Russians Upset Over Distant Events

It’s good to see Cold War paranoia is back in 2017:

Russia says it views the arrival of more than 3,000 US soldiers in Poland as a threat to its own security.

The troops are part of President Barack Obama’s response to reassure Nato allies concerned about a more aggressive Russia.

It is the largest US military reinforcement of Europe in decades.

Here is a map of Poland and its surrounds:

The distance between the eastern Polish border and the western Russian border is about 500km.  There are entire nations lying between Russia proper and Poland; they might as well complain about the troops in Germany as Poland.

Of course, they may be talking about the Russian enclave around Kaliningrad, in which case it is necessary to note that:

Last October, Russia sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, followed a month later by Bastion anti-ship missile launchers.

Which presumably don’t threaten anyone, oh no.  They’re for defensive purposes, you see.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC that the move “threatens our interests and our security”.

Perhaps if the Russians would state clearly what their “interests” in Poland and its neighbours were, such agonising would be unnecessary.  And this is just bollocks:

“It’s a third country that is building up its military presence on our borders in Europe,” [Peskov] said. “It isn’t even a European country.”

Poland’s not in Europe?  Where is it then, Africa?

Poland’s Undersecretary of State for Defence Tomasz Szatkowski said the deployment was necessary because of Russia’s “large exercises” next to its border and its “aggressive actions in our vicinity – I mean Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea”.

Ah, finally somebody who is speaking sensibly.

Mr Trump’s nomination for defence secretary – Gen James Mattis – is likely to be asked about the new administration’s attitude to Russia in his Senate confirmation hearing later on Thursday.

Leaving aside Obama’s last-minute posturing, a thousand quid says Mattis fully approves of the troops being in Poland and sees preventing Russia from attempting to annex more of Eastern Europe as being a top US strategic priority in the way that confronting them over Syria most certainly is not.  I can well imagine Trump pushing the Europeans to start paying more for their own defense and rightly so, but I think Putin will be making a very big mistake if he thinks the US is about to abandon Eastern Europe to Russian control.

UPDATE

And whaddya know?

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees for defence secretary and spy chief have been taking aim at Russia during their Senate confirmation hearings.

General James Mattis, defence secretary nominee, warned Nato was under its biggest attack since World War Two.

Mr Mattis, a retired general and Mr Trump’s pick for Pentagon chief, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to divide Nato nations.

“I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with with Mr Putin,” he told the Armed Services Committee.

“And we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance and that we take the steps… to defend ourselves where we must.

“I think it’s under the biggest attack since World War II, sir, and that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.”

I think we might get to find out fairly soon just how much of a Russian puppet Trump is.  My guess, as I hinted at earlier, is the stance of his administration will be “You can have Syria, but if you start rattling sabres in Eastern Europe, we’ll arm them to the teeth”.

The Myth of Russian Prostitutes

Even rabid lefty journalists seem to think that these latest allegations regarding Donald Trump are bollocks of the first water, but I’m going to put in my two cents anyway:

In the document, a source says Mr Trump hired the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow, where he knew President Obama and Michelle Obama had stayed on one of their officials trips. The source goes on to say that Mr Trump asked prostitutes to perform lewd sex acts on the bed where the Obamas had slept.

“According to Source D … Trump’s perverted conduct included … defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

Ah yes, of course.  One can’t possibly have a story taking place in Moscow without prostitutes being involved, be it a poorly-written Hollywood film or what looks like an internet hoax being passed to the CIA who then took it seriously.  Whenever anything slightly dodgy is happening involving Russians, prostitutes must be shoehorned in there somehow.

It seems to be a reputation Russia cannot shake.  I wasn’t in Russia during the 1990s, but from what I heard from those who were pretty much everything that was there was for sale – women included.  During this period the former Soviet Union saw an exodus of young women who went abroad to be mail-order brides, prostitutes, and strippers and thus the reputation was born.  I don’t know when this peaked, but when I arrived in Dubai in 2003 certain clubs were packed with “Russian” prostitutes.  Only they were almost all from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and to a lesser extent Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Moldova.  About a quarter of them were ethnic Russians, the rest Central Asian or mixed.  By the time I left in 2006 their numbers had dwindled and they’d been replaced by Africans and Chinese.  I never went back so I don’t know if there are any there now.

