Putin says what others won’t

Let’s compare two stories. The first is from India:

A woman in Kerala who was allegedly gang-raped by her husband’s friends wept as she went public with her story today and said she was forced to withdraw her complaint because of humiliation by the police. “Which one of them gave you the greatest pleasure?” she was allegedly asked by a police officer.

“Far more than rape, it was the police threats and humiliation that was unbearable,” the 32-year-old woman said in Thiruvananthapuram, speaking to reporters with her husband by her side, both their faces covered.

“Oh dear!” says I, an enlightened European.  “These brown folk in the developing world have some catching up to do if they hope to dine at the same table with us sophisticated Westerners!  But what do you expect from a society where the powerful classes treat the plebs with such contempt?”

The second story is from Austria:

An Iraqi refugee who raped a 10-year-old boy at a swimming pool has had his conviction overturned because a court didn’t prove he realised the boy was saying no.

The rapist, identified as Amir A, 20, violently sexually assaulted the boy in the changing room of Theresienbad pool in Austria claiming it was a ‘sexual emergency’ because he had not had sex for four months.

But an appeal court in the country accepted the defence lawyer’s claim that the lower court had not done enough to prove he knew the schoolboy was saying no and overturned the conviction.

The incident occurred in December 2015 as part of the integration process where he traveled with a 15-year-old helper and translator who was meant to be teaching him how to integrate into life in Vienna.

He seized his moment at the pool and dragged the boy into the changing rooms and locked the door before raping him.

The boy, known as Goran, required immediate medical treatment and has been suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder ever since.

If only India’s rape victims had access to the superior justice systems we enjoy in the West, eh?  Ours go to extraordinary lengths to ensure the victims are not humiliated after the event, oh yes.

Okay, let’s drop the sarcasm and get serious.  I concede that the defendant in the Austrian case will be retried and he is being held in custody having been found guilty of the lesser charge of sexual assault, so he’s not going to be walking free any time soon.  Or at least, we hope not.

But let’s think about this.  If the boy had consented, would it not have still been rape?  I thought the whole idea behind statutory rape was that minors were incapable of consent.  So why does the rape of a minor now hinge on whether said minor consented?  Obviously the law works differently in Austria.

Then we have the ludicrous claim that the defendant couldn’t be sure the boy was saying no.  On what fucking planet do these people live on?  This wasn’t a case of a drunk teenager going home with a guy she met in a club.  This was a grown man attacking a ten year old boy in a swimming pool changing room for fuck’s sake.  Are we to assume that Iraqis are so mentally retarded that they don’t know that this is wrong?

It seems to be that way, because the judges have said as much.  So if we are going to assume that Iraqis are unaware that raping ten year old boys in swimming pool changing rooms is a criminal act, why the fuck is Europe allowing millions of them to casually stroll across the borders and, in the case of Germany, actively welcome them?  The ruling of the judges in this case and the migrant policy in Europe is basically saying that people who don’t know that raping minors is wrong are welcome here.  This is insane.

I wrote before about my reluctantly defending Vladimir Putin.  Let’s call this reluctant praise:

Firstly, put aside the fact that Putin obviously has a nationalistic agenda here and is attempting to present this ruling as evidence that Russia has a superior culture, etc.

But the intent of the messenger doesn’t in itself mean the messenger is wrong.  Is Putin wrong when he says “It’s just hard to imagine what Europeans are doing…I don’t even know how to explain it”?

I wouldn’t go so far to agree that this is the result of an erosion of traditional national values in the sense that he means it, but there has been an erosion of values of some sort.  Would this have happened twenty years ago?  I think he is close to the mark when he says “Maybe they have a guilty conscience because of the refugee crisis?”  He might be referring to the wrecking of Iraq, I don’t know, but I do believe a lot of this madness stems from a collective guilt among the wet-European left over colonialism and the Holocaust which makes being accused of racism their biggest fear.

One can scarcely believe that fear of being branded racist would cause European elites to excuse child rape, but that seems to be where the evidence is pointing.  It’s not like this case in Austria is the only one: the systematic raping of schoolgirls in Rotherham was allowed to continue unchecked because various elites – whose own daughters were not at risk – were too scared of being called racist.  It was a national disgrace that the only person prepared to call attention to what was going on in Rotherham was the odious Nick Griffin in an interview with the BBC in 2004.  Naturally, he was arrested immediately afterwards for stirring up racial hatred (he was later cleared of all charges).

