The Changing Face of Foreign Affairs: the West is in Serious Trouble.

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Uncle Volodya says, “”We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events. The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run;
There’s still time to change the road you’re on…

Led Zeppelin, from “Stairway to Heaven”

“They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “The Great Gatsby”

    I led off with that snippet from ‘Stairway’ for two reasons – one, a lifelong love of Led Zeppelin. Two, an opportunity for ironic amusement. Because the time to change the road we’re on slid into the rearview mirror along about the time the USA summarily refused all Russia’s demands for security guarantees, in exchange for resumption of the uneasy peace which had prevailed. Although the forces and pressures which set the current military operation in Ukraine in motion had been steadily increasing for some time, years – that was the moment the wheels of inevitability began to pick up speed, until the windows hum with their turning.

The time to change the road we’re on has come and gone, and the world is now committed to whatever will ensue. We’re in the back seat, while our lunatic ‘leaders’ jerk the wheel this way and that. Each day brings new astonishment to stoke our incredulity, from Germany’s Annalena Baerbock’s ringing declaration that Germany will not waver from supporting Ukraine no matter what its voters think, to Liz Truss’s promise that Britain’s support this coming year will at least equal, if not surpass that of the year currently bleeding out. The UK has committed £2.3bn so far this year, so figure on at least another £2bn in 2023. That’s in an environment where inflation has topped 10%, and the Truss government is planning to borrow about $120 Billion for spending on subsidies to cap British energy prices. The inmates have taken over the asylum – who does Truss imagine will be on the hook to repay a borrowed $120 Billion? The taxpayer, of course. For Germany’s part, in July of this year it recorded its first trade deficit since Helmut Kohl was in his penultimate term as Chancellor. An export-based economy, Germany had been posting the highest trade surpluses in the world; 8%, 9% of GDP, or €20 billion a month. German industry is being ruined before its electorate’s horrified eyes – it is the nature of business that when conditions are imposed upon it such that it can be neither productive or profitable, it relocates to where that potential is again within reach. The German Greens, like Baerbock and Robert Habeck, don’t give a fuck – they hate industry anyway; it uses too much energy and generates so much smoke and pollution that it’s hard to see the dear little windmills turning. Don’t forget, in the next day or two, Germany is expected to announce the nationalization of gas-import giant Uniper; this was supposed to cost the German taxpayer €19 Billion, but according to Oilprice.com the cost has ballooned to €30 Billion, added to the €100 Million Uniper is losing each and every day in its flailing efforts to replace Russian gas. Along with that bizarre action, Berlin also seized the local unit of ROSNEFT PJSC. In case you were unaware, ‘seized’ means ‘stole’. This invites retaliation and escalation from a country which has no worries at all where its gas is coming from, and has customers eager to buy the volumes Europe resolutely turns its stupid face from. Russia continues to realize record profits from energy sales even as the volumes it sells decline.

“Despite efforts to massively damage Russia’s economy in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow’s energy industry appears that it is continuing to boom, with Vladimir Putin’s state-owned gas company Gazprom posting record half-year profits on Tuesday thanks to soaring natural gas prices worldwide.

The company has since announced that it has totally halted gas deliveries to Europe via its major Nord Stream pipeline for what are ostensibly reasons to do with repairs, leaving bigwigs in Europe to sweat over whether the supply will ever be turned back on again.

According to a report by Der Spiegel, Gazprom posted a six-month profit of around 2.5 trillion rubles, roughly equivalent to $41 billion.

This is compared to the company’s previous record annual profit of 2.09 trillion rubles which it posted last year, a much smaller sum especially when the value of the now surging ruble is factored into the equation.”

