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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  • lysias

    But it is largely the white working class and lower middle class that supports Trump, largely because they are angry over their diminished economic and social status.

  • Ray Vison

    Don’t make the mistake of going for Assad – he is the whole cause of the brutal bloodshed in Syria and there will be no solution if he remains. Mass murderer.

  • fwl

    Habba you refer quite rightly to Russia being run by a spook but isn’t that the same with other world powers. Under George Bush snr it was obviously so in the states. Anyway what is to be gained by war in Syria? Is it distraction from a crap econ situation? More bucks for military. Industrial elites? Close down last remaining sphere of Russian influence? Lesson to others to toe the line or expect chaos (tho no need for that in Syria)or some looney idea to unless chaos a cross Europe? Or just a cack handed muddled up response to unfolding events. If there is a strategic aim Id like to know what it is even if it is extremely politically incorrect erc.

    Eddie G: Difficult not to think of billions of pounds of ppi money paid out by public banks as not being helicopter money. Effective too maybe if windfall money leads to impulse buying (ignoring for a moment whether such behaviour is socially desirable).

  • Tom Welsh

    “Putin holds that parts of the Former Soviet Union with ethnic Russian populations should be absorbed into Russia”.

    And you don’t? What part of “self-determination” don’t you agree with? Your whole rant about Putin makes me wonder whether you, Craig, are one of the CIA’s paid “bloggers” – you managed to cram enough quarter-truths and disinformation into one paragraph to make that seem the likeliest explanation.

    Crimea wasn’t annexed: almost all of the population voted for it to return to Russia, of which it was part from 1783-1954 (and part of the USSR until 1991, when the part of Russia known as Ukraine became a nation for the first time). And Russia has not formally interfered in any way with Donetsk and Lugansk, which rebelled against the illegal Kiev regime after it showed a strong disposition to torture and kill ethnic Russians. At most, Russia has allowed volunteers to help the Donbass republics, just as Britain and the USA allowed their citizens to fight in the Spanish Civil War – against much the same kind of Fascist opposition. If George Orwell were alive today, I have no doubt whatsoever that he would be a vocal supporter of the Donbass republics.

    As for your personal remarks about Putin, we have it on the unimpeachable authority of Bill Clinton that he never knew Putin to renege on an agreement – which is far more than can be said of any Western leaders in recent years. He worked for the KGB in a junior administrative role, it is true; but when has time with the CIA or the security services in Britain been considered the mark of a thug?

    The trouble in Ukraine was obviously and unmistakably stirred up by the USA; we have Victoria Nuland’s word for it that the US government spent $5 billion procuring the “Maidan revolution”, and also that she personally chose “Yats” as the new prime minister. It’s becoming quite clear that Ukraine is not, never has been, and never will be a viable nation; yet Putin has been careful to do nothing that would break it up.

  • Tom Welsh

    “I really don’t know if the result would be different and with it being under Russian military occupation there is no realistic way to find out. What I can’t quite understand is why you object to demilitarising it under the UN and finding out the truth”.

    Craig, your reply to John Goss seems positively deranged to me. Your objection to the validity of the referendum apparently lies in the presence of Russian soldiers – the “polite men in green”. For a start, I suppose you are aware that there were also Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea, and that representatives of the new Kiev regime had recently been seen burning ethnic Russians alive in Odessa? Possibly the polite men in green were there to prevent the Ukrainians from instituting a similar reign of terror in Crimea.

    More generally, though, can you name any country that has had recent democratic elections or a referendum, and which is not “occupied” by the armed forces of that nation? I hope I don’t have to tell you how many heavily armed US soldiers, sailors, marines, and air force personnel are continuously present in the mainland of the USA – not to mention the National Guard, various police forces, Homeland Security, etc, etc. ad nauseam. So, by your logic, I suppose that invalidates all elections held in the USA, from the President down to local school boards.

  • Republicofscotland

    “Bollocks RoS.

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

    Canspeccy, I provide you with a direct quote from Trump,and you call it bollocks, so now Trumps talking bollocks and you’re correct.

    Canspeccy also said:

    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?

    But Don Lemon said

    CNN’s Don Lemon then pointed out that those reports document immigrants being raped during their journey across the border – not the immigrants raping people after they get here.

    I suppose this is bollocks as well.

    Then a stuttering Trump said..unsure of himself

    Trummp replied, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don. I mean, you know, somebody’s doing it. Who’s doing the raping? How can you say such a thing?”

    So Trumps unsure who’s doing the raping but Canspeccy who can’t find his glasses to see the origional Trump quotes, knows exactly who said what


  • Tom Welsh

    …not to mention the referendum on Scottish independence, which was held while numerous heavily armed units of the British armed forces were occupying Scotland. My God, they even had nuclear-armed submarines! Before the next referendum, all elements of the British armed forces must be expelled from Scotland – and, if possible, from Britain – and the UN must take over the country. Because, as we know, it is impossible to hold a fair and legal election without UN supervision.

