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Streetwise Professor

May 27, 2009

Realist Fantasies

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:21 pm

Realism is all the rage in discussions of American policy vis a vis Russia these days. The self-styled realists claim that Russia and the US have common interests regarding Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, and terrorism, to mention just a few matters. What’s more, they argue that the US has no interest in what Russia believes to be its vital privileged sphere, and that as a result American policy in Georgia and Ukraine, and missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, is a counterproductive, unnecessary irritant. Give Russia free reign in these areas, the realists argue, and there will be a mutually beneficial rapprochement that will lead to marked progress on heretofore intractible issues, such as Iran.

The realists are, alas, quite unrealistic. They take a two-dimensional, Flatland view of interest that ignores important historical, cultural, ideological, and political influences on policy. Realism is essentially a reductionist view. Although the geographic and economic factors that realists emphasize are indeed important, they are not the only, or even the most important, drivers of state policy. Grounded in the Westphalian worldview, which asserts that the internal affairs of states are none of the business of other states, they have the tendency to ignore these internal dynamics even though they affect the ways that a state interacts with other states. Realists tend to treat international relations as a big game of Risk, but the real world isn’t so flat–or so simple.

The problems with this approach are very pronounced indeed where Russia is involved, as they were with the USSR in years past. The Russian political and economic system; its historical inheritance; and its Muscovite-Tsarist-Orthodox-autocratic-statist mindset lead Russia to behave in ways that are quite difficult indeed to square with realist predictions. A fragile, closed-order system, where the political leadership is also inextricably linked with major economic interests (with some of the links quite explicit, but others almost certainly far murkier, corrupt–and lucrative), and which is not subject to civil audit and accountability, is likely to have a far different view of its interests than states with very different politico-economic systems. Neo-feudal states and societies (as Vladimir Shlapentokh characterizes Russia) behave differently than modern ones. Add in the historical and cultural legacy of Orthodoxy, Muscovite patrimonialism, and Tsarist imperialism, and the differences with Western states become even more pronounced.

Yet, by and large, realists ignore these differences, and dismiss them as irrelevant. This is a manifest error, as this article by Paul Klimmage make very clear. You should really read the whole thing, but this captures the essence of the argument:

The same kleptocratic impulses that drive the Kremlin’s management of its own economy inform the way it interacts with other states. In its foreign policy, Russia’s guiding principle is not some abstract notion of national interest, but rather the narrower interests of the elite — energy exports and cozy ties with likeminded regimes. The style has been thuggish, fed by the elite’s three great formative influences: the gangland 1990s, the KGB inheritance, and a territorial, zero-sum understanding of relations between states taken directly from the Cold War playbook.

But make no mistake – the Cold War is over, and the Kremlin’s playbook today looks more like a checkbook. The bottom line is that for Russia’s mercenary-minded elite, it’s all about the bottom line.

So how should the U.S. administration approach this corrupt, dysfunctional, undemocratic, and illiberal Russia? Unfortunately, there are few good options.

President Obama has opted for a realist reset, hoping to use mutual interests to rebuild trust for subsequent engagement on thornier topics. But realpolitik lives and dies on the accuracy of its assumptions. The key assumptions here are that mutual interests exist, and that Obama can parlay them into fruitful cooperation on the sticking points.

The harsh truth is that on crucial issues, real interests diverge. On Iran, Moscow has every reason to maintain the uneasy status quo, not aid the normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations, and certainly not foment a breakthrough that could end Russia’s lucrative status as the sole export conduit for Central Asian gas. On Afghanistan, the Kremlin’s interest is not stabilization, but rather tying the United States to supply routes contingent on Russian beneficence. U.S. policymakers who seek to make common cause on Iran and Afghanistan should take heed that Russian talking heads and state-controlled media spend lots of time ranting about the dangerous Americans and very little about the mullahs or the Taliban.

The point about Iran is particularly apt. Viewed from the realist perspective, Russian policy toward Iran is incomprehensible. It is far more understandable when Russian idiosyncrasies–notably the economic interests of the elite, as distinct from the genuine national interests of Russia–are taken into account.

There are many other SWP themes in Klimmage’s piece, notably the description of Putin as a cartel manager distributing rents among competing factions to keep the peace:

The leader — a function performed in Russia by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — is a fine example of a post with limited formal powers vastly enhanced by the informal powers of the man who holds it. He acts as arbiter and conspirator, resolving disputes and playing interests groups off each other to prevent threats to his power. When Putin performs this task successfully, he keeps conflict under the radar and enhances his influence. When he stumbles, visible spats tarnish the veneer, as they did during a public polemic in 2007 between elite clans over KGB officers turned business moguls.

But my favorite part is his policy recommendation. A recommendation that would almost certainly never dawn on a realist, but comes naturally to someone more sensitive to the internal dynamics and tensions of Russia. It is, in essence, what I suggested in the aftermath of the Georgian War, and called the “Let Slip the Dogs of Accounting” option:

Plan B will involve measures aimed at dispelling the Kremlin’s impression of Western weakness. If Russia sends the message that the road to Kabul runs through Moscow — as it did when it enticed Kyrgyzstan to shutter a U.S. military base while kindly offering to facilitate a new U.S. supply line through Russia — send a stronger message by exploring a new base in Georgia. Or Azerbaijan. Or even Turkmenistan. If Russian energy skullduggery leaves European customers out in the cold, go after the ill-gotten assets of the Russian elite, targeting the sleazy offshore networks of individuals in leadership positions. [Emphasis added.]

That would get their attention in a way that pressing the realist reset button n ever will.

