Streetwise Professor

May 15, 2009

Short Timers

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 3:48 pm

Paul Goble links to, and discusses, an analysis by a Russian priest who argues that Russia is a “sociopathic land.”  The primary evidence for this diagnosis is the short term focus of Russian political and economic thinking: “In most cases, they are moved by consideration of their own benefit but only in the short term: the longer-term consequences of their actions do not affect them much.”  

It is always dangerous to anthropomorphize states or “lands,” or large collectives of individuals.  Hence, assigning a psychological diagnosis is problematic at best.  But Orthodox  Father Yakov Krotov is onto something.  Indeed, he’s onto something that I’ve written about a number of times on SWP, for the short term focus of Russian policy and actions is clearly evident.  In “Man in a Hurry” (from February, 2007) I noted that this was particularly characteristic of Putin.  

My explanation for this short term-ism is not psychological, but economic.  (Go figure!)  A variety of factors limit the rational time horizons of political and economic actors in Russia.  One is demographic.  Hard to think about the future when you don’t think you have a future.  Another arises from the insecurity of property rights and personal security.  Without protections of property, there is an incentive to grab short term gains, and forgo long term investments.  (One of the striking features of Russian economic development is the very low rate of investment relative to GDP, as compared to Asian Tigers, for instance.)  Similarly, due to the absence of legal protections, and the prevalence of mob-style settlement of political and economic disputes, there is a substantial risk of loss of freedom or life in some arbitrary, and perhaps violent, process.  This risk also tends to focus the mind on the present.  In a land of roving bandits (to use Mancur Olson’s phrase), “don’t start thinkin’ about tomorrow” are words to live by.  

The insecurity of person and property from the predations of the state and its agents is very real.  Very.  Consider this EDM article that considers the recent mass shooting by a Moscow police major in a broader context:

On April 27, Police Major Denis Yevsyukov, chief of the Tsaritsino district precinct in Southern Moscow, opened fire in a supermarket, killing two and injuring six -with four critically injured (, April 27). The major also shot dead the taxi driver who had driven him to the store. What the authorities hastened to present as an act of random brutality on the part of a deranged individual, in reality represents a much deeper institutional problem within the police. Whereas most citizens in a Western country feel either indifferent or protected when they meet police on their streets, in Russia the same meeting evokes fear.

All law-enforcement services within Russia have become a public menace, but the Ministry of the Interior (MVD), which runs the police force, standing apart as being the most notorious. Policemen have become infamous for beatings, extortions, rape and robbery.

One indication of how the interior ministry became criminalized was revealed in the case of Lieutenant-General Alexander Orlov. Formally acting as an aide to the then Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Orlov in effect ruled the MVD between 1998 to November 2001 -after which Rushailo left to take over the Security Council. Orlov, whose personal fortune was estimated at some $100 million, immediately disappeared. Though the authorities placed him on a wanted list, he conspicuously visited Moscow restaurants and Rushailo’s son’s dacha (, May 8, 2005).

On the same day that Major Yevsyukov went on his shooting spree, prosecutors accused five Moscow police officers of operating as a criminal gang. The accused officers served in the police organized crime squad. They have been charged with kidnapping a Tajik citizen to extort money from his relatives, before allegedly beating him to death. The officers also face charges of selling drugs and forging criminal evidence (The Times, April 28).

Indeed, law-enforcement officers being transformed into a criminal gang are nothing new. The most notorious (though far from unusual) case, known as “the case of uniformed werewolves” was publicly exposed in 2003. Six senior officers from the Moscow Criminal Investigation Deprtment, much romanticized over decades as the service of dedicated crime-busting role-models without fear or reproach, were charged with organizing a criminal group, extortion, fraud, racketeering, and beatings among other things. Lieutenant-General Vladimir Ganeyev, the chief of the Ministry for Emergencies’ internal security department (the Russian version of FEMA) headed this “werewolf group” (, July 2, 2003). Four more officers from the same department were arrested as members of this criminal group in 2007 (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 14, 2007). According to numerous testimonies, published by the respected human rights Public Verdict Foundation and other rights groups, beatings remain the main investigative modus operandi at Russian police precincts.

. . . .

In December 2008 an elite riot police squad (OMON) in the Republic of Bashkiria went on the rampage, assaulting locals in the cities of Blagoveshchenk, Salavat, Chishmy and some nearby villages. According to the media and human rights activists, in Blagoveshchenk alone up to 1,500 males (2.5 percent of the entire population) were detained and brutally beaten. Officials indicated that 342 were detained, with 197 registered as seriously injured by beatings. The Moscow-based bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta alleged that the riot police had carried out mass rape. “I have seen a lot, but I wept as I listened to this tape,” commented Novaya Gazeta’s correspondent Marat Hairullin, as he quoted testimony from a rape victim: “There were three of us…He was wearing a mask…They said either this, or you will be charged with crime…they made me lie on a desk…It really hurt…” (Novaya Gazeta, January 14, 2005).

Alexi Bayer mentions another phenomenon–over-the-top consumerism–that is also consistent with a short term lifeview that reflects a dim view of the future and its risks:

I have no idea who paid him to stand there and whether his withering English sarcasm was part of his job description. It is true, however, that in recent years Russian visitors have developed a reputation for crass nouveau-riche consumerism. Although Russia no longer has world-renowned writers, artists or composers, wild Russian spending and partying have become legendary the world over.  

I’ve also emphasized in the past that such short-termism has macro-political implications.  Short time horizons tend to make it more difficult to engender cooperative behavior among powerful elites.  This can contribute to political instability and brittleness.  And indeed, this instability and brittleness can in turn make short termism rational.

So, I can understand certain regularities in Russian economic and political behavior; they would not be rational in a more stable, secure environment, but are eminently sensible in one in which political, legal, economic, and health conditions create tremendous future risks.  But Bayer mentions other behaviors that do seem to be pathological, as he (and Father Krotov) describe them:

What is funny, however, is that Russians insist that theirs is a deeply spiritual culture that contrasts with the shallow materialism of the West. [You can say that again.]

