So it was Russia, in some form. What now?

At the time of writing, this is breaking news:

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.

The PM said it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack.

The Foreign Office summoned Russia’s ambassador to provide an explanation.

Mrs May said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

The chemical used in the attack, the PM said, has been identified as one of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

Mrs May said: “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

I’d say she’s got the two options narrowed down correctly. She’s also well within her rights to summon the Russian ambassador and demand an explanation. It’s going to be interesting what the Russians say: this isn’t something they can just fob off in their usual manner.

My guess is the latter of the two scenarios is the more likely. I simply can’t think of a credible theory that would have the Russian government trying to knock off this Skirpal chap at all, let alone using a nerve agent which points the finger straight at them, and then botching the job. So I think there are rogue elements in Russia, quite possibly hostile to Putin and much more hardline than he, who have access to this agent and firstly bear a grudge against Skirpal for his treachery, but who also want to ensure there is no improvement in relations between Russia and the west. The Russian economy is not in good shape; perhaps Putin – or one of his advisers – has been murmuring about concessions over Crimea in return for an easing of sanctions, or backing down in some other manner. Okay, the Crimea one is unlikely: your average Russian is pretty committed to keeping hold of Crimea, far more than they care about Syria for example. But something along these lines is at least a believable scenario, albeit a rather frightening one.

However, if the Russians have rogue elements of their security forces running amok, don’t expect Putin to admit it. For someone in Putin’s position to publicly concede he’s lost control in some manner would be suicide. Here’s a sobering thought though, probably not one entertained by those demanding Britain (and America) takes action against Putin: supposing he’s replaced by someone worse, someone who didn’t think much about knocking off former spies with nerve agents in a Salisbury pub? That’s not to say we shouldn’t take action, but we need to think through the consequences. In this regard, I think we can safely ignore anything most of the media has to say over the coming days, as well as Corbyn and his idiotic shadow cabinet.

A lot of people are already demanding Trump says something in support of Britain over this issue, but I’m interested to hear what the EU and European leaders say. Which way will Germany jump, especially if further sanctions are mooted? I’m half-expecting Merkel to mumble a bit before doing whatever is good for Siemens at al, with the rest of the EU falling in behind her. Probably the only ones who will object are the Baltic States, but it’s high time they learned when it comes to the EU and Russia, they’re on their own – just like Britain.

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If Putin did it, we need a convincing explanation as to why

Something about this Russian spy and his daughter doesn’t add up for me. Since I wrote my previous posts, it has transpired that the two were attacked with a nerve agent. This makes things doubly serious, firstly because nerve agents are so deadly that collateral damage is hard to avoid – and with 21 people now said to be affected, there has been plenty of that – and secondly because nerve agents, compared with poisons, are generally only accessible to state bodies. This puts the attack on Skirpal in the same bracket as the one which killed Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium-210. Nerve agents and polonium are not things you can buy in a shop or make at home – at least, we hope not.

So all the fingers are pointing towards a Russian government operation. But if that’s the case, the rules of the game have changed:

It seems to reflect a breakdown in the old etiquette of espionage, not only foreshadowing an even more vicious “shadow war” to come, but also challenging Western states to come up with new ways to respond to and deter these kinds of outrages.

In itself, former spies are not usually considered targets, according to the old rules. It’s assumed that they will be debriefed, squeezed of all remaining information of value they may possess, but typically they then semi-retire into grateful obscurity, their knowledge increasingly dated.

So either the Russians have blatantly broken the rules – which served them equally well as us, and were maintained throughout the Cold War – or it was not a Russian government operation. Or put another way, if something doesn’t follow the normal rules of a government operation then it probably wasn’t a government operation.

So let’s suppose it was carried out on Putin’s orders. Why would he do this? The easy answer is “to send a message”. Okay, to whom? For what purpose? To discourage spies within his ranks? Sure, but Putin grew up in the KGB during the Cold War and they’d have been equally motivated then, but they stuck to the rules. What has changed that would make someone versed in old-school spycraft deviate so drastically from the rules? Did this Skirpal still have valuable information to disclose? If that’s the case, why was he wandering around Salisbury eating in restaurants and loafing around with his daughter on park benches?

Perhaps it was for personal revenge. If so, why Skirpal? Of all the people on Putin’s shit-list, was he really that high up? And worth risking a massive diplomatic rift with Britain over? People need to stop looking at Putin as some sort of pantomime villain. He’s a smart man and although his methods of running a country are dubious at best and his morals non-existent, he is not some irrational lunatic who lashes out for reasons of personal revenge without thinking through the consequences. If Skirpal was killed on Putin’s orders, it would not have been to satisfy his ego. We need a better explanation than that.

Some are saying he is sending a warning to Britain. I don’t know why: other than having a vote on the UN security council and (for now) having a say in any sanctions passed by the EU, Britain isn’t much of a threat to Russia. For Putin, it is better to have Britain on-side, or luke-warm, or perhaps even cool rather than dead-set against them. Nothing Putin has said or done suggests he has some huge chip on his shoulder about the UK, in the way he does the United States. Britain and Russia clash over certain policies for sure, e.g. Syria, but I can’t see how murdering Skirpal in such a manner would help with that. Again, we need to stop thinking of Putin as a cartoon villain, coming up with elaborate plans to warn or punish his enemies.

