Living With Putin (and Assad) 226

The West cannot approach the problems of Syria, Ukraine or Iran without facing up to the question of its relationship with Putin’s Russia. That relationship is now severely dysfunctional and characterised by squabble and acrimony on a range of detail encompassing much of the globe.

Anti-Russian sentiment is now forming part of the ceaseless wave of militarist propaganda to which the media endlessly subjects us. There were particularly pointless pieces two days ago on all British broadcast media about one of the Royal parasites taking the salute at the 100th anniversary of some RAF squadron. Every week some military unit will have some anniversary. Plus the Second World War lasted fully six years, and as the 70th, 75th and 80th anniversaries are each to be commemorated of every happening during that war, there is never a single day with a shortage of excuse for some royal prat in a Ruritanian uniform to take a salute.

Both Sky and the BBC have recently run pieces on how the brave RAF squadrons protect us from the devastating Russian bomber threat. The alleged “problem” was that Russian aircraft fly along in international airspace close to British airspace. In other words, there is a major issue with Russian aircraft behaving perfectly legally. No mention was made of the fact that NATO aircraft do exactly the same thing to Russia, only many times more often. We saw jets scrambled to meet the “emergency” of Russian aircraft who were – err – flying along well North of Scotland and never entering British airspace at all. You were supposed to watch it and think how happy we are that the RAF are keeping us safe. I was left sobbing at the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money I had just watched wasted for no reason at all.

Which is not to say that Russia is not a threat. Russia plainly is a threat to some of its immediate neighbours. Putin holds that parts of the Former Soviet Union with ethnic Russian populations should be absorbed into Russia. That was the cause of the attack on Georgia, the annexation of Crimea and the de facto annexation of parts of Eastern Ukraine. Putin’s motivation is sometimes hard to fathom, but certainly this use of military power against weak neighbours, with a definite ethnic agenda, is very popular with the Russian public. To Putin, it is more or less cost free, as Western corporate interests would be damaged by any positive action Western governments might take – the “sanctions” are almost entirely token. Putin is not mad enough to take on one of the former Soviet states which is now in NATO or the EU, so his possible future targets are severely limited.

Nor is it plain that Putin is “winning” in a strategic sense. Just three years ago, Russia had a pre-eminent influence throughout all of Ukraine. Now 70% of Ukraine has been lost forever to any Russian influence at all. That is a peculiar kind of victory. The economy of the Crimea plus Donbass is in disarray and even before the crisis, the GDP of the entire region was about the same as the GDP of Dundee. The whole exercise is yet another example of the thesis of J A Hobson, adopted by Lenin, that Imperialism benefits the military and political classes but not the Imperial nation as a whole. The Ukraine civil war has been good for Putin and the Russian military. It has done nothing for Russia.

It is coincidence that the Ukraine confrontation has coincided with a collapse in hydrocarbon prices. But the economic impact of that collapse has been stark and has highlighted Putin’s total failure in the most important task facing him – the diversification of the Russian economy. The failure to develop a viable manufacturing sector and to halt the extreme, Nigerian style levels of capital flight has condemned Russia to continuing Second World economic status. People take issue with my description of the Russian economy as the same size as the Spanish economy. I stand by it. Remember published economic data is historic, rather than reflecting the situation today. I am also unimpressed by attempts to disguise economic failure by using Purchasing Power Parity, rather than actual dollar values. PPP states that as cabbage is extremely cheap in Ekaterinburg, Russians are cabbage rich. So what?

Russia is no superpower. Its economy is the same size as Spain’s, and a good deal less diversified. It is a nationalistic kleptocracy. It has nonetheless a certain residual influence from its imperial past, and continuing Imperial present. Dagestan, Chechnya and Tatarstan remain colonies. Putin is extremely aware of that, which is why peaceful anti-imperial pro-independence campaigners from those countries receive heavy prison sentences, or simply get killed.