Most nations, like most individuals, have an overly flattering opinion of themselves.  This is clearly not how its neighbors view Russia, especially after the war in Georgia. And, judging by the company Moscow keeps in its foreign policy — the likes of Belarus, Venezuela and Iran — it seems more at home with international pariahs.

. . . .

Even though Soviet citizens were cynical about the official propaganda, pervasive lying still distorted their perceptions. World War II is a good example. The simplistic, black-and-white Soviet version of events — that the Soviet Union was an innocent victim of German aggression and that the Red Army brought only freedom to Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries — has never been questioned either officially or in popular mythology. Inconvenient facts like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the brutal treatment of the liberated countries and the wanton sacrifice of millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians do not seem to dim the national myth.  

Russia’s attempt in the 1990s to become integrated into the international community foundered in part because of its inability to understand how its recent history was perceived in the West. Similar self-delusion shapes Russia’s relations with former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries, causing frequent international spats and bouts of mutual recrimination.  

At home, too, the deeply ingrained influence of Soviet propaganda has been negative. Ordinary Russians have had it drummed into them how technologically advanced, industrialized and rich their nation has always been. They find it hard to understand the disconnect between their putative wealth and pervasive poverty and backwardness they see all around them. As a result, Russians tend to seek scapegoats for their dismal standards of living: They blame foreigners, ethnic minorities or 1990s oligarchs for stealing their wealth.  

There is a widely held belief in Russia that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President Boris Yeltsin dismantled the Soviet Union on orders from foreign secret services. Indeed, how else to explain the ignominious crumble of an empire that had routinely described itself as monolithic, powerful and destined lead the rest of humanity to the bright communist future?  

Self-delusion not only tends to exaggerate Russia’s achievements and contribution to world history and economy but diminishes its standing, too. The Soviet media loved to repeat ad nauseam how the country was surrounded by enemies. Even today, many Russians sincerely believe that foreign governments secretly plot to dismember their country and get their hands on its natural resources.  

This is why the Kremlin reacts so angrily to NATO’s eastward expansion or the installation of elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia would have been a far more secure nation — and much more open toward its neighbors and partners in the international community — if it took a realistic look at its nuclear arsenal and understood that no military power on Earth would ever want to tangle with it.  

This disconnect between self-perception and reality is at turns comical and frightening.  The most frightening aspects manifest themselves in paranoia.  A couple of examples.  First, the use of the Victory Day celebrations to draw analogies between the Nazi invasion of the USSR, and NATO and EU expansion:

Opening what was described as one of the most spectacular Victory Day parades in recent years, President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia’s victory over fascism during the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War was “a great example and a great lesson” to all nations.

Speaking side-by-side with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Medvedev said the lesson was “still valid today, when again and again those nations appear to be the ones indulging in military adventurism.”

Russia’s president insisted that “any aggression against our citizens will be decisively rebuffed, and Russia’s future will be peaceful, successful, and happy.”

Medvedev’s comments also came amid renewed tensions with NATO, whose decision to hold war exercises in Georgia has been termed a “blatant provocation” by Medvedev. Russia defeated Georgia in a five-day war last August.  

Another example is the Kremlin’s recent strategic assessment and policy document:

Russia may face wars on its borders in the near future over control of energy resources, a Kremlin document on security policy said on Wednesday.

The paper did not name potential adversaries, but Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer, shares a border of more than 3,600 km (2,250 miles) with resource-hungry China and a small sea border with the United States.

“In a competition for resources, problems that involve the use of military force cannot be excluded that would destroy the balance of forces close to the borders of the Russian Federation and her allies,” said the document, which maps out Russia’s security strategy until 2020.

“The attention of international politics in the long-term perspective will be concentrated on the acquisition of energy resources,” the paper said.

It said regions where such a competition for resources could arise included the Middle East, the Barents Sea, the Arctic, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Russia also sees increased competition for food, fresh water and land.

What an anachronistic worldview.  Dudes, it’s not 1909 any more; this reads like some social-Darwinian-race-for-colonies document produced by the Kaiser’s Foreign Ministry, or the British Foreign Office.  Robert Coalson at Power Vertical has more:

And, indeed, the document does not reflect any warming of  Russia’s relations with the West. It states that a major threat to Russian security is “the policy of some foreign states aimed at attaining an overwhelming military superiority, particularly in the area of strategic nuclear weapons, through targeted, informational, and other high-technology means of conducting armed conflict, non-nuclear strategic arms, the development of missile defenses, and the militarization of space” (It is clear why Andrei Savelyov, head of the Great Russia party,  commented  that “in places the document is so ungrammatical and illogical that it makes the reader weep”).

Likewise, it deplores NATO’s efforts to “move the military infrastructure of the alliance to [Russia’s] borders and efforts to give it global functions, which contradict the norms of international law.” This would seem to call into question even NATO’s efforts in  Afghanistan. The doctrine asserts that “the  North Atlantic  alliance, as well as flawed legal instruments and mechanisms, are increasingly creating threats to international security.” Dmitry Tymchuk, a Ukrainian military analyst,  said  the document amounts to declaring the disbanding of NATO as a strategic goal of  Russia.

 Again.  NATO, even were it to expand further, would not pose a threat to Russia.  Nor will the BMD facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland.  They indeed limit the ability of Russia to dominate the nations on and beyond its borders, but (a) by what right does Russia have to exercise such dominance over the objections of the citizens of these nations?, and (b) NATO has neither the capacity nor the will to utilize these nations to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs.  

Coalson also notes that the document (a) reflects the elevation of the state over the rights and interests of individuals, and (b) conveniently undermines any effort to hold the government accountable for social and economic goals by eliminating any specific benchmarks by which to measure performance:

However, the status of concerns about the rights of citizens and the state of democratic institutions is definitely downgraded in the current document. Viktor Litovkin, editor of the military supplement of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,”writes: “In comparison to the old National Security Concept, which spoke about the priority of the security of the individual, society, and the state, the new Strategy brings to the fore national defense and state and public security. Of course, it does not forget about human rights. But they are not discussed in the sort of systematic way that they were before.”

