with independent journalist John Helmer and spread thereafter, without the need for any outside help, via social media. As for whether Russia wants ‘to undermine Canadians’ “faith in the system”,’ that is pure conjecture. And while Russia might indeed wish to undermine NATO, it has repeatedly stressed its desire for an international system resting on the United Nations (UN), blaming Western states for discrediting the UN via actions such as the invasion of Iraq and the 2011 bombing campaign in Libya.

Gilmore’s accusations are unsubstantiated, and frankly more than a little bizarre. What possible good would it do Russia to launch an underground war against Canada? And how on earth could such a weak and ‘powerless’ country actually hope to succeed in a war against such a prosperous and stable proponent? And where is the evidence that it is doing any of this, anyway? It is perhaps more than a little appropriate, therefore, that Gilmore concludes by saying that:

To achieve these goals, Moscow will likely rely on the same methods it has used relatively successfully in the United States and elsewhere. It will spread disinformation—false stories that create confusion around a controversial and heated issue.

‘Disinformation’ and ‘false stories’ – like this one, maybe?

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15 thoughts on “The Russians are coming!”

      1. Just learnt that Scott Gilmore is husband of Ottawa Liberal MP and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

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  1. “In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned of Russian attempts at cyber attacks”.

    Is that the same Chancellor Merkel whose own personal phone has been tapped by the CIA for years, recently with her knowledge (and apparent approval)?

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      1. Thanks for the correction, but from where I sit the alphabet soup all merges into itself in one vast amorphous mass of self-righteous wickedness.

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  2. ‘All the British have, according to Johnson, is ‘evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,’ which is not at all the same thing’.

    Darn straight! I am capable of knocking Boris Johnson down, and I would dearly love to – but I shan’t because I am a moral and civilised person. As are the Russians. Mr Gilmore may not recognise a person of good character, as he many never meet such a person in Canada.

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  3. And here we reach a serious contradiction in Gilmore’s thesis – Russia is supposedly at one and the same time ‘powerless’ and a deadly danger.

    Heh. I’m surprised you didn’t catch a striking similarity with the phenomenon described in this famous essay:
    http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/

    Only back then he attributed the ‘paranoid style’ to the ‘Radical Right’, while these days it’s being practiced by the establishment ‘mainstream’. This is how far gone we are.

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  4. “The once great superpower now has an economy smaller than Canada’s and it continues to shrink. … Even the ragtag Ukrainians have fought them to a standstill”.

    Garbage. In the first place Russia cannot be compared with the USSR, which was a great deal bigger and more populous. In the second place, the Americans and others dedicated the entire decade of the 1990s to a concerted effort to loot, ruin and destroy Russia. In the third place Canada’ nominal GDP is the world’s 10th largest – like Russia it is a huge underpopulated country with vast untapped resources. In the fourth place, if we use PPP-adjusted GDP Russia is suddenly 6th and Canada 17th. The Russian economy seems to be sound; its debt is unbelievably low compared to near-bankrupt Western countries; and Russian citizens are very much aware how rapidly their economic lives have been improving.

    As for Ukraine, if Russia had invaded it (which it hasn’t) it would have occupied Kiev in less than two days.

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  5. “For sure, Russia has fewer friends than it did a decade ago, but it’s hardly ‘isolated’”.

    I would dispute the first assertion. Some nations, such as the USA, Canada, the UK, Austrlia, New Zealand and the EU nations may no longer claim to be Russia’s friends. But then they never were. I would much rather have an openly declared enemy than one sidling towards me in the guise of a friend, only to sink a stiletto into my back when he gets close enough.

    And we cannot allow that mention of “isolated Russia” to go by without linking to this justly famous map:

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  6. ” For example, the Russian Embassy has already been trying to discredit Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, an outspoken advocate for continued sanctions, with a smear job about her grandparents”.

    Would that be a reference to the Nazi editor who published an anti-Jewish rag during the Holocaust? I suppose such people are welcomed in Canada as outstanding citizens.

    ‘Her maternal grandfather, Mykhailo Khomiak in Ukrainian, was the editor-in-chief of a Ukrainian-language pro-Nazi newspaper called Krakivs’ki visti launched in Kraków in occupied Poland during World War II, with exposure orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels himself. Michael Chomiak has been characterized by the Canadian press as a “Nazi collaborator”…’

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrystia_Freeland

    http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/chrystia-freelands-granddad-was-indeed-a-nazi-collaborator-so-much-for-russian-disinformation

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  7. Helmer has come out guns blazing in regard to the lack of opportunity to reply to the allegations made against him. He ends:

    “Had I been given the right of reply, there is one paragraph I would have added to what I have already published as a reporter. It’s a personal one. For a great many of us, we cannot have known grandparents and other family because Freeland’s grandfather and his associates were so successful at destroying them in the west of Ukraine, the southeast of Poland. Freeland is now doing the same in the east.

    Between Freeland and the Galicians and me, there are no Russians. There is blood.”

    http://johnhelmer.net/in-the-canadian-cartoon-dudley-do-right-can-do-no-wrong-snidely-whiplash-no-good-in-real-life-can-robert-fife-david-walmsley-terry-glavin-alan-freeman-and-scott-gilmore-save-the-galicia-gang/

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  8. “Russia also wants to discredit the broader political system, to undermine Canadians’ faith in “the system”, be it our own election process, our system of government, or parliamentary affairs. “

    What-what? “To discredit the systme”? Like… cast a doubt that it’s a legitimate one? 😉 Ohhhh, i sense someone’s guilty conscience speaking here!

    As to the real reason why Russia will target Canada – I’m shocked, shocked and dismayed the article failed to mention it! Because Канада це Україна! SUGS!

    No use to deny it. Surely, in response to secure Canada from Moskal’s potential aggression the “Most Powerful Army in Europe” ™ had to occupy you. You will also provide the fabled безвиз for millions of the brave Ukrainian Cyborgs and their families, who will re-settle in Canda, in order to protect your country from the Hordes from Moskovian Mordor.

    As for you, Paul – well, better get yourself vyshivanka and start donating to your nearest museum of Holodomor (containing obligatory зал УПА) or the most democratic lustrations might target you. ‘Cause the brave Ukrainian warriors (who personally annihilated quadrillions of Checheno-Buryatian Tank-Spetznaz battalions) will do ensure that Canada will be Free. Or, to be precise, або вiльной – або безлюдной!

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  9. In “The Return of the Tsar” article, this drama queen, Radzinsky, exclaims (as only he can) full of pathos:

    “Everything that is built on blood is built on sand, and when the wind starts blowing, the building will fall, as it is said in the Bible. I wrote that myself in the ’70s—this building will fall. And it did.”

    Should the US of A start to worry then? Or, on the contrary, their continual existence prooves that Radzinsky and the likes of him are full of it and that, no, the blood and gravestones are the best foundation for a building of your state?

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