Two years in a row of record profits, coincidentally two years of concerted NATO efforts to bring thehttps://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-e1b014177b887dcaa39a65ffe7ee70d5-c country to ruin, during which it has steadily descended to pretty much every dirty trick in the book. Russians are the same as people everywhere; they see it when people blindly follow prejudice and disinformation to foment hatred against them. Despite this, Putin remains steadily and constantly popular with those he leads. The Conversation has an explanation for that – Putin owns the news media, and it pumps out Putin-love propaganda day and night. As well, people are too scared Putin will come into their room at night and kill them – he does that a lot – to criticize the war.

“Alexander Hill, a professor of military history at the University of Calgary writes that the Russian leader has the support of pretty much all of the country’s news media (unsurprising, as he controls pretty much all of it). So ordinary citizens have been fed a non-stop diet of propaganda since before the invasion was launched. Meanwhile, thanks to oil and gas revenues, the economy is in reasonable shape still. And, Hill asserts, people may just be too scared to admit their opposition to the war.”

I am encouraged to think Americans actually believe Putin is an unstable tyrant who rules with an iron fist, at the very same time that his hold on the public is so sclerotic that criticism from addled dotard Alla Pugacheva is the final straw which will bring his rotten empire crashing down around his pointy ears. The author cheerfully asserts that Pugacheva remains as popular and influential as she ever was, even though she is 73 and her last album was released ten years ago, relying on go-to western-shoe-kisser Stas Belkovsky, and a Russian blogger who writes…Christ, I don’t know if I can get this out….COOKBOOKS! You all remember Stas Belkovsky; you’ll be happy to know he’s still at the National Strategy Institute. They were damned lucky to get him, if you ask me. Strategists like Belkovsky – who predicted in 2007 that Putin would leave politics that year because Russia was too dependent on agricultural imports, the economic outlook for average Russians was deteriorating and Putin wanted to go someplace to enjoy his stolen wealth – don’t grow on trees. Incredibly, he didn’t stop there; Putin, he said, would need a prestigious international apolitical position to insulate him from the fury of Russians when they realized the extent to which they had been duped, and forecast Putin might become head of the International Olympic Committee. Well, he is only 70; still plenty of time for a second career. And in 2021, Russia became a net exporter of agricultural products – way to light a fire under that incompetent bastard, Stas. Continue reading “The Changing Face of Foreign Affairs: the West is in Serious Trouble.”

Offramps and Blind Alleys: NATO is Reduced to Directing Traffic.

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Uncle Volodya says, “Mockery and derision have their place. Usually, it’s on the far side of the airlock.”

“Nothing is easier than self-deceit.
For what every man wishes,
that he also believes to be true.”

Demosthenes

“Stupid is as stupid does”

Forrest Gump

Mick Jagger taught the world that it can’t always get what it wants. But if I could get what I wanted, just once, I would hope for a moment of clarity in which the western ‘democracies’ looked back upon the events of the past decade with absolute objectivity – if necessary, viewing their own actions and reactions as if they had been carried out by someone else – and appropriately judged them with candor and responsibility. Once I would have hoped these executions and maneuvers would be assessed with a generous dose of “What the fuck were we thinking?” But I’ve grown a touch cynical since then, and I’m pretty confident much if not all of it was deliberate, planned. What in the name of God are we turning into?

Such a moment of clarity, too, might reveal the grotesque misjudgments which prevailed in the quickening events that resulted in Russia entering Ukraine upon a military operation. For months a substantial force of Russian military equipment and personnel remained near the Ukrainian border with Russia, within Russia but in plain sight of observers. The purpose of this seemed clear to everyone, not least the Ukrainians – we see you, and we know what you’re thinking. Don’t do it. Because unremarked by many and almost exactly a year ago, President Zelensky had issued a decree that Crimea was to be recaptured by Ukraine, and began to deploy his forces along the borders of the rebel eastern provinces. Most thought – I among them – that the Russian forces arrayed within easy striking distance would deter the Ukrainians from anything foolish. In this, NATO was in exactly the kind of no-lose position it relishes after months and years of careful plotting and instigation – if the Russians reacted, it would be an unwarranted invasion of Ukraine, exactly as NATO had been warning of with increasing stridency, because it was provoking just such a development. If it did not, the Ukrainian forces would inexorably roll over the eastern provinces, all the way to Crimea, and bring it back under Ukrainian control while Russia raged from the sidelines, impotent.