  • lysias

    Another interesting recent piece in Global Research:

    It not only reveals lots of details about the plots against Harold Wilson, but it also says this, of which I was unaware:

    It was also reported that Tony Benn, the late Labour figure whose Left wing positions inspired great revulsion on the British political Right was threatened with assassination in the event of his ever assuming the leadership of an elected Labour government. The source of that threat is said to have emanated from the late Airey Neave, an Establishment figure in the Conservative Party who was well-connected to the British military and the security services.

  • CanSpeccy

    @ TW

    What part of “self-determination” don’t you agree with?

    Atta boy, Tom. Go get ’em.

    One sure has to wonder why a former ambassador would spend so much time blogging for a crowd of tame, mostly, commenters. Is it to inform, or to misinform. Certainly, it makes very little sense.

  • Macky

    @Lysias, The golbalresearch list has the 1955 bombing of the Turkish consulate in Greece, which reminds me of watching a BBC documentary about Cyprus, in which the then Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, admitted that the Turks were responsible for the false flag bombing that started the bitter intercommunal violence;

    Makes you wonder what they are upto in Syria.

  • CanSpeccy

    @ RoS

    Canspeccy, I provide you with a direct quote from Trump …

    Yeah, and out of context.

    If you so keen on illegal immigrants, RoS, why not campaign to bring all eleven million of them from Texas, Arizona, etc. to Scotland.

    LOL. At least then we’d hear no more about Scotch Nationalism. It’d be all about La Raza.

    Oh, and did you look at the link I provided above: 2000 immigrant sex criminals deported from Texas alone. But I guess some of those Highland Lasses would like to be raped by an illegal immigrant. Just like the girls in Sweden.

  • lysias

    Airey Neave was himself assassinated in a car-bomb attack at the House of Commons in 1979, allegedly by the Irish National Liberation Army, but there are some other theories. Lord Mountbatten, who according to some accounts took part in the conspiracies against Harold Wilson, was also assassinated, this time by the IRA in 1978.

  • Tom Welsh


    I find it puzzling that Craig takes this anti-Putin line. As a fellow-Scot and libertarian (I think) I find that I agree with Craig about most things, and even where we disagree – as in independence for Scotland and the royal family – I trust his good will. But when it comes to the relative decency and trustworthiness of the Russians and the Americans, I simply don’t understand his views. I can’t believe he is influenced by the MSM, but it sounds as if he is.

  • Salford Lad

    The hostility of Washington to Russia goes back to the Neo-con Wolfowitz Doctrine: which states;
    “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power

    The US has the greatest military force by far in the World with approx 1000 military bases worldwide. This is used to enforce its hegemony of the world financial system with the dollar as the reserve currency and being the beneficiary of the petrodollar.
    Russia and China are the only powers who represent a challenge to this enormous privilege of a reserve currency and petrodollar. They must be dissuaded,disrupted ,isolated.demonised and conquered. Their vast resources plundered by the US Corporations. and financiers.
    Russia has been surrounded by NATO affiliated countries and Nuclear weapons to intimidate it into submission, contrary to the Budapest Agreement between GHW Bush and Gorbachev,
    The US staged coup in Ukraine was to disrupt its trade and assimilation with its European trading partners.
    The war in Syria was to facilitate a gas pipeline from Qatar and Saudi Arabia in competition with Russia, to undermine Russias near monopoly of supply onwards to Europe.
    China is the next target, because of its emergence as a great economic power, hence ‘ the pivot to Asia.’
    China is building new high speed rail systems from Beijng to Berlin to facilitate trade,crossing the Central Asia landmass, bypassing the US Navy control of the maritime choke points and rendering the Naval power obsolete.
    Sir Halford Makinder observed in 1904 in relation to the then British Empire.;
    The Nation that controls the heartland of Central Asia controls the major trade routes and resources and will be Master of the World.
    The US Empire is in decline,,losing its control of the petrodollar and reserve currency status, because of it greed ,hubris and warmongering . Its days are numbered.

  • lysias

    Macky, the term “deep state” (derin devlet in Turkish; “deep state” is a literal translation) was coined by the Turks

  • lysias

    Scipio Aemilianus argued against Cato, who wanted Carthage to be destroyed, that Carthage’s existence was necessary for the survival and wellbeing of Rome. As long, he said, as Rome had Carthage to contend with, virtue would survive in Rome. History, of course, proved him right.

    Where was America’s Scipio Aemilianus to argue that America needed a Soviet Union to contend with?

  • CanSpeccy


    I can’t believe he is influenced by the MSM, but it sounds as if he is.

