Treason? Perhaps, but not on the part of Donald Trump

I see that Donald Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has caused liberals and Never Trumpers to go into absolute meltdown, even by their usual standards. The word “treason” is being thrown around like confetti, along with calls for impeachment which, to be honest, would be made if Trump wore mismatching socks.

So what’s Trump supposed to have done? Handed over billions of dollars in cash to America-hating loons in return for giving up nuclear weapons? Taken a seat on the board of a Russian state-owned energy giant? Accepted hefty donations from foreign powers to a charity he controls? Nope, none of that:

At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to the allegations of meddling in the elections.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied.

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

This is interpreted by Trump’s opponents as him “siding” with Putin against his own country. What is missing among the outrage I’m reading is an acknowledgement that this is nothing new. Here’s a news report from last November:

President Vladimir Putin feels insulted by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, Donald Trump has said after meeting him briefly at an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.

“You can only ask so many times… he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election,” the US president said.

Mr Putin later dismissed the allegations as “political infighting”.

The US intelligence community has already concluded that Russia tried to sway the poll in favour of Mr Trump.

President Trump has refused to acknowledge a reported assessment by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to last year’s presidential election.

So nothing has changed, allowing me to merely repeat what I said back then. 

You don’t actually need to trust Putin an inch to believe he is telling the truth that he didn’t try to swing the outcome of the US election. None of this passed the smell test from the beginning, and the whole think reeked of an effort to explain Hillary’s catastrophic loss and an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. I always suspected Putin found all of these accusations highly amusing; other than the usual shit-stirring that Russia’s spy agencies have been involved in since the Soviet times, exploiting divisions in US society to sow chaos as part of their zero-sum rivalry with America, I very much doubt Russia had any involvement in the US election. For one thing, it’s never been explained why Putin would have preferred Trump to Clinton.

But more importantly, who can blame Trump for sitting on the fence here? Both the FBI and Department of Justice disgraced themselves during the election with regards to Hillary Clinton, and Obama spent eight years politicising other branches such as the IRS. Moreover, Trump’s efforts to “drain the swamp” have been met with ferocious opposition from what people call the Deep State, or (a term I prefer) the Permanent Government, i.e. those who have done extremely well from the status quo and for whom Trump represents an existential threat. Is the CIA part of this? Of course it is. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Trump could probably get a warmer reception walking into a branch of the Russian government in Moscow than an American one in DC. I’d even go so far as to say parts of the American government represent a far greater political and even mortal danger to Trump than Putin does. If you were Trump, who would you believe? Putin – who at least doesn’t pretend to have America’s interests at heart – or known liars in the American government who have sworn to remove Trump from office using fair means or foul? That’s a tough one.

Let me take a guess. Perhaps Trump has realised the entire American political establishment wants him gone and is doing everything they can to undermine and remove him; half the American electorate has gone into meltdown and, a year on from his election, are calling him a white supremacist Nazi when they’re not screaming at the sky; and supposedly intelligent and educated foreigners, particularly Europeans, are acting in a spectacularly immature manner over Trump while their own countries descend into chaos. Standing out from all this is Putin who, for all his faults, is remaining reasonably calm, acting like an adult, and not throwing around childish insults. Little wonder Trump is taking him more seriously than anyone else.

The lessons that ought to be drawn from this are that if you demonise your own president and try to bring him down, he will take his friends where he finds them; and if you insist on acting like a child, the adults in the room will ignore you and talk among themselves. Thus far, the reaction seems to indicate the exact opposite.

It appears Trump’s opponents are still reluctant to change course. What I find annoying is Russia’s actions did warrant a robust international response – the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine, the shooting down of MH-17 – but nobody did anything other than impose middling sanctions (which European countries immediately sought to undermine). The same people who were too scared to confront Russia then are now calling Trump treasonous for not holding Putin’s feet to the fire over the same issues in Helsinki. They are also wholly in denial of the fact that, regardless of his words, Trump’s actions have done more to harm Russia than anything his predecessor did, and he doesn’t appear to be letting up. Sure, he didn’t object to Russia having a free reign in Syria but that’s hardly detrimental to American interests, and don’t forget the Americans killed several hundred Russian or Russian-backed forces in the country when they made the mistake of messing with a US military run by James Mattis. And skeptical though I might have been about Putin ordering the novichok hit on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, the response of Trump’s administration was no less robust than any other nation and considerably more so than some. Odd behaviour indeed for a bought-and-paid-for Russian puppet.