So even though this looks like a Russian government operation, I believe we need to come up with a plausible theory as to why they’d have carried it out as they did, risking an extremely serious rift with the UK. How would it benefit Russia? So far, most commentary has been of similar quality to that which supposes Putin swung the US election for Trump, i.e. implausible and often demonstrable nonsense. And as I said in my previous post, that’s half the problem: having been sold the idea that Putin is a Bond villain working endless nefarious schemes, we’re now incapable of thinking rationally on any subject remotely related to Russia. Here’s what the Russians themselves say:

Russia was not involved in the attempted murder of an ex-spy and is willing to help with a UK inquiry, the country’s foreign minister has said.

Are the Russians playing an exceedingly clever game here, helping out in the inquiry knowing full well they did it? This is a bit risky, isn’t it? When Russian agents allegedly went about assassinating people in Turkey, they didn’t rush to help Ankara with any investigation. They either denied it or said nothing. When they assassinated a Chechen in Qatar and their guys got caught, they defended them to the hilt. When the Israelis assassinated someone in a Dubai hotel room, they denied everything and went quiet. The only times I’ve heard of a criminal assisting the police in their investigation has been in fictional stories or on those TV shows which show the guy in prison having been remarkably stupid in not making himself scarce. My guess is that if the Russian government did order this hit, they’d have in place a very well thought out plan of how to handle the resulting diplomatic crisis, and it would not have involved cooperating with the investigation.

A lot of this doesn’t make sense to me, and only fits the “Putin did it” narrative if we assume he’s the evil genius desperate politicians and the idiotic media say he is. I don’t mind the Russian government being the primary suspect, but I’d like to see a proper theory advanced that stands up to scrutiny, and all other possibilities explored and ruled out, before we decide to close the Russian embassy in London and send them all packing.

What I’m saying is I am not very happy with politicians, the media, and a lot of the public simply saying “Putin did it, obvs” and demanding retaliatory actions without having anything to support the allegation other than the absolute mountain of shite that’s been written about the man in the past 18 months.

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Hands and Feet

This article caught my attention when it mentioned ice-covered islands in Russia:

TWENTY-SEVEN pairs of severed human hands have been found mysteriously washed up on an ice-covered island in Russia.

The shocking discovery was made close to the city of Khabarovsk in the Far East of Siberia, close to the border with China.

Sakhalin? Alas, no:

All but one of the 54 hands were in a bag.

Another – spotted first by a local – was lying separately on a snow-covered island in the Amur River around 18 miles downstream from the Russian frontier with China.

The sinister finds were laid out in the snow for a police picture.

I’ve probably been close to that spot – well, closer than any of my readers, anyway – on one of my frequent visits to the city of Khabarovsk. Here’s a not-very-good photo I took of the Amur river at Khabarovsk:

Yes, it was as cold as it looks. Sakhalin was not actually that cold, at least in the south. Most days it would only be around minus ten or fifteen, much warmer than mainland Russia. The north of the island was much colder though, and the winds much stronger. But Khabarovsk was absolutely freezing and the wind would cut you in half. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much snow around whereas south Sakhalin – like northern Japan  – enjoyed metres of soft, powdery snow of the sort which covered cars but made skiers and snowboarders happy. And, to my knowledge, we didn’t have sacks of hands lying around on islands.

The Siberian Times said it was a “mystery over who the sinister hands belonged to, when they were chopped off – and why”.

Fingerprints were found on one hand, and the others are being checked.

One gruesome theory is that the hands could have been axed off as a punishment for theft.

Another is that the hands were severed from dead bodies in a hospital – but it is unclear why this would happen.

Hmmm.

One fear is that the corpses were illegally used for stealing body parts and the hands were cut to prevent them being identified afterwards through fingerprints.

Local media reported that next to the remains were found medical bandages and hospital-style plastic shoe covers.

Who, other than Victor Frankenstein, would steal body parts from a corpse? What do you reckon the going rate is for a second-hand Russian liver? My best guess is someone was paid to dispose of corpses from a hospital and cut a corner by burying them in the tundra somewhere, or maybe just weighing them down and chucking them in the river to be pulled out by Chinese fishermen and served for dinner along with the more traditional toad, rat, and cockroach. To cover their tracks in case the bodies were discovered, they removed the hands and dumped them in another place.

Police have refused to comment on the case.

I bet they did. Rumour has it that when the Sakhalin police discovered body parts on the construction site of the LNG trains at Prigorodnoye – an arm here, a leg over there, head a bit further over, etc. from what was most likely one of the many victims of the mafia wars in the ’90s – they ruled it as a suicide. As one of the police chiefs said in The Wire: “I don’t want a dozen mouldering John Does added to my case list”.

Russia is not the only place where mysterious body parts turn up unexpectedly. One of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever read on the internet concerned the Salish Sea human foot discoveries in Canada:

ANOTHER severed foot inside a trainer has mysteriously washed up along the coast of the Salish Sea between Canada and the US.