Anyway, I have no intention of simply lifting all the references from Jacques Baud’s seminal post, “The Military Situation in the Ukraine”; it is a dramatic departure from The Narrative, and I’m sure the Wikipedia Patrol is already hard at work painting him as some sort of compulsive loon, who occasionally escapes from the asylum long enough to expound a crazy conspiracy theory before the white coats seize him and hustle him back to medicated slumber. No matter – his work speaks for itself, and is impeccably referenced using official UN and national reports and documentation. Although it provides powerful substantiation for what we have been arguing here for years now, and could not have appeared in a more timely fashion unless it could have averted the crisis altogether; although I enthusiastically urge that it be shared widely – it’s not the piece I came here today to talk about. This is.

Putin needs an off-ramp.

Yes, that’s The Thinking Westerner’s position as laid down in The Atlantic: NATO has been handed the puzzler of how to make Putin think he won, while displaying to the entire rest of the world that he lost, convincingly. And it’s what makes Baud’s exposé so serendipitous, because he recounts how the west has completely lost its mind, to the extent it believes – or affects to believe – its own Hollywood nonsense.

And in precisely the moment of clarity and reflection I described in the beginning of this effort, the dedicated observer might note that western think-tanks were occupied with how they might rescue Putin from his crazy bad self, only three weeks into an invasion the Ukrainians were supposed to be winning on sheer guts.

How could that be? I guess we should take a closer look. Continue reading “Offramps and Blind Alleys: NATO is Reduced to Directing Traffic.”

Experience is a Hard Teacher. Get Ready for the Lesson.

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Uncle Volodya says, ““Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.”

We didn’t start the fire;
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning:
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it,
But we tried to fight it…

Billy Joel, from “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

Experience. Life-lesson quotes frequently feature it, like the one in the title; experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first, the lesson after. Also in one of my favourites, which I have occasion to use often; experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn at no other.  The two are enough alike in meaning that they could be variations of one another. At any rate, the meaning is clear; if opportunity affords, learn from the experience of others – and only fools need to repeat the mistake themselves before they learn anything.

What can be said, then, of those who fail to learn from the experiences of others, repeat their mistakes and still learn nothing?

Humanity is complicated. Over a period of years, prevailing social mores and, more recently, ‘cancel culture’ have made even humour a minefield that you navigate at your peril. To say nothing of hate. Hate is simply an emotion that we must never express. All the precious ones are off-limits, and it is getting so that even tolerance is no longer enough – endorsement is increasingly the standard, and celebration would not be too much to ask. In an ambient state of such frustrated fury, little wonder that many of us are getting like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down”. We need someone to hate, to blame for our troubles and to loathe for the sorrows of others. It has always been a little bit fashionable in the west to dislike Russia, although until 2014 it was mostly limited to sneering at imagined Russian backwardness, based on trace memories of its Soviet past that were themselves more stereotypical than typical; unsmiling people trudging to endless labor in their ill-fitting clothing, through grey streets devoid of cheer or hope.

But the full-on hatred now, fired in the forges of a western media which simply takes dictation from the Ukrainian government and does not bother to fact-check anything, is something to see. Nothing, apparently, is too small-minded or petty to turn into a political statement.

The French, unwilling to just stand by helplessly, have turned their wrath on…Russian cat owners. And Russian cats. The Fédération Internationale Féline issued a chilly directive during the first week of March banning Russian cat breeds from international competition.

“According to a statement released last week by the Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe), as it’s known in French, all cats bred in Russia, as well as all cats with owners living in Russia, would not be permitted to register for international competitions outside of Russia nor even be added to pedigree books starting this week.”