The explanation is simple. Other than a bunch of neocons and Russian émigré lunatics like Max Boot, Julia Ioffe, and Garry Kasparov who want the US to launch a full-scale war on their former countrymen, this isn’t about Russia at all. As it’s been since the night of the election, it’s simply another vehicle with which Trump’s political opponents are trying to unseat him, and avoid their having to admit Hillary was a lousy candidate. As I wrote back in February:

What this is, and always has been, is an attempt to save Hillary Clinton’s face. She lost the election fair and square because she was an appalling candidate, and rather than accept it, her supporters are prepared to wreck already fraught relations with a serious geopolitical rival to spin this ludicrous narrative. The damage this woman has done to the USA is incredible, and still it continues, yet everyone blames Trump. There are people out there, some of whom laughably call themselves conservatives, who believe this latest indictment is proof that Russia is at war with the United States.

Yesterday Politico ran a piece saying Putin’s “hacking” of the 2016 election was the equivalent of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The actions of some branches of the government – particularly the FBI, Department of Justice, and possibly the CIA – meet the definition of sedition without question, and if they’d done it in previous eras the individuals involved would have been jailed for life or possibly even executed. Yet we’re supposed to believe that Trump, when speaking at a press conference, committed treason and plunged America into its darkest moment since its founding? These people are utterly deranged.

The irony is the American establishment’s refusal to accept that Donald Trump is president and Hillary Clinton lost is doing far greater and longer lasting damage to the USA than anything Putin, or indeed his Soviet predecessors, could have wished for in their wildest dreams. Whatever America’s greatest threat is, it isn’t Russia and Putin; it lies much, much closer to home.


Among the Russians

A few weeks ago I made the following remark in relation to the FIFA World Cup:

Russia seems to be doing a good job of hosting the tournament with visitors being rather surprised to find happy, welcoming people interested in having fun instead of granite-faced thugs with shaved heads waiting to slaughter LGBTs in the streets. Not for the first time have foreigners discovered individual Russians are a lot different from how they are collectively portrayed.

It seems the media are now having to explain themselves:

England fan shames British media,” was one of many headlines of a similar nature to appear in Kremlin-friendly news outlets in Russia over the past couple of weeks. The story referenced a tweet from England fan Matt Maybury, who on returning from a trip to the World Cup wanted to complain about the “clear propaganda against the Russian people” in the British media. Russia was an “absolutely class country”, he wrote, at odds with what the media had led him to believe.

The tweet went viral, and was covered by multiple Russian television stations and news websites as proof of the British media’s lies.


So did the British media get Russia wrong? Well, perhaps a bit.

What, if anything, does the British media get right?

The fans who did come have been impressed by the positive atmosphere: the street parties, the surprisingly lax police presence, the good-natured welcome from the majority of Russians, and the hot weather and cheap beer.

It’s almost as if the media was making judgements of a country they’d never even been to.

Along with most Russians, I’ve been surprised by just how great the atmosphere has been, but I always expected Russia to put on an excellent World Cup. I was a Moscow correspondent for more than a decade, and have seen the city and country change beyond recognition in that time. I’ve been telling anyone who will listen for some time that most fans who came to Russia would be likely to have a great time.

Did you write any columns saying this, or did you know in advance they’d be rejected because they didn’t fit the “Russia is evil” narrative?

Blaming the media is the easy way out, however. There is certainly some terrible coverage of Russia, and some blinkered “experts” with an axe to grind. It is true that if you only read the British tabloids about Russia, you would get a skewed picture, but the same could be said for many subjects.

Oh, so it’s the tabloids that have been demonising Russia since Trump’s election, is it? Not the preferred organs of the chattering classes and wannabe ruling classes? Presumably if we only read The Guardian and The Times we’d have a balanced view, although how Oliver Kamm’s deranged rantings about Russia would help with that I don’t know.

We’re not a travel guide, and it’s not our job to remind everyone that you can get a great flat white in Moscow or have a fantastic night out in St Petersburg every time we write about the difficult issues and abuses.

Because British newspapers rarely write about travel, lifestyle, and holiday destinations. All those supplements which drop out of the main paper on a weekend concern only matters of news and current affairs.

Russia’s bad press is largely of its own making – for years, it has been easier for officials to bray about Russophobia than to show a different side of the country.

In other words, The Guardian’s view of a country is wholly based on government propaganda instead of, say, what reporters see when they get there. What was the Moscow correspondent’s job then, to watch state TV all day? I suppose at least they’re being consistent: back in the Soviet days The Guardian would lap up government propaganda and ignore reality on the ground, and I guess nothing has changed.

It’s a valiant effort by The Guardian to defend their and other’s media coverage of Russia, which has proven in the wake of the world cup to be so inaccurate, but they’ve still not understood their greatest error. Early on in Colin Thubron’s wonderful Among the Russians, he writes:

I never again equated the Russian system with the Russian people.