The latest grisly find is the 18th since 2007 and was made by a man walking his dog in British Columbia on December 8, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The first severed foot was found on August 20, 2007. It was a right foot, size 12, encased in a shoe made in India. Authorities were able to link the foot to a male who suffered from depression, concluding he most likely committed suicide in or near water.

Of the 18 feet and shoes found, only two have been matched together.

The Coroners Service has been able to identify eight feet that have washed up locally, linking them to six people. They do not believe any of the cases involved foul play. More likely the victims died from accidents or suicide.

That hasn’t stopped people’s imaginations running wild with grim theories about serial killers chopping up bodies.

Wikipedia has a good entry on the Salish Sea feet discoveries, if you want to know more. Alas, they don’t yet have one on the Khabarovsk hands.

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The Russian Soul

I don’t mean to keep picking on Natalia Antonova, but this is a bizarre rant:

Is it me, or is this journalist struggling with the concept of an abstract noun?

I too have heard Russians use the term “Russian soul”, and seen it referenced in non-fiction books. I’ve always understood the term to loosely describe the connection Russians have with the country itself – the land, culture, and people – which draws them towards it even after they leave, or cause them to love Russia even when they’ve suffered so much by living there. I know Russians who left as soon as they got the chance, but still retain this longing for their homeland which never quite goes away. When they go back they are conflicted, and a lot of Russians have this love-hate relationship with the mother country. The term “Russian soul”, as I understand it, is a shorthand way to describe all this.

Of course, this is not unique to Russia. Most people retain strong cultural and emotional ties to their homeland, although the Brits are spectacularly good at not doing this. Meet an American, Frenchman, or Australian abroad and they all have plans to go back home one day. Meet a Brit and he’ll tell you he only goes back when there’s a death in the family. I blame the weather.

Where was I? That’s right, the term “Russian soul” describes a concept not unique to Russia by a long shot, but is perhaps darker and more fatalistic than that of other nations. I’ve certainly never seen the term used as described below:

Nope, never. Perhaps my readers more familiar with Russia can enlighten me? This is spot on, though:

So much of the mentality and culture in Russia stems from its geography and climate (much as it does in the USA). I’ve always thought the best way to start understanding Russia (or the USA) is to cross it: it’s sheer size will overwhelm you. Now imagine living there. But what I don’t understand is Antonova’s hostility to a term which, as far as I know, is used to loosely describe the mentality and emotions that come from living in Russia and influenced, in large part, by the geography she describes.

Then again, she grew up in the United States. Perhaps that explains it? I’m sure it explains the profanity.

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Who did their job, and who didn’t?

Via MC in the comments, this:

The security consultant who has worked for the company that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump was close to the Russian double agent poisoned last weekend, it has been claimed.

Give it a few days and we’ll start finding out this guy was tied in with Clintons, and the story will disappear in a puff of smoke with only conspiracy theorists mentioning his name ever again. With good reason: associates of the Clintons winding up dead is hardly newsworthy, is it? Might as well run a report every time it rains in Wales.

Slightly more seriously, I’m going to buck the trend again. On the one hand I’m in agreement with some of my commenters: Britain should not allow Russian agents (assuming it was them) to go around murdering people willy-nilly with polonium and nerve gas on its soil. For starters, the possibility of collateral damage is great; the policeman who first handled the couple is critically ill in hospital, and this is appalling.

But a spy being killed by the Russians? Okay, the chap worked for us so he’s on our side. But the Russians don’t see it that way, and understandably so. To them, he’s a filthy traitor. Did the information he passed on to the British result in any Russians being killed or imprisoned? It’s hard to imagine his treachery was harmless. So let’s flip this around. Would we be outraged if MI6 had arranged for Kim Philby or Guy Burgess to be knocked off in Moscow once they’d betrayed the west and fled to the Soviet Union? On the contrary, I’d consider it a duty of the British government to try.

The outrage here isn’t really that Russia tried to kill a former spy. The outrage is that the British government let a former double agent wander around Salisbury oblivious to the fact someone still wanted him dead. I don’t think they even gave him a new identity, let alone a security detail. Who was in charge of this? Or is there a gentleman’s agreement that Russia has breached whereby spies who’ve been handed back in a swap are off-limits for retribution? Britain has a duty to protect those who cross over to work for them, as well as the public at large. This duty goes beyond expecting the Russians not to play dirty, and they’ve been negligent. How did someone even get a nerve agent into the country? Isn’t that a scenario they should be guarding against? Perhaps the security services should spend less time hounding British citizens for saying hurtful things on the internet and start doing the job they’re supposed to. We can be sure the Russians are doing theirs.

UPDATE

From the Moscow Times (H/T Tim Johnson):

Skripal was not just any spy, though, but a former insider, a GRU officer who allegedly blew the cover of some 300 Russian agents.

There’s 300 suspects right there. It is quite possible this had nothing to do with the Russian government at all. Let’s just say that had Bowe Bergdahl been Russian instead of American, he’d likely be found dead and the government with a clean pair of hands.