When I went to Sakhalin in 2006 I found a lot of young women who were keen to form relationships with expatriates, and some of those expatriates were two decades older than the girls and sported large beer bellies.  However, even these women were in the minority: most girls on Sakhalin wanted to marry a Russian guy (or Korean if the girl was part of that community).  But I never saw a prostitute the whole time I was there.  I heard there was a kind of brothel catering to Filipino workers somewhere out on the airport road, and there were certainly banyas where prostitutes worked, sort of like the massage parlours in the UK.  And the local paper and presumably websites had plenty of adverts featuring women who promised to show you a good time, but this is hardly unique to Russia as a brief glance at Craigslist would reveal.

I went to Moscow on a business trip once in 2008 and ended up with a group of guys from Gazprom in some high-class strip bar where girls my height wandered around in spangly bikinis and high-heeled shoes made from clear plastic.  By the time I arrived I’d been sick twice thanks to ferocious drinking which took place earlier that night, after which they’d dragged me to a place where I’d drank a whole pot of tea to get me on my feet again.  I must have stayed all of thirty minutes in that strip bar and whilst the girls were undoubtedly for sale, they were hardly throwing themselves at the customers in the manner one sees in gangster films.

In other words, whatever happened in the 1990s is a long time ago and prostitution in Russia – from what I can tell – is not much different from how it is in any European country.  Contrary to what many people think, a trip to Russia will not see eighteen year old stunners throwing themselves at you; the closest you’ll come to that is when one walks into you while uploading photos onto vkontakte.ru on her mobile.  True, the women there are pretty and there are plenty of single ones with whom a relationship is possible (although perhaps not always advisable) but prostitutes they are not.  Nor are Russians particularly into group sex, lewd acts, and other weird stuff that Hollywood likes to portray.

By contrast, I saw a lot of prostitution in Nigeria and in Thailand.  I saw a lot of strip clubs in Melbourne too, which made Blackpool Pleasure Beach look as classy as the US Masters.  Having lived in Russia and France, I don’t see much difference between the two in terms of prostitution, weird sex, and the propensity for wealthy, successful men to like attractive young women.  Nobody would have written about Trump visiting Paris and getting prostitutes to swamp on a bed, but if it takes place in Russia seemingly this is quite normal.

A decent journalist would have known this is a crude, inaccurate stereotype and declined to print the story.  To their credit, most of them did.  Apparently the CIA has taken it seriously though.  Doesn’t that just fill you with confidence?

I don’t like to keep praising Putin, but…

…I’m rather glad an adult has entered the room:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ruled out a tit-for-tat response after the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats amid a row over hacking.

He said Russia would not “stoop” to the level of “irresponsible diplomacy” but would work to restore ties with the US under President-elect Donald Trump.

What was Michelle Obama’s recent remark?  That the White House needs a grown-up in charge?

Well, not long to go now, Michelle.

From Crimea to Syria to Siberia

This story will obviously be overshadowed by yesterday’s murder in Ankara, but I feel it should not be overlooked because it is in some way connected:

At least 48 people have died in the Siberian city of Irkutsk after drinking bath essence, Russian authorities say.

The hawthorn-scented liquid was consumed as if it were alcohol, according to Russia’s Investigative Committee.

Several others are in a serious condition. Two people have been detained over the deaths and police are removing bottles from shops.

Russian media reported that the victims were poor people, aged between 35 and 50, and were not drinking together.

As I have acknowledged on this blog and elsewhere, things have improved massively in Russia over the last ten or fifteen years on almost every measure.  Anyone who denies this has never been there nor is talking to the right people.  However, the rapid and many improvements have come about much the same way as China’s have – by starting from an astonishingly low base.  I suppose this is true for any country, including Britain, France, and the USA, but for Russia (and I suspect China) the situation is far worse: beyond the facade of Olympic Games, Grand Prix, Champions League sponsorships, recapturing of “lost” territories, new tanks, and supposedly brilliant strategic victories in dusty, oil-free corners of the Middle East, Russia still has many serious structural issues.  The obvious ones are the pathetic weakness of Russia’s state institutions, all of which are highly politicised and subject to micromanagement from the Kremlin; Putin’s apparent intention to retain power indefinitely without any sort of succession plan; and the suffocating bureaucracy and corruption which prevents the economy from growing and, more importantly, diversifying.