Thubron went to Russia in the 1980s when it was still part of the Soviet Union and travel to the country was heavily restricted. What excuse the international media in 2018?


Trump, Schroeder, and Germany

Back in December 2005 I mentioned this story:

Officials including Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov presided over the ceremonial welding of the first section of pipe at Babayevo in Russia’s Vologda region, where the Baltic link will diverge from an existing trunk pipeline and head for the coast.

Gazprom has teamed up with Germany’s E.on and Wintershall, part of BASF, to build the pipeline and is looking for a potential fourth partner, although it will retain a controlling stake of 51% in the project.

The onshore section of the pipeline will run 917 kilometres to the port of Vyborg, close to Russia’s second city of St Petersburg. The 1200 kilometre subsea link will terminate at Greifswald in Germany.

This was the Nord Stream pipeline, which –  unlike several other proposed piplelines carrying Russian gas – actually got built and was commissioned in 2011. This pipeline was highly controversial, not least because of environmental objections but because it was seen by some former Soviet states – mainly Ukraine, but the Baltic states also raised concerns – as a means of isolating them politically from western Europe: if Ukraine could be bypassed for gas supplies, who cares what happens to it?

No sooner was the Nord Stream pipeline approved when the chap signing for the Germans, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, left office and became a director in the Nord Stream consortium. As I said at the time:

This stinks to high heaven. Unsurprisingly, the European press has raised barely a murmur over this. Can you imagine the noise that would be made if the US signed an historic deal to export Alaskan crude to China, and George W. Bush took the reigns of the pipeline consortium weeks after leaving office?

It is absolutely appalling that so little noise was made about Schroeder taking this job weeks after approving the project, but in the 13 years since I’ve realised these sort of ethics are par for the course in Germany, and nobody dares criticise. Remember: what’s good for Germany is good for the EU.

In late 2017, Gerhard Schroeder was elected chairman of Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. Shroeder also remains on the board of Nord Stream, which has been pushing heavily for a second pipeline bringing Russian gas to Germany. In among all the squawking about Putin’s interference in the US election, supposedly killing people with Novichok in Salisbury, annexing Crimea, invading eastern Ukraine, and his forces shooting down civilian airliners nobody seems to be asking quite what a former German chancellor is doing working for him. Instead, we’re all supposed to be concerned that Trump is Putin’s puppet despite no evidence for this and an awful lot to the contrary.

Gerhard Schroeder was obviously employed by the Russians to wield political influence in Europe – particularly Germany – and they seem to be getting their money’s worth. I could barely imagine the outrage if Tony Blair was working for Putin’s government, engaged in back-door efforts to minimise the damage of sanctions and other responses to Russian aggression, but this is Germany so they get a free pass. Until now:

It was Trump’s mentioning the role of a former German chancellor – Schroeder – that pleased me the most. Everyone knows Germany is freeloading off the US for its defence needs, but few realise quite how embedded Germany is with Russia, the enemy they’re asking America’s help in defending against. If this were France people might not mind so much because France doesn’t self-righteously lecture everyone else and posit itself as the world’s arbiter on sound business practices, environmental legislation, and ethical governance. But Germany does all that, and then some, while engaging in the most brazen, self-serving hypocrisy. Fortunately, Trump’s remarks have been picked up in the US:

If you think Trump’s past business connections to Russian figures are troubling, you probably ought to be livid about how former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s has decided to become the chief lobbyist for Vladimir Putin in Europe.

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins wrote earlier this year that Schroeder is exactly the kind of wealthy, well-connected, influential figure acting on behalf of Russia that U.S. sanctions are supposed to target:

Germany’s allies and its European Union partners, including the quietly frantic Poles and Balts, can’t quite refer to Mr. Schroeder as a Putin agent nestled in the heart of Germany’s political and business elite. His name doesn’t appear on any U.S. government list. Section 241 of last summer’s sanctions law required the U.S. Treasury to identify the ‘most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs’ behind the Putin regime. These descriptors would seem to apply to Mr. Schroeder but it remains diplomatically impermissible to say so.

Germany is broken, and beyond repair while Merkel remains in charge and the majority population are steeped in anti-Americanism (which long predated Trump). The best thing Trump could do is disband NATO and create a new defence alliance which countries could apply to join if they wished, and be screened for reliability. Germany – as an independent nation – would then have to stump up for its own defence or take its chances with Russia. This has gone on for too long.


And now it’s murder


Police have launched a murder inquiry after a woman exposed to nerve agent Novichok in Wiltshire died.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, died in hospital on Sunday evening after falling ill on 30 June.