    Yeah, he must read the Economist, edited edited by the loony Russophobe, Edward Lucas, who in a recent public debate with Peter Hitchens tried to convince an astounded audience that Russia is less of a geopolitical player than Estonia (pop. 1 million) (at 42 minutes in).

  • Mary

    Further on oil price drop.

    Mystery Behind Dropping Oil Prices Solved: Concerted Market Manipulation
    By Ulson Gunnar

    Global Research, February 08, 2015

    ‘Taking this to its logical conclusion, the US and its large collection of client states around the world, are undermining Syria, waging economic war against Russia, destabilizing China at home while chasing their investors out of any nation they’re found in, not based on some moral imperative, but specifically because of the absolute, utter lack of morality. Understanding this cuts through the various invented stories constantly emanating from the Western media, including myths about miraculously dropping oil prices and their “serendipitous” and “coincidental” impact they just so happen to have on all of America’s perceived enemies.

    Even the Washington Post admits there really is no tie between Venezuela, Iran and Russia, except claims that each is “autocratic” and “anti-American.” The real common denominator is their respective resistance to US hegemony in their regions of the world. And while many reasons were invented to explain the convenient drop in oil prices, we can see once again that when events unfold the first question to be asked in identifying the perpetrators is “to whose benefit?” Had the Washington Post fulfilled their duty as journalists and asked this question, readers around the world would not have waited months to finally learn the truth behind dropping oil prices. The answer was simple but ridiculed as “Kremlin propaganda” at the time, but of course, is now fully admitted to to be machinations carried out by Russia’s enemies.’

    Awaiting predictable and further squelching from our friend in Canada.

  • CanSpeccy

    Salford Lad, has it right as to why the US wishes to destroy Russia as a sovereign nation state.

    To pursue this policy the Hegemon has to pretend that no great risk is being taken because Russia is a paper tiger (See: Russia’s insignificant military might). But if the nukes begin to fly, the first Russian targets are likely to be, not Washington or New York, but London, Berlin or Paris: just to remind Washington not to believe their own lies.

  • Laguerre

    the ferocious grip that xenophobia and racism has on the cultures of Eastern Europe. … 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. …but fails to wash as it goes nowhere to explain the rampant anti-semitism in countries like Poland, Lithuania and Hungary,

    I read an interesting article about anti-semitism in Bulgaria by a Bulgarian priest, either Orthodox or Catholic, I don’t remember which. His point was that there was no anti-semitism in Bulgaria, until liberation from the Ottomans, which occurred in the 19th century. Then it came in with a vengeance. That won’t surprise anybody here except those who make it their business to accuse others of anti-semitism.

  • CanSpeccy

    @ Mary

    Awaiting predictable and further squelching from our friend in Canada.

    Actually, I agree with your your conclusion that the US is driven by an “absolute, utter lack of morality.” Power and money they’re the only thing.

    But on the question of oil, the US and Canada have as much right as anyone else to extract oil from the ground. (And even with recent increases in production, North America is still a major net importer of oil). The price of oil would immediately revert to ca $100 if Russia or Saudi or anyone else were to cut their production by a couple of million barrrels a day, but the Russians and Saudis enjoy watching the US frackers bankrupted. That’s why they won’t cut. They want the frackers out of business for the long term and are willing to accept the short-term cost of lower profits.

    Russia is in fact taking great advantage of the low oil price. They’ve let the ruble fall, which has the effect of a high tariff wall behind which to promote the diversification of their economy, replacing imported food, machinery and oil and gas drilling technology and equipment with domestic production.

    This is not a return to Soviet economics, though. First, Russia now has the semblance of a market economy, despite persistent corruption. Moreover, Russia can now draw on Asian economies for technology that they currently lack, something they were unable to do during the cold war because the Asian economies either prohibited technology products for Russia (Japan), or lacked a high tech sector (China).

    As Donald Trump explained, with the possible exception of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton was the worst Secretary of State the US has ever had, having driven Moscow and Beijing into a virtual alliance.

  • lysias

    I’m not sure it’s fair to blame the secretaries of state for policies that were approved by the president, and ultimately imposed by the plutocrats who have the real power.

  • Peter Beswick

    Things that Craig encourages you to say, what’s he like?

    The US don’t want to destroy, they can’t. They want to bully Assad but can’t.

    I hate bullies, I hate the US. I hate liars, I hate the US.

    The US lost in Afghanistan, you would have thouht Vietnam would have taught them a lesson. The US have lost in Syria you would have thought Iraq would have taught them a lesson.

    The US are finished as bullies. So what next? Well you they could go back to crushing Cuba, oh no sorry they realised they lost there too.

    The only person on the whole planet who thinks the US can get what it wants by bullying is Cameron. Guess what US you made twats out of yourselves by embracing Blair you