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Leaves on the line, Putin to blame

Let’s talk about this Russian spy and his daughter who have taken ill in Salisbury:

The government’s emergency committee Cobra is to be updated on the police probe into the suspected poisoning of a former Russian double agent.

Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have spent a third night in a critical condition in hospital after being found unconscious in Salisbury.

Scientists at the UK’s military research facility at Porton Down are examining an “unknown substance”.

Met Police counter terrorism officers have extended cordons in the city.

I assume the Met Police are there because local plod lacks the competence to handle such a case. So ultimately we now have diversity-hire Cressida Dick in charge of the investigation. If I were a Russian holed up in a potting shed on a Salisbury allotment with an empty syringe in my bag, I’d breathe a sigh of relief.

Mr Skripal and his daughter were found slumped and unconscious on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre on Sunday afternoon.

The two victims should be grateful they didn’t live in Glasgow. Would anyone have noticed?

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “Honourable members will note the echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

“I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go unsanctioned or unpunished.”

What sanctions or punishments resulted from Litvinenko’s murder? And are double-agents really innocent? Was Kim Philby?

Okay, let’s talk more seriously. Firstly, this is relevant:

Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, suggested that Mr Skripal would have had many enemies – including many former colleagues

He said: “The fact that he blew a whole range of Russian agents, there may be personal animosities there.

“In most Russians’ minds he would be categorised as a traitor. There are people there who would be delighted to see him dead.”

Russia is a dangerous place with no shortage of murderous psychopaths. If somebody gets murdered, there could be several reasons for it. If the deceased happens to be involved in questionable activities, e.g. shady business deals or spying, their list of enemies will be long indeed. Similarly, journalists whose work exposes corruption and malfeasance in Russia will also make a lot of enemies, many of whom will want them dead. In short, a Russian oligarch, spy, or journalist turning up dead does not in itself imply Putin ordered the murder.

Now it may be that Putin is happy with the outcome, but that doesn’t mean it was his doing. It is an article of faith among lefties that the CIA was behind the 1973 coup in Chile that ousted Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and enough evidence showing the American government was somewhat surprised by the developments in Santiago, but lefties simply point to previous American interference in Chile and the undeniable fact that the US would have been quite pleased with the outcome as proof of their involvement. Unfortunately, that is not how historical claims are adjudicated and nor are criminal matters. If we are going to accuse Putin of ordering a hit on a journalist or spy, we need to at least acknowledge that he may well have had nothing to do with it. A lot of commentary in the western press doesn’t do this, and openly states that Putin murders journalists. They then, often in the same paragraph, complain about fake news coming from Russia.

That’s not to say Putin is innocent. Under the conditions of his rule, life for journalists has been made very dangerous indeed, and this is appalling. He certainly bears much responsibility for opposition politicians and journalists being killed in broad daylight, as Boris Nemtsov was, and the standard practice of stitching up a couple of young Chechens each time is happening on his watch. He has also created the conditions under which the words “who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” get interpreted in a manner in keeping with English historical standards. He may not even need to utter them: an ambitious soul might decide to do Putin a favour by knocking someone off before he’s passed any remarks. In a feudal system such as Putin’s Russia, doing the king an unsolicited favour might reap substantial rewards.

So Putin has a lot to answer for, but that doesn’t mean we’re sure he’s tried to kill this guy and his daughter in Salisbury. There are simply too many possibilities, and we need to be sure before saying something daft. Thankfully, someone understands this:

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful…

Indeed, but perhaps he should have had a word with Boris Johnson:

The UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian involvement in the collapse of former spy Sergei Skripal, Boris Johnson has said.

The foreign secretary said he was not pointing fingers at this stage, but described Russia as “a malign and disruptive force”.

Is this helpful? This is even more stupid:

The Russian state has denied responsibility for his poisoning, but author of “Spycraft Rebooted”, Edward Lucas, claimed on the BBC the attack was an “act of war” if Russia was found to be behind the attack.

He said: “If Russia is behind it then it means they are taking this to a whole new level, it is in effect a declaration of war from the Russians to bump off someone like that – if they did it.

Supposing Putin calls up Theresa May this morning and says yup, it was me. Are we going to go to war with Russia? No, we’re not. We’ll piss and moan and kick some diplomats out, and go back to doing nothing. I remember when a Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian-backed militias operating hand-in-glove with Russian forces. Everyone fell over themselves to avoid having to actually do anything, probably at the behest of the Germans for whom commercial interests in Russia are worth far more than a few hundred dead passengers. At the very worst, there will be calls for sanctions which the EU won’t support. So save the tough-talk, nobody believes you.