Ronald Reagan drove realists crazy by his insistence that the character of the Soviet regime mattered. Whereas realist policies emboldened the Soviets, Reagan’s set them on their heels, and set in motion a train of events that led to the collapse of the USSR. Reagan’s actions were not a sufficient condition for such an outcome, but they were necessary.

As Klimmage argues, policies that are predicated on an understanding of the nature of the current Russian system are more likely to result in successful policy outcomes than realist nostrums that ignore salient drivers of Russian behavior.

So, just why are they called realists?

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35 Comments »

  1. As we speak Putin’s surrogates are in the process of overthrowing the present Georgian government. He needs the money for the KHL as they are trying to get the jump on the NHL in signing top talent. It is complicated when the Russian economy is imploding and Putin must use creative methods to get more power and money! Get real about Obama waking up. He so obsessed with himself ( “We are what we were waiting for”) and is not in touch with reality. Although he must be wondering why the Iranians have not stopped their nuke program, the N. Koreans are acting aggressively and the Russians are threatening their neighbors now that he has promised to talk to them and straighten things out. I think we have ourselves an American Neville Chamberlain and you know how that worked out.

    Comment by Bob — May 27, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

  2. What strong influence, exactly, does Russia have over Iran? So they don’t build the Bushehr reactor? They haven’t really done that in years, that thing was supposed to be finished years ago. Not sell them S-300s? It looks like some sort of backdoor deal was cut whereby Israel stopped selling equipment to Georgia early last year in exchange for Russia hemming and hawing and basically not closing that deal. So what’s left? A base in Georgia is a hell of a long way from Afghanistan, Professor.

    Be careful about exploiting Ronald Reagan’s legacy to push a Russophobic agenda. Whoever wrote that silly blog post about World Russia Forum forgot that the founders of that forum were hardcore Reaganauts. One of the guys who regularly sends me emails ran a group called Russians for Reagan in California and still speaks with awe about shaking the President elect’s hand on election night in 1980 as Reagan greeted a group of White Russians and their grandkids. Ronald Reagan distinguished between Russia and the Russian people and the Soviet Union. If he had not done so, why in the world would Reagan have shocked his advisors by proposing that we share Strategic Defense Initiative technology with the Russians when they were still the USSR? Reagan’s detractors would claim that he was starting to suffer Alzheimer’s symptoms by that time (1987-88), but I seen no evidence of that. As it is, there are tons of Russians working at Fermi lab down the road from where you used to work in Chicago, and the CDC in Atlanta also employs Russian scientists in Novosibirsk. Our boys fighting in Afghanistan AND Iraq are being regularly resupplied by Russian Antonovs, and some of my friends in Dallas charter them. I could go on and on…but you get the idea.

    Back to the Reagan Administration and what Professor Andrei Tsygankov has rightly called the anti-Russia lobby. There are a few people who once served in the Reagan Administration, who currently take up shop in the old folks homes for ex-KGB/GRU men and what Thomas P.M. Barnett calls the “Big War Crowd” think tanks in D.C. — you know, billions for aircraft carriers and subs, but not for better pay or a larger military. The hallmarks of the anti-Russia lobby members is that they

    1) have no concept of reciprocity when it comes to Russia. They’re evil, we’re good, and that’s it. If we want to put troops on Russia’s border, that’s great, the nations of Eastern Europe are sovereign and Moscow should shut up about it. If Venezuela wants hundreds of Russian or Chinese troops, that’s evil.

    2) they have never made any distinctions between Russians and the USSR. Even today they try to hide historic Eastern European nationalist axes they want to grind or general disconnect from reality behind a thin veneer of Reaganism.

    You may ask: how do I know this? Because I worked for them as an intern or at least down the hall from them for two summers in 2003-2004. They used to have two martini lunches and brag about how they brought down the Evil Empire and would be bringing down the ChiComs too. I guess they never imagined in those heady days after the liberation of Iraq that six years later our Secretary of the Treasury would be going hat in hand to Moscow (one month before the Georgia War started by the way) to ask Kudrin not to dump all their U.S. government agency debt holdings (see the story on RosBusinessConsulting). Or that our Secretary of State’s first trip would be to Beijing to beg the Chinese to keep buying our debt.

    Hardly anyone outside Pat Buchanan and the Nixon Center were so impolitic as to ask if defending Georgia last year would have been worth hundreds of American lives and risking nuclear war. At any rate, how close, for example, did U.S. Marine advisors come to the fighting in South Ossetia last August? How many American security contractors were potentially in the line of fire? Darn few answers, and even less accountability for that screw up.

    I think the chessboard/game of Risk analogy holds more true for the hardcore Russophobes in D.C., who are so out of touch with reality, than it does for their realist critics. They’re the ones who think in terms of pipeline politics (yeah Professor, let’s get more gas from Iran instead of Russia), of every election (however dubious) in the post-Soviet space being a zero-sum struggle for power between Moscow and the West. They’re the ones who publish rants like Stephen Schwartz’ recent article in The Weekly Standard saying by historic rights Moldova ought to be a part of Romania while berating Russia for allegedly coveting the Crimea — as if we really want to refight the Crimean War!

    I think you get what I’m trying to say. Keep plugging away on the Chrysler/GM stuff, that’s good. But when it comes to Russia, what is the point of all this? They obviously don’t care what Americans think, and that’s why I mostly stick with writing about U.S. policy towards Russia, and not vice versa.