But under that is the problem that has plagued Russia probably since historians first started writing about it: a huge swathe of the population is desperately poor, they live in appalling conditions, their lives are hopeless, and they deal with it all by drinking to a degree that literally needs to be seen to be believed.  Until you have seen two men in their fifties staggering down the street holding each other up in the manner of teenage revelers in Magaluf, only this is 11am on a Tuesday morning outside a shopping centre, then you won’t know how bad alcohol abuse is in Russia.  Nor will statistics published in a medical journal have the same impact as seeing a man in his mid-thirties walking his kid to school at 8am while swigging out of a bottle of Bochka.

The younger generation of Russians, who make up the bulk of the emerging middle classes, see this and can’t ignore it.  Many of them have parents who only survive because their sons and daughters are paying for proper double glazing, medical bills, food, and utilities.  However, they will have more distant relatives, and their parents will have close friends, who don’t have children to help them and they live cooped up in tiny, decrepit apartments trying to survive on a pathetically low pension that has been destroyed by inflation while a callous local authority run by people wearing Breitlings increases taxes and utility charges without explanation.  And of course there are the sanctions:

Two years of Western economic sanctions have made the situation worse, and analysts say up to 12 million Russians drink cheap surrogate alcohol, including perfume, after shave, anti-freeze and window cleaner.

The Russian government and its cheerleaders abroad are fond of saying the sanctions have had no impact, pointing to various oil deals and aerial bombings as proof that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with.  But the sanctions – or rather, Russia’s bizarre sanctioning itself in response – has driven imported food prices up considerably, leading people to consume the cheaper homegrown staples in greater quantities thus forcing the prices of those up in turn.  For anyone who was dependent on homegrown staples to begin with and couldn’t afford the imported stuff, they will be finding it a lot harder to feed themselves.  This will leave less money left over for drink, so they turn to alternatives.

There are two things that are worth highlighting in this story.  The first is that vodka in Russia is astonishingly cheap, and I mean somewhere in the region of a couple of dollars per litre.  True, it is more like helicopter fuel than Absolut, but it at least comes in a bottle marked vodka and is supposedly fit for human consumption.  But some people can’t even afford this, and so take to drinking bubble bath and other substitutes.  The other surprising aspect of the story is that this took place in Irkutsk.  This city is in the middle of Siberia, but it’s not some backward village adjacent to a uranium mine that closed in 1962: Irkutsk is a regional capital, one of the largest cities in Siberia, has theatres, a university, and industries that are still alive.  When I went there in 2008 I found it a lot bigger, nicer, and smarter than Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (which admittedly wasn’t saying much).  My point is that if this is happening in Irkustk, then it will be much, much worse elsewhere.

So what’s this got to do with Syria?  As I mentioned before, Russians are painfully aware of the state of their country: ask any well-educated, smart, patriotic Russian working in the West if they know somebody – one of their parents’ friends, who may have looked after them when they were kids in the USSR – who is now eking out a miserable existence waiting for death and sees none of the vast wealth that is splashed around Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and the swanky holiday resorts of Europe.  They all will.  Ask them what they think of their parents’ pension, and the inflation of the property taxes compared to the services the municipality is providing, and then ask them what sort of mayor they have running the town and spending those taxes.  Russians might not talk about it voluntarily, but they all know.  There is a reason why the film Leviathan was hated so much, and so many Russians couldn’t bear to watch it.

Russia’s internal problems are likely insoluble, and like many an authoritative leadership they have instead found it easier to rally the country in the face of external threats whether real or imagined.  So much of what Russia does outside its borders – culminating in the seizure of Crimea and securing Syria for Assad – is done to satisfy the craving of its population to see Russia flex its muscles on the international stage because it is too painful to see what is going on within its own borders and, despite the veneer, how little has changed and how much opportunity has been wasted.  I have yet to hear a coherent strategic reason why Russia wanted Crimea or why they consider Syria of such importance, other than their actions in both places boosted Russia’s “prestige” in the eyes of its population (and a handful of foreigners who think whatever Russia does must by default be bad for the West).

