Streetwise Professor

May 12, 2010

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Filed under: Military,Russia — The Professor @ 3:03 pm

Nor do their corpses, if they have been consigned to the briny deep.

The Russian government claims that the Somali pirates who were captured by the Russian Navy after seizing a Russian-flag tanker died at sea after their craft had been set adrift without any navigation equipment.  (Which raises an interesting question: why kind of navi gear do Somali pirates typically possess?)

Says AP:

A Russian official claimed Tuesday that 10 pirates seized by Russian special forces aboard an oil tanker last week were quickly freed but then died on their way back to the Somali coast.

The unidentified high-ranking Defense Ministry official did not elaborate on how the pirates died, deepening a mystery that has prompted speculation the pirates were executed by commandos who had freed a Russian oil tanker seized in waters 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Somalia’s coast.

The official told Russian news agencies the pirates’ boat disappeared from Russian radar about an hour after their release.

“They could not reach the coast and, apparently, have all died,” the official said.

How convenient.  (Though it must be said that disappearing from radar is not definitive evidence of their deaths.  The boat was supposedly a rubber raft, which has a very small radar signature and could well be undetected by radar at distance.  Given this doubt, why say that they died?  Why not say that you just don’t know what happened to them?–unless you do know.)


Russian officials have said one of the 11 pirates was killed during a gunbattle when the Russian special forces stormed the tanker on Thursday. The others, some said to have been wounded, were brought aboard a Russian destroyer.

The Russian government claims that “imperfections” in international law precluded the prosecution of the pirates.

Of course, it could be true that the Somalis died in their boat.  But maybe not.  The evidence, such as it is, does not rule out the possibility that they were summarily executed.  Or that they actually lived.

Let’s say the Russian story is correct.  “Catch and release” of Somali pirates is SOP for NATO naval units, but this article suggests that these units may an effort to ensure that the released Somalis can reach home.

I confess to a certain ambivalence about this story.  On the one hand, catch-and-release is absurd.  It gives Somalis a piracy option: get caught, no downside, catch a ship, potential big upside.  On the other, once caught, summary judgment and punishment is troubling.  Again, the details are murky; it is unclear whether what Russia did resulted in a substantially higher probability of death than typical NATO conduct.  It would be disturbing, however, if the Russian commanders (acting on what authority?) essentially consigned the men to death in an open boat; even more disturbing if the death in an open boat story is just a blind to the truth that they were summarily executed.  The Russians’ characteristic obfuscation only keeps suspicion alive.

Russians complain about how they are perceived and portrayed abroad.  (Don’t believe me?  Read the comments.)  Those making such complaints should consider the possibility that Russia is its own worst enemy in this regard.  The handling of this incident provides a perfect illustration of that.

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  1. I think the Russians care about how they are perceived by terrorists and pirates in a different manner than they care about how they are perceived by the average citizen of countries around the world. The Russians have always wanted to strike fear in their enemies. The fact that they sent a message to the Somali pirates that death was inevitable as penalty for messing with a Russian vessel is without question. Personally, I wish Somali pirates feared the U.S. Government to the degree they now fear the Russians. Lately, it seems our allies are more afraid of the actions of the U.S. Government thnt are those who wish us harm.

    Comment by Charles — May 12, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  2. The proper handling of “pirates” in open water has been in international marine law for a few hundred years. It’s the various countries unwillingness to follow through which is the problem. As long as that occurs we will continue to see an increase in “pirate” activities.

    Comment by William — May 12, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

  3. 1. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” – what tales could they possibly tell? It was an oil tanker.
    2. I share your ambivalence. On the one hand, it was unduly harsh. On the other, pirates do make their own beds. Summary execution or marooning has been their typical lot when caught since until 50 years ago.
    3. The complicity of Western Europe in Somalian piracy should not be minimized, because their fishing fleets overfished those waters and left the Somali coastal villages with no other viable source of income.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 12, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

  4. The U.S. has the largest navy in the world. Yet pirates roam the Somali waters with little interference. The Somali pirates have killed innocent seaman. If the Russians executed the pirated they caught, it was one effective of instilling fear into these criminals. The Russians are skilled in kicking butt when their interests are threatened. We should do the same.