Undoubtedly the temporary economic difficulties caused by the oil price collapse have decreased Russian influence for a time. Russia went from being a major player in the Iran nuclear talks (remember the proposals about processing of Iranian fuel in Russia), to being in the end irrelevant. Russia’s impotence over Iran came from a realisation that the prospect of a return of Iranian oil to the open market would depress energy prices still further. But in Ukraine by virtue of force on the ground, and in Syria by simple virtue of being plainly right where the West has been horribly wrong, Russia remains an important player.

I have no time for the Assad regime. The current occupant is not so vicious as his father, but it remains a dictatorship, and I look forward to the day it passes. But you have to be crazed not to accept that the growth of vicious Islamic extremism means that it is necessary for Syria to be reunited under Assad and the dictatorship to survive another decade. That plainly is the lesser of a number of evils. There is no good solution.

Attempts to demonise the Assad regime over use of chemical weapons have been almost entirely unconvincing. The effort by the media to demonise “barrel bombs” – as though being eviscerated by a proper western made technological bomb is preferable to being eviscerated by a homemade bomb – has been bizarre. What is needed is an immediate halt to the funding of combatants by the USA, Saudi Arabia and their allies, and at least an internal acknowledgement that was what created ISIL in the first place. Russia should instead be authorised and funded by the UN to help enforce peace, and Russian troops should wear blue helmets. We then need a comprehensive peace deal which guarantees that the Assad regime will not pursue reprisal, and includes the return of the illegally occupied Golan Heights to Syria.

No other outcome can lead to a sustainable solution which can halt the flow of refugees compelled to leave their homeland. The first step towards such a deal must be a summit meeting between the western powers and Putin. Ideally, Ukraine should also be on the agenda. The obvious solution there is a major UN force followed, after a year of peace, by a genuine referendum on joining Russia in each of the various districts of Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

I am not crazy and I realise that none of this will happen. What will happen instead is that the West will intensify the civil war in both Syria and Ukraine. In Syria, the neo-cons of the Tory Party will ally with the Blairite Red Tories and the UK will join in, happily bombing away, killing thousands of civilians. Within three weeks of the parliamentary vote they will be massively bombing the Syrian army too because, we will be told, it is necessary to degrade Syrian ground defences to ensure the safety of our airmen. The flow of refugees will intensify.

One aspect of the refugee crisis nobody wishes directly to address is the ferocious grip that xenophobia and racism has on the cultures of Eastern Europe. This lies behind an interesting article in the Guardian by Irina Molodikova which sought to explain this in terms of resentment of historical conquest by the Ottoman Empire. That is a peculiarly Eastern European line of defence, but fails to wash as it goes nowhere to explain the rampant anti-semitism in countries like Poland, Lithuania and Hungary, nor the abuse suffered by black people.

I have personally witnessed extraordinary degrees of racism throughout Eastern Europe. It is a cultural trait common to the otherwise conflicting nationalisms of Poland and Russia. It should not be forgotten that Russia – which is again officially encouraging its citizens to breed as it needs population – is making no significant offer to accept Syrian refugees. I continually hear stories of the everyday experiences with violent racism and discrimination suffered by Uzbek workers in Russia.

I am conscious this lengthy article rambles through a number of major issues. But the problems we face are organic, complex and linked. Any neat analysis is bound to be false, and any neat dichotomy wrong. Those who believe “Putin Bad, West Good” or “West Bad, Putin Good” are fools, just as those who believe “Islam Good, Christians Bad” or “Christians Good, Islam Bad” are fools. We need a deeper understanding. We are about to face a deluge of war propaganda. A genuine understanding is the true defence against it.

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226 thoughts on “Living With Putin (and Assad)

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  • Je

    Andy –

    Yeah, and EVERY news outlet uses the reports he’s sent.

    “The rebels are AL-Qaeda “. The civilians Assad’s barrel bombs are killing aren’t. But you don’t believe there are any right… or its okay cause you think Assads targetting terrorists. With indescriminate barrel bombs on civilain areas.