    Comment by Charles Ganske — May 28, 2009 @ 1:40 am

  3. I have to thank Charles Ganske for his hilarious joke, implying that the U.S. government or its people somehow care what he and his fruitloop buddies (including a Russian citizen with close ties to the Kremlin) at the corrupt anti-Darwin Discovery Institute think about U.S. policy towards Russia. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Right Charlie, Barack Obama has his ear to the ground waiting for your next bit of wisdom! LOL! ROTF! In fact, it was probably your idea, not his, to whack Dima Medvedev over the head with the name “Lev Ponomarev” at their last meeting!

    Seems like SWP has got the Russophile rubbish set pretty worried. Nice job, Professor! Attaboy! Keep on making the nasty little rats scurry and squirm with your devastating material exposing the fundamental failure of neo-Soviet rule.

    Stick with burying the truth about Russia and doing all you can to help Vladimir Putin consolidate his power. The Russians are listening with bated breath, but as for folks here in America we know a traitor when we see one.

    Comment by La Russophobe — May 28, 2009 @ 4:54 am

  4. I do want to point out Klimmage’s term for Russia’s “support” on getting our goods to Afghanistan shipped via Russia depending on “Russian beneficence” – to actually be the other way around. In fact does anyone know how we we can find out or calculate how much we have to pay for this privilege? In the spirit of transparency, that policy so much evidently in practice by Obama and his administration, can’t we hear from them how much our “reset” is costing?

    Comment by Kavkazwatcher — May 28, 2009 @ 6:06 am

  5. As one Georgian told me, and he’s not the only one to hold this sentiment:

    “you can’t trust the Russian bear”

    Period.

    One of the things that Russia did, tied in with its invasion of Georgia, was to dump its US (govt) securities. It quite surprised the traders, but it did not have any effect. In fact, the Russians sold their holdings at a loss. This was in addition to conducting a coordinated media blitz worldwide, and deploying ships from the Black Sea Fleet all the way to Georgia.

    What strong influence does Russia have over Iran? How about sales of nuclear materials?

    Do the Russians care about what everyone else thinks? Well, yes, absolutely, that’s why they hired US public relations firms at various times, including the G20 conference they hosted. That’s why they mass-murdered 30,000 stray dogs during Eurovision, which they hosted.

    It’s the sick Russian way of thinking – in order to create a good impression, one doesn’t take care of stray animals humanely, one simply mass murders them.

    Dima even blogs, just to show how “open” a society it is.

    But they really do care what other people think.

    Comment by elmer — May 28, 2009 @ 10:55 am

  6. The difference between western corporations and Kremlin Inc is that they fill their coffers from the commodity and weapons business. They aren’t selling the world medical equipment, software, electronics, clothing, entertainment, any of those branded things where one has to carefully protect the brandname. The single biggest thing that Americans could do to put these thugs back in their box is to lean hard on and assist the Europeans in minimizing their dependence on Russian gas.

    I like the idea of exposing where the siloviki are stuffing their matresses in the west, naming names and the amount of their assets. Let’s start with Putin who is rumored to have a personal fortune of about $40 billion:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/21/russia.topstories3

    The last thing that the Kremlin gangsters want is a flood of that kind of western expose information swirling through the Russian internet.

    Charles, I don’t know what your point is, but, we are decades past Reagan. You seem stuck there.

    Comment by penny — May 28, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  7. Let’s continue with the mayor of Maskva, who has a mansion in Londongrad.

    If anyone needs a link, I’ll provide it.

    Comment by elmer — May 28, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

  8. “I like the idea of exposing where the siloviki are stuffing their matresses in the west, naming names and the amount of their assets. Let’s start with Putin who is rumored to have a personal fortune of about $40 billion:”

    For once, we agree. I support purging the corrupt officials – including Putin, if said allegations are true (which I doubt).

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 28, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

  9. @Charles–re “I could go on and on.” Uhm, you do go on and on, and in a virtually incomprehensible way.

    Re distinguishing Russian gov’t from Russian people. If you have been paying the slightest intention to what I have been writing, that’s exactly what I do. I again suggest you read my post On Russophobia from last summer. And, for crissakes, the whole point of many of my posts is how a self-serving Russian elite disserves the interests of the Russian people.

    Re reciprocity. How is Russia reciprocating for the billions the US has spent to deal with nuclear weapons, derelict nuclear reactors, chemical weapons, etc., etc.? Don’t bother answering because we know the answer is “nothing. Except bitch, maybe.”

    Also, I addressed the issues re reciprocity in a response to an earlier comment of yours, and have no interest in repeating myself until you respond substantively to those arguments rather than merely regurgitating the ones I dispatched before.

    I will say one thing, though. You have yet to tell me just why, if Russia is so benign, that all its neighbors are so anxious to have American protection? I repeat: the US is not attempting to impose its will on these nations. They are begging the US to protect them from Russian attempts to impose the Russian will on them. Until you can give a plausible answer to that question (beyond “axes to grind”) you have no credibility whatsoever.

    Re Iran. Please. Russia has stonewalled every attempt to increase pressure on Iran. It has used its UN Sec Council veto (or the threat thereof) to run interference for Iran for years. Re S300s, yes, Russia is probably playing its double and triple games there. But the point is that with Iran NoKo Syria that Russia has done its best to stymie attempts to resolve these issues diplomatically. As it did in Iraq in both 1991 and 2003. And in so doing increased, rather than reduced the likelihood of war. But, as I’ve said before, and as Klimmage says in his piece, from the perspective of the Russian elite, that’s a good thing. Middle East turmoil translates into higher oil prices, which suits Putin et al just fine.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 28, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

  10. Well you didn’t even try to answer these questions. “would defending Georgia last year would have been worth hundreds of American lives and risking nuclear war. At any rate, how close, for example, did U.S. Marine advisors come to the fighting in South Ossetia last August? How many American security contractors were potentially in the line of fire?”