Charlie Rowley, 45, who was also exposed to the nerve agent in Amesbury, remains critically ill in hospital.

Theresa May said she was “appalled and shocked” by the death, which comes after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

Which comes four months after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. So, what are the likely scenarios here:

1. Putin ordered the Skripals murdered by Novichok, and four months later put the hit on a couple of nobodies in the same area. If someone – anyone – wants to come up with a plausible theory as to why he’d do this, I’m all ears.

2. Putin ordered the Skripals murdered by  Novichok, and somehow two nobodies ran into the same stuff by accident four months later. As Jason Lynch (who, incidentally, should be leading the investigation) points out in the comments, this is not implausible and consistent with a nerve agent being trampled around the place. However, unless a clear link between the two cases can be established, e.g. a common location between each victim, it’s going to be hard to convince people – especially Russians – that this is the same case. So far, it’s not looking good:

In a statement, the Met Police said the possibility the poisoning of the Skripals and Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley are linked is a “clear line of inquiry”.

A spokesman said the investigators are “not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skirpals were exposed to”.

He also said: “There is no evidence that (Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley) visited any of the sites that were decontaminated following the attempted murders of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.”

3. The two cases are separate attacks, and nothing to do with Putin.

Combined with my skepticism over the initial attack, I’m going with No. 3. I don’t know what the actual cause is – someone gone rogue at Porton Down? – but hopefully now a murder enquiry has been launched, we’ll find out:

Mr Basu said the death “has only served to strengthen our resolve to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for what I can only describe as an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act”.

He said: “Detectives will continue with their painstaking and meticulous work to gather all the available evidence so that we can understand how two citizens came to be exposed with such a deadly substance that tragically cost Dawn her life.”

Now I hope this is true. But I don’t have much confidence that, should the evidence start pointing in a direction which might cause Theresa May and her government considerable embarrassment, it won’t be buried without trace. I suspect the outcome of the investigation will be an inconclusive fudge with just enough wriggle-room to keep blaming Russia.



Well this is interesting:

A man and woman found unconscious in Wiltshire were exposed to Novichok – the same nerve agent that poisoned ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal, police say.

The couple, believed to be Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill at a house in Amesbury on Saturday and remain in a critical condition.

[T]here is no evidence to suggest either visited the sites that were decontaminated following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.

Now the British government, and many on this blog, declared that the use of Novichok in the Skripal case indisputably meant the substance came from Russia and therefore Putin’s government was behind the attack. Indeed, this is the precise accusation Theresa May levelled at Putin, who laughed it off. As readers may recall, I believe May’s actions were hasty and the Russians’ flippant response was possibly an indication it was nothing to do with them. This was poo-pooed on the grounds that only Putin could order a Novichok hit and had every reason to want Sergei Skripal dead.

So in light of these recent developments, I hope someone has a plausible reason as to why Putin – for it must surely be he – now wants two more people in Wiltshire killed with Novichok. It’s going to be somewhat embarrassing if we discover there are people other than Putin playing with Soviet-era nerve agents in the UK, isn’t it?


2018 FIFA World Cup Revisited

I might have to take back what I said earlier about the FIFA World Cup currently underway in Russia. I’d feared it would be a dreary affair but, while the standard of football hasn’t been that high, the games have certainly been good. Portugal against Spain was a cracker, with Ronaldo’s equaliser as sublime a free-kick as you’ll see. Iran gave Spain a good run, Morocco ran them ragged last night, and Iran versus Portugal was good albeit ruined by the VAR. I watched Sweden versus Germany in a pub with a solitary German and everyone else supporting Sweden; it pains me to say it, but Tony Kroos’ last minute goal was wonderful, and for that alone they deserved the win.

It’s been most amusing to watch Argentina struggle against Iceland and then get thrashed by Croatia, who are looking good. Messi has long been accused of not playing well for his country and thus far in this tournament he’s been absent. France haven’t looked very impressive, but they’ve done enough and who knows what they can pull out of the bag? England have got off to a good start, and while people are downplaying their 6-1 thrashing of Panama, one must remember England traditionally struggled against the minnows and they can only play the team in front of them. I’ll miss the game against Belgium because I’ve stupidly booked myself on a flight to Thailand; even more stupidly I’d booked the return flight during the final, so I’ve had to re-book it for the next day at no small expense. Grrrr.

Russia seems to be doing a good job of hosting the tournament with visitors being rather surprised to find happy, welcoming people interested in having fun instead of granite-faced thugs with shaved heads waiting to slaughter LGBTs in the streets. Not for the first time have foreigners discovered individual Russians are a lot different from how they are collectively portrayed.