But the west has a far larger problem here. Russia has been held up as the bogeyman ever since America’s Democrats couldn’t accept the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because she was an appalling candidate. Nowadays, whenever a vote threatens to go against the interests of the ruling classes, they accuse the Russian government of interference without offering any evidence other than vague reports of “Russian bots” operating with a $15k budget targeting Facebook users with unhelpful stories. This lame excuse was rolled out to explain the establishment’s humiliating defeat over Brexit, it was preemptively deployed when Macron losing to Le Pen was still a theoretical possibility, and Samantha Power – Obama’s ambassador to the UN – is now accusing Russia of throwing the Italian election. Whenever something doesn’t go the way of the ruling classes in the west these days, prominent figures brazenly accuse Putin of interference. It is irresponsible in the extreme, not only because it damages relations with Russia for no good purpose and encourages ludicrous calls for extremely harmful retaliatory measures, but it weakens their position when something happens for real.

This is a classic case of the boy crying wolf once too often. If high-ranking politicians are accusing Putin of nefarious deeds on a daily basis, each time sounding increasingly deranged, why should anyone care when he’s charged with poisoning a spy in Salisbury? And why should the Russians care? Mueller’s investigation into supposed Russian interference in the US presidential election has been running for well over a year, and nothing of any substance has been found, yet the cacophony has only gotten louder. An act of war, says Ed Lucas? Well, he’s a bit late to that particular party:

Why should we expect Russia to behave honourably in this poisonous political environment? Even if Putin personally ordered the hit on Skripal, the British authorities are never going to find out, let alone gather enough evidence to do anything other than ratchet up the existing hysteria. Will anyone even notice?

Finally, I’ve heard several remarks over the past day or two to the effect that Putin, and Russians generally, never forget those who cross them and hold grudges. Well, maybe that’s true but I don’t see why this should necessarily be a bad thing. Consider our own politicians, for example, many of whom seem to have forgotten that the IRA were murderous thugs who killed and maimed innocent British citizens on our own soil. Our memories are so short that the man who showed solidarity with these terrorists and invited them to parliament is now the leader of the opposition, and his past dalliances with groups openly hostile to Britain are airily dismissed with a wave of the hand. And do you think anyone in Moscow is advocating giving social housing to returning ISIS fighters? The question ought not to be why Russia holds grudges and kills traitors, but why we are so forgiving of those in our own ranks.

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Oliver Kamm on Trump, Putin, and Syria

Oliver Kamm takes a break from telling us George Orwell’s advice on writing is rubbish to advocate war with Russia. The headline:

Trump’s abdication of duty leaves Putin unchallenged

Let’s see.

Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state in the Clinton administration, famously described America as the indispensable nation.

Ah, Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. Clinton’s foreign policy can at best be described as one of benign neglect: on his watch Al-Qaeda formed, carried out deadly attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and put in all the ground work for 9/11. In terms of interventions, he put American troops into Somalia which ended in humiliating disaster and managed to drop a bomb on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade while helping Kosovars. Now I’m perhaps willing to listen to the argument that there was a humanitarian need to intervene in Kosovo, but the decision to make it a NATO action and subject Belgrade to aerial bombardment was a catastrophic mistake we’re still paying for (I’ll come back to that later). So why Albright is someone worth quoting on the subject of foreign policy I don’t know.

Her supposed vaingloriousness has been criticised but she was right. In the absence of a supranational authority capable of exercising sovereignty, the task of guaranteeing global public goods like regional security and a reserve currency falls to the world’s leading democracy.

Now Oliver Kamm was one of the biggest supporters of Tony Blair’s decision to join George W. Bush in invading Iraq, sincerely believing that bombing a population, wrecking their country, and killing thousands of them is a sensible solution to a humanitarian crisis. To be fair, at the time lots of people – myself included – thought the idea had merits. What the Iraq debacle taught us is that it didn’t, and military intervention only makes things much, much worse. To my knowledge, Kamm is the only person aside from lunatic neo-cons in the US who thinks it’s still a good idea. Presumably that’s why The Times didn’t let him run this piece on their pages.

Tragically, the United States under President Trump is suspicious of that historic role. And into the vacuum that America leaves, President Putin steps.

This is a neat little narrative, but historically inaccurate. America left no vacuum in Syria because they were never there; they left a vacuum in Iraq because Obama pulled out too early, allowing ISIS to form; and it was Obama, not Trump, who blathered on about “red lines” in Syria before doing absolutely nothing when they were crossed. Note also that a large part of Trump’s appeal was that he seemed uninterested in getting America bogged down in pointless foreign wars. But the likes of Kamm thinks it’s the responsibility of US presidents to uphold supposedly liberal principles in bombing countries against the wishes of both sets of people.

It’s an abdication of responsibility that undermines the liberal international order and betrays peoples struggling against oppression.

The immediate victims of this shift in relative power are nearly 400,000 civilians in Eastern Ghouta in Syria, who last week suffered heavy bombardment (with hundreds of fatalities) from the depraved Assad regime.

Presumably this wouldn’t be happening under Obama, who dealt with Syria and Putin in robust fashion. I might as well say it now: the entire basis of this article is snobbery about Trump on the part of Kamm. Most of his criticism ought to be directed at Obama – who is not mentioned once. Anyone familiar with Kamm’s Twitter feed will know he considers Trump to be awfully vulgar and not fit for office, not like the oh so sophisticated and well-mannered Obama.

Syria is a client state of Russia.