A concert in Vancouver featuring rising young Russian superstar Alexander Malofeev was postponed, because the director of the Vancouver Recital Society feared that protests by activists and their supporters would spoil the show. This was the third attempt to have the artist perform in Canada; the previous attempts were aborted due to the COVID ‘pandemic’. Canada has the second-largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world, many of them the descendants of west Ukrainians who fled Soviet Ukraine ahead of the Red Army near the close of the Second World War. International soprano Anna Netrebko and Director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra Valery Gergiev were fired because they did not respond to a deadline directive to denounce Vladimir Putin and the war. Gergiev still had 3 years remaining on his contract. Netrebko issued a statement saying “…forcing artists, or any public figure to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right.” Germany didn’t want to hear it. Nothing is outside politics anymore – not art, not sport, not cat shows. Continue reading “Experience is a Hard Teacher. Get Ready for the Lesson.”

I Can’t Dance and I’m Too Fat to Fight

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Uncle Volodya says, “Aggression is just when politeness is ignored.”

Too bad that you had to get caught;
That’s not like you to lose face
So sad that you’re not as smart
As you thought you were in the first place…

Doug and the Slugs, from “Too Bad”

“It would be well to realize that the talk of ‘humane methods of warfare’, of the ‘rules of civilized warfare’, and all such homage to the finer sentiments of the race are hypocritical and unreal, and only intended for the consumption of stay-at-homes. There are no humane methods of warfare, there is no such thing as civilized warfare; all warfare is inhuman, all warfare is barbaric; the first blast of the bugles of war ever sounds for the time being the funeral knell of human progress… What lover of humanity can view with anything but horror the prospect of this ruthless destruction of human life. Yet this is war: war for which all the jingoes are howling, war to which all the hopes of the world are being sacrificed, war to which a mad ruling class would plunge a mad world.”

James Connolly

The title is a riff on a common phrase from my youth; when asked by a friend, “Want to go down to the tavern for a beer?”, a casually humorous response might be, “Why not? I can’t dance, and I’m too fat to fly”. It suggests that you have nothing better to do and going to the tavern for a beer is as appealing an alternative as any other, considering one’s physical limitations and the options available.

However, the phrase as it appears in the title struck me as a particularly appropriate aphorism for the west’s confusion and flopping about since it was presented with a written list of Russia’s security concerns and the remedies it would accept to allay those concerns. Strongly implied, although not specified in the written summation, is this, paraphrased: you say we are your enemy, and that you wish to fight. You push us further and further, until our backs are against the wall. Very well, then – either agree to the terms as written, propose alternative arrangements for discussion that are not too far from the terms as written…or fight.

The west was plainly not ready for that. Its ‘diplomatic’ behavior since then suggests it has…well…no good options. Before, it was all pressure, and ‘Russia must do this’ and “the rules-based international order calls on Russia to do that’. Now, it’s ‘we need more time’. Although its more hawkish policymakers – not one of whom will have to fight, if it comes to that – have spluttered that all Russia’s demands are absurd and are complete non-starters, nobody seems ready to commit that response to print. And the Russians have insisted on answers in writing which will be legally enforceable.

You know why that is, don’t you? Sure you do. The verbal commitment that if Russia would just let the west have Germany without making a fuss, NATO would advance no further eastward. And you know how that turned out. The west can officially no longer remember anyone making such a promise, although people who were present on the occasion say the Russian description of the deal is accurate. Not Mikhail Gorbachev, naturally; his western pals would never lie. But he claims the subject did not even come up.

“The topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. … Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO’s military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification. Baker’s statement was made in that context… Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled.”

Well, the ‘not one inch eastward’ commitment was definitely made; official records of the conversation so reflect.