    And presumably if Venezuela starts begging for Russian troops, it’s ok for Moscow to send hundreds of advisors? So might makes right is your position, more or less. Which is exactly what I said it was.

    “How is Russia reciprocating for the billions the US has spent to deal with nuclear weapons, derelict nuclear reactors, chemical weapons, etc., etc.?” We received cheaper nuclear energy out of the deal, thanks to the Megatons for Megawatts program. Beyond that, I’m not sure what you expected in return. What did the Russians get for allowing fully armed American bombers to fly through their airspace on the way to bomb the Taliban weeks after 9/11?

    “if Russia is so benign, that all its neighbors are so anxious to have American protection?” In Ukraine the polls show about 70% opposition to joining NATO, but that obviously never seemed to concern you. So, in that case, democracy in Eastern Europe doesn’t matter, what matters is checkmating Russia in a country where millions consider themselves to be Russians.

    There is only one party here advocating blithely committing more American blood and treasure at a time when you already admit our Treasury is quite maxed out.

    Comment by Charles Ganske — May 29, 2009 @ 9:45 am

  11. Charles, quit while you are ahead. Your two years as an “an intern or at least down the hall” at a think tank isn’t working out too well in your inflating your credentials and experience. And, your description of the “two martini” lunch routine, well, it resonates as from an unsophisticated bumpkin trying to color a setting for a fictional literary effect.

    You haven’t answered a single direct question because you haven’t got one. And, spewing out more unconnected stuff as a diversion isn’t working out well for you either.

    Defending Putin’s Russia requires a lack of both logic and a moral compass so it’s easy to get yourself twisted into a knot. If you can’t answer directly the questions posed by the Professor in his point #8 then you aren’t very serious. Think you can stay on that task?

    Comment by penny — May 29, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

  12. Yes OK, “deem” – as I said, I rarely double-check what I write.

    It is indeed vitriolic – and guess what, I admit it, so am I! I’ve learned long ago that a civilized tone doesn’t help when “debating” with hardcore Russophobes.

    The part about “life is short” still holds. No reasonable person can expect Charles to reply in detail to every one of your questions – especially since many of them have already been extensively discussed.

    I’ve thought through before labeling you a “Bolshevik”, and in fact stand by it. Not in your belief system, of course – but in the attitude – a very strong, arrogant belief in the absolute truth of your own world-view, consigning all conflicting interpretations into heresy. Back to last year’s Russophobe discussion, IIRC Tim Post wrote eloquently about the similarities between convinced Russophobes and religious nutjobs.

    But anyway, to pluck a small stewed cherry from your incarnadine whipped cream and compote:

    “Indeed, it’s not even in the same galaxy as what I said. What I did say is that the US has taken a much more relaxed, much less paranoid, much less histrionic attitude towards Russia’s dalliance with Venezuela than Russia has taken towards US/NATO/EU involvement on the Russian periphery despite the fact that Chavez’s objectives are overtly anti-American, and intended quite specifically to attack US interests, whereas US involvement in the Baltic, Georgia, etc., is explicitly NOT anti-Russian–except to the extent that Russia treats any attempt by these nations to assert and defend their sovereignty as the unjustified acts of uppity vassals. Note the US (non)response to the Russian fleet deployment to Venezuela, and its virtual non-reaction to the kerfuffle over the on-again-off-again Chavez offer to provide Russian bombers with bases in Venezuela.”

    1. How exactly has Chavez attacked US interests? (rhetoric doesn’t count)

    2. Is the CIA spurring on political instability and a three day coup in the 2002-2003 not an example of an imperialistic attitude to Latin America similar to what Russia is accused of in the former USSR?

    3. Is shelling a sleeping city and killing a dozen Russian peacekeepers in a sneak attack your example of Georgia asserting and defending its sovereignty?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 29, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  13. Chavez? Surely you jest: (a) numerous expropriations of US and other foreign companies, (b) support of drug gangs, and subversion in Columbia, to name just two. There is also some evidence that Chavez is complicit in sheltering Al Qaeda in the Triborder region.

    CIA support of the coup was wrong. Spot the difference? I am perfectly capable of criticizing the US.

    Chronology of the start of the Georgian War is still quite murky. That said, in my view it is highly misleading to characterize the Russian troops present in S. Ossetia or Abkhazia as “peacekeepers,” as the term is commonly understood. This term is conventionally utilized to describe genuinely neutral soldiers, charged with the responsibility of enforcing some sort of armistice, cease fire, or peace agreement. In contrast, the Russian troops present in Georgian territory were definitely not neutral, because Russia–by its own admission–is an interested party in the conflict. In fact, Russia fought tooth and nail to prevent the deployment of bona fide peacekeeping forces in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia–and continues to do so. If anything, Russia deliberately stymied the resolution of the ethnic conflict there for its own purposes. Russia also provided shelter and protection to S. Ossetian forces, and I have not seen credible evidence that the Russian “peacekeepers” acted to restrain the S. Ossetian forces from undertaking provocative acts. Furthermore, Russia engaged in numerous provocative acts of its own. Therefore, in my view although it may certainly have been unwise, Georgia’s actions were in fact consistent with an assertion of its sovereignty. What’s more, no small share of the blame for the deaths of the Russian troops in S. Ossetia on 8 August rests with Russia, for that was a predictable consequence of its actions, most notably its adamant refusal to permit a truly international resolution of the conflict, a refusal purely attributable to its own realpolitik schemes for the region.