Similarly, it is an absolute disgrace that the only senior European politician who has any comment to make on refugees raping schoolboys (and others) is Vladimir Putin.  If European nations keep this up, we’re going to start electing our own versions of Putin, and much worse, before too long.

This won’t end well.

The Rizla between Russians and Ukrainians

Anyone would think the Soviet Union never went away:

The director of Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature has gone on trial charged with inciting ethnic hatred against Russians.

Natalia Sharina is accused of disseminating banned literature classed as extremist.

First the prosecutor cited a long list of Ukrainian publications that are either prohibited or which she said experts had deemed “degrading” to Russians.

Russia bans books?  I confess, I didn’t know that.  I could well imagine that publishing something the government doesn’t like would mean you’d be investigated for tax irregularities or some heavies would duff you up a bit in entrance lobby of your building, but I didn’t know that Russia formally banned books.

And what are publications deemed degrading to Russians?  There are whole internet memes devoted to degrading Russians, albeit Russians who live in provincial villages and have no political clout whatsoever.  If the regime is hiring experts to ferret out literature which might be degrading to Russians then it’s not very sure of itself.

It is well known that civil wars are fought with more bitterness and brutality than those between different peoples, and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine looks to me far more like the former.  To an outsider who has some clue about Russians and Ukrainians, I am somewhat baffled as to what differences they’re fighting over.

Without even trying I can name six people I knew in Sakhalin whose surname ended with the Ukrainian -enko.  If I rummaged through my memory banks I could come up with another six.  Ukraine and Russia were so intertwined in the Soviet era and before that people would move from one to the other interchangeably.  The cultures were so similar that one could move to the other and nobody would know you were an outsider.  Nikita Khrushchev passed himself off as a Ukrainian for years, even though he was Russian.  By contrast, Stalin and Beria remained stubbornly Georgian and Mikoyan Armenian.  I would bet that if you were to ask a Russian whether they had a Ukrainian grandparent, relative, or a relative living in Ukraine most of them would say yes.  Okay, maybe not most, but a lot.  The cultural and physical border between the two was all but non-existent for years.

What about the language?  Ukrainian is indeed different from Russian.

However, in September I met a Ukrainian lady from Zaporizhia who was visiting Paris.  I asked her what her native language was, i.e. what language she spoke with her parents.  She told me it was Russian.  I then assumed that she was an ethnic Russian.  No, she said, I’m Ukrainian.  Both parents are Ukrainian, three out of four grandparents are Ukrainian, and the fourth Polish.  She can speak Ukrainian perfectly, but speaks Russian at home to her Ukrainian parents.  Go figure.

Apparently, for some, the differences are stark enough that Ukrainian librarians are facing jail for publishing banned books which say mean things about Russians.  Me, I think it’s all bullshit.

(Actually, I know what they’re fighting over.  But the ethnic and cultural differences are being exaggerated in ridiculous fashion.)

The Russian Bogeyman

One of the theories put forward by Streetwise Professor, which I also subscribe to, is that Russia views its relationship with the United States and the West in general as a zero-sum game.  That is, whatever is good for Russia must be bad for the US by default and vice versa.

A while ago a Russian friend of mine in Sakhalin asked what people in the West were saying about Russia.  I told him that most people really couldn’t care less about Russia or what it is doing.  The average Brit or American cares as much about Russia as they do the sale that’s on at the bread-counter of their local supermarket.  The Cold War ended some time ago and the widespread interest in Russia disappeared.  It is only those who follow geopolitics that care a jot about what Russia is doing and why, nobody else cares.