So in hindsight I was wrong: this tournament has been highly entertaining so far, and I look forward to the rest of it.


2018 FIFA World Cup

So the FIFA World Cup kicks off today in Russia, which will probably be as much about how awfully backward and racist the Russians are as it will be about football, at least where the media is concerned. From what I’ve read so far, people seem to think the bulk of travelling football fans will be on the LGBT spectrum and risking their lives as roaming bands of Cossacks hunt them down. There has already been criticism from gay rights groups that Liverpool’s Egyptian star Mohammed Salah posed for photos with Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, who has a nasty reputation that is thoroughly deserved. If Salah had the faintest idea who Kadyrov was, or where Chechnya was, I’d be amazed.

For my part, I’m finding it hard to get excited about this world cup. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but international football tournaments don’t hold the same excitement for me as they once did. I don’t remember too much about Mexico ’86 or Italia ’90 but I know they were massive events. USA ’94 I remember better and it was pretty good, and France ’98 was magnificent. I was a keen follower of British and European football in the year before France ’98, and I was desperately looking forward to whole rosters of star players clashing. Just look at the lineup for the Netherlands for example, and that  was just one country.

Nowadays, I feel there’s a dearth of superstar players to look out for, and no massive clash of teams bursting with talent. The last seriously talented side to take part in the World Cup or Euros was the great Spanish team from 2008-12, and they clobbered everyone. Since then, it’s all been mediocre sides with the occasional star player who may or may not show up, or surprise packages like Uruguay in 2010 or Wales and Iceland in 2016. The last Euro competition was possibly the worst in terms of football quality I can remember. There were very few decent players: the standout player in one of the best sides was Dimitri Payet of France, a journeyman at West Ham who was sold to Marseille a year later. Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and the other superstars of the national leagues did very little of note, and Christiano Ronaldo was best known for his coming off injured in the final amid floods of tears and miraculously turning into the coach for the last 20 minutes of the game. The final was a dreary affair, with the solitary goal being scored by Portugal’s Eder who was a bit-part player for Swansea City. He didn’t even make it in the starting XI when they played West Brom in a cup match earlier in the season, yet there he was deciding the outcome of the second biggest international football tournament on the planet. This wasn’t a repeat of the Greek unknowns winning in 2004, it was simply there isn’t much talent around. Who are we all supposed to watch this time around? Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar? Who else? Harry Kane? Hardly.

I’d had the idea international football was on the decline for a while, but it was confirmed in Euro 2016 when Croatia (who had beaten Spain in the group stage) played Portugal in the first knockout round. It was set up to be a very good match but as I listened while driving from Exeter to Basingstoke on my way back to Dover and then France, it was clear neither team really wanted to be there. It was absolutely dire, and the commentators were scathing, their frustration boiling over. As they put it, neither side showed any interest in playing football, let alone winning, over the full 90 minutes plus 30 of extra time. I thought the same when I saw later games, including the final. There was nothing like the determination, passion, and desire I saw in France ’98 or Italia ’90, or the Euros in 2000. Just a bunch of players who looked as though they’d been roped into doing something they didn’t really want to.

My theory is players are far more individualistic these days, being multi-millionaires in a way that all but the top stars of France ’98 could only have dreamed of. Their primary loyalty is to themselves and their focus is on their bank accounts, sponsorship deals, and whatever their agents tell them. Most of their money comes from their club so they put in considerable efforts in the league, although some don’t even bother doing that. So while I think clubs have managed to retain loyalty from players and buy their efforts, the national teams have been less successful. Does playing for their country mean much to these players any more? Does winning? I don’t know. What I can say is a lot of players don’t seem interested in playing internationals, perhaps fearing injury which will cost them a domestic season or perhaps a whole career. Are you really going to go 100% into tackles in a group game against a third-string side and risk an injury which could cost you tens of millions in wages? Probably not.

But we’ll see. Maybe this tournament in Russia will prove to be every bit as exciting as France ’98 or Mexico ’86 complete with titanic clashes in the final knockout stages, but I doubt it. I think it’ll be a dreary affair like Euro 2016 which, when it ends, will have people asking “What did I just watch?”


A Ukrainian Miracle of the Wrong Kind

This story is nuts:

The authorities in Ukraine have been sharply criticised for faking the murder of a Russian dissident journalist in Kiev.

An official from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said Ukraine was spreading “false information”.

Reporters Without Borders said it was “part of an information war”.

Babchenko’s wife said on Tuesday she had found her husband at the entrance to their apartment block with bullet wounds in his back, and he was reported to have died in an ambulance later.