    Comment by Walt DuBlanica — May 12, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matthew Francis. Matthew Francis said: Streetwise Professor » Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Russian government claims that the Somali pirates who were capt… […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Streetwise Professor » Dead Men Tell No Tales -- — May 12, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

  6. I do not understand if you try to take things from me that you have no right to. I will not be nice to you. and if the Russians killed them good,

    Comment by larry morris — May 13, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

  7. You have shown with this blog post that you have absolutely no objectivity regarding Russia. In your book, it’s damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

    Who gives a sh*t about these Somali pirates? They were caught on board of a Russian oil tanker. Do you think they were selling Girl Scout cookies?

    As an economist I would expect that you would be more concerned about the moral hazard the Russians would have set with other pirates should they have practiced a catch-and-release policy. Too bad Obama and Geitner didn’t take the same approach with Goldman and AIG.

    Comment by Timothy Post — May 13, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

  8. To be fair to SWP, I don’t believe he ever claimed to be objective on Russia.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 13, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  9. My, my, look who’s back. (Another) Timmy!

    To be blunt, your comment shows that you are the one lacking any objectivity. It is clear that I am very ambivalent about the story. Jesus, son, I even said I was ambivalent. My criticisms were conditional–that things would be troubling under one interpretation of the facts, but not under others.

    It is so nice to see that you are quite acculturated to Russia, and have adopted its disdain for due process and its fondness for summary judgment. I’m sure you fit in there just fine. Perhaps we should call it the Krasnodar Syndrome, instead of the Stockholm Syndrome. We’re very far from Boston now, aren’t we?

    My main criticism of Russia, which I think is quite fair, is that its typically ham-handed handling of the incident has done little but raise suspicions about its veracity, its actions, and its motives. It seems constitutionally incapable of telling a straight story, which just raises doubts. Except for those who are in the tank: how’s the water?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 13, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

  10. S/O–have you?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 13, 2010 @ 9:44 pm

  11. I’m not back. I never left.

    I consider it my responsibility to attempt to be well informed on all things Russia and thus, I must, unfortunately, slog through all sorts of standard-issue Russophobic blogs every day on my Google Reader. That includes this blog, which is so immodestly called “The Streetwise Professor” written by a Lee Atwater wanna-a-be (i.e. “I’m a finance geek and a pseudo Andrew Jackson butt-boy but I still like to cut loose at punk rock concerts”). Ever the rebel…

    Insult me for being pro-Putin (the “Ronald Reagan” of post-modern Russian politics) but please don’t associate me with that other Timmy who believes in the tooth fairy (see “Tommy” Friedman’s recent column) and in neo-classical equilibrium economics. Geithner is the worst of all worlds, he’s a Monetarist disguised as a Keynesian.

    Regarding the Somali pirates and the Moscow University tanker, there is nothing you need be ambivalent about in the story (yes, I disagree with Anatoly on this one). The Russian response was meant to be ironic and coy. Stop being such a literal reactionary.

    Quite obviously you have never been to Krasnodar Krai. Besides being, hands down, one of the nicest regions/oblasts/krais in all of Russia- it ranks amongst one of the nicest places anywhere to live. Living here today is like living in Southern California in the 1950’s.

    Lastly, your Stockholm Syndrome analogy is just plain wrong since, unlike prisoners or captives, I can leave any time I so choose. It’s just that I currently much prefer to stay here in Russia. Besides, Krasnodar is one hell of a lot closer to Boston than Texas will ever be.

    Comment by Timothy Post — May 14, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  12. S/O–have you?

    Most emphatically not.

    Objectivity is an ideal, and unreachable in practice. Saying that one tries to be as objective as possible is respectable; admitting to one’s own biases is commendable; trying to stick to facts and logic is praiseworthy. But anyone actually describing himself as objective or “beacon of truth” or any other ideal position can immediately be marked out as dishonest.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 14, 2010 @ 12:16 am

  13. * Unless its tongue in cheek, such as the Onion describing itself as America’s finest news source or the eXile billing itself as mankind’s only alternative. That’s cool.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 14, 2010 @ 12:19 am

  14. […] Amsterdam, Streetwise Professor, and Steve LeVine write about the recent controversy involving the Somali pirates, Russian oil […]

    Pingback by Official Russia | Russia: The Somali Pirates Controversy — May 14, 2010 @ 2:04 am

  15. […] Professor points out that the uncertainty over what actually happened is another example of Russia shooting itself in the foot when it comes to international perception. […]

    Pingback by Official Russia | Weekly Blog Roundup — May 14, 2010 @ 2:06 am

  16. I’m shocked, shocked! My only nit would be that had the desecrated remains been stamped Return to Sender and duly dropped off, the rest might consider finding a safer line of work. A teaching moment.