Unlike its predecessors, the new strategy document includes benchmarks by which, in theory, the government’s success can be measured. These include categories like the level of unemployment, the difference between the economic potential of the top and bottom tenths of the population, a consumer-price index, and the like. However, these categories are listed without any baseline or target figures. reported that such targets are included in a secret protocol to the public document.

Such documents are not particularly relevant as concrete action plans.  They are, however, revealing glimpses at worldviews and modes of thought.  And the worldview that is revealed is an atavistic, paranoid one that emphasizes relations based on force rather than exchange.  That is, to the extent that political Russia thinks about the future, it does so by looking into the past.  

This is eminently self-defeating.  As I’ve said before, you catch more flies with sugar than gall.  But Russia appears to be blissfully unaware that its truculent behavior towards its neighbors–no, towards everyone–drives those it wishes to influence into the arms of those it deems its enemies.  This interview with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski is priceless in this regard:

RFE/RL: Almost without exception, various EU officials and many of your colleagues have vehemently rejected suggestions that the EU is looking for a “sphere of influence” in the East. What does the EU have against influence?

Radoslaw Sikorski:  I think people object to the 19th-century sound of the idea of a sphere of influence. But we don’t apologize for the European Union being civilizationally attractive to its neighbors. And if they want to make their internal laws [and] procedures more compatible with ours, that’s something we rejoice in and that’s something that will certainly pull them towards us.

RFE/RL: Do you not think that there is a certain danger that Russia, seeing this as a competition for influence, could draw the EU into a different logic — one of confrontation — over the long term?

Sikorski:  Let’s be realistic. Visa liberalization is not really the kind of thing people had in mind in the 19th century when they spoke of spheres of influence. These are just facilitating mechanisms for the people of these countries. Equally, most of our countries are in the World Trade Organization, and deepening free trade is also beneficial for all, and is not something you can have much of a competition over. And then projects to do with civil society, to do with scholarships and assistance in meeting various standards — I really don’t see how any reasonable person can see anything threatening in any of this.

RFE/RL: Do you think Russia is a force for stability in Eastern Europe?

Sikorski:  Russia is certainly a force [! almost British understatement], and she seems to have made her own choice for the time being. But various countries that used to be in the former Soviet Union seem to gravitate more to European standards and European ideals, which is hardly surprising.

Poland, for example, is the home of Solidarity; we fought for our freedom long and hard and we believe that democracy works, that a true market economy based on competition rather than the political control of assets is more efficient, and that the sacrifices involved in getting your procedures, your laws, your institutions right are worth it even in the long run.

But, of course, Russia is on a somewhat different directory [trajectory? If so, yet more dry wit].

RFE/RL: Given that there is this polarity between the Russian attitude and the EU attitude toward the Eastern Partnership, whether the EU likes it or not, do you think there exists a long-term “third way” for these countries or will they at some point have to make a choice?

Sikorski:  We used to have a saying in Poland: “The ‘third way’ leads to the Third World.” Look, we are putting great words on something that really is at this stage very modest. Visa liberalization, free trade, a bit of help in training officials in EU law and such things — I don’t think they have any potential to cause controversy, and I certainly don’t think they will force anybody to choose, because these countries will want to trade both with the EU and Russia, just as Poland does.

I was just in Moscow [on May 6] and I was amazed and pleased to discover from my notes that Poland had $30 billion [worth] of trade with Russia last year, and that Russia is actually our second-biggest trading partner, even though we’ve been members of NATO for 10 years and the EU for five years. So I really don’t see that there is a contradiction.

Sikorski views relations in terms of exchange, not dominance; in terms of freedom to choose, not “I have an offer you can’t refuse.”  And he cannot understand how anyone could object to such a basis for relations.  But Russia clearly does object.  Muscovite modes of thought live on, and leads to short-sighted actions that undermine the very same long term goals sought.  An attitude of “if I can’t have you, nobody will” is a certain way to drive the object of your desire in the arms of a protector.  But, operating with an overdeveloped sense of self-regard, which precludes viewing others as equals, causes Russian leaders to frame all relations with neighbors in terms of dominance rather than exchange; to frame them in imperial terms, as it were.  

Another symptom of these complexes is the disconnect between display and reality.  Russia’s military muscle flexing is, as I’ve often written on SWP, a classic example of this.  Roger McDermott of Eurasia Daily Monitor describes the most recent manifestation of this behavior:

The Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, marking the 64th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany, offered a curious mixture of pomp, myth and nostalgia -all vital elements for the Russian leadership. As the Spassky Tower on Red Square struck 10:00 am, the parade began, overseen by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from a dais erected in front of Lenin’s mausoleum concealed by a Russian tricolor in an effort to avoid its more obvious Soviet overtones. The display of “military power” which ensued was assiduously calculated to offer a striking visual image against which Medvedev could warn any country considering “military adventurism” against Russia. It also served as a temporary escape from the reality of the crisis within Russia’s armed forces and the deepening economic malaise affecting the country (ITAR-TASS, May 9).

Medvedev avoided any specific reference to the war with Georgia in August 2008, though he alluded to the five-day conflict, saying that the lesson of World War II “remains acute today when again there are those who engage in military adventurism.” Moreover, amongst his Victory Day messages of congratulations, Medvedev also included the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He referred to personnel taking part in the parade that had, “proven the high capability of the Russian military in real action” (, Interfax, May 9).

The preparations for the parade had been costly and intensive. This involved training the various military units for almost two months in Alabino, 50 kilometers south-west of Moscow which boasts a replica of Red Square. The cost of staging the parade itself was estimated at 205 million rubles ($6.3 million). Local authorities in Moscow confirmed that expenditure had involved repairing paving slabs on Red Square and in the surrounding area, as well as preparing the roads for the arrival of military vehicles. It also paid for city workers to clean a large Soviet symbol -a red and gold star- to be placed above the GUM department store for the occasion (ITAR-TASS,, May 9).