This is probably something that drives Putin nuts.  Each and every day he rails against the United States and the West, pouring forth stories about how Russia is surrounded by its enemies who are determined to see the Motherland on its knees and begging for mercy.  Whatever Russia does or does not do it is presented through the narrow lens of what this means for the USA and Europe.  Take Russia’s infamous pipeline plans, for example.  Building a pipeline from Russia to China makes sense, and does so in its own right.  But the Russians can’t help but frame it as a “swing” away from Europe to new geopolitical centres of gravity in an emerging Asia blah blah blah.  Meanwhile nobody in Europe cares, the gas keeps flowing, the LNG spot market grows, and the damned pipelines don’t get built anyway.  Last week there were news reports of Russians preparing for nuclear war.  If ordinary Russians realised how low they are placed on a list of concerns of ordinary Westerners they would probably weep with despair.

It is one of the reasons why SWP and others are so frustrated with the US fretting about Russia’s involvement in Syria.  The US has no strategic interest in Syria, and the idea that the West is about to “lose influence” in the Middle East because Russia is now bombing the shit out of anything that moves and propping up such a pathetic figure as Bashar al Assad is laughable.  Influence over what, exactly? Yet supposedly serious people are contemplating going to war over it.  Europe is another matter, and I believe the US and Europe ought to have reacted a lot more strongly to Russia’s takeover of the Crimea, the sabre rattling along the borders of the Baltic States, and the shooting down of MH-17.

But in Syria, the American’s constant fretting about what Russia is doing is merely demonstrating to Putin that he is doing the right thing.  In his zero-sum world, if the Americans are upset that Russia is bombing villages in Syria then bombing villages in Syria must therefore be good for Russia.  If the US wasn’t paying Russia so much damned attention – and Britain wasn’t embarrassing itself in episodes like this – then perhaps Putin would ask himself why he’s committing so much to Syria in the first place.  But as things stand, he’s getting exactly what he wants: a US which is hot under the collar about things they cannot control.

Which brings me to all the fretting in the media over whether Donald Trump is in the pay of the Russians.  Trump has come out and praised Putin at various times, although as is always the case with Trump he is inconsistent from one occasion to the next and you never know what he is actually praising/condemning and if he really means it.  But in any case, you don’t need to be a supporter of Putin to appreciate he does have some redeeming features: he rules by popular consent (see here for the qualifier) and leaving aside his immature macho rhetoric and photo shoots he is far less of a wet blanket than pretty much every Western male politician I can think of (which, as I have said before, is why he probably prefers Trump).

So Trump admires Putin and Putin admires Trump.  Okay, this isn’t ideal but this has now been extrapolated to mean that every new development and scandal in the buildup to the US Presidential Election is being carefully orchestrated by Putin and the Russians.  Which is, quite frankly, whaleshit.  I have no doubt Putin & Co. has a copy of every email that passed through Hillary’s private server, as does every other nation with a semi-functioning intelligence agency.  That’s generally why Secretaries of State should not be running private email servers in the first place, but this isn’t the Russians’ fault.  But other than perhaps some disinformation and low-level hacking, I find the idea that the Russians are exerting undue influence on the election to be ridiculous.  Is Wikileaks being operated by Russians?  Did they fake Hillary’s emails?  Did they plant incriminating emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop?  Did they pay FBI agents to revolt against Comey?  Did they pay people to show up to Trump’s rallies and to stay away from Hillary’s? No, they did not.

Whereas I am sure Putin finds all of this highly amusing, waking up each morning and reading that he, personally, will decide who will become US President next week, the US is guilty of doing the same at home as it is in Syria.  By attributing anything and everything to nefarious Russian plots being directed by Putin, it is merely emboldening him and will do nothing to discourage meddling for real in the future.  Russia is a concern, especially where European territorial sovereignty is concerned, but the Russian bogeyman stalking the US election is just that: a bogeyman.  Everyone would be better off if they ignored it.

Keeping Britain Safe

I find this story a bit pathetic:

A flotilla of Russian warships is passing through the English Channel en route to Syria.

Two British naval ships are shadowing the vessels. The Ministry of Defence said they would be “man-marked every step of the way” while near UK waters.

The ships are within international waters but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK would “be watching as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe”.

Oh please.  As if the Russian carrier is suddenly going to hang a right and splurge little green men all over Kent.  This is just an opportunity for the Defence Minister to sound tough and the Royal Navy to show that it’s still relevant.

The UK’s Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan, escorted by the Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond, steamed from Portsmouth on Tuesday to track the Kuznetsov group as it headed south from the Norwegian Sea.