“And the last point. NATO is the mechanism for securing the U.S. presence in Europe. If NATO is liquidated, there will be no such mechanism in Europe. We understand that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”

So the semantics of the argument have shifted – western negotiators for the reunification of Germany never promised that NATO would not expand eastward. No, they promised only that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO’s military jurisdiction. You Russians have to learn to pay attention to context. So now the official western storyline is that while the Russians understood that to mean no eastward expansion of NATO, that was not the promise at all; what you thought you heard was not what I said.

Has NATO expanded its military jurisdiction eastward? You tell me. Are new NATO countries with full membership the subjects of Article 5 – an attack against one is an attack against all, conveying the responsibility of NATO military forces to mount a defense in and around the country which is the object of the attack? They certainly are.

“Membership in the most powerful military alliance in the world has given Poland not only security guarantees in the form of Art. 5 of the Washington Treaty, but has also led to an increase in the position and prestige of our country on the international stage. The need to adapt to NATO standards, the participation of Polish soldiers in missions and exercises, and training with soldiers from other NATO countries, has led our Armed Forces in reaching a high level of interoperability (the ability to interact) with other Alliance Members. Our contribution to and involvement in NATO operations, has made Poland a reliable partner both for our Allies and third countries.”

The foregoing is a somewhat roundabout way of illustrating why Russia now wants its agreements with the west in writing, accepted only after a comprehensive review of the text to ensure there is no leeway for interpretation – if you promise, it must be written, “I promise”. Because no matter what NATO says, it will later say “That’s not what I said at all”. Regardless of what was presented to Gorbachev, I don’t think the casual observer would need to be much of a diplomat to guess the intent of the discussion – Baker was plainly seeking to downplay any threat Russia apprehended from an increase in NATO influence. Had he said “Oh, no: NATO plans to take in every eastern European country that makes the cut, full membership. But you should not view that as threatening.”, I’m pretty sure Russian cooperation would have taken an abrupt downturn. Would that be fair to say? Continue reading “I Can’t Dance and I’m Too Fat to Fight”

Run Silent, Run Deep. But Not So Deep that the Halfwits Won’t Get It.

Uncle Volodya says, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

I crossed the ocean, where no one would see
And I put a time-bomb in your submarine;
Goodbye to old friends, the secret’s in hand
With phonied up papers, and counterfeit plans…

Alice Cooper, from “Halo of Flies

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Noel Langley, from “The Wizard of Oz

I’ve been wanting to get to this story for some time, but things – like work – keep getting in the way. I would have much preferred to get it out there while it was hot off the press: but even now that it has cooled a bit, it remains evident that western automatic disparagement of anything Russian has metastasized to the point that westerners dare not use a Russian-made spoon to eat their breakfast, lest it lunge at your face in its idiot violence and put your eye out. Russian policy is reckless and destructive, Russian-made coronavirus vaccines are just cheap weapons supporting its pursuit of linebacker diplomacy, and even the most innocent-appearing technology produced by the benighted country is infected with menace.

Consider Deutsche Welle‘s squeals of panic (actually, they are squealing in panic over a story which originally appeared in Bild, implying a general German-media panic) over the installation in German military vessels – even, ich kann es nicht glauben, submarines! – of Russian-built navigational aids. Sohn einer Hündin! What were the naval architects thinking?? Did they not realize the Russians build backdoors and exploitable vulnerabilities into the simplest devices, so that they can later make you chop your finger off, or drive into a wall or something??

The British press was quick to pick it up – absolutely unacceptable, old chap. Those systems must be ripped out as quickly as it can be carried out, and replaced with reliable NATO systems made by an honest western manufacturer.

The thing is, Transas – the maker of these Navaids (a portmanteu of ‘navigational aids’) – builds about 35% of the navigational systems used by world shipping, and about 45% of the trainers. The company was acquired by Wartsila of Finland in 2018, but the defense division remains Russian. It sounds to me as though the alarm was perhaps raised by some commercial entity which builds similar systems, and which would like to see its global market share rise by 35%. Continue reading “Run Silent, Run Deep. But Not So Deep that the Halfwits Won’t Get It.”