It’s an understandable policy, albeit not one which I support and nor do I think it will take Russia to a desirable destination.  Improvements will continue in some areas of that I am sure, as they have been for some time.  But stories like the one coming from Irkustk yesterday, and far worse, will never go away and will continue to shine a light on the reality in Russia no matter how much its government spends on vanity projects and efforts to restore lost pride.

Russian Ambassador Murdered in Turkey

In November 2015 I wrote a post about how Russia ought to tread a little more carefully now they had decided to get embroiled in Middle East conflicts.  My post came shortly after a Russian passenger plane had seemingly been bombed on its way to Saint Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, and I said:

It ought not to have escaped Putin’s attention that while he envied America’s occupying the role of sole global superpower, as with all superpowers before them this position comes at a price.

It has taken a while, but Americans have slowly hardened up to this.  Getting anywhere near an American embassy – even in a benign location like Singapore – is extremely difficult these days, and American companies, businessmen, and tourists are flooded with security advice which has led to an overall heightened awareness.

One would hope that Putin thought about this before he intervened with great fanfare in Syria, but in doing so he has now opened up Russia to terrorist attacks by the most fanatical people on the planet.  At home, Russia is probably geared up to deal with this: they inherited the security apparatus from the Soviet Union and have plenty of experience dealing with Chechen terrorism over the years, albeit with mixed results at first.  But abroad, Russia must look like a very ripe target for jihadists based overseas.  I’ve walked past Russian embassies and they are often protected by a crumbling breeze-block wall with a rusty coil of barbed wire fastened on top.

For the first time in a long time, Russians are now seen as the bad guys by a whole swathe of the Middle East, and among their ranks are no shortage of nutcases – including ISIS.

If it turns out this Russian plane was indeed brought down by a bomb put aboard in Sharm el-Sheikh airport (a soft target if there ever was one), then there will probably be more such attacks, and Russia is ill-equipped to prevent them.

I post this now because this story is breaking:

A gunman has shot dead Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, apparently in protest at Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Several other people were reportedly also injured in the attack, a day after protests in Turkey over Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

The camera pulls back to show a smartly dressed gunman, wearing a suit and tie, waving a pistol and shouting.

He can be heard yelling “Don’t forget about Aleppo, don’t forget about Syria” and uses the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).

I don’t think I can add much to what I’ve already said, other than there is no way an American ambassador would be in a room with people who haven’t gone through a metal detector and been screened for weapons.

Shock as World Learns Rex Tillerson is an Oil Company Executive!

This is amusing:

Leak reveals Rex Tillerson was director of Bahamas-based US-Russian oil firm

screams The Guardian.

Rex Tillerson, the businessman nominated by Donald Trump to be the next US secretary of state, was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show.

Tillerson – the chief executive of ExxonMobil – became a director of the oil company’s Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, in 1998. His name – RW Tillerson – appears next to other officers who are based at Houston, Texas; Moscow; and Sakhalin, in Russia’s far east.

I’m not sure what the issue is here.  Presumably the dolts at The Guardian had never heard of ExxonNeftegas, unlike pretty much everyone else in the oil industry who pays attention, and thinks it is some sort of shady shell-company set up to launder Putin’s personal cash float, or something.  The reality is a lot less interesting: ExxonNeftegas is merely the consortium set up to operate the Sakhalin I project, as its website tells us:

Sakhalin-1 is comprised of Russian, Japanese, Indian and American participants and is operated by Exxon Neftegas Limited, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil — the world’s largest non-governmental oil and gas company.

Anyone who has spent time in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk would have seen the ExxonNeftegas building on the corner of Prospekts Mira and Kommunistichesky, and they would have encountered lots of young Russians employed by the firm each of whom had a business card with the company name and Sakhalin-1 logo printed on it.  (They may also have encountered a Canadian with more air miles under her belt than Voyager 2.  Let’s see if she’s reading this.)  Secretive it is not.