    What happened to your humanitarianism also. There’s only one decent response to Assad’s barrel bombs – and that’s to call for him to stop using them. You’re offering excuses.

  • RobG

    Russia vs America. Hmm…

    And here’s Bernie Sanders, speaking last week at the Liberty University in Virginia (Sanders starts speaking 2 minutes into this clip)…

    Sanders is way ahead of Clinton in the polls and draws huge crowds wherever he speaks. Does this sound familiar…

  • CanSpeccy

    “The failure to develop a viable manufacturing sector and to halt the extreme, Nigerian style levels of capital flight”

    Wishful thinking?

    WSJ: Russia’s Manufacturing Sector Grows Despite Western Sanctions

    And capital flight is not what many people imagine it is, i.e., it may involve companies such as Gazprom or Rosneft spending CA surpluses building pipelines taking oil and gas to foreign markets, or buying foreign companies, or simply the repayment of foreign currency loans.

  • Andy


    ”Yeah, and EVERY news outlet uses the reports he’s sent.”

    And every news outlet reported that Saddam had WMD.

    Every news outlet reported that Gaddafi was going to commit genocide in Benghazi, without evidence, and forgot to mention that the rebels in Benghazi that we had to save were in fact jihadists. The lies the media told on Libya were extraordinary.
    And what we aren’t being told today is shameful. Cameron should be in the fucking Hague.

    The media won’t report the truth about Syria because the US and it’s allies want Assad removed. Like Iraq and Libya you aren’t being told the truth.

    btw, I don’t agree with indiscriminate bombing by anyone but if you are only going to talk about the barrel bombs and not the shelling by the jihadists then you are simply being propagandist for the jihadists.

  • Republicofscotland

    Whilst we are on the subject of tyrannical behaviour, the Saudi’s want behead then crucify a young man for attending a anti-government protest when he was aged just sixteen.

    The Saudi government has upheld the execution of Ali Mohammed Al Nimr.

    A court rejected Mr al-Nimr’s final appeal this month at around the same time as Saudi Arabia was chosen to head up a key UN panel on human rights.

    But while the decision sparked outrage from campaigners and those affected by oppressive Saudi practices, the US State Department said it “welcomed” the move.

    Speaking to AP’s Matt Lee, department spokesman Mark Toner said: “Frankly, we would welcome it. We’re close allies… We have a strong dialogue, a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans many issues.

    This barbaric execution, that will undoubtedly be carried out, with the blessing of the USA, shows that the financial clout of the Saudi’s outweighs human rights.

  • TonyB

    I’m a bit dsylexic hence weird and variable spelling follows mitigated by a Marvin-PA like brain. Part 1
    First Principals:
    Russian, Syrian, Iranian, Qatar [ Al Jazeera ], Press produces propaganda which suits their line.
    Western MSM largely produces propaganda to suit US-NATO-EU line ie it is based on anonymous backgrounding or directly and unfiltered from the rebels the West supports.
    The soft power of the West [US Empire] is overwhelming and still affects “our” [radicals including Craig’s] thinking.

    The Guardian is not a progressive paper and is fully signed up to the neoliberal agenda and doctrine of R2P.
    Even given all the above we can use commonsense and logic and “facts” accepted by “both sides” to test the likelyhood/veracity of any claims made about a particular event.
    There is also considerable history to draw on [from declassified documents, committees etc] to judge current behaviour of parties.
    Noam Chomsky has already carried out much of this work.

    My analysis: It seems to me that based on staffing and actions HRW is an arm of the US State Department – which can critise some US/Western actions to maintain creibility.
    Amnesty has been captures by R2P thinking partially taken over bu US-NATO see their staffing.

    Craig your old mate Valerie Amos’ media [right back to 2011] in her role at UN was 80% anti Assad, 10% South Sudan amazing focus started well before Syrian refugee flow. Therefore she is a US-NATO agent. Based also on what you[craig] and Clare Short said about her.

