Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020

Happy New Year to all readers!

2019 saw a bit of a downturn in my blogging output – only 86 posts, compared to 101 in 2018. In part this was due to lack of inspiration; in part due to being busy with other things, such as promoting my new book, attending conferences, writing academic articles, and so on. Outside of the blog, it was a good year publication-wise – a book, a couple of chapters in edited volumes, and several academic articles. Otherwise, the highlight of my work year was taking some students to Russia in June. Sadly, I won’t be able to recreate that experience in summer 2020 as insufficient students registered, and we’ve had to cancel the course. It’s quite hard to persuade students to go to Russia, a problem which I know professors have encountered in other universities. Still, it will leave more time for new projects:

  • the next book, which I can now announce will be on the topic of Russian liberalism. I aim to complete it by the end of 2022.
  • some preparatory work to enable me to submit a grant application for the book after that, which will be a biography of Tsar Alexander III.
  • co-editing a volume on military intelligence.

Along with that, I hope to find sufficient things to write about on this blog. Coming this way in January, for instance, will be a book review of ‘The Russian Understanding of War’ by Oscar Jonsson. Look out for that, and more.

Best wishes to you all for 2020.





22 thoughts on “Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020”

  1. “It’s quite hard to persuade students to go to Russia”

    Can they articulate sound reasons? If not, have you tried gently mocking them for cowardice and incuriosity?


    1. Based on my own observations and a brief discussion with some US colleagues, a couple of issues come up: 1) cost (a US colleague says he’s switched this year’s trip to Russia to a trip to Ukraine, as it’s much cheaper); and 2) concern among students who want a career in government service that it might create security clearance problems. I doubt this second concern is justified, but it’s real, and a sign of how politics is adversely affecting cultural exchange.

      An additional issue we have at UofO is that we offer a lot of other opportunities in the summer – many students in my School are working, on internships in embassies abroad, on other study abroad programs, etc. All that severely reduces the pool of free students.


      1. Hmm. I can definitely corroborate the cost issue based on personal experience and asking around at the kvu and other universities. It’s no surprise that few students can readily cough up $12,000 for a 6-week program in Petersburg.

        Not so sure about the second issue but I have seen threads originating on “Russia-watching” Twitter expressing similar concerns, and one USAF hopeful I studied with at the IU Summer Language Workshop replicated what you wrote above nearly word for word.

        Summer opportunities are also numerous here, and because of it the university splits the summer into two sessions. If a student wants to study in Russia in May-June and then in Morocco in July-August, they can.


  2. Lack of inspiration is…definitely a problem in this niche of the blogosphere. Nevertheless, you had a solid year in 2019, with lots of great book reviews published here at Irrussianality. Best of luck in 2020!


  3. Professor, in a blogpost about a year ago about the infamous Integrity Initiative you made know your views about western anti-Russian propaganda efforts. Phrases like “makes me uneasy”, “[t]his setup is unusual” and “meddling’ in foreign affairs of which [they] accuse Russia” being the highlights. One could surmise (especially after reading the last two sentences of the blogpost) that you strongly disapprove (“critique”) of the Western governments lead efforts of anti-Russian propaganda…

    …Or am I wrong?

    Assuming I was not wrong in my initial reading of your old piece, I have to ask the following question – did your attitude in 2019 changed for exact opposite, and now you’d support something akin to the Integrity Initiative?

    Thank in advance for the answer.


      1. Great projects.The very, very best.

        Can’t imagine why you might imagine the opposite.

        It feels, I lost interest. Way too convoluted and verbose. Too rigidly self-opiniated, maybe?


      2. “It feels, I lost interest. Way too convoluted and verbose. Too rigidly self-opiniated, maybe?”



      3. Lytt:
        Professor, are you aware that the only reason your field of history (so-called “Russian Studies”) experienced a certain flowering way back during the Cold War, that even now the aftereffects allow you to eke an adequate living by engaging in such studies, is because of the “practical” (read: political propaganda) applications? Naturally, the ideological component must be paramount and screening for deviant thoughts among the clergy academy ruthlessly efficient.