    You see. I answer questions, and I can guarantee that the opportunity cost of my time is at least an order of magnitude bigger than Charles’s.

    Re Bolshevik. Mr. Pot: Meet Mr. Kettle. Yes. I have strong belief in my worldview. Don’t you? But I do test it continually, and alter it in response to new facts. I am capable of changing my mind–and do. That is inconsistent with the allegation that you make. I don’t do heresy, by the way. I do disagreement, and will express strong disagreement if that’s what I believe.

    If I believe strongly in something, I will lead with my chin, and you’re perfectly welcome to take a shot. I’m not going to be some on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-please-don’t-hate-me wuss. If you have a conviction, you should have the commitment to state it bluntly.

    And this Russophobe crap is making me puke. As I’ve said until I’m blue in the face, I don’t like autocratic, oppressive, deceitful governments. My vitriol, if that’s how you want to characterize it, is directed at the Russian government and the insulated clique that runs it. And I think that all of the above adjectives–and more in addition–are quite descriptive. I also believe that such governments are inimical to the interests of the Russian people. You may disagree, but this position in no way, shape or form is Russophobic–unless you identify the interests of Russia with those of the state, a Putinist/Stalinist/Bolshevik/Tsarist/Muscovite position that I reject.

    No, to me the real Russophobes are Putin’s little pilot fish that go around accusing anyone who detests him and the system that he has fostered “Russophobes.” It’s factually incorrect, and it’s dishonest.

    This Alinsky-esque labeling is a tried and true agitprop tactic. It may help you rationalize away the need to address seriously many of these issues, as you can take shelter in the misguided belief that my positions are based on some ethnic or national animus, even though they are not. But that doesn’t make it true.

    One little mental experiment. Virtually all of the posts I write about the US government are quite critical. Indeed, I am arguably more caustic in my treatment of American political figures than Russian ones. Does that make me an Americanphobe?

    The question answers itself, so you don’t have to expend any of your precious time on earth answering it. In fact, it illustrates a consistency in my treatment of Russia and the US. My criticism of both is directed primarily at the heavy handed exercise of state power over the lives, property, and liberties of individual citizens.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 29, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  14. Re-Chavez.
    “(a) numerous expropriations of US and other foreign companies, (b) support of drug gangs, and subversion in Columbia, to name just two. There is also some evidence that Chavez is complicit in sheltering Al Qaeda in the Triborder region.”

    I don’t view the interests of US companies as extending to the US, or my own. And in any case they’ve been fully re-compensated by the Chavez government for appropriations, to my knowledge. As for b), it drives down drug prices which is great for American potheads, and though I don’t partake, I sympathize with them much more than with the DEA which is, generally speaking, a nasty piece of work. The Al Qaeda allegation would be a serious, but a quick search shows these allegations mostly come from a) Venezuelan anti-Chavez emigres and b) US right-wing nutjobs.

    “CIA support of the coup was wrong. Spot the difference? I am perfectly capable of criticizing the US. ” – well, that’s nice. Wasn’t expecting that.

    Re-Georgia. I think the chronology is pretty clear.

    “First, we know this claim to be false because, in his “victory speech” on 8 August (http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=18955&search=control ossetia), he did not say so. His excuse then was that the Ossetians had not responded to his ceasefire proposal made a few hours earlier and he also claimed a rather ineffective air attack by Russian forces. Second, deputy defence minister Batu Kutelia was quoted on 21 August saying Tbilisi did not expect a Russian response (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0d8beefe-6fad-11dd-986f-0000779fd18c.html?nclick_check=1). Third, Georgia’s former defence minister, Irakly Okruashvili, (now, like many of Saakashvili’s former colleagues, in opposition) has admitted that Tbilisi always had plans to conquer South Ossetia and Abkhazia (http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSLD12378020080914?sp=true).” – etc.

    Second, ignores the fact that provocations were two-sided. Third, reasons for Russia not agreeing to international observers is pretty obvious – they would do nothing to stop a Georgian assault, they’ll offer up mealy condemnations while it is in progress, and Russia and unwilling Ossetians would be forced to accept the Georgian reconquest as a fair accompli. Fourth, no matter how you spin it Georgia has no excuse for firing in anger at UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers.

    “And this Russophobe crap is making me puke. As I’ve said until I’m blue in the face, I don’t like autocratic, oppressive, deceitful governments. My vitriol, if that’s how you want to characterize it, is directed at the Russian government and the insulated clique that runs it…No, to me the real Russophobes are Putin’s little pilot fish that go around accusing anyone who detests him and the system that he has fostered “Russophobes.” It’s factually incorrect, and it’s dishonest.”

    And you’ve just shot yourself in the foot because in the past you’ve made it perfectly clear who “Putin’s little pilot fish” are here (i.e. invalidating your claims the vitriol is directed just at the Russian government)… and refusing to accept that people do not need to have ulterior motives to defend a government that they do not consider to be “autocratic, oppressive, deceitful” or an “insulated clique”.

    I also disagree your claim of consistent treatment of the US and Russia. It’s pretty clear that your believe in the American national myth, but completely discount the validity of Russia’s national myth and historical path in its own specific circumstances. This is an irredeemable bias.-

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 29, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  15. My comment is not getting through.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 29, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  16. “No, to me the real Russophobes are Putin’s little pilot fish that go around accusing anyone who detests him and the system that he has fostered “Russophobes.” It’s factually incorrect, and it’s dishonest.”