    Over 50% of Kenneth Roth’s(HRW) have been anti-Assad ie his twts on everything not just Syria!!!! I have been following him to check.
    Evidence also comes from “other side” recent twt:
    Hypocrisy Watch ‏@NaAksyonov Sep 12
    No of tweets where Assad’s barrel
    bombs mentioned:
    Kenneth Roth: 213
    Russia Today: 0
    Glenn Greenwald: 0
    Corbyn: 0
    Stop the War: 0
    My reply to HW: of course hypocriscy
    “cuts both way 213 thanks for the stats
    Ive noticed for years roth and v amos were tasked FT on Assad”
    Like you Craig I have noticed that “Barrel” bombs is a trope associated with anti-Assad propagandists incl Martin Chulov (Guardian) and his symbiont [and FT Henry Jackson Society agent] Michael Weiss now at
    Term also used by correspondents all US majors.
    Now lets use the above principle and apply them to Syria. I who have no love for any dictator ask.
    Why would Assad commit his worst atrocities just a the times when it was least in his interest to do so? Such as the gas attack just when the UN inspectors arrive when such an attack could be used to allow use of NATOs air force against him [like in Libya]. There have been several other instance like this. Then having decommissioned his chemical warefare capabilities as verified by Russia/UN Assad supposedly starts using chlorine gas [an ineffective agent] this is dutifly reported by all the usual suspects. But why would he do this and risk NATO bombing – it is totally illogical but the MSM accepts that he had done it at the rebels say he has done it.
    Where I am coming from can be seen under my four comments in 2012 at: or
    Syrian massacre aftershock – Late Night Live – ABC Radio …

  • CanSpeccy

    “But the economic impact of that collapse has been stark and has highlighted Putin’s total failure in the most important task facing him – the diversification of the Russian economy.”

    Bollocks. If you ve got resources you develop them, obviously, just as Britain did with coal, then oil and now natural gas. Sure, dependence on resources creates some instability, but it also creates wealth. Arguing that Russia should give up on the resource industry is as daft as suggesting that Canada give up the resource industry (yet Canada exports more oil per capita than Russia, which is why the C$ has been devalued this year almost as much as the ruble).

    Russia’s economy is diversifying, especially in the agricultural sector that is now protected from most European imports as a result of EU sanctions. Just ask your local dairy farmer how significant that effect is on European producers.

    Anyway, Putin’s most important task is not to diversify the economy but to keep Russia intact and out of the hands of scumbag oligarchs like Soros (now investing in shattered Ukraine), a task in which Putin seems to be succeeding quite well, judging by Russia s success in arms development and arms exports (12 fighter jets sold to Venezuela the other day, 120 to India earlier this year (in place of the Raphale) plus a similar number of helicopters, and the S500 air defense and anti-missile system to China), and in protecting Russia s interest in Syria against the head-choppers and captive burning and drowning ISIS mob created by Nazi-Nato.

  • TonyB

    “Western MSM largely produces propaganda to suit US-NATO-EU line ie it is based on anonymous backgrounding or directly and unfiltered from the rebels the West supports.”
    should have read:
    Western MSM largely produces propaganda to suit US-NATO-EU line ie it is based statements of the Governments, agencies, think tanks or military of those countries whether sourced openly or based on anonymous backgrounding.
    Amazingly it comes directly and unfiltered from the rebels the West supports. The BBC and the ABC have done re Libya & Syria.

  • Republicofscotland

    Remaining on Russia’s tempestuous relationship with the West, I often wonder what would’ve been the consequences for India, and indeed British trade, if Napoleon had followed through with his plan to link up armies with Tsar Alexander I, and invade India wrestling it from the clutches of Britain.

    Inevitably when ego’s clash Napoleon and Alexander fell out with each other, before they could consolidate their plan and Napoleon sacked an already burning Moscow.