        Is this what you referred to? Was that on your mind?

        Now let’s assume that by some twist of fate J.T. ended up in Russian Studies in whatever “Western” academic environment sometimes in the future, would she then still be suspect of choosing that career path for no good reason?

        Humans aren’t that different basically, surely not based on where they are born. If they were, would it make sense for us to learn each other’s language?

        Paradoxically: I am an individual without belief in individualism, thus, yes, aware that while juding I necessarily always mirror myself to some extend in my attempts to understand someone’s reasons, motives …

        Instead of thorns and beams – confirmation bias? Yours and Mine?


      4. “Is this what you referred to? Was that on your mind?”

        No. You complained that my comment was “[w]ay too convoluted and verbose.” I refered to the Biblical proberb, which points out that you, “moon”, is, perhaps even more guilty of the same, which makes your accussations mighty hypocritical.

        “Humans aren’t that different basically, surely not based on where they are born.”

        Absolutely inane and useless assumption, from which (mostly – Westerns) tend to jump to the next (il)logical conclusion – “Then everyone is the same. Then everyone must be like us“.

        As for answering your questions – no, you first, moon. Try to make an effort this time and produce something of substance, instead of your usual flowery stream of consciensness diatribes. Here I asked you a question. Answer it adequately, then we will talk.


    1. …Or so you claim.

      Because with a certain shock and dismay, I’ve noticed several months ago a new addition to your blogroll – a link to “The Bell” news site. Visiting it and perusing its content made me very, VERY interested in confirming some of suspicions. Call it a hunch (of someone who saw enough Western funded propaganda done by the Russians for the Russians), if you like. Because – yes, I now I have that confirmation.

      I could only guess, what made you, Professor, add this particular news site to your blogroll. I can only assume, that such longtime Russia-watcher like yourself, with the more than adequate knowledge of the Russian and, more importantly, with the functional brain, capable of critical analysis, had already investigated The Bell’s background… and found absolutely nothing objectionable.

      You, therefore, must already know the following facts. But I’d post them for the benefit of the rest of Irrussionality’s regulars.

      The Bell had been founded as a mailing list for the owner-picked news articles in 2016 by former “RBK” and “Vedomosti” journalist Elizaveta Osetinskaya. At that time, this pundit nobody, was studying in a long time abode of the CIA aka the Stanford Uni (for free, of course, as it is often the case with the Russian oppositionists). After that, Osetinskaya continued her studies in Berkley on a specialty of “investigative journalism”. It’s in that period of 2017, when The Bell became upgraded to the full-fledged media sources.

      Despite claiming in early interviews, that The Bell is just a “startup”, existing on the donations from the readers, the funding for the papers comes… from different sources. Osetinskaya herself admitted, that first $100 000 for her paper came from Berkley’s “Investigative Reporting” grant program. Another of her “startuppers” became the European Endowment of Democracy (EED) foundation (a notorious sponsor of colour revolutions with ties to the Western governments), “granting” it with $220 000. Another big group of donors (amounting to about $300 000) consists of the “dissident Russian businessmen”, currently “in exile” in the West. These fine gents feature most prominently on the pages of The Bell, via numerous interviews with them

      The icing on the top – through the Berkley again Osetinskaya managed to register Polestar Digital Ventures, Inc. (registered in the state of Delavere) through which she launders her funds. The web-site of the PDV, conveniently, is registered in Panama.

      Right on cue, since the “infusion” of all these invigorating monetary funds, The Bell had been producing “journalist investigations” and “fighting against Putin’s Regime” non-stop. It also produced fakes – by tons. E.g., The Bell knowingly disseminated false information about Russian IT giant Yandex. They published a “report” about the sale of a large stake in the Yandex group to Sberbank. According to the journalists, the first deputy chairman of the bank’s board, Lev Khasis, was negotiating the purchase of a 30 percent stake in Yandex with their largest owner, Arkady Volozh. The Bell claimed to have super reliable insider as a source, and went so far, as to claim that Sberbank will be dictating Yandex policy afterwards. But the very next day, it turned out that there were no negotiations. Yet Yandex suffered from a fall in stocks. Interestingly, Osetinskaya did not apologize to anyone for this fake.