Why?  To give them something to do which might be slightly less humiliating than being captured by Iranians and made to cry?

Sending a large Russian flotilla through the North Sea and the English Channel sends a clear message to the West: anything you can do, we can do just as well – or even better.

You don’t need to be a supporter of the Russian military or their actions in Syria to find this ridiculous: the English Channel is the most logical route to follow.  Did the Belgians send any ships out?  The French?  This isn’t the Channel Dash.  Next time just ignore them, eh?

And this amused:

A Russian tug, believed to be in convoy with the taskforce, entered the channel first off the coast near Ramsgate.

As Streetwise Professor is fond of pointing out, the Russian navy can’t go anywhere without its rescue tug.  The accompanying video of the Admiral Kuznetsov shows columns of black smoke belching from its twin funnels, a feature which probably wouldn’t have helped the Japanese at Midway.  Neither navy comes across particularly well in this report.

NatWest and Russia Today

There was a lot of fuss in the news yesterday about Russia Today – the Kremlin’s English language propaganda arm – having their banking services withdrawn by NatWest bank in the UK.  Leaving aside the point that NatWest is free to do business with whomever it chooses and is under no obligation to provide banking services to RT if they don’t wish to; and also leaving aside the fact that it would be monumentally stupid for any member of the British government or authorities to put pressure on NatWest to withdraw their services; take a look at the letter that was sent:

I think at this point I ought to say to Russia Today: welcome to British banking!  What, you thought you were a customer and ought to be treated with respect and in a manner of transparency laced with helpful dialogue?

As the kidz say on FaceTwit: lolz!

No, this is simply British banking as they treat all their customers: arbitrary decisions which tick some regulatory box or other sent out of the blue via curt letter and of maximum the inconvenience to the customer.  Usually there is no name appended and customers are simply informed of what has happened or invited to call a helpline where somebody on two rupees a day wearing (probably) an adult diaper will tell you there’s nothing they can do.

Not that I have any sympathy with Russia Today.  Not because of their output – which is abominable – but because banks in Russia are no different.  I’ve had a bank in Sakhalin ordering me to get my bank – based in Geneva – to write them a letter (in Russian of course) in order to address a “problem” with a single letter of a person’s name that was not transliterated properly between Latin and Cyrillic.  I was also told I couldn’t open a local bank account as a foreign resident: only my employer could open one on my behalf.  And forget about trying to get foreign currency transferred into a ruble-denominated account in a straightforward, sensible manner.  Vrach, heal thyself!

Apparently NatWest has now backed down, making their statement that the “decision is final” to be a complete falsehood.  RT has quickly learned what I did with British banks: make enough fuss and they’ll back down, every time.  The difference is us ordinary folk can’t threaten them with a nuclear strike.

Reluctant Defence

One of the most frustrating things about living in Russia between 2006 and 2010, and thus having somewhat of a clue about things over there, was getting into arguments with people outside Russia in which I found myself defending Vladimir Putin.  My views on Putin are fairly well explained on this blog: I thought he did a pretty decent job between 1999 and 2007, although the bar was set ludicrously low (which his why his actions in Chechnya and elsewhere get overlooked).  And I thought he should have stepped aside in 2008 and ridden off into the sunset rather than flipping to Prime Minister and back to President again four years later.  I’ve explained why here.  Since 2008 I think Putin has taken Russia in very much the wrong direction and continues to do so, and you couldn’t possibly count me as one of his supporters.

But nevertheless I found myself defending him, leading people to think I was some sort of shill, and this was infuriating.  Whatever Putin did or didn’t do, living standards for almost all Russians improved massively between the time he took office and 2008, and possibly beyond.  The wealth (if not necessarily the wages) of ordinary Russians increased several times over, allowing them firstly to buy a car, then renovate their apartments (starting with double glazing), then buy some half-decent clothes, then buy a non-Russian car, then go on foreign holidays, and in some cases buy a dacha or second apartment.  When I first went to Russia in 2004 I saw mainly Russian cars clogging up the roads in Moscow.  When I last went to Russia in 2012 Russian cars were very much in the minority in Saint Petersburg.  And nobody has lived in a Russian apartment block in the last ten or fifteen years without violently cursing the endless crashing and banging noises as yet another neighbour carries out a programme of remont on their property.  Albeit starting from a very low base, Putin’s initial term coincided with ordinary Russians becoming more prosperous than any time in the country’s history.  The wealth wasn’t just for the oligarchs.  I found myself having to make this point quite often to foreigners.

