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.

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16 thoughts on “Reluctant Defence

  1. You defend Putin? Pfftt – big deal. You should see the looks on people’s faces when I defend Assad.

    And this?

    “… The wealth (if not necessarily the wages) of ordinary Russians increased several times over, … then go on foreign holidays …”

    I hate Putin for this. Russians are the worst, like the Yanks of the 70s.

  2. I once met Putin when he was buying some Werthers Originals at Dublin Airport ,….well I got out of his way to be honest.

    lol

  3. Ah yes, we have similar paths that way. I lived in the guts of Russia 1996-2008 and it does broaden the outlook.

  4. Corruption in the US is jaw-droppingly bad. Worse, its aim is to keep people in office who run the country in a clueless, reckless way, with little or no attention to the US’s vital interests; indeed they seem happy to oppose the US’s vital interests. It’s dismaying that Putin seems to run his country in a rational, reasonably cautious way, a feat that has been beyond Slick Willie, W, and O. I dare say that Putin is better at being a crook than those three bozos too.

    I dare say that the evil invalid will amplify these defects to new depths.

  5. “When I last went to Russia in 2012 Russian cars were very much in the minority in Saint Petersburg.”

    I would bet the majority were Russian-assembled cars – some can even be called Russian-made, depending on the degree of localization. For one, Ford has a plant about 15 miles east of St. Petersburg. Even Lada is no longer quite Russian since VAZ is co-owned and managed by Renault Nissan. This is not to deny that the living standard went up between 2004 and 2012, rather to point out the cabinet slapped duties on foreign cars and granted tax breaks to car makers willing to build plants in Russia, graded by the depth of localization. In 2013, over 70% of cars assembled in Russia were “foreign.”

    I suspect I’ve written about this before. If I have, I apologize for banging on about the same thing over and over.

    “but nobody denies that even without all this Putin and Yedina Rossiya – the ruling party – would not win hands down”

    The trouble is, the proper way to test this hypothesis is not merely to hold one free and fair election but to keep at least one five-year election cycle free from the Kremlin’s pressure. For about ten years now, perhaps longer, the Kremlin has consistently worked to prevent a large-scale opposition party or movement from emerging, whether “liberal” or “nationalist” or “populist.” Everything that rises must be shot down or at least forced to keep a low altitude.

    Now, finally, on to the point – it’s been obvious for months that the Washington Post and, to a lesser degree, the NYT have thrown their reputations to the wind to destroy Trump. Now it turns out, thanks to WikiLeaks in part, that major TV networks are as close to HRC’s campaign as their Russian counterparts are to the Kremlin.

    More serious, I suspect, is the long-term damage to Clinton from all these recent disclosures. She’s going to win, no doubt, but how she’s going to cope with the fallout once the DNC and Podesta leaks are fully processed by the interested parties? The Dems need to win both the Senate and the House to avoid another impeachment attempt.

    By the way, have you seen the NYT article complaining about Trump possibly sending observers to polling stations? That would supposedly discourage some people from voting because the observers might want to see proof of citizenship and lack of criminal record. (Not sure they can ask for that though.) A nice parallel to Russian elections, although the idea that observers can suppress turnout is uniquely American.

  6. I hate Putin for this. Russians are the worst, like the Yanks of the 70s.

    Heh! Probably the easiest game to play in a holiday resort is “Spot the Russian”. Yeah, they don’t make for great tourists but I have met some really nice ones as well, even in Phuket.

  7. @ Alex K.

    I thought you might weigh in on this one! 🙂

    I would bet the majority were Russian-assembled cars

    Yes, I was going to make this distinction but didn’t want to detract from the main thrust of the post. My point – which is why I used the term “wealth” as opposed to “income” – is that Russians were able to go from driving crappy Russian cars with no brakes and windows that leaked to “foreign” cars which worked, i.e. their quality of life improved.

    For about ten years now, perhaps longer, the Kremlin has consistently worked to prevent a large-scale opposition party or movement from emerging, whether “liberal” or “nationalist” or “populist.”

    Indeed, it isn’t good, and needs to change. My analysis was more based on the period up to about 2012, things have obviously gotten steadily worse since then.

    She’s going to win, no doubt, but how she’s going to cope with the fallout once the DNC and Podesta leaks are fully processed by the interested parties?

    Oh, easy. Same as she coped with Benghazi and the email scandal: laugh it off, lie, then lie again and if that doesn’t work, lie some more. The MSM and establishment will cover for her, as will half the Republican Party.

    A nice parallel to Russian elections, although the idea that observers can suppress turnout is uniquely American.

    That’s a good spot!

  8. Can half of you please inform the ilk at The Guardian et al. that this is happening? Even if “they” win they have scorched the earth so badly that the reckoning, when it does come, will not be pretty. “This will not end well” is a refrain around here of late and it applies more than people realize. The GOP just had its civil war with an attempt to sabotage their own candidate. Their rank and file are paying attention and they’re going to pay dearly. The mainstream media has burned its reputation to the ground and pissed on the ashes. The FBI has become a political organ and is no longer trustworthy. Even if Hillary does win, she has won the worst possible thing. A country is near rebellion. What happens when the average Joe decides he’s not going to follow the laws anymore? What happens if he decides not to pay his taxes? This is going to be seriously bad.

    FWIW, I think Hillary has a serious degenerative health problem and its unlikely she’ll be able to serve the next 4 years.

  9. @ Duffy,

    I’ve just written a post on that. If Hillary wins, she might find the country ungovernable.

  10. I see that the US has joined in the attack on Yemen, firing off some cruise missiles.

    Marvellous. America being Saudi’s mercenaries in a civil war in a country with no strategic value is just what we all need.

  11. “Marvellous. America being Saudi’s mercenaries in a civil war in a country with no strategic value is just what we all need.”

    I would say that this country and the trade critical Gulf of Aiden shipping route is absolutely a strategic focal point of the whole Arab spring geopolitical scene. We have the US and UK backed House of Saud agenda waging a bloody war on a very poor Shiite nation, with the Iranian navy steaming towards the area.

    Situations like this have all the potential of being the new Gulf of Tonkin.

  12. I would say that this country and the trade critical Gulf of Aiden shipping route is absolutely a strategic focal point of the whole Arab spring geopolitical scene.

    That part of the Yemeni coast is geographically but not geopolitically significant. The rest? Worthless desert. I’ve spent a day studying satellite images of it, there’s nothing there.

    We have the US and UK backed House of Saud agenda waging a bloody war on a very poor Shiite nation, with the Iranian navy steaming towards the area.

    Yes, it’s a proxy war between Saudi and Iran in wasteland of no importance. Why is the US involved, again? We Brits are involved because we’re running a nice sideline in flogging bombs to the Saudis. Give it 5-10 years and that story will break in the media, when all those responsible have safely retired on full pensions.

  13. The US may say that the Yemen war is all about Iranian backed Shiite rebels but I think there is more to it than that. This poor insignificant country did really have a genuine Arab spring which the US and Saudis thought that they could simply crush. But unlike some of the other domino Arab nations that have been divided and fallen, its poor and insignificant people have remained undivided and have banded together tightly and to everyone’s surprise are defying their military and political might in their efforts for self determination.

    On a side note we were pricing some work recently in Oman that had a marine component. We have an existing relationship with a Portuguese marine contractor and we asked them if they would like to partner with us on this tender. They declined and one of the reasons given, according to our guy up there that spoke to them, was that they preferred not to go through the Suez canal. I thought that strange when I heard it.

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