    I still don’t see the slightest reciprocity in your arguments. If Russia and China were forming military alliances with Mexico or Venezuela (the latter seems to be less than full-fledged) and pledging to risk nuclear war to fight us in the event of a U.S. invasion of those countries, I daresay you wouldn’t pretend that this was just an anti-Obama position and Rush Limbaugh and everyone else should shut up about it or declare themselves to be Obamaniacs. You and millions of Americans would come right out and say that it’s plain anti-American, and you would be right.

    So tell me why you expect the Russian people to react differently? Or do you think Putin and the Russian media just created this opposition to having Ukraine join NATO in the last few years, both among 70% of the Ukrainian population and about 90% of the Russian population? Do you seriously think those were popular ideas under Boris Yeltsin either, back when oligarchs ran the media? If you seriously believe that, then you and AK should be locked into a room together and forced to read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky, because you take a Chomskyite view of Russian public opinion. And AK is right to call you a Bolshevik if your mindset is that if only Russia’s present elites were overthrown, liberty and justice would prevail. In all likelihood, you would see the real fascism that you’ve been warning us all about and things would get worse just as they did in 1917. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of life getting better in Russia, which no question it has in the last eight years for millions of Russians.

    Saying that countries in Latin America haven’t been seeking protection from the U.S. completely dodges the question, because my comparison is NOT a hypothetical. It actually happened historically, if you accept Russia as a successor state to the USSR (and you constantly use those bewildering slashes as if there is no difference between KGB/Orthodox/Tsarist/Muscovite whatever). I mean, what were Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua or Castro’s Cuba but Soviet client states? Why is arming client states on Russia’s border, even if it can be done on the cheap budget wise, a risk free painless policy that will have no serious consequences? It wasn’t risk free for the hundreds of Georgians and South Ossetians who died last August. If you can find me the Russian version of Randy Scheunemann who has been regularly jetting back and forth from Caracas to Moscow lobbying for a Russian security guarantee for Chavez, please feel free to share that information.

    “I provided you with several PDF’s a while back so you would have a deeper understanding of the projects but per usual, you ignored them- Too much reality I suppose…” R, you’re still creeping me out. Maybe if you would use your real name and not sound almost identical to the professional troll/sock puppet currently prowling the web for dirt on some 27 year old guy from Texas, I would view your statements as more benign, and I would believe the Professor more when he denies any knowledge of this weird collective that someone is obviously paying the bills for. While I won’t respond to the collective, they really didn’t like me making fun of whoever cuts their paychecks from the Beltway.

    As for Georgia starting the war, I believe they planned in months in advance not because of what AK posted above, though it is accurate, but because Congressman Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) said publically (both to the UK Telegraph and to others) that he saw the intel showing that the CIA knew about Georgian war preparations months in advance. You call that name dropping, I call that just kindly explaining that yes, a 27 year old from Texas or from San Francisco might know more about a particular subject than a tenured economics prof from Houston. Thanks for telling me that your time is vastly more valuable than mine. If I were an old fart Cold Warrior still on the gravy train in D.C. while the place sinks under the weight of our monumental fiscal mess, I guess I could say the same thing.

    Comment by Charles Ganske — May 29, 2009 @ 11:41 pm

  17. Oh, geez, now Ganske is going to re-fight the Russian invasion of Georgia, media blitz and all, and tell us that “poor little Wussian peacekeeperski’s” were fired upon by mean and nasty Georgians.

    As if that hasn’t been blitzed by all sorts of little Putvedev fanatics all over the Internet already.

    And Ganske is going to tell us about NATO in Ukraine, when he clearly – very clearly – has no idea what he is talking about.

    Every single “political force” in Ukraine – every single one – came out with an official government position supporting NATO membership for Ukraine.

    The Party of Regions then “reversed” its position when it became the “political force” out of power.

    However, funny thing – the “polls” showed that most Ukrainians don’t know what NATO is – and that when you explain it to them, they favor NATO membership.

    And it is true that the Rashan media, which operates quite heavily in Ukraine via cable and newspapers, is blitzing Ukraine with anti-NATO propaganda.

    But Russia has participated with NATO in joint exercises – as has Ukraine.

    The “opposition” to NATO amounts to the usual old babushka suspects being called out in Crimea, along with some imported from Russia by car with Rashan license plates, every time a NATO ship pulls into Crimea.

    It’s about 100 or so fat old ladies, complete with pup tents, coffee cups, and lawn chairs. That’s a NATO “protest” – organized by Rasah.

    Ganske, you are an idiot.

    Comment by elmer — May 30, 2009 @ 7:54 am

  18. Charles–

    Reciprocity implies equivalent response to equivalent behavior. Do you really believe that Soviet actions in Cuba, Nicaragua, etc., in the 60s-80s are equivalent to what the US/NATO/EU are doing in E. Europe and the Caucasus? Your view of reciprocity is based on the most incredibly superficial comparisons imaginable. The US provides military support to Georgia: the USSR provided military support to Nicaragua/Cuba. Therefore, in Ganske-world, it is hypocritical to support the former and oppose the latter. That’s juvenile. A grown-up appraisal requires a comparison of the substance and motivations of such actions.

    Tell us again how old you are. Just how does that matter? Other than, perhaps, providing an excuse for the immaturity of much of your “analysis,” although 27 should be old to be leaning on that excuse.

    Re security guarantees. Again: just why would Georgia, or the Baltics, or Poland, or the Czech Republic find it desirable to obtain security guarantees? Who do they believe threatens their security?

    And do me a favor, and actually read what I’ve written before assigning views to me. I have been quite clear in the past that I do not believe that ” if only Russia’s present elites were overthrown, liberty and justice would prevail.” Indeed, I’ve said quite the opposite. And the possibility that Russia would go from bad to worse is, well, all the worse for you, because your very argument (that fascism is the alternative to Putin) is a testament to the structural defects and institutional deficiencies of the Russian polity, defects and deficiencies with deep historical roots. And that’s been my point all along.