  • Mary

    This Ofcom ruling against RT is Orwellian. It ignores the BBC Trust’s apology to Robert Stuart in the matter.

    ‘To be clear, according to OfCom’s own description of its remit, in the dispute between RT and the BBC, OfCom did not look into the BBC’s accuracy or credibility. Nor did OfCom investigate whether RT’s allegations of fakery were true or false. In fact the Broadcast Bulletin makes it clear OfCom ruled in favour of the BBC based solely on two things:

    1. a finding that RT had broken “Rule 7 of the Code”, which requires a broadcaster to allow sufficient right of reply to anyone accused.

    2. a finding that RT had infringed “Rule 2.2 of the Code” which requires a broadcaster not to present facts in a way likely to “mislead the viewer” – based on the fact RT had referred to Robert Stuart’s ongoing investigation into the BBC’s Panorama program as a “massive public investigation”, when OfCom thought the size of his investigation did not merit such an epithet.

    Anyone can visit Robert Stuart’s website and decide for themselves if his investigation can fairly be described as “massive”, but the extent to which OfCom’s findings are themselves factual inaccuracies I’ll leave for others to explore. The most significant point here is that OfCom has specifically not cleared the BBC of suspicion of wrongdoing, and is not claiming to have done so.’

    The Ofcom chair, Dame Patricia Hodgson, was a member of the BBC Trust until 2011.

    She replaced Colette Bowe on Ofcom who was paid £200k pa for a 3 day week.

    Now it is increasingly difficult to explain all the detail of this to those who know nothing of the matter but this article by Black Catte sets out the facts.

  • CanSpeccy

    “Russia is no superpower. Its economy is the same size as Spain’s”

    More crap, that you continually reiterate. But no need to repeat the refutation I made here:

    And this:

    “Dagestan, Chechnya and Tatarstan remain colonies.”

    To be exact Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation and therefore no more a colony that Scotland is a colony Britain. But then it must be admitted that Britain is a militarily occupied colony of the US of A, like all the rest of Europe, and you, it appears, write propaganda on behalf of the imperial hegemon.

  • Mary

    Noam Chomsky: Wikileaks Reveals US Ties to Israel’s Military Industry 3mins

    Published on 23 Sep 2015

    Excerpt from “Noam Chomsky: On Power and Ideology”, presented by Haymarket Books and the Schools of Public Engagement… at The New School (

    MIT Institute Professor (emeritus) of linguistics and philosophy Noam Chomsky is widely regarded to be one of the foremost critics of U.S. foreign policy in the world. He has published numerous groundbreaking books, articles, and essays on global politics, history, and linguistics. His recent books include The New York Times bestsellers Hegemony or Survival and Failed States, as well as Hopes and Prospects and Masters of Mankind. Haymarket Books is currently reissuing twelve of his classic books in new editions.

  • CanSpeccy

    “I have personally witnessed extraordinary degrees of racism throughout Eastern Europe.”

    What you mean is that East Europeans don’t like the Coudenhove-Kalergi plan for the Africanization and Islamization of their country. This seems an entirely reasonable reaction to the genocidal racism of those like yourself who wish to force millions of Third-Worlders on the European nations.

    “It should not be forgotten that Russia – which is again officially encouraging its citizens to breed”

    Jesus, what a bunch of fucking racists the Russians must be. They actually want to reproduce themselves by raising their fertility to the replacement rate, unlike the Brits who are happy to see themselves replaced by people from elsewhere.

    Does anyone actually believe such vile self-hating propaganda for the destruction of the European peoples?

  • Republicofscotland

    Jumping off topic, I do apologise, I still can’t get my head around the fact, that Donald Trump is the front runner for the Republican candidates, which could see him become US president.

    Trump who has claimed Mexicans are rapists murders and job usurpers, has stated that he’d build a huge wall across the border between Mexico and the US, I bet he’s friendly with the Hungarian PM.