But on Wednesday there were gasps at a Kiev press conference when Babchenko entered the room.

“There was no other way,” he said.

I don’t know whether this course of action was essential to keep Babchenko from being killed; if so, then it was worth it. If it was just to catch the bloke who ordered the hit, then I’m a little more skeptical. Whatever the case, it is appalling PR.

It is quite reasonable to blame much of the chaos in Ukraine on Russian interference, not least the low-level war going on in the east of the country. But nobody can deny that Ukraine is a dysfunctional mess regardless of their meddlesome next door neighbour. The most damning thing about Russia’s annexation of Crimea was how easy it all was. I understand the Ukrainians didn’t want to risk mass bloodshed and a full-scale Russian invasion by fighting back, but the fact remains the place was completely undefended in the first place. A half-competent military could defend Crimea from a few dozen little green men flown or shipped in, but Ukraine fell far short of even that and lost the whole peninsula within hours. For all the outrage about what Russia did, few seem concerned that it was Ukrainian complacency, corruption, and incompetence that allowed it to happen.

The other undeniable fact is Ukraine has been independent for for 27 years and hasn’t shown the slightest sign of being anything other than a dysfunctional, heinously corrupt state mismanaged by squabbling factions each looking to further their own ambitions and enrich themselves. I remember the hope at the time of the Orange Revolution in late 2004; what followed was years of bickering and backstabbing and a confusing merry-go-round of leaders, one of whom ended up in jail. Things were also hopeful when Ukraine hosted the 2012 UEFA European Championship jointly with Poland, but things appear to have only gone backwards. It would be almost unthinkable to hold a major tournament in Ukraine now.

It’s a shame because the Ukrainians I know seem okay, and they obviously have competence at the individual and company level, but on a national scale they seem to be a perpetual basket case. Even their ability to resurrect dead Russian journalists isn’t going to help them with that.


What Tommy Robinson and Mikhail Khodorkovsky have in common

The Secret Barrister gives what I assume is an accurate legal perspective on the arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson. Here’s his third paragraph:

While, as we’ll see below, the reasons for the postponement order appear sound, the consequence of preventing fair and accurate reporting by responsible journalists was that there was no factual counterpoint to the selective and inaccurate details of Yaxley-Lennon’s situation that were inevitably flooded through social media by his knuckle-dragging cheerleaders, not least his racists-in-arms across the pond. Thus sprung a (largely unchallenged and unchallengeable) narrative of Tommy The Brave being arrested outside court for no reason and imprisoned in secret by the deep state, culminating in petitions for his release and a Nazi-themed march on Downing Street.

One needn’t read any further to understand the purpose of The Secret Barrister’s post is not only to inform readers as to the legal situation, but to make sure everyone knows that he is a decent, right-thinker, and not some nasty oik like those who support Tommy Robinson. He would have been able to make the same legal points without prefacing them with a paragraph of virtue-signalling, but why waste an opportunity to polish your right-thinking credentials and further cement your position in polite society? Besides, if you’re going to write about Tommy Robinson and not criticise him, people might think you’re on his side and that would never do. Better to include some boilerplate progressive buzzwords as a shield against such accusations.

There’s a lot of this going on, and from some unexpected sources too. Personally I don’t know if Tommy Robinson broke the law, but from what the experts are saying it seems he did and he was either stupid or trying to martyr himself. But as I wrote in my previous post, that is largely beside the point. I could open up any news site right now and point to flagrant breaches of the law which go unpunished by the authorities (here’s one), because it’s either too much trouble or the perpetrators are members of a protected class. On the flip side of the same coin I could also find examples of people who haven’t done much wrong but nevertheless are clobbered by the authorities: I understand that Lauren Southern, a Canadian right-wing provocateuse who looks as though she weighs 50kg soaking wet, is banned for life from entering the UK.

When the ruling classes want to dispose of someone inconvenient, they don’t just shoot them and dump their body in a well. There has to be some semblance of a justice system being applied; even Stalin’s high-ranking victims were subject to show trials. Now I don’t think Tommy Robinson is a victim of a Stalinist show trial, but it serves as a reminder that the underlying reason for a person being punished is not always the one the prosecuting state says it is. A better example is the trial and incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the dismemberment of Yukos, the oil company he founded. There was absolutely no doubt that Khodorkovsky had engaged in serious financial improprieties, tax evasion, and general gangsterism and probably had blood on his hands as well. However, as his defenders pointed out quite reasonably, everyone who’d risen to the position of oligarch in ’90s Russia had done exactly the same and often much more and much worse, and some of these men were Vladimir Putin’s best pals. So why Khodorkovsky?