    Fascism–hard or soft. What a choice!

    Kind of strange–or tragic–to see that a self-styled Russophile takes such a dim view of Russia that he believes that the nation is incapable of developing a healthy civil and political society that protects the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 30, 2009 @ 8:23 am

  19. There is nothing superificial about the comparison, because we’re dealing with Russia here. If we were talking about Iran and NATO, it’s another discussion. Everyone knows what NATO was set up for, and that this mission disappeared when the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. You are very skeptical of bureaucracies that go about in search of mandates and expanding powers when it comes to domestic policy, but clearly not in foreign policy. What we are talking about here is U.S. policy towards Russia and what we can change here and now, not the slow reforms that will take years and probably the passing of the Cold War and USSR-steeped generation from the stage to change. At least you don’t think that if there were a revolution tomorrow we’d end up with something better, as in 1917. Some so-called conservatives do seem to take the Lenin view of Russia, that the worse things get, the better for the revolution. I don’t.

    “A grown-up appraisal requires a comparison of the substance and motivations of such actions.” And if you are so skeptical of Washington’s motivations with respect to domestic policy, why do you find them pure as white driven snow when it comes to the former USSR and Russia? That is what I cannot wrap my mind around. All this other cheap shots at my age or lack of tenure is schoolyard stuff. The old fart Cold Warriors I was referring to are in D.C., and you are not. But you employ the exact same doublethink that they do.

    Comment by Charles Ganske — May 30, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  20. Ganske is bitching about Reagan who won the Cold War, and his sadness about the outcome of the Cold War is evident.

    It’s possible that he is not a citizen of the U.S. and he is writing from Moskow. Also, it’s possible that Ganske is Sublime, – another Russian agent.
    A click on his name takes you to a blog.

    Re – about zones of influence.
    General Augusto Pinochet was right. Chili was well on the way to become a launching pad for Soviet missiles.
    Russia will continue in that direction as soon as liberals succeed to treat Russia “with respect.” Respect comes with the territory of influence, and liberals are willing to give Russia that territory.

    Why America can deploy missiles there, but Russia can not deploy missiles here? Because.

    Because America is a saint, – in comparison with Russia.
    If Russia could exterminate all Americans like cockroaches, Russian government would not hesitate a split second.

    Russians have different mentality, you common liberal.
    While American bases abroad serve a purpose to keep piece,
    Russian government has different priorities.
    As soon as Russia is able to cause the real trouble, she surely will.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 30, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  21. Russian agent Ganske wrote:

    “Everyone knows what NATO was set up for, and that this mission disappeared when the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991.”

    NATO was set up to resist Soviet Union, the main part of which was Russia.

    Soviet Union disintegrated, but Russia has not.

    The mission of NATO is still valid.
    Russia is still strong enough to fight NATO.

    If NATO disbands, Russia will be militarily the strongest country on the continent. And, unlike European countries, Russia is willing to use nuclear weapons. Disbanding NATO would mean to present the whole Europe to Russia on a silver plate.

    Ganske, what is your real name?
    And why are you a Russian agent?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 30, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  22. Dear Professor, I’ve got a proposal.
    To prevent Russian agents to multiply, let’s use some technology to identify the writers.
    For example, a credit card to charge a nominal amount of money, with the phone number and whatever is necessary for identification.

    I suspect that Ganske is Sublime.
    Why should we allow Russian agents to do propaganda on the cheap, using Internet?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 30, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  23. Caring about what the people think?

    Reference how the very politically unpopular Yushchenko wants Ukraine in NATO.

    It’s warped to actually believe that the majority of Ukraine’s population want Ukraine in NATO.

    The obsessively active minority of Ukrainian crackpot nationalists shouldn’t be confused with how many in Ukraine view a number of topics.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — May 30, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

  24. In some circles, Ukrainians are considered “intelligent” for not being against EU membership, only to suddenly become dumb regarding how most of them view their republic joining NATO.

    The “propaganda” is being fuled by the politically unpopular (in Ukraine) likes of Yushchenko.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — May 31, 2009 @ 12:03 am

  25. Be honest, in a Yushchenko versus Putin presidential vote in Ukraine, who is likely to win? In Moldova (not including Transdniester), Putin has regularly polled as the most popular politician worldwide.

    This looks like a decent organization dealing with Ukrainian issues:

    http://aminuk.org/index.php?language=en

    Comment by Cutie Pie — May 31, 2009 @ 12:50 am

  26. In Moldova, a young woman was recently arrested for Twittering about the protests surrounding the recent “elections.”

    It’s a huge bug up their butt – rooskies just cannot stand it that Ukraine is independent, and that a guy like Yushchenko stands up for Ukraine – against rooshan control. NATO – well, that’s just a reflex reaction for rooskies.

    And there it is, yet again – Ukrainian “crackpot nationalists.”

    During roosha-dominated sovok times, the people were – quite literally – told on a daily basis about those nasty, nasty “nationalists.”

    Only rooshan “nationalism” was permitted – all other “nationalism” was out of bounds in the “union of friends and friendly countries.”

    And so, today – reflex reaction from Cutie Pie, who points to Moldova as the arbiter of the whether Pootler or Yushchenko should be President of Ukraine.

    The sovok union seriously damaged people. The after-effects of that damage are still being felt today.