Maybe The Guardian takes issue with the fact that the information regarding Tillerson’s directorship of ExxonNeftegas had to be leaked for them to find out.  And they would have a point, were ExxonMobil not silly enough to include such top-secret information on their corporate website:

But as The Guardian tells us:

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee.

There is nothing untoward about this directorship, but as Guardian journalists didn’t know about it then it’s a scandal worthy of a newspaper column.

ExxonMobil’s use of offshore regimes – while legal – may also jar with Trump’s avowal to put “America first”.

Fair point, but it might be a bit of a stretch to complain that ExxonMobil isn’t insisting its Russian operations are headquartered in the United States.  The company’s registration in the Bahamas is probably new information to most: I knew about it because I have signed contracts with ExxonNeftegas Limited and their corporate address is stated in them (along with a stipulation that any arbitration will be heard in the courts of New York).  The incorporation in the Bahamas may seem odd, but it is not unusual.

ExxonNeftegas’ counterpart in that corner of Russia is Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (SEIC), which is the operator of the Sakhalin II project.  SEIC is registered in Bermuda, probably for much the same reasons ExxonNeftegas is incorporated in the Bahamas.  SEIC has been majority owned by Gazprom, the government-owned gas company, since 2007.  If there was anything untoward in these consortia being registered outside the Russian Federation on balmy island tax havens, the Russian government would likely have done something about SEIC by now given they have had control of the company for the past 9 years.  That they haven’t suggests there is nothing illegal or improper going on.  As The Guardian reports:

[ExxonMobil] said the oil firm had incorporated some of its affiliates in the Bahamas because of “simplicity and predictability”.

“It is not done to reduce tax in the country where the company operates,” Exxon said. “Incorporation of a company in the Bahamas does not decrease ExxonMobil’s tax liability in the country where the entity generates its income.”

Indeed.  Only among Guardian readers is this a story.

Putin and the Russian Hackers

You’ve gotta be quick around here.  Before I had a chance to write a post on this story, I saw Streetwise Professor had already said everything I was going to.  Never mind I thought, I can emphasise the main point.  Nope, Mick Hartley as already said it:

Well, this must’ve been a chilling moment for Putin:

President Barack Obama has said that he ordered Russia’s Vladimir Putin to “cut it out” in a conversation about email hacking ahead of the US election.

Implying that the Russian president knew about the hacks, Mr Obama said: “Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.”

The president said he had warned Mr Putin of serious consequences at a summit in September.

A month later, the US accused Russia of meddling in its democratic process.

Feeling the full force of Obama’s wrath there. “You just cut it out, you big bully. Or else….or else….”

It’s another one of his famous red lines, like Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Obama is cutting an increasingly pitiful figure as his lame-duck Presidency comes to an end.  Who does he think he’s fooling with this “tough talk” when he has just over a month to go in office?

Putin must be laughing his socks off.  Every time he opens a western newspaper he learns that he is the orchestrator of every political development the Establishment classes find upsetting.  There’s an old Jewish joke that goes like this:

An elderly Jewish man is sitting on a park bench reading Reverend Farrakhan’s newspaper. His best friend walks by, sees the paper, and stops — in shock.

“What are you doing reading that crappy newspaper?” he says incredulously.

“Better, you should be reading the Jewish Magazine!”

The elderly man replies, “The Jewish Magazine has these sad and disturbing stories about intermarriage, anti-Semitism, problems in Israel — all kinds of troubles of the Jewish people. I like to read about good news.

In Farrakhan’s paper, he says the Jews have all the money … the Jews control the banks… the Jews control the press … the Jews control Hollywood…the Jews are going to steal Iran oil. With this anti-semite newspaper I get to read about good news!”

I imagine this is how Putin feels these days.

Regarding whether Putin’s army of hackers swung the election for Trump, this article says it all.

Aleppo

Apparently there is a massacre going in Aleppo and people are saying this is the next Srebrenica or Rwanda. The UN is busy making meaningless noises and British MPs and other public figures are saying “we must do something”.