    Comment by misterfool — May 14, 2010 @ 7:39 am

  17. “In your book, it’s damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.” That observation has been made many times before at this forum, whether it’s about coordinating/not coordinating with OPEC or something else. It went something like this:

    1. Russia sets prices with OPEC – proof that it wants to work with Comrade Chavez, Iran and the Gulf Arab petrostates to squeeze every last dollar out of the decadent West, destroying America one barrel at a time. To quote that famous Simpsons episode, Homer Tide (does anyone but me think that was a subtle mockery of Golitsyn 1984 book/John Birch Society claims that the collapse of the USSR was an elaborate charade in the March Towards World Communism?) Bwahahahaha!

    2. Russia doesn’t follow OPEC quotas – which according to SWP, shows you can’t trust those tricky Russkies! They’re chess players who always think five steps ahead while our dunce leaders bask in their own narcissism! Call Ralph Peters and he’ll set you straight about Putin’s Machiavellian evil genius!

    You should lighten up on Tim Post SWP, he’s just an economic refugee from Taxachussetts. In Krasnodar he gets better housing for the same price plus potatoes eight times cheaper and tomatoes three times less. I bet he can eat for three times less than the same meal plan in Boston. Plus no $300 a year for Resident street parking and fights to the death for a spot. Russians would revolt against such legal chinovnik fleecing. And did we mention the women are probably better looking too?

    Comment by Mr. X — May 14, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  18. Anyway, to each his own – I’m not saying Boston is better than Houston. It all depends on what you want. If you want a city that punishes driving but nonetheless has more world class research universities per capita than any other in the U.S. AND if you can make enough money to pay the taxes, live in Boston.

    If you want cheaper housing and don’t mind lots of driving, killer humidity (waking up in a pool of sweat shivering with the AC on), hurricanes and a higher crime rate, live in Houston, aka TexLA. FYI Forbes ranked Houston the 9th most expensive city in America, coming out only slightly better than Seattle, Boston, Chicago and then Greater LA, San Fran, D.C. and New York. SWP would say this is laughable since housing costs don’t compare in H-town to the rest, but my guess is the high pay level for the oil and gas industry inflates prices in the more affluent areas where most of Forbes readership would prefer to live in H. They’re not living on the east side, after all.

    Comment by Mr. X — May 14, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  19. Timmy!

    Touchy, touchy, touchy. You know, now that you’ve been so kind to tell me that calling you Timmy! gets under your skin, you can be sure that’s your moniker from here on out. I’m sure Geithner won’t mind.

    RE the name of the blog. Take a fucking joke. It’s taken from a punk rock song for crissakes. And read my first post where I talk about the name.

    I can understand your issues with immodesty, since you apparently have a lot to be modest about.

    How’s the golf course going?

    Re the pirates. Thanks for proving my point about joining the Russian moral universe.

    Re your pseudo-analysis of economics, save it for somebody who doesn’t know that you don’t have a freaking clue what you’re talking about. They might actually be impressed. They might not burst out in hysterical laughter, like I did.

    Re “nicest place in Russia.” Reminds me of the punchline of the old joke: “You don’t sweat too much for a fat girl.” Let’s take your point as true. Is there anywhere else in Russia you would live?

    And be my guest, stay as long as you like; it sounds like a mutually beneficial trade for Russia and the US. But you know, someone suffering from Stockholm Syndrome would say exactly what you did. And as for Texas being further from MA than RUS is. Thank God for that.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 14, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

  20. “hahahahahahahaha. You must REALLY have a lot of time on your hands, TIMMY!” Funny nobody ever writes that about LR Phobie and co, or him, himself and ‘her’ as I call it.

    Comment by Mr. X — May 14, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  21. Even if the Russians made these criminals walk the plank and filmed it on camera for amusement, would that be relevant news? Will potatoes grow larger because of it this year?

    Comment by Leos Tomicek — May 15, 2010 @ 11:09 am

  22. “(i.e. “And as for Texas being further from MA than RUS is. Thank God for that” Geographically, this is not correct, especially since one cannot drive to Russia from the Back Bay.

    But perhaps politically it would be more true if Texastan secedes and is invited by VVP’s successor to join the organization of gas exporting countries alongside Russia, Qatar and Iran. And then when the Chicagoans don’t pay for the gas, the Texans turn off the taps in the dead of winter. And get condemned by The Economist (if it still exists in thirty years) as energy imperialists, or something like that. Cue Streetwise Professor cerca 2040…

    And finally Professor, since you talk a lot about the small business sector and how it’s made America great compared to the corporatist giants getting their gigabuck bailouts, how many gyms have you made payroll for? 🙂

    Comment by Mr. X — May 15, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  23. What is it, 2AM over there?

    I’ve been through this before. If people want to stay anonymous, that’s something I will respect. You used her last name, and I removed that because she does not want to have her last name used here. I’ve done it before. I beg to differ about the offensive. Casting aspersions on personal appearance is unnecessary and offensive.

    Are you admitting to sockpuppetry, or not? It’s pretty obvious that you are the author of, or behind, the “Oksana” comment of last year. Esp. since you cite above things that were included in said comment. I can understand anonymity, but sockpuppetry is pretty pathetic. Truth be told, you seem somewhat creepily obsessed with her. And also quite misinformed in crucial details.

    I can’t help you if you can’t tell the difference between the use of state power to suppress speech, including anything remotely critical of the authorities, and my editing your comment which (a) revealed the name of someone who did not consent thereto, and (b) was offensive.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 15, 2010 @ 5:05 pm

  24. Yup it was me. I don’t like Tanya and I’m not alone. She’s one super angry lady and she likes to fire off lots of verbal barrages at anyone who supports Putin (as I do) or Russia but she can’t take the heat when she’s the target. That was the only pseudonym that I can remember using but go check the IP addresses of all of them if you worried about it. If you have a problem with the use of pseudonyms then perhaps you ought to turn-off your comments. If you have a problem with your internet “girlfriend” taking some heat then you ought to tell her to tone it down.

    You still haven’t answered the question of why you deleted part of my comment about Tanya. Did she request you to delete it or did you do it on your own? I suggest Tanya unplug herself from the Russia Watcher world if her feelings are so easily hurt that she needs older men to stand up for her.

    I’m quite a reasonable guy, generally, but I take umbrage at most things you write about Russia.

    Comment by Timmy — May 15, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

  25. Cute kids, good thing they got Dad’s genes 😉

    Comment by Timmy — May 15, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  26. Timmy–I obviously have no problem with pseudonyms. Probably 70+ pct of the comments here are pseudonyms. What I do have a problem with is sockpuppets who submit some comments under their own name but then lob error-filled innuendos under other names. And why is it that men almost always use a woman’s name as a sockpuppet pseudonym?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 15, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  27. Don’t let the hostages get you down Perfesser! Keep the no-punches-pulled analysis of Russia and the U.S. coming.

    One wonders why your weighing in on piracy struck such a nerve.

    Comment by Swaggler — May 15, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

  28. Men using women’s names for sock puppetry? Error filled innuendo? Obsessive Googling?

    There is no excuse for cheap shots at other people’s looks. But neither is there an excuse for the above. The host of this site should take a stand against those activities especially when they come from people he might happen to agree with on some things (Phobie, cough cough) instead of laughing it off. If someone were crowding his top ten Google results for Craig Pirrong with completely false allegations I think he would be calling Reputation Defender up pronto. The existence of such companies is one reason why it’s only the piddly writers and academics out there who get Google bombed, never the American gazillionaires who actually funded the initiatives for the U.S.-Russia reset in America.

    Comment by Mr. X — May 16, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

  29. Let’s just be perfectly clear for the record: TIMMY POST is a man who works in Russia and makes his living by sucking up the powers that be, including the Kremlin, in ordert to line his pockets with cash. You can’t get any more biased and untrustworthy where Russia is concerned. The notion that TIMMY POST might somehow be an objective commentator on Putin’s Russia is perhaps the most laughably absurd statement that can be made about that benighted country, except perhaps that the occupants of the Kremlin themselves might be.

    Comment by La Russophobe — May 18, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  30. @La Russophobe – Took ya long enough. I was starting to worry that you guys were going soft. What happened, did the Adomanis interview put your brains on pause?

    Comment by Timmy — May 19, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

  31. I am outraged at the mistreatment that the Somali pirates received at the hands of those Russian barbarians.

    Pirates are people too, and their rights should be respected the American way: they should be thrown into Guantanmao Bay prisons without any trial, and then waterboarded 20 times per day for many years.

    And if some journalists complain – we should give them the taste of the freedom of the press the American way: we should bomb them like we bombed the TV station in Belgrade and the Al Jazzeera headquarters in Qatar.

    Comment by RTR — May 21, 2010 @ 7:00 am

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