But more often I found myself defending Putin of the charge that he is a dictator, and I still do.  Nobody sensible denies that Putin crushes any potential opposition in its infancy, runs Russia like a personal fiefdom for he and his mates, and anybody who treads on his toes even slightly ends up in an icy prison cell or fleeing abroad with whatever cash they can carry in a suitcase.  He is authoritarian and has little respect for the democratic process and goes out of his way to subvert it, but this doesn’t make him a dictator.  The difference between him and the likes of Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Fidel Castro is that there are genuine elections in Russia and for the large part they are free and fair.  Yes, there is a lot of meddling and manipulation going on, and opposition parties are roughed up and chucked in jail before they can even come up with a name for themselves, but nobody denies that even without all this Putin and Yedina Rossiya – the ruling party – would not win hands down.  Indeed, the biggest mystery to me was why Putin thought it worth gaining a reputation of being anti-democratic by fiddling elections to win 90% of the vote when free and fair elections would have seen him win 75%.  My guess is old habits learned at KGB school die hard, and it’s in the nature of these guys to crush all opposition, even if it is pathetically feeble.  It’s hard to tell exactly how much without a functioning media and free elections, but Putin is undoubtedly popular among a majority of Russians and he rules – however badly – by popular consent.  My fview has always been that this needs to be acknowledged, and the reasons why properly understood, in order to deal effectively with Putin and Russia, and dismissing him as a dictator in the same vein as Bashar al-Assad or the Kims in North Korea is simply wrong and unhelpful.  So I end up jumping into arguments to defend him, which I’d really rather not do.

“Why is he rambling on about this, and when is he going to get to the point?” I hear my readers ask.  I’m getting to it.

During the second of the US Presidential debates that took place last Sunday night, one of the moderators repeatedly asked Trump whether he had ever kissed a woman without permission.  Trump initially just talked over the question and ignored it but the moderator asked again and again whether Trump had kissed a woman without permission, and persisted until Trump said “No, I have not”.  Several viewers picked up on this, with the one I follow being Ben Shapiro:

Ben Shapiro is no fan of Donald Trump (or of Hillary Clinton), but he – and others – could see that this was a deliberate set-up by the moderator to get Trump to deny something specific so that a media shit-storm would follow the next day when evidence miraculously emerges to the contrary.  And sure enough, that is exactly what has happened: the New York Times has led with a story about how Trump groped two women and now that’s all the media are talking about, including another allegation that he leered at a 10-year old girl.  Funny how quickly those intrepid reporters at the NYT managed to get these women on the phone and the story written a day or two after the debate, isn’t it?  It’s almost as if they had it prepared in advance.

Another Twitter user, Luke Thompson, gets it right I think (read from bottom to top):

luke-thompson-tweet

The second from top is the clincher: nobody is assessing the stories.  The whole point is to get an allegation out there and run it so many times that it becomes the established truth.  I make no excuses for Trump’s behaviour, and I am sure that some or most of it is true and he did engage in groping, kissing, and other stuff that some or most women might not have wanted.  He’s going to have to defend himself on that score.

What I object to is the blatant, coordinated mission by the media and whoever is encouraging them to set up a Presidential candidate in such a manner using a supposedly disinterested “moderator” in the debate as a key actor in the process.  It is an absolute disgrace, not so much for what they are doing but the brazenness with which they are doing it.  The establishment figures that are behind this – Democrats, the media, wet Republicans – clearly hold the population in such utter contempt that they think they can wheel out half a dozen allegations of assault – some of which supposedly took place 30 years ago –  at this stage in the campaign using such tactics and everyone will be fooled by it.

I think this is going to backfire badly.  As I said in a previous post, you don’t need to be a Trump supporter to be concerned about this, and I believe a goodly number of decent America are already reluctantly defending Trump and prepared to vote for him just to ensure this kind of condescending stitch-up by the political and media establishments doesn’t pay off.  A lot of Americans have realised that if they allow this sort of behaviour to go unpunished in the polls it will be deployed against any future, decent Republican candidate who threatens the cosy status quo the elites have built for themselves.