. . . .

Yet, inadvertently underscoring the mythical dimension of the display, all the uniforms worn for the event featured the new design originally scheduled for introduction throughout the armed forces, which has since been abandoned owing to the costs involved. Indeed, Serduykov must have been stunned by his commander-in-chief claiming that the Georgia conflict had proven the combat capability of the Russian armed forces. After all, he has consistently argued precisely the opposite: the conflict had revealed major structural flaws and justified a radical reform program.

Indeed, Russia’s experience of the global financial crisis has impacted on several aspects of that much publicized reform plan. Re-locating the Navy headquarters from Moscow to St. Petersburg and introducing new uniforms have proven early casualties in the process, caused by lack of finance. This has also undermined the intention to reduce the officer corps by 2012 with cuts of as many as 200,000 posts, and plans to modernize and re-equip the military -which exposed the decayed condition of the country’s defense industries- leaving the entire process in jeopardy. In March, Serdyukov suggested that as much as 90 percent of Russian military equipment might be obsolete: in stark contrast to the hardware used on Red Square (Interfax, March 21).

Nevertheless, the Russian leadership confronted with economic downturn and seeing NATO as a threat to the country, attempts to re-mould an image of its military power in order to threaten Russia’s “enemies.” “I think, the Red Square parade made everyone feel proud for our country,” Medvedev told veterans at a Kremlin reception after the parade (Rossiya TV, May 9).

The pattern emerging in relation to these parades, with the reappearance of military hardware on Red Square in 2008 and staging a larger Victory Day parade this year, suggests that the event in 2010 will be held on an even more grand scale -marking the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. In the meantime, the gap between image and reality is steadily widening, perhaps necessitating the continued emphasis placed on “show.” However, few senior Russian military personnel will believe the claims made on May 9 that the country’s conventional military power is capable of adequately meeting the challenges of modern warfare.

In other words, Putin’s Potemkin military, redux.  

The self-righteous arrogation of the right to interpret the past is another symptom:

In a special video posting on his official Kremlin blog President Dmitry Medvedev emphasized that the World War II Victory-Day on May 9 is an “all-Russian celebration, uniting the entire nation.” But it is not all positive. Around half of Medvedev’s video address was spent on renouncing “the falsifiers of history, who are becoming increasingly vicious, ugly and aggressive.” Medvedev announced, “We must defend historic truth, though it is not easy and sometimes revolting. We cannot close our eyes to the terrible truth of the war, but we will not allow anyone to undermine the sacrifice of our people” (, May 7).

Moscow has recently accused the authorities in the Baltic republics and Ukraine of rehabilitating WWII-era nationalistic Nazi collaborators. But Medvedev’s statement was vague on who in particular are the villains. The ruling United Russia party has introduced legislation into the State Duma that will make it a criminal offense to “question the Soviet victory in WWII,” punishable with a large fine and a prison sentence. Liberal commentators on radio Ekho Moskvy believe this legislation may be used not only against someone in the Baltic or in Ukraine, who are beyond Russian jurisdiction, but to punish liberal historians or dissidents, who question or investigate communist crimes (, May 8).

The “anti-falsification” legislation may be used to brand political opponents of the present regime as traitors. Recent opinion polls show that the Russian public has a unique opinion of WWII. A poll by VtSIOM showed that 77 percent of Russians believe the Red Army liberated the East European nations from Nazi occupation, and then allowed them to freely live and develop. Only 11 percent believe that the Soviet Union imposed pro-communist regimes and undermined the independence of the former Warsaw Pact nations. A sizable majority (60 percent) agree that anyone, who publicly opposes the “Soviet victory and sacrifice,” is a felon (Interfax, May 9).

This pro-communist public nostalgia and the staunch survival of Soviet myths denying the occupation of Eastern Europe by the Red Army after WWII, is cultivated and supported by official Russian propaganda. Not only does the older Soviet-educated population believe the narrative, but the majority of younger people also accept it (Interfax, May 9). The restoration of Soviet-style massive displays of military might on May 9 on Red Square is a deliberate pragmatic policy by the present regime, hoping to gain more legitimacy by parading itself as a direct successor of Soviet communist greatness.

I find this particularly disgusting because: (a) the USSR played a major role in facilitating in rise in Nazi military power, (b) the USSR was similarly directly responsible for the onset of the war (cf. Molotov-Ribbentrop, among other things), and (c) its sacrifice in WWII, and its undeniable contribution to the vanquishing of Germany, do not excuse its appalling treatment of its own population, or the populations of the lands it occupied and dominated.  I would have a more sympathetic view of Russians’ criticisms of its neighbors’ historical revisionism if they would take a more honest view of their own, something that is definitely not in the cards.  And this, as another Goble piece illustrates, will also have pernicious effects:

The authors of “The Rehabilitation of Nazism” on the territory of the former republics of the USSR and most of those who have commented on it have focused on the ways such a law could be used by Moscow against the governments of some of these countries.

But Irina Pavlova, one of the most thoughtful Moscow commentators on public life there, argues that the real and far more negative impact of this legislation is likely to be on the Russian Federation itself, where, she suggests, this legislation sets the stage for the re-imposition of a Soviet-style official version of the Russian past (
In an essay she entitled “An Afterward to Victory Day,” Pavlova argues that “far from everyone understands the genuine meaning of this legislative initiative.” And she seeks to provide it by noting that “what is important is Russia is not so much the laws themselves as the subtexts and instructions about what society as a whole may not suspect” until too late.  

Consequently, in order to understand what this legislation may ultimately mean, it is important to look beyond the text itself which is clearly directed against non-Russian nations, some of whose members cooperated with the Nazis, and consider those at the top of the Russian political system who send “signals” as to how they want this act to be applied more generally.