Why, indeed. The reason, as everyone knew, was that he had dared dip his toe into the political arena and threaten Putin’s rule, so he put the entire machinery of the state into action to see that Khodorkovsky was ruined. It was a highly selective use of the justice system, and even Khodorkovsky’s fiercest critics admit privately that the tax evasion was just an excuse, his real crime was threatening the ruling powers. However – and this is crucial in the context of Tommy Robinson – the Russian government made damned sure to publicise Khodorkovsky’s unsavoury past and to emphasise that the crimes he’d committed were real. They did so to ensure his defenders were hamstrung from the start and the public on the side of the state. After all, the rule of law is important, is it not? And Khodorkovsky clearly broke the law, so why should he go free? This is the actual view most Russians take of the matter, yet the chattering classes in the west saw him as some sort of martyr.

I still maintain the reason Tommy Robinson was arrested is because he is an ongoing embarrassment to the ruling classes and he is representative of what they fear most: the ugly, ignorant masses not getting with the programme. Like Khodorkovsky, the fact that he broke the law is largely beside the point, because the law is applied so selectively in modern Britain, and often applied for nakedly political purposes. And like Putin did with Khodorkovsky, the British state has successfully managed to get most people agreeing with the incarceration of Robinson, stroking their chins and earnestly reminding us of the rule of law. I admit, it’s been a neat little operation. Here’s so-called conservative journalist Stephen Pollard:

Again, this is more virtue-signalling than anything else, letting his readers and progressive colleagues know he doesn’t associate with those thick, dishonest Tommy Robinson supporters, thus ensuring he’s not cast out of polite society. Anyone who doesn’t think there is a class issue to all of this is willfully blind: barristers and Oxford educated Metropolitan journalists sneering at the plebs who are simply too stupid to understand what “Tommy the Brave” has been arrested for is, as with so much else, simple snobbery.

There is much to learn from this episode, and it ties in nicely with what the ZMan said recently about Ben Shapiro, the American conservative commentator:

These edgy guys serve as a palace guard, maintaining the line between what is and what is not acceptable. Their job is to make sure that none of the bad think from the outer dark creeps into the thought of the orthodoxy.

Unlike a guy like Peterson or a Sam Harris, Shapiro is just another grifter from Conservative Inc. He’s the edgy band your parents said was OK, hoping you would not start listening to the stuff they thought was dangerous.

Like all of Conservative Inc., he is for free speech that pays him well, but otherwise sides with Antifa against his competition. He’ll never talk about the fact that corporate America is willing to sponsor an Antifa convention in Chicago, but coordinates their efforts to prevent VDare from holding a private gathering.

Someone recently said on Twitter they find Shapiro’s constant policing of the boundaries of right-wing political discourse tiresome. The reaction from Shapiro showed the remark had struck a nerve, and we’re seeing a similar policing action from the right in the UK. The likes of The Secret Barrister, Stephen Pollard, and other supposedly conservative commentators aren’t right wing or even conservative in any meaningful sense, they’ve simply chosen to wear that label while coming out in support of the status quo from which they are likely doing very well indeed. They wouldn’t dare say anything outside the Overton window because they’d lose their spot in whatever social circles they mix in, and almost every genuine conservative policy now falls well outside it. But at the same time, they want to present themselves as representatives of conservative opinion and to do that they must police the boundaries of acceptable discourse and ensure they’re not outflanked on any issue. This is why, when anyone appears bearing genuinely right-wing opinions, they’re subject to character assassinations by the moral guardians of conservative thought.

The real damning fact is that it has fallen to Tommy Robinson to take on the failings of the ruling class, and nobody has stepped up to help him. Where are all the supposed middle class conservatives who say they’re fed up with authoritarian halfwits like Cameron and May leading their party into oblivion? Where are all the MPs who claim they want to see real conservative leadership which can take on the left and roll back the damage wrought by decades of progressive policies? Yes, Tommy Robinson is naive enough to get himself jailed, and he’s not a very slick operator; yes, we know that, but why’s he left to do it all on his own? Why haven’t these oh-so-clever barristers and journalists not taken up the genuine issues he’s cack-handedly trying to draw attention to?

The reason is because what passes for middle and upper class right wing conservatism in Britain is nothing of the kind. Ask yourself, what have they conserved? And who have they put in office since New Labour got kicked out? They’re simply a branch of the establishment, or at the very best they’re enablers of the ruling classes, more interested in feathering their own nests and maintaining the cosy status quo than bringing about change or addressing Britain’s myriad issues. If they couldn’t bring themselves to support what Tommy Robinson is trying to do, they could at least have kept their mouths shut and not do the government’s job for them. Next time you ask why Theresa May is Prime Minister, or why Brexit is being derailed, or why Britain is continuing down the road of identity politics and progressivism, there’s your answer.


Not just corrupt, impotent too

Now there’s a surprise, eh?

The missile that downed a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 belonged to a Russian brigade, international investigators say.

For the first time, the Dutch-led team said the missile had come from a unit based in western Russia.

All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in mid-air flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

It was hit by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine. Russia says none of its weapons was used.

But on Thursday Wilbert Paulissen, a Dutch official from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), told reporters: “All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces.”

He restated the JIT’s conclusion that the plane had been destroyed by a Russian-made Buk missile, adding that it had been supplied by the country’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk.

The bulk of this was known at the time of the incident. There were only three possibilities as to the origins of the missile:

1. Russian forces

2. Russian-backed militias in Ukraine

3. Ukrainian forces

The Ukrainians quickly stated they don’t possess this missile system, ruling out their culpability. My guess was the Russians had, with staggering irresponsibility, given the business end of a Buk anti-aircraft system to some poorly trained militia operating on Ukrainian territory who’d shot down the plane by mistake. However, I believed part of the system was still controlled by Russian forces, who would give the militia the nod to engage any targets. As it turns out, it was operated by Russian forces all along, and it was they who shot the plane down.

At a news conference in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the investigators also showed social media pictures which they said traced the route the missile convoy had taken to reach eastern Ukraine.

Shortly after the incident some investigators online worked out using mobile phone footage and satellite images exactly where the missile had been fired from. Nobody showed any interest, and the silence from what passes for western leadership over this incident was deafening. The Oilfield Expat explains why:

Considering the magnitude of the event, it is remarkable how quickly the world brushed it under the carpet and moved on, particularly the Dutch who lost the greatest number of citizens in the incident. But there are good reasons for this: it suited the interests of European and American politicians to do so.

For those who thought the shooting down of MH17 would prove to be a Lusitania event in the crisis in east Ukraine, proving beyond doubt the nature of the Russian government which the west is facing, it would have seemed unbelievable at the time that barely 6 weeks later Russian armour would be moving en masse into Ukraine whilst EU and American leaders repeat the same empty, lame, and downright pathetic bleating about “de-escalation” that has done nothing but embolden Putin thus far.

It is blatantly obvious in whose interests Obama, Merkel, Hollande, etc. are acting over this Ukraine crisis: their own. And I don’t mean their citizens, or their country, I mean their own personal interests. Any support they may receive from their citizens or corporations is purely coincidental, although in the case of Germany it is clear that Merkel’s interests have been identical to those of certain favoured German companies with large operations in Russia all along. She damned near admitted as much.

This is wholly consistent with these same individuals sucking up to Iran, and now even cosying up to Putin in the aftermath of Trump’s nixing the deal. So much for solidarity with Britain over the Skripal poisoning, eh? But it’s not just cynical commercial interests that caused the disgraceful silence over the shooting down of MH-17, it was also cowardice. There were reports doing the rounds that Putin was visibly shaken when news reached him of MH-17 being shot down, no doubt fearing a serious backlash. However, within a day or two he was back to his usual swaggering self, confident no response would be forthcoming, and the tidal wave of disinformation began. Quite simply, the feckless leaders in the west didn’t want to make any tough decisions. Here’s The Oilfield Expat once more:

In reality, the EU leaders are a bunch of shyster politicians who give a shit about one thing: their political position, and by extension the powers they wield and the personal fortune they amass. Like all politicians, they are a bunch of backstabbing, duplicitous, untrustworthy c*nts who you wouldn’t trust to look after a wet breeze block, let alone guarantee the safety and security of a nation of people they don’t know and give less of a shit about. The Ukrainians have probably worked this out by now, only it’s too late. The Baltic States should also be waking up to reality and realising that they are on their own and always were. There were times when this fecklessness wouldn’t matter so much as the US could be relied upon to step in when required (as they eventually did in the Balkans), but the current occupant of the White House is so out of his depth and so wrapped up in preserving his image that he makes the EU leadership look Napoleonic by comparison. The collective language of this gaggle of incompetents over the Ukraine crisis screams “Oh why did this have to happen on my watch? Why won’t the problem just go away?”

They want the status, salary, and trappings of power that come with the position but don’t want to take the decisions and carry the responsibility that comes with it.

At the time of the incident – and not much has changed, at least on one side of the Atlantic – the western leadership was not only corrupt, but impotent too. The results of the investigation will only serve to illustrate this fact.