    Comment by elmer — May 31, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  27. Note how some duck reality. Putin would beat Yushchenko if the two ran against each other for the Ukrainian presidency. Just before the recent Moldovan vote, none other than Socor confirmed Voronin’s party winning a fairly counted vote. Russo-Ukrainian ties go back for a period longer than Communism, which put together the borders of the former Ukrainian SSR.

    So much for the misguided propaganda.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — May 31, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  28. Russian-Ukrainian “ties” were formed at the point of a gun.

    In WWI, for example,roosha signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in order to appease Germany – then the bosheviks-commies immediately began war in Ukraine.

    Prior to that, roosha welched on the Treaty of Pereyaslav, and subjugated certain eastern parts of Ukraine, and tried to roosify them.

    And here we have Cootie Pee, regurgitating all of that neo-sovok history, telling us how wonderful it was for Ukrainian people to have roosha’s boot on their throat.

    No doubt, Cootie Pee, like a good little sovok, will also tell us that Ukraine also exists because rasha made a “gift” of all the land that today is Ukraine.

    Noone needs cooties like you, cootie pee.

    Well, it wasn’t wonderful, and it doesn’t count as “ties.”

    It counts as slavery – just like in the case of all the other former sovok republics and satellites.

    They don’t want roosha’s “wonderfulness.”

    Comment by elmer — May 31, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

  29. Elmer Fudd ducks reality once again.

    Many Ukrainians in Ukraine don’t accept his babble for some of the mentioned reasons. He can’t stand that Putin would beat Yushchenko if the two ran against each others for the Ukrainian presidency.

    Based on the history of the UPA/OUN, its supporters should know about trying to form a government “at the point of the gun.”

    There’s no conclusive proof that Russia “welched” on Pereyaslav.

    “Sovok” as in Ukraine’s Communist drawn boundaries.

    The USSR as opposed to Russia “appeased” Germany. The same USSR which drew up Ukraine’s current boundaries.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — May 31, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

  30. “developing a healthy civil and political society that protects the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens.” My point is simply that the Russians will reach towards these goals faster if they do not have troops and tinpot presidents with Beltway lobbyist-fueled delusions of martial grandeur on their borders. Things may also improve faster if they don’t constantly see pipeline politics games going on in their near abroad, whereby democracy standards get chucked out the window so long as we can squeeze more energy around Russian borders, and drag Ukraine into NATO over the fierce objections of most of its population. And all I said was that you used an example of something Russia did that was actually in our interests (pumping more oil) as proof of how no one can trust whatever they say. Um, ok. It just seems very damned if you do, damned if you don’t in the Professor’s world, or at least things get spun in either direction so long as they make the Kremlin seem more evil.

    Yes, the Georgia War was shocking for me, when I saw how utterly false much of the initial claims were once compared to the post-conflict truths that emerged from very reliable sources not typically sympathetic to Russia like Congressman Rohrbacher or Der Spiegel. My liberal friends have been asking me if I was paying attention during the Iraq War too.

    Regardless of intentions, however noble they claim to be, they do not appear that way to foreigners, and there are consequences to this lack of reciprocity — for our security, and for our financial system. And we don’t even need to get into the enormous double standards between how we treat Russia vs. China to accept that. Perhaps we are just hastening major trends (i.e. foreigners refusing to lend to us and the Fed printing money, alluded to in your Zimbabwae post) already well underway, but the determination to carry on our foreign policy as if we’re not going bankrupt isn’t helping. Nonetheless, there is some considerable cognitive dissonance between your utter skepticism of Washington when it comes to domestic economic policy and emrbace of an aggressive foreign policy.

    At any rate, obviously I am not one Anatoly Karlin of San Francisco, CA. But it isn’t quite so obvious whether or not some of the Professor’s friends are part of an anonymous blog collective that has written no fewer than a dozen posts these past three years smearing myself and the authors who have contributed to my website. And nobody knows who pays the bills for these clowns.

    I’ll leave it to others to judge the creepiness of it all and cease posting here.

    R – thanks again for making everyone who actually looks at what you write think you are indeed part of the La Russophobe collective.

    “Their intent has something to do with promoting Intelligent Design in Russia…dismantling the US Constitution and replacing it with a Theocratic Dictatorship” can you show anyone a single shred of evidence for these crazy assertions?

    Comment by Charles Ganske — June 2, 2009 @ 11:19 am

  31. Charles. You are the expert on creepy. And paranoid. The “blog collective” is a product of your imagination.

    BTW, your analysis of pipeline politics is as distorted as virtually all of your other ventings. What’s more, it just happens to be the Russian/Gazprom line. You are essentially parroting the new
    “security doctrine” in all of its energy-centric, paranoid glory. And you wonder why people question your independence.

    Tell it to Turkmenistan. I hope they take your boys to the cleaners, as they have every right to do. Payback, as they say, is a b*tch.

    You are free to come and go as you please. As is everyone else.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 2, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  32. How professorial is it to link LR, when there’re substantively more intelligent options in the English language blogosphere?

    Comment by Cutie Pie — June 2, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

  33. Russians agree with SWP on realism:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/08/AR2009060803496.html

    Comment by La Russophobe — June 9, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  34. “Cutie Pie” is a lurking Russophile nationlist troll.

    So when “he” says “more intelligent” it’s code for “less dangerous, easier for us to attack or ignore.”

    Notice now Cutie Pie gives no example of specific damning criticism of Putin’s Russia he’d prefer? That’s because he’d prefer none at all.

    Comment by La Russophobe — June 9, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  35. I prefer keeping the discussion at a decent level of civility and intelligence – a point that distinguishes the two of us.

    Comment by Cutie Pie — June 10, 2009 @ 3:04 am

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