I’m not sure what everyone expected to happen.  The Assad regime was always brutal, and especially so since the Arab Spring.  Indeed, it was the Syrian secret police detaining and torturing teenagers – not the CIA – which turned the protests into a civil war.  Assad was never going to treat any defeated rebels with kid gloves, and massacres were likely to follow.  This is generally what happens when an armed rebellion is put down by the government in most parts of the world, the civilian population cops it big time.  It’s a shitty situation.

Those saying “we must do something” are talking about aid drops, as if that will achieve anything.  Others are calling for military intervention, which is even more stupid.  There might have been a window of opportunity to remove Assad and install a better government in 2013, but this was voted down in Parliament.  That window slammed shut soon after and when the Russians entered the fray on the side of the Syrian government, it was effectively bricked up.  Rather than complain bitterly that the Russians have outsmarted the strategic genius of Obama and Kerry and continue to arm jihadists in the hope that some of them would one day become the president of a new, democratic Syria the West should have accepted that Assad is here to stay so long as the Russians are bombing the opposition for him, and dealt with that reality.  Once Russia got involved, and started deploying the same tactics it used to such great effect in Chechnya (i.e. massacre anyone in range, friend or foe) the least bad outcome in Syria was a swift end to the fighting, meaning Assad back in control and the rebels defeated or chased away.

It’s pretty awful, but civil wars are like this.  If no side can prevail quickly, the suffering starts to increase exponentially and this has been going on in Syria for nearly 6 years now.  After this long even a return to the bad old days of Assad must be looking pretty good.  Few people want Assad in power and nobody wants to reward the Russians for their tactics, but what alternative is there?  It’s about time the West realised this, and understood that the poor souls in Aleppo are going to die horribly but hopefully they’ll be the last who do.

Not that I think any of this is the West’s fault, save for perhaps their role in extending the war by providing whatever minuscule assistance they did to the opposition (no, I don’t believe the CIA had a role in fomenting the civil war or “destabilising” Assad any more than I think they left Russia with no choice but to invade Ukraine).  Others disagree, though:

George Osborne has told MPs that they share some responsibility for the terrible events happening in Syria.

The ex-chancellor said the unfolding tragedy in Aleppo had not “come out of a vacuum” but was due to “a vacuum of Western and British leadership”.

Parliament had helped enable a “terrorist state” to emerge by voting against military intervention against the Assad regime in 2013, he said.

No, sorry.  I don’t know and don’t care why individual MPs voted against intervention in Syria in 2013, but there were an awful lot of very good reasons for doing so and not very many for getting involved.  Top of the list of reasons why not to get involved was our experience in Iraq and a public who is damned tired of fighting people who hate us supposedly on behalf of people who also hate us.  Britain made a lot of enemies by helping to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and there was very little by way of gratitude from those who we ostensibly came to save.  We Brits are a thick-headed lot, but we seem to have learned our lesson in that regard: no more wars thanks, at least not for a while.  And especially no more wars to bring peace and democracy to Arabic lands ruled by oppressive dictators.  We’ve had a gutful of that, and all that comes with it.

However, those who really need to take note are those who live in the Middle East and places like it.  The US-led intervention in Iraq was deemed a “war on Muslims” and the Americans and their allies demonised in every possible way by locals and foreigners alike for how they executed the war and handled the aftermath.  They were not just criticised, which would have been more than justified, they were made out to be a rogue nation, carrying out atrocities on a scale not seen since World War II.  This was bollocks on stilts.

But the demonisation worked.  Well done.  America and its allies were detested, and eventually they left.  Only a short time later when people wanted them to come back to prevent yet more butchery, they politely declined.  Instead the locals got an altogether different military turning up, one whose savagery surpasses anything the Americans could dream up never mind get away with, and whose population back home would be completely unconcerned if indeed they bothered to learn about it.  And now we have Aleppo.  Suddenly the thought of the US military being in charge isn’t so bad is it?

But it’s too late.  America’s enemies both in the Middle East and the West who engaged in relentless hyperbole, propaganda, lies, and violence to force Westerners out of that part of the world are now going to have to deal with the grim reality that they’re not coming back, and the Russians are there to stay.  There will be people out there, possibly even some spending the night in a cellar in Aleppo waiting for the death squads to come at dawn, thinking they ought to have been more careful what they wished for.

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.)