On his video blog, she points out, President Dmitry Medvedev noted that “we have begun to encounter what are called historical falsifications” and these “are becoming ever more severe, evil and aggressive.” Consequently, he said, there is a need, in Pavlova’s words, “to be objective as the powers that be understand” whatever issue is at hand.

That sent a clear “signal” to those who wanted to hear. General Makhmut Gareyev, president of the Academy of Military Science and an officer long associated with official views on World War II, responded to Medvedev’s words with a reassertion of the need for “an objective treatment of the military history of Russia.”

He told an Ekho Moskvy interviewer that “no historians will give an answer” like that. “It is necessary,” the general continued, “that government organs participate in the creation of a new work. For example, only the General Staff, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the KGB and the FSB today can explain what really happened in 1941.”

Another person who heard this signal from Medvedev was Yury Zhukov, a researcher at the Institute of Russian History who has played “a definite role in the contemporary glamorization of Stalin,” told “Komsomolskaya Pravda” that “Russian citizens who intentionally distort the facts of history must be subject to criminal punishment.”

“All deviations from the official truth about the war,” Pavlova suggests, “from his point of view are “a clear expression of a pro-American and anti-Russian view about that which we by rights call the Great Fatherland War.” To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, Zhukov said, “it is necessary to create a single state history textbook.”

In this way, Sergei Shoigu’s initiative is being transformed into a weapon not so much against people in other countries who may have different views about World War II than Russians do than against “independent historians” who are not prepared to follow the line laid down by “veteran-preservers and historians who serve the present day powers that be.”

Yet more short termism.

I think we all tend to be our own worst enemy.  But Russia’s worst enemy is far, far more destructive than most.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. 1. Seizing energy assets is crucial in the post peak oil world. It is not anachronistic, but realistic. NATO has been conducting military exercises in the Arctic, China is snapping up energy and mineral companies throughout the world.

    2. It is Krotov who is the sociopath.

    3. The falsification of WW2 history in the West is all too real and extremely prevalent – Victory Day Special: The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front.

    4. If you hate the idea of states imposing historical truth on their citizens so much, why don’t you condemn the Ukrainian “Holodomor denial” laws?

    “The draft law envisages prosecution for public denial of the Holodomor Famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine as a fact of genocide of the Ukrainian people, and of the Holocaust as the fact of genocide of the Jewish people. The draft law foresees that public denial as well as production and dissemination of materials denying the above shall be punished by a fine of 100 to 300 untaxed minimum salaries, or imprisonment of up to two years.[74]”

    The main difference of course being that the Soviet Union did win against the Nazis, whereas the Holodomor as genocide idea is a victimization myth.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 15, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

  2. Sublime, how can you deny that Stalin and his assistants killed millions of Ukrainians on purpose?
    After reading your blog I’ve realized that you are a Russian agent.
    You are advancing interests of Russian government here.
    Including promoting the idea that America has too many houses, and we should stop building new homes.

    You know, of course, that Stalin and his assistants had a policy to eliminate “kulachestvo” – wealthy farmers – as a class. Ukrainians have always wanted independence. After 1917 revolution Ukraine became independent, but shortly after that she was occupied by Russian bolshevics.

    Most Ukrainian farmers did not want to join collective farms. Stalin and his assistants adopted a policy to confiscate agricultural products from Ukrainian farmers and to export those products.
    Stalin and his assistants were exporting agricultural products at a time when millions of Ukrainians were starving. As a result, millions of Ukrainians have died because of hunger.

    But some subhumans still deny the simple fact that Stalin and his assistants did it on purpose.
    They could not do it by mistake, could they?

    I just hope that one day all enemy agents will be round up and drowned during waterboarding, or whatever is the correct term. You, sublime, should be the first on the list of enemy propaganda combatants.
    Now say again that America has too many houses, and we should live in crowded apartments,
    you human trash.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 15, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  3. DR–

    It would be nice if the “source” you linked to actually provided cites to the sources of the “myths” he “debunks.” Can you say “straw man”? I knew you could. I have read a great deal about WWII in books by reputable Western historians, including all of the standard references regarding the Eastern Front. Never have I read any of these myths, especially regarding the “honor and dignity” of the Wehrmacht. Where did this guy form his conception of Western conventional wisdom about the Eastern Front? Hogan’s Heroes reruns? NeoNazi websites?

    In general, I oppose laws that punish speech, even offensive speech. For instance, I find Holocaust denial extremely offensive, but I oppose punishing people who engage in such conduct.

    At the same time, per my earlier discussion of Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow, I am convinced that there was a genocidal aspect to the Great Famine–a war on Ukrainian ethnicity and culture–especially in the second phase of the Great Famine. And I also have virtually no patience with attempts to distinguish the Holocaust from the Great Famine by the fact that the latter was directed primarily against an economic class, rather than a race or nationality, like that makes it OK. It is just as evil, as it treats individual human beings as part of a collective mass.

    The deaths of millions of Ukrainians is no myth, DR.

    We’ve had this discussion before. You, like many–arguably the vast majority–of Russians, have nothing but disdain for Ukraine and Ukrainians. It is not very appealing. And what’s more, it provides a perfect illustration of the attitudes that I discuss in the post. Thanks for that.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 15, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

  4. Dear Professor, it seems to me that there are a few common misconceptions about Russia
    in this article.

    Demographic situation is not as bad as statistics show. It’s not that healthy people
    drop dead for no apparent reason. No. It’s mostly drunks, illegal drug users, the weak and the sick that die by thousands.
    Obviously, Russian government came to the conclusion that it’s cheaper to let them die
    rather than to place them in costly rehabilitation facilities and hospitals. I’m not commenting
    about morality of such approach. I’m just saying that it looks like Russian government
    decided to clean up the gene pool of the nation. Quality is better than quantity, –
    it’s an old slogan of the Soviet era.
    That is why we can not expect that the trend line will remain straight.
    As most of undesirable citizens – including the weak and the sick – die off,
    the demographic situation will improve, – however immoral it sounds.