I think this is the first election in which social media is properly laying bare the corruption which lies at the heart of American Presidential elections.  Via Bayou Renaissance Man I came across this post at Conservative Tree House about Hillary’s polling figures.  Short version: the company which ran the poll is a paid-up member of the Clinton election campaign.  Whether this is true or not – and I have no reason to think it isn’t from what I have read – the fact that it is not only believable but wholly unsurprising that makes it so bad.  If a blogger with a couple of hours to spare can reveal such manipulation, it means the people behind it aren’t even trying to cover their tracks.  They assume the people are too stupid to notice, or if they do they are powerless to do anything about it.  The contempt is staggering.

Right from the start of the primaries for the party nominations this election campaign has seen no end of these sorts of shenanigans (remember the coin tosses?).  The Russians will have been following events with a keen interest, and now they have all the ammunition they need to defend themselves against charges that the ruling elites control the media and force them to do their bidding.  Comparisons between Russia and America are often silly, but it is going to be increasingly difficult after this election for the US to criticise Russia in regards of their treatment of the media and their own election irregularities.

I am sure millions of ordinary Americans are watching this with absolute horror, disgusted at the way their institutions are being corrupted in order to maintain the ruling elite’s grip on power.  Like me defending Putin when I feel it is necessary, I think there will be a lot of Americans who find themselves in the unenviable position of defending Trump when they’d really prefer that they didn’t have to.

Russia and the USA: Converging in the S-Bend

In the comments of my most recent post on Trump, regular commenter and fellow blogger Alex K. spots an interesting similarity between Russia and the USA:

In the late 1990s, people who posted about the Clintons deserving pink (prison issue) undies and the MSM being leftwing through and through sounded like boring whiners unloading their loserdom into cyberspace. Losers or not, apparently some of them were right, but it only became obvious to me during this campaign how incredibly corrupt HRC always was and how the US media is capable of lying. They are catching up with Putin’s state media the way they play fast and loose with facts and work up fits of hysteria.

I noted this partly because I came across another unsavoury similarity between the two nations, also in a blog comment, over at David Thompson’s:

It doesn’t matter what you do. You are the object, not the subject. Consistency on the side of the rule-makers is not only not required, it would get in their way.
I knew we were doomed back about 1980 when I heard an account of a small meat-packer who got in trouble with OSHA (US Federal Occupational Health And Safety). Their inspector noticed the removable cleaning hatch on the packaging line, and told them the presence of the hole in the machine was a violation. Shop owner replies that the Cal-OSHA (California state equivalent) inspector had insisted on the hatch. Too bad, violation, pay up and weld it closed. “But what about Cal-OSHA? They’ll fine me and make me re-install it.” “Not our problem.”

There is a paragraph near the end of John Mole’s I was a Potato Oligarch where the Moscow police department orders him to install bars in the window of his restaurant’s kitchen as a security measure, only for the fire department to fine him for those very same bars.  Of course in Russia this was a deliberate scam to keep the income via bribes or fines flowing and in the USA it is simply bureaucratic incompetence paired with callousness, but the result is the same for the end user.

It’s hard to see how either country is moving in the right direction.

Ban Polish apples, get a new road!

Browsing through Twitter I came across this story which is so very Russian:

Gangs smuggling goods into Russia have secretly repaired a road on the Belarussian border in order to boost business, the TASS news agency reported Monday.

Smugglers have transformed the gravel track in the Smolensk region in order to help their heavy goods vehicles traveling on the route, said Alexander Laznenko from the Smolensk region border agency. The criminal groups have widened and raised the road and added additional turning points, he said.

Vital infrastructure being provided by fruit smugglers.  Who needs government?

As to why this is happening:

A convoy of trucks was recently stopped on the road carrying 175 tons of sanctioned Polish fruit worth 13 million rubles ($200,000). The produce was subsequently destroyed, TASS reported.