      But, hey – one hack job is similar to another, right? Like the one that resulted in Osetinskaya getting fired from RBK and, thus, beginning, her journey to “The Bell” foundation. I’m talking about April 2016 RBK’s article, which claimed that Igor Sechin and Rosneft are asking Russia’s government to place limits on the rights of the shareholders, out of fear of British Petroleum’s bid to acquire 19.5% of Rosneft’s stock. Court of Arbitration ruled in Rosneft’s favor, so RBK had to publish a refutation and delete the original article .

      So, here we are. There is an “independent” media, that is funded in the similar manner as the Integrity Initiative, doing the same propaganda hack-job as the Integrity Initiative, all done by the same “contingent” of the people that brought the Integrity Initiative to life. The target, naturally, is the same – “Evil Russia”.

      So I ask you once more Professor – do you approve and support something akin to the Integrity Initiative?


      1. But enought of the years past. Questions about the new year’s initiatives:

        1) Mr. Robinson, given your new approach, when shall we expect your expansion of blogroll to include links to the VOA, RFE/RL and Soros funded media sites?

        2) When will you post links to the newest iteration of the Integrity Initiative sponsored sites (besides The Bell)?

        Thanks in advance for your (I’m sure of that) frank, honest and exhaustive answers.


      2. As should be pretty obvious given the diversity of sites on the blogroll, inclusion is not an endorsement.


      3. “As should be pretty obvious given the diversity of sites on the blogroll, inclusion is not an endorsement.”


        Really, Professor?

        1) Then why did you delete The Russia Insider from your blogroll?


        “That said, there are limits. Being on my blogroll isn’t an endorsement, but it is a recognition that the site in question is at least not entirely un-respectable. There are websites which discuss Russia and international affairs, which I’m not prepared to link to. I have, for instance, never put The Saker on my blogroll due to its incessant talk of ‘Anglo-Zionist’ conspiracies. That is not something I wish to be associated with.

        “With this in mind, I have removed the connection to Russia Insider as a response to Charles Bausmann’s ill-judged recent article about Jews. I don’t think that I can stop Russia Insider reprinting my articles if it wishes, but henceforth I will no longer encourage people to visit that site.

        …Moderation; nuance; balance – those are the values which we need to bring to the discussion, and those are the values which I hope this blog succeeds in promoting.”

        And then you had to fight off smear attacks, clarifying, that beneath your moderate (as always) speech there was, actually, a “denouncment” and that you “made it clear that I do not encourage people to read it.”

        If you are discouraging people from reading something that’s been previously in your blogroll, if you issue a “denouncment”, it means that under normal circumstances, you actually encourage people to link and read your blogroll contents. What’s the word?.. Oh, yes – you endorse it.

        Does supporting Integrity Initiative like propaganda outlet bring “Moderation; nuance; balance” to the discussion? Do you encourage, then, visitors to your site to read Integrity Initiative like propaganda outlet, yet vehemently opposing (per your claim) to the idea of the Western governments having such propaganda outlets in the first place?

        2) I repeat my question – given all that, when shall we expect your expansion of blogroll to include links to the VOA, RFE/RL and Soros funded media sites?


  4. Hey Prof. R:

    Can you suggest any good readings on any of :

    a) the evolution of Russian social policy in the Putin period;

    b) Russian fiscal federalism over the same period (showing my tendencies as a Canadian civil servant);

    c) Social (conspicuously apolitical) opposition or organization — I am thinking of “peaceful evolution” approaches, which were so violently repressed in Vietnam and China. Such approaches having been viewed as potentially seeding Solidarnosc-type opposition to the established powers.

    Anything in those veins, really, for the non-Russian reader.


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