    Russia is moving to fascism. By fascism I mean Italian version of fascism, – strict government control of capitalist economy and political speech. There will be a few political parties in Russia, but it still will be a fascist country. Instead of one fascist party there will be two or three fascist parties with similar ideology, and a few marginalized parties with liberal democracy orientation.

    I don’t think that fascist Russia will be a weak enemy of the West. Just the opposite.
    Here Sublime can bitch about the country he lives in.
    Or does he? He might be broadcasting from Russia.
    But in Russia they will not give me an opportunity to bitch about Russian government.
    Is it a weakness? I’m not sure about that.

    We need a big stick. China should be allowed to take Taiwan, peacefully or otherwise.
    After that China should be allowed to look west, in direction of long lost territories of Siberia and Far East, all the way to Ural Mountains.

    During WWII America made a big mistake to help Marxist Russia even though Marxist Russia was no better than fascist Germany. We should not repeat the same mistake with Chinese fascism. Russia should be cut to optimal size, both in territory and aggressiveness.

    How long will it take?
    30 years? 50 years?
    I dunno. But it must be done.

    Maybe, just maybe, the future generations of Russians will realize that (Ras) Putin was barking at the wrong tree.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 15, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  5. 1. Sources of myths

    “Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russian campaign was a sideshow.”

    Just about all Western history on WW2 from Churchill to Ambrose until the last ten years or so (and with exception of Erickson).

    “The Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns.”

    Enemy at the Gates, which showed soldiers going to the front in padlocked cattle wagons, given 1 rifle for every 2 men and presided over by Jewish-looking military commissars. A classic Nazi view.

    “Though the Wehrmacht fought with honor and dignity on the Eastern Front, the Russians killed all the German POW’s and raped and looted east Germany when they conquered it.”


    “The mainstream Western narrative on the Eastern Front during the Second World War was formed by academic historians and is fundamentally fair and objective.”

    Lengthy account of how it was distorted by Wehrmacht veterans with US connivance.

    Basically your own biases prevent you from properly evaluating the society and popular culture around you.

    2. Your label that I / “most Russians” have “nothing but disdain” for Ukrainians is as usual nothing more than a product of your own fevered imagination.

    I never denied millions of Ukrainians died (around 1.5mn in Ukraine, in fact), out of 3mn across the USSR – including Russians.

    If your view of it as a “genocide” rests on the idea it was supposed to wipe out a social group, then don’t bring Ukraine into it at all. Otherwise your argument becomes contradictory and hypocritical.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 15, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

  6. Also, Mr. Vilkin appears to know all there is to know about fascism.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 15, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

  7. Your “cites” are no better than the website you link to. Just your assertions.

    “With the exception of Erickson.” Uhm, pretty big exception. Also, Keegan. Also, Martin Gilbert. Re Ambrose. He wrote histories of the American Army, not histories of the War overall. Is it any surprise that Americans and Britons are more interested in the history of their armed forces? Is Russian/Soviet historiography any different?

    Enemy at the Gates is a freaking movie, DR.

    There is no doubt that German officers (e.g., Guderian, von Manstein) had a huge influence on Western interpretations of the war, in large part because they were accessible to Western scholars, whereas Soviet commanders were not.

    There is no doubt that there is much diversity in historical writing in the West, much of which attempts to give the Soviet effort its due.

    1.5 mm is well on the low side of estimates. I stand by my appraisal of Russian attitudes towards Ukrainians. It have long found that attitude striking, and have seen it expressed by people–friends–who otherwise were anything but hardcore Russian nationalists, but were often quite progressive/liberal/cosmopolitan.

    Your last comment is inane. Hypocrisy? Huh? Ukraine suffered disproportionately, because the classes and ethnic groups that were the Bolshevik’s special enemies were disproportionately represented there. And by failing to acknowledge that, Russia only adds insult to injury, and provides evidence of its malign and patronizing attitudes towards Ukraine.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 15, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

  8. Speaking of him, not only that, but he truly seems to have a weird not to say disturbing obsession with building houses:

    # Michael Vilkin Says:
    February 7th, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Hey, here is a thought how to eliminate world poverty in 5 simple steps.

    1. Round up all anarchists and concentrate them in special camps.
    2. Put the dumb anarchists to work to make bricks.
    3. Put the smart anarchists to lay bricks and to build brick houses.
    4. Give the brick houses to the poor.
    5. In 10 years every poor family will own a nice brick house.

    There’s also this gem about the necessity of abolishing the US Constitution, which makes the comment about me being an “enemy propaganda combatant” especially ironic.

    Amazing what kind of electronic trail people leave behind them nowadays, isn’t it?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 15, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  9. How should I “cite” something as ambiguous as “myths”? It’s impossible. I was making generalizations based on my perceptions of what those myths are. (PS. That site / article is mine).

    Enemy of the Gates might be a freaking movie, but it’s representative of those myths in Western popular culture. And ask the average American who contributed most to winning the war, and he/she would almost certainly say, The US / the US and Britain, etc, and not the USSR.

    1.5mn is what you get by calculating excess deaths from the demographic statistics of death rates in 1932-33, and as such is the most scientific indicator. What Russia objects to is not Ukraine’s attention to the Holodomor, or even its designation as democide, but the efforts to paint it as a Russian-instigated genocide specifically against the Ukrainian people. To an extent by doing that it sullies the 1.5mn-2mn non-Ukrainians who died in the collectivization famines.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 15, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  10. It’s always struck me as being the single most deviant and indeed psycopathic aspect of Russian mentality that Russians can at one and tne same time screech and wail about being treated as second-class citizens by the USA, and about US “unilaterialism,” and then turn around and treat Ukriane, Georgia, and every other nation in post-Soviet space EXACTLY the same way.