Local border guards, customs and police officers have checked over 73,000 vehicles entering Russia from Belarus this year, Laznenko said, claiming that the number of heavy goods vehicles crossing the border from Belarus has increased dramatically in the last year, he said.

To be fair, nobody could have predicted this:

We can also expect “businessmen” in Kazakhstan and Belarussia to do well out of this.  These two countries have not adopted the Russian sanctions yet are in a customs union with Russia.  Therefore, in theory, these countries can import as many EU goods as they like and re-export to Russia without interference.

I expect these two re-routing options to meet the bulk of the demand for goods banned by the sanctions, at a cost to Russian residents of somewhere around 10-30% in price and reduced freshness of the produce itself.  Where the Russian government intervenes with price controls, we can expect those products to disappear from shelves almost entirely and a healthy black market springing up.

Putin prefers Trump, but why?

Via Samizdata, I came across this article by Michael Totten, who is more usually known for his superb reporting from the Middle East.  The theme of the article is the supposed mutual admiration between Putin and Trump, and there has been lots of discussion recently regarding which of the two presidential candidates Russia prefers:

He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.

Although it appears that Putin and his fellow Russians do prefer Trump over Hillary, I think most commentators have missed the point as to why.  Everybody I have read has focussed on policies and which of the two would be more likely to oppose Russia’s interests and ambitions.  Personally, I don’t think at this stage policies have much to do with it.  I think it is all down to character and personality.

Russians actually don’t mind people opposing them.  If you stand up to a Russian, they will on some level respect you and maybe even admire you.  Russians still admire Margaret Thatcher, despite her being wholeheartedly against everything they stood for at the time, and they do so because she was strong and had political courage.  Russians didn’t like George W. Bush much in terms of policies, but I always got the impression they had a sneaking admiration for his determination to actual do what he said he was going to.

What Russians absolutely detest is the sort of cowardly, half-hearted, and flip-flopping behaviour seen by pretty much every European politician and epitomised by Barack Obama: the weasel words over the shooting down of MH17, the capitulation to Iran over the captured US sailors, the backtracking over the “red lines” in Syria, and a multitude of other international and domestic issues which required somebody to have the courage to talk tough, make a decision, and follow through on it.

Russians are an old-fashioned lot and they have not bought into the PC niceties which the police are now enforcing in the west.  They expect their male leaders to exhibit masculine behaviour and their females tough and uncompromising in their defence of Russian interests.  Sometimes they take this too far and you get the ridiculous pictures of Putin fishing with his shirt off, etc. but underlying this is a genuine desire to see their country run by people with a set of balls.  What Russians will never, ever respect is somebody who is lauded for being a brilliant intellectual but is photographed doing this:

And this picture may have captured the hearts of American women over 35 and the pajama boys, but I could imagine it being passed around the briefing room in the Kremlin to hoots of laughter:

To put it crudely, as most Russians would, they think Obama and his counterparts in Europe are a bunch of effeminate pussies.  Regardless of their policies, I suspect most Russians who have fought (literally) their way to the top of the pile in the Kremlin can’t stand dealing with them simply because of their characters.

So when it comes to Trump, at a guess I would say Russians admire the man for standing up, speaking his mind, pissing everyone off, laughing at the PC-brigade trying to silence him, and having a wife worthy of any Russian oligarch.  As for Hillary, they probably see her as a washed-up grandma riding on the coat-tails of a man who was shagging the interns behind her back.  If you know Russians, it’s not hard to see why they might admire Trump more than Clinton.  But I doubt it has anything to do with policies, not yet anyway.

A Video Worth Watching

There are many criticisms which could be made of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, but not doing enough to relieve motorists caught in a provincial blizzard isn’t one of them:

A blizzard survivor has addressed an angry video message to Russian President Vladimir Putin after about 80 people waited 15 hours for rescuers in the Orenburg region of Russia.

A driver froze to death and many others suffered frostbite when their vehicles were trapped on a main road in the region, in the southern Ural mountains.

Russia sends aid abroad but “we cannot save our own people”, Pavel Gusev said.

Prosecutors in Russia’s Investigative Committee (SK) are now examining the emergency response on the night of 3 January, when cars were buried in snow on the Orenburg-Orsk road.

Survivors say the blizzard was so bad there was virtually no visibility.

The fact is that it is extremely difficult to do much about motorists stranded in a blizzard, not least because it is almost impossible to plan for.  Around Christmas 2014 severe snowstorms left 15,000 people stranded in the French Alps.  Every country – whether used to snow or not – suffers the problem of stranded motorists when an unusually severe blizzard hits, and the emergency services and other authorities are usually powerless to do anything until the conditions improve.  It is not practical or feasible to have hundreds of specialist snow-rescue vehicles scattered around a country, let alone one the size of Russia, in the event motorists get trapped.  And the poor conditions, particularly visibility, prevent would-be rescuers reaching those trapped in any case.  A solution, one which I’m sure the Savoy police would agree with, was ventured by the admittedly rather unhelpful Russian authorities:

Some calls for help got the reply from rescue service staff: “You should have stayed at home, you had no business going out.”

Firstly, you watch the weather when you live in places prone to snowstorms.  If a particularly nasty front is coming in, stay at home.  Secondly, if you live in such an area you are supposed to carry a winter kit with you in the back of the car: snow chains, shovel, tow-rope, gloves, warm boots, de-icer, torch, etc.  I made sure I had all this kit in the boot of my car whenever I drove around Sakhalin in winter, and I do the same when I drive in the Alps now.  If I’m going far, I make sure I have a bottle of water and a down jacket with me, and sometimes throw a sleeping bag on the back seat just in case I have to spend the night in the car.  And the car is always, always, as full with diesel as possible: you don’t venture far from home in harsh winter weather on an empty tank.  That said, it is still possible to take all the right measures and still end up trapped and freezing in a blizzard, sometimes you just get unlucky and if you have kids in the car it’ll be pretty miserable.  But this isn’t something you can really blame the emergency services for, and certainly not the president.  15 hours isn’t an unusually long time to wait for help, and unless you are really badly prepared, or very young, old, or sick you ought to be able to survive that easily.

However, that is not to say the complaint isn’t important.  I once went on a training course with a large psychological element which gave us an exercise concerning a theoretical employee who has just burst into a manager’s office with a specific complaint.  We – being engineers – fell over ourselves to solve the immediate problem he was complaining about before being gently informed, by the instructor who was not an engineer, that the actual problem was irrelevant and could have been anything: the complaint was merely the employee’s vehicle of choice to indicate a much deeper dissatisfaction.  It was the role of a good manager to recognise this and solve the underlying issues and not immediately rush to address the immediate problem he walked in with.

I suspect what we’re seeing here with this video to Putin is the frustrations stemming from more deep-rooted issues coming to the fore: a contracting economy, stagnating quality of life, inflation, the effect of sanctions, corruption, gangsterism, and a whole host of other things which blight the lives of ordinary Russians.  Russians aren’t the kind of people who are unduly troubled by things like snowstorms and standing around freezing for 15 hours, nor do they have high performance expectations of the authorities.  Somebody is letting off some steam here.

This sort of thing bears watching because Russia’s government is brittle.  As Streetwise Professor helpfully explains, brittle does not mean weak: it means collapse, when it happens, occurs suddenly and unpredictably.  When brittle regimes collapse the catalyst is often something relatively small and unnoticed by most at the time.  The protests which led to the Iranian Revolution were triggered by the death of Mostafa Khomeini followed by an ill-advised article in a government newspaper denouncing him.  The ongoing situation in Syria transformed from protests to all-out civil war when authorities in the southern city of Daraa arrested and imprisoned 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school.  When they were released they showed physical signs of having been tortured, and the subsequent outrage turned protesters into armed opponents of the Assad government.  The Arab spring itself grew from protests over the prices of staple foods, particularly wheat in Egypt.  The Berlin Wall came down, taking East Germany with it, largely due to a mistake made by a government spokesman on TV.

It’s not that these events meant much in isolation, it is that they were the catalysts which triggered huge change in an already volatile situation.  The video sent to Putin by the trapped motorist is not such a catalyst, but it does strongly suggest that dissent is starting to appear in the massed ranks of ordinary Russians and that the underlying situation is more volatile than people think.  This video won’t change anything, but in the future a similar video might change everything overnight.  That is why I thought it worth mentioning.