    Close behind Mr Trump is failed Hewlett-Packard, director Carly Fiorina, who if elected as the USA’s first female president, she will arm Ukranians to the teeth in seconds, to oppose Putin.

  • CanSpeccy


    “Trump who has claimed Mexicans are rapists murders and job usurpers,”

    Nah, you’re lying.

    Trump has claimed that illegal immigrants have committed multiple rapes and murders, which is true as confirmed by the fact that “Texas alone over the last few years, more than 2000 illegal aliens were deported after committing sex crimes?


  • Bert.

    You seem to be mistaken about the comparative analysis of Russian/Spanish GDP.

    World Fact Book indicates:

    Russia (2014) $3.565Tn
    Spain (2014) $1.566Tn


  • Alcyone

    Beth, your first comment reminded me of the Alaska Deal.

    How would nnule positions and the Cold War have played out if Russia had not sold Alaska!!!??

    Link for Banal Zevul:

    According to wiki:
    “The US $7.2 million check used to pay for Alaska ($121 million in 2015 dollars)”

    Can somebody please verify that? The 2015 dollars seems low, very low, for what it was in 1867?

    Either way, a bargain.

  • CanSpeccy


    Canspeccy, even so, Mexican immigrants contributions, to the US economy to the value of around 4% of GDP.

    So what? What has that got to do with your false statement that Trump called Mexicans rapists? Nothing whatever, obviously.

  • CanSpeccy

    “Russia is no superpower.”

    So now the Russkies have put their fighter jets and Special Forces in Syria to counter the US created ISIS, we will soon see them crushed by the World’s sole superpower. Right? Or maybe not.

  • Mary

    Q. Why did oil prices fall through the floor? Timing?

    ‘This energy warfare, started in the middle of 2014, can only be viewed as a concerted and deliberate effort to attack the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan economies. This a brutal retaliation against Russia’s government with oil and gas prices being used as the weapons of choice, and with the original trigger being the Ukrainian crisis. To isolate Russia quickly was not good enough. Why not try to crush, once again, the old “Evil Empire” as defined by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Why not deliver a blow to Russia by turning its thriving economy into worthless rubles and its financial market into junk bonds?’

    February 6, 2015
    The Oil Cold War
    by Gilbert Mercier

  • lysias

    And one has to wonder if the drops in the Chinese stock market are another U.S. countermeasure, this time in response to the Chinese hacking of U.S. government computers.

  • Republicofscotland

    Canspeccy, a direct quote from Trump to CBS news.

    When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems…they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

    Canspeccy…do you see the word rapist? Put your glasses on old boy.

  • CanSpeccy


    This energy warfare, started in the middle of 2014, can only be viewed as a concerted and deliberate effort to attack the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan economies.

    Actually, what happened was that Canada and the US increased their combined oil production by five or six million barrels a day over a period of three or four years, thus driving world supply to exceed demand.

    The development of N. American energy resources was certainly sensible thing for the US to encourage. First, it cuts the US trade deficit which was, and remains, largely dominated by energy imports. Second, it enables the US to derive value from its hydrocarbon energy resources while a market for them remains, i.e., before the world goes beyond oil, due to, increasing energy use efficiency, falling alternative energy costs, and declining Western living standards as measured by energy dependent goods and services.

    If the Russians, Saudis and other exporters don’t like the low price of oil, they know what to do, cut their own production.

  • CanSpeccy

    Bollocks RoS.

    Trump was talking of illegals and has repeatedly made that clear.

    Trump has also repeatedly made it clear that he favors legal Mexican immigration. Furthermore, it is a fact that, among the candidates for the Republican nomination, Trump has greater support among Mexican Americans than anyone else. And, amazingly he has 25% support among blacks, about three times what any recent Republican contender for the Presidency has achieved.

    But the reason for those poll numbers is not hard to understand. The huge flood of illegal immigrants to the US fuels the black economy (below minimum wage jobs, no taxes, no enforcement of workplace health and safety), which denies work to the least skilled American workers who are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic.

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