    This kind of mind-bogglingly insane hypocrisy really does seem indicative of national psychosis, and goes a long way toward explaining why Russia doesn’t rank in the top 120 nations of the world for adult lifespan. It’s a fundamentally unworkable society that has collapsed twice in the past century and seems hell-bent on making it a hat trick.

    Comment by La Russophobe — May 16, 2009 @ 6:20 am

  11. Sublime, thanks for discovering that old message about solving the world poverty problem.
    Anarchists propose to abolish private property and money so that poverty will be eliminated.
    I offered a different approach, but I made a mistake there.

    There I proposed to round up only anarchists and put them to work to build housing for the poor.
    Now I believe that not only anarchists should be rounded up, but Russian agents also.
    And Russian agents should be drowned during waterboarding, – or simply drowned.

    Sub, one day early in the morning they will come for you, and you will take part in activities to solve the world poverty. I hope.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

  12. Sub, you said:

    “Also, Mr. Vilkin appears to know all there is to know about fascism.”

    No, I certainly don’t know all there is to know about fascism, but it’s very likely that I know more than you. You are uneducated and dumb, are you not?

    Let me ask you a question.

    In 1917 boshevics pulled off a military coup, which was followed by civil war and destruction of the economy. Italian Marxists were agitating people to follow the Russian example. Benito Mussolini, who was a Marxist, decided that Italy did not need a Marxist revolution. He created a new labor party that advocated strict government control of capitalist economy and political speech. Italian fascist party was created as a reaction against Marxism, – by one of the disillusioned Marxists.

    Here is the question.

    If you were living in Italy in ’20s, who would have you joined, – fascists or Marxists?

    My guess: you would not join either party. You would sit on the porch as a porch monkey you really are. Still, I’m waiting for your answer.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  13. La Russophobe, you wrote:

    “It’s always struck me as being the single most deviant and indeed psycopathic aspect of Russian mentality that Russians can at one and tne same time screech and wail about being treated as second-class citizens by the USA, and about US “unilaterialism,” and then turn around and treat Ukriane, Georgia, and every other nation in post-Soviet space EXACTLY the same way.”

    I agree with what you intended to say, but you actually said something different.
    Russia says she wants to be consulted about world affairs. In reality, Russia wants a veto power over many aspects of the US and NATO policy. Hence, accusations in unilateralism.

    But Russia acts towards former Soviet republics as if they are still imperial vassals, and that is not EXACTLY the same way as the US acts.

    Again, I know what you mean, and I totally agree.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  14. Indeed I’d have sat on the porch. Or tried to get the hell out.

    But thanks for letting your colors – racist, anti-Semitic and genocidal – show freely.

    You are refreshingly honest about your true views, unlike SWP or LR, and for that I thank you.

    Talking of whom it is indeed disturbing that they do not deign it necessary to condemn your views (at least as long as you keep it to Russophobia and attacking their opponents). You show how hypocritically selective their respect for liberalism and individual rights really is, and for that I thank you too.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 16, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  15. Sub, you said:

    “Your label that I / “most Russians” have “nothing but disdain” for Ukrainians is as usual nothing more than a product of your own fevered imagination.”

    Of course, most Russians have a very negative attitude towards Ukrainians, – and not only Ukrainians. Go to and search for черножопые (black-ass) and хохлы (derogatory term for an Ukrainian.

    There is wealth of folk legends about the “khokhly” and black-ass people.
    Yes, “most Russians” have “nothing but disdain” for former imperial vassals, – Ukrainians, black-ass people, etc.
    But you, a smart-ass Russian agent, are trying to prove just the opposite.
    But you can not prove it !

    Sub, you are blowing smoke, – or something else, and it does not smell well.
    Stop passing gas on this forum. Just admit that you are a Russian propaganda agent.

    Also, why the hell you live in the US if you so much hate this country?
    Why don’t you just deport yourself back to Russia, – the country you love so much ?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

  16. And there is also a wealth of folk legends about moskali.

    With which you are no doubt extremely familiar, in the same sense that you are “familiar” with the Zionist Occupation Government.

    I don’t see any point to continuing the “discussion”, Mr. Fork-man. Cya.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 16, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  17. Sub,

    About moskali you are right, of course.
    Moskali love khokhols, and khokhols love them back.

    Are you really leaving?
    I’ve advised you to get the hell outta here long ago.
    I hope you will not come back, and we will not waste any time to disprove Russian propaganda.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 16, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  18. DR–sorry that I didn’t know the site was yours. Was in a hurry, and didn’t look at the URL or your striking pose on the RHS–was focused on the content. LOL.

    But . . .

    You are asserting that these myths are pervasive. It is incumbent on you to provide some evidence that this is true. “[G]eneralizations based on my perceptions of what those myths are” runs the extreme risk of revealing more about you, your perceptions, and your reading habits than about the validity of your generalizations. Inasmuch as this issue came up on the context of a debate on the treatment of the Eastern Front in Western (short hand for non-Russian) histories of the War, it would be worthwhile to provide some specific examples of the myths in bona fide histories of WWII, and to undertake due diligence to show that these myths are indeed pervasive and not challenged in other histories of the War.

    Re movies. . . movie treatments of American, British, and Canadian (and I presume French) experience in WWII are also, for the most part, range from the historically useless to the completely outrageous.

    Re asking Americans or Brits about who won the war; I am sure that Russian answers would be similarly ignorant of American, British, Canadian contributions. In fact, I would suggest that popular understanding of historical events is completely distorted and self-serving everywhere.

    What it comes down to is this. This portion of my post focused on the arrogation by the Russian state of the right to determine the truth, and to impose criminal penalties on those who dare to dispute this interpretation. Indeed, the possibility of extra-territorial application of this law is truly shocking, and oh-so Russian. The possibility that myths are pervasive provides no justification for such state involvement. And indeed, the use of state power to enforce its own self-serving, propagandistic, and state-glorifying version of history is deeply disturbing. But again, it is so characteristically Russian.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 16, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

  19. Sub,

    You did not explain why you would have sat on the porch like a porch monkey.