So what? So is Belarus. Kamm thinks the US should adopt the same zero-sum geopolitical as Putin, whereby whatever is good for Russia must automatically be bad for America. America has absolutely no strategic interest or reason to be involved in Syria. Does the US have some sort of moral obligation to ensure no state is a client of Russia? Is this a cause American servicemen sign up to die for?

The UN Security Council carried a resolution on Saturday demanding that “all parties cease hostilities without delay for at least 30 consecutive days” to allow the transport of humanitarian aid. The compromises required by Russia ensure that the resolution is an exhibition of handwringing. It doesn’t establish a starting date and it doesn’t constrain Syrian and Russian forces from continuing attacks under the fiction of being engaged in anti-terrorist operations. Essentially, all opponents of the regime are labelled terrorists by Assad, Putin and their apologists.

The UN is useless, yes. How is any of this Trump’s fault?

This is not quite the scenario that Russian state propaganda looked forward to under the Trump administration but it’s bad enough. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the fake news channel RT (formerly Russia Today), said triumphantly on the night of Mr Trump’s election that she would retire when “Trump recognises Crimea as part of Russia, strikes a deal with us on Syria, and frees Julian Assange”. These things have not happened, nor are they likely to…

So a news channel that Kamm thinks peddles fake news makes some daft predictions which he later references in an article to support his argument – but immediately concedes were ill-founded. I can only assume the editor of this piece is a personal friend of Kamm’s.

Yet there is a new modus vivendi in international relations, whereby the Putin regime can in effect do whatever it likes, however outrageous, confident there will be no pushback from the US.

Kamm will be well aware that this modus vivendi is not new, and came about during the Obama administration. His attempts to blame it on Trump are disingenuous. Also, Kamm has obviously missed this story:

The other big story involving Russia in Syria relates to the devastating American response to an attack mounted on a base of US-supported fighters where some American advisers were located. The US responded with extreme–and I mean extreme–violence. In response to a battalion-sized attack, they threw just about everything in the arsenal at the assault–artillery, F-15Es, MQ-9 drones, AH-64 Apaches, B-52s(!), and AC-130s.

This extremely forceful response was clearly sending a message.  It reminds me of what Mattis told Iraqi tribal leaders: “I come in peace. I did not bring artillery. But if you fuck with me, I will kill you all.”  The assaulting force was f*cking with the US, and Mattis’ military responded by pretty much killing them all.

They’ll think twice next time. And that’s the point.

This represents a far greater direct action against Russian interests in Syria than anything Obama managed in his 8 years. Apparently the reason the US has had such success against ISIS in Iraq and Syria recently is because Trump handed operational control over to James Mattis and told him to get on with it. By contrast, Obama wanted to micromanage every last detail. Now personally I don’t think the US should be fighting in Syria, but given that they are – and killing Russians – it’s hard to see how this fits in with Kamm’s theory that Trump’s election is good news for Russia and he’s allowing Putin to do whatever he wants.

Indeed, interfering in America’s presidential election is one of those flagrant Russian violations of international comity, and Mr Trump was the beneficiary.

You know the article is in trouble if the author’s bought into the “Putin swung the election for Trump” bullshit. As I said already, little wonder The Times didn’t run this piece. I’m wondering why CapX did: they’re normally more sensible than this.

To point out how far American diplomatic influence has fallen under Mr Trump is a commonplace of commentary but it bears repeating.

The Nato alliance, founded in 1949, ensured that Western Europe remained democratic and Eastern Europe once again became so even in the face of Soviet expansionism and threats.

Kamm spends considerable efforts both on Twitter and in The Times telling everyone how wonderful Germany, France, and the EU are. Rather than blaming Trump for the demise of NATO and the rise in Putin’s confidence, he might want to remark on the refusal of European countries – chiefly Germany – to provide for their own defence, preferring instead to carp from the sidelines under the safety of the American umbrella. He might also want to remark on the fact that Trump has quite plainly said the European countries – chiefly Germany – must start contributing more if the alliance is to survive. He might also reflect on the fact that much of Russia’s distrust of NATO stems from the alliance’s decision to bomb Serbia for reasons which had nothing to do with its charter.

There’s nothing to be done by us pundits that will affect the world of statecraft but we can at least expose the propaganda efforts by which the Putin regime advances its goals.

We’ll oppose Putin’s propaganda by publishing risible nonsense of our own. But what is Kamm suggesting, exactly? Trump has maintained the sanctions on Russia put in place by Obama, and increased arms sales to Ukraine. Once Putin decided to guarantee the survival of Assad by military force, the US wasn’t left with much choice other than outright war with Russia. Is that what Kamm wants? War with Russia? If America’s interests in Syria were purely humanitarian, opposing Assad and Russia by arming their opponents and dragging the war out indefinitely was probably the worst thing to do.

Despite the headline, nowhere does Kamm outline what he believes Trump’s duty is, other than the vague idea he should oppose Putin. I’d be more forgiving of pompous metropolitan journalists if they offered some concrete solutions instead of lofty ideals, and didn’t airily dismiss the results of the democratic process when the masses don’t sign up to their bone-headed agendas.

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White-Knights and Prostitutes

*This post has been updated*

A month or so back some people I follow on Twitter who are Russian-focused recommended someone’s writing, so I followed her. Thus far I’ve not seen much to justify the recommendation (her latest piece is a lame satire of Trump, as if there’s a shortage of that sort of thing) but following such people can nevertheless throw up some interesting discussion points. Last night the lady in question, a Ukrainian-American, took to Twitter to complain about how men stereotype her. Here’s how I responded to one of her tweets:

Bear in mind she started the topic with “Let’s talk about stereotypes of Slavic women”, and that she purports to be a professional writer and journalist; in my naivety I thought maybe she actually wanted a discussion. It turned out she didn’t, but I see no reason why I shouldn’t have one here.

Russian women do get stereotyped and it can be unpleasant for a normal woman when its assumed she’s a whore. But, as I point out in my tweet, there’s a reason for this. My Turkish friend, for example, takes a very dim view of Russian women because in her home country they are synonymous with the thousands of prostitutes who turned up to ply their trade, many of whom were at the very low end of the business having unprotected sex with truck drivers which spread disease and broke up families. It might be a view that’s unfair to Russian women, but my friend hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting ordinary Russians and so she’s going on what she knows. And there is no denying that there are a lot of Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish prostitutes working in European cities – more than Turkish, Egyptian, and Portuguese, for instance.

If I walk into a bar in Thailand, or even down the street, the locals assume I’m interested in a prostitute. If I found myself in Pat’s Bar in Lagos after the rugby had finished, most people in there would think I was after a prostitute. If I went into the York International Hotel in Dubai in 2004, most people would assume I was there for the hookers. Similarly, when Brits turn up in certain Mediterranean holiday resorts, the locals expect trouble. If the England soccer team are playing away, the local police flip the safety catch off the water cannon before they’ve even cleared immigration. Any discussion on stereotypes and assumptions made about you based on your nationality must take into account the origins of those stereotypes. So in the case of this lady above, she ought to at least acknowledge that, for many people – especially the Arabs and South Asians she mentions specifically – the only Russian or Ukrainian women they’ve ever encountered have been prostitutes, and that many of her compatriots are prostitutes.

Ah, but this is Twitter and I should have known better. Within minutes of posting the white-knights appeared.

And:

Alas, this is pretty standard on Twitter: a vaguely attractive woman posts something and you get a handful of men falling over themselves to agree with her. If you say something remotely contradictory, they all pile in. This is why I am so fond of this pic (origin unknown):

Naturally, the original poster didn’t respond, but was content to like the responses to me. But that’s by the by. What i found ironic is the assumption that these tens of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian women who worked as prostitutes had no choice (note the usual lefty debating trick of deliberately conflating “most”, “many”, and “all”).

There’s a habit of western men when they first meet a bunch of developing-world prostitutes to assume they’re all bright young things down on their luck whom life has dealt a miserable hand and they’re in need of saving by someone just like them. Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with a bunch of third-world prostitutes will know they’re ruthless bitches who have lied so many times they barely remember their real name. When it comes to Russian prostitutes, they became adept at telling gullible men they were well-educated and wanted to work in a normal job but had no choice but to become prostitutes in Dubai and Bangkok because of the economic hardships at home. I used to hear this back in 2003-4, then I worked out these women were not well-educated, they came from broken homes with seriously fucked-up childhoods, and simply made the choice to make some good money quickly. Again this is fair enough, but one should never forget that for every woman who chose to become  a prostitute, there are plenty who faced the same hardships but chose differently.

Now there might have been some women from Russia and Ukraine forced into prostitution, by which I mean they’re in chains and controlled by gangsters, but I I’m not convinced more than a negligible number work abroad in such conditions. Certainly this was the case when I lived in Dubai, because the girls would have talked about it. They were bound to their sponsors once they got there (as are many legitimate workers) but nobody forced them to come, or hoodwinked them. Long-time readers may remember I actually witnessed one girl being recruited for the job when I made that trip to Nizhnekamsk in 2004 in the company of another girl who knew the process rather well and, without batting an eyelid, told me everything about how it works. And as has been discussed in the comments at Tim Worstall’s on several occasions, trafficking Eastern European women for the purposes of prostitution makes absolutely no sense whatsoever: all major cities are awash with young women working voluntarily and prepared to do pretty much anything for a couple of hundred quid. Where’s the economic sense in kidnapping a woman, chaining her to a bed, and risking a lengthy jail term for people-trafficking in such a market?

What the white-knights are doing is assuming these poor Russians and Ukrainians had no choice but to become prostitutes, thereby implying any Russian or Ukrainian will turn to prostitution should the right economic conditions arise. Given these remarks appear in a thread in support of a Ukrainian woman complaining men often presume she’s a hooker, it’s rather ironic. Even more ironic is she approves of these remarks. It’s a funny place, Twitter.

UPDATE

The whole thing turned into a big pile-on yesterday afternoon. One person in particular took objection to being called a white-knight:

A man on the internet leaping to the defence of a woman who is “a personal friend” after incorrectly believing someone insulted her, followed by an attempt to look tough, is pretty much the textbook definition of a white-knight. Does this guy not realise he’s so deep in the friend zone that he could tweet his little fingers off all day long and still not get anywhere? His threats didn’t stop there, however:

I’m trembling so much my knees are knocking.

Some others were simply dim, chief among them this woman:

She’d give Cathy Newman a run for her money. Then white-knight pops up again:

According to Twitter, the reputation Russian and Ukrainian women have in the Middle East and elsewhere stems from women who were trafficked there, forced into prostitution against their will. If you follow the thread, we learn none of them have actually met any of these women – but from their offices in the US and Canada they have read reports and studied papers which show they have been trafficked and few are there voluntarily. How so many are free to take boyfriends and get married remains a mystery. Perhaps their pimps are the romantic sort?

Finally, given this started out with various women complaining men treat them like prostitutes, allow me to pass on some advice to my female readership. If you find men are routinely presuming you to be a prostitute, I recommend you:

1. Look at the places you are hanging out in.

2. Look at the men you are hanging out with.

3. Look at your own behaviour.

I know many women, and many Russian and Ukrainian women; very few have told me they get mistaken for a prostitute. If it’s a problem for women, it doesn’t appear to be universal.

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Is there no limit to the damage wrought by Clinton?

Staying on the subject of Trump:

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed as “blather” the charges levelled by the FBI special counsel against 13 Russians for election meddling.

Sergei Lavrov said at a major security conference in Germany he would not comment further until he saw “facts”.

According to the indictment:

The 37-page indictment says a group of Russians:

Posed as Americans, and opened financial accounts in their name; some visited the US

Spent thousands of dollars a month buying political advertising

Purchased US server space in an effort to hide their Russian affiliation

Organised and promoted political rallies within the United States

Posted political messages on social media accounts that impersonated real US citizens

Promoted information that disparaged Hillary Clinton

Received money from clients to post on US social media sites

Created themed groups on social media on hot-button issues, particularly on Facebook and Instagram

Operated with a monthly budget of as much as $1.25m (£890,000)

Financed the building of a cage large enough to hold an actress portraying Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform

The indictment says those involved systematically monitored the success of their internet posts.

All of the 13 people named were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. Three have also been accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and five have been accused of aggravated identity theft. Three companies have also been charged.

This is pretty weak sauce, and if the American election can be unduly influenced by this then the nation is in trouble indeed. And as Tim Worstall points out, the Americans intervened to a far greater extent in the Russian general election in the early 1990s, supporting reforms which went a long way to creating the discontent which Putin capitalised on to maintain his grip on power.

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. Yes, there are supposedly serious politicians and commentators calling for war with Russia because they don’t want to face up to the fact that Hillary was a lousy candidate.

Whereas I suppose Putin has found much of this genuinely amusing up to now, this indictment changes things. The individuals named are in Russia and so unlikely to be arrested, but the intent is there. Putin has often accused foreigners working for NGOs in Russia of interfering in politics, shutting down various organisations in the process. He was rightly criticised for this, but it’s hard to see why Russians should tolerate Americans doing political work in Russia if Americans believe disparaging Hillary Clinton on Facebook is an offence worthy of FBI indictment. If Putin chooses to do so he could start making life very difficult for Americans in Russia now, and the American government wouldn’t have a damned leg to stand on. Those who may find themselves languishing in an icy cell on dubious charges of political subversion can thank Hillary Clinton, her insatiable ego, and her thoroughly corrupt supporters for their predicament.

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Russian Rifle Raid Reveals Ravenous Reptile, Reds Responsible

Via JuliaM, this story from Russia:

Russian police searching for illegal weapons in a St Petersburg house faced a scaly surprise in the basement: a two-metre (6.5ft) Nile crocodile.

Where the hell did they get it from in the first place? I’ve been to Saint Petersburg, and one thing you don’t see among those strange creatures basking in the mud along the Neva river or the fountains at Peterhof are Nile crocodiles.

Police said the reptile did not cause any injuries – but now they must find a new home for it. Russian media say the house is used by a nationalist group.

With a penchant for Lacoste?

A stockpile of illegal arms was found in the raid, in the city’s Peterhof suburb, RIA Novosti news reports.

It included explosive devices and copies of Kalashnikov assault rifles.

A 40-year-old man arrested in November is suspected of illegal possession of weapons.

I admit this is some way outside my line of work, but I reckon if I was assembling illegal weapons in my basement I’d find the presence of a large crocodile somewhat distracting.

The St Petersburg news website Fontanka says the property houses a “patriotic youth militia” called Red Star (“Krasnaya Zvezda” in Russian).

Red Star doesn’t sound very nationalistic, does it? More Communist, I’d say.

The crocodile was living in a pool that had been dug into the concrete floor.

I want to know what it ate. Small children? Putin’s enemies? So many questions. It’s at times like this when I mourn the death of traditional journalism.

Leningrad Zoo says it has no extra space to take it in.

Aw. I expect it’ll remain in Saint Petersburg, albeit in the form of a handbag in the window of a shop on Nevskiy Prospekt.

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