    Do you have any opinion who was morally right in Italy, – fascists or communists ?

    Or don’t you have any brains to know it?

    Also, why the hell you live in the US if you so much hate this country ?
    Why don’t you just deport yourself back to Russia, – the country you love so much ?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 17, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  20. 1. Between them, I’d have probably supported the Communists. Though even more likely I’d have tried to get out, as many Italians were indeed doing.

    2. Coming from a person who wants to abolish the Constitution, deport “porch moneys” back to Africa and set up a fascist American republic, being accused of “hating” the US is indeed highly ironic, not to say risible.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 17, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  21. SWP,

    1. Re-myths. Let’s agree to disagree. My strong perception (which is shared by many other Russian-Americans) is that Western popular culture is saturated with distortions about the Eastern Front.

    2. “Re asking Americans or Brits about who won the war; I am sure that Russian answers would be similarly ignorant of American, British, Canadian contributions.”

    Perhaps; but ultimately, the USSR played by far the biggest role out of any of the Allied combatants. Granted US-British Lend-Lease may have been crucial to tipping over the odds of victory to the USSR in 1942, and strategic bombing certainly shortened the end of the war, but that does not change that particular fact. As such any Russian ignorance of Allied contributions will distort the actual history much less than Western ignorance of Soviet contributions.

    3. Again you harp on all Nazi-like about “oh-so Russian”, ignoring the Ukrainian Holodomor denial laws, the central European Holocaust denial laws and the Turkish Armenian genocide denial laws. Because really it’s Russia that is the source of all evil and authoritarianism in the world. No wonder sociopaths of the likes of Vilkin are so drawn to your site.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 17, 2009 @ 10:17 pm

  22. Sub(human),

    I’ll talk to you tomorrow, you commie…

    Civil war in Russia, very bloody and destructive, is not bad enough?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 17, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

  23. Sub (human),

    What do you have against Italian fascism ?

    Communists wanted a communist revolution in Italy.
    You say you would join communists in Italy, or you would just get out of there.

    Why would you not join the fascist party which was created by Benito Mussolini with the single purpose to protect Italy from communists?

    I’d join fascists in the fight against communists.

    Let me ask you a couple of related questions.

    Who would have you joined in Spanish Civil War, – anarchists or anti-anarchists?

    Imagine now for a minute that communists are preparing a bloody communist revolution here and now, in the US.
    A party similar to a fascist party in Italy had been formed in the US with the purpose to oppose communists.

    Which side would you join, – communists or anti-communists?

    I’d join ant-communists.

    Let’s see what a commie porch monkey has in mind. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 18, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

  24. Sub (human),

    What do you have against Italian fascism ?

    Communists wanted a communist revolution in Italy.
    You say you would join communists in Italy, or you would just get out of there.

    Why would you not join the fascist party which was created by Benito Mussolini with the single purpose to protect Italy from communists?

    I’d join fascists in the fight against communists.

    Let me ask you a couple of related questions.

    Who would have you joined in Spanish Civil War, – anarchists or anti-anarchists?

    Imagine now for a minute that communists are preparing a bloody communist revolution here and now, in the US.
    A party similar to a fascist party in Italy had been formed in the US with the purpose to oppose communists.

    Which side would you join, – communists or anti-communists?

    I’d join anti-communists.

    Let’s see what a commie porch monkey has in mind. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 18, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  25. I would quite obviously leave the US if the political scene degenerated into an armed struggle between communists and fascists. Especially if the fascists are led by psychopaths of your type who would like a second Holocaust against Jews and “be drowned during waterboarding, – or simply drowned” against me in particular.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 18, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  26. Sub,

    What about Spanish Civil War?
    Would have you joined anti-anarchists, as I would have done?

    Imagine now that you deported yourself to Russia,
    but there the same conflict erupted.
    Communists against anti-communists (fascists).

    Which side would you join in Russia after escaping from being hung here ?


    There is a surplus of housing in Russia.
    Do you think that they have too many houses?
    You brain-damaged commie porch monkey… 🙂

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 18, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  27. I’m not sure why I continue to reply to trolls. It’s a weakness…

    If both Russia and the US were having a civil war between Communists and fascists, then I’d try to find someplace else that wasn’t affected.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 18, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  28. Sub,

    you are not willing to protect America from communists.
    You would pick up your bags and go somewhere else.

    You don’t have any roots in this country.
    You are like one of those weeds that do not develop deep roots;
    they grow everywhere and are native nowhere.

    You are a human weed without the roots.
    You are a piece of human trash that America collects from all over the world.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 19, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

  29. I agree. Death to rootless cosmopolitans!

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 20, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  30. Sub,

    Finally, we agree on something.

    Human weeds – those that do not intend to defend America against enemies – should be uprooted and discarded.

    I think that deportation by “troika” of judges would be appropriate,
    even though to drown Russian agents would be more in line with
    what enemy agents deserve.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 20, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  31. If it’s a civil war, what exactly is there to protect?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 21, 2009 @ 11:25 am

  32. Sub,

    If commies or anarchists start a civil war against the government,
    as happened in Russia and Spain, it is a duty of every citizen to fight against communists and anarchists.

    What is it that you don’t understand?

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 21, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  33. What if 95% of the population supports the commies or anarchists?

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — May 21, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

  34. Sub,

    if 95% of the population supports the commies or anarchists, they will vote for commies or anarchists, and they will get the commie government,
    and I have no problem with that.
    But our debate was whether Benito Mussolini was morally right, and I repeat again that Benito was morally right to create a fascist party.
    Because if good people sit on the porch, the bad people – commies – will grab the power.

    Comment by Michael Vilkin — May 26, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

  35. […] there are the pure psychopaths like Michael Vilkin, again at SWP. Also, why the hell you live in the US if you so much hate this […]

    Pingback by Responses to common Russophobe “Arguments” | Sublime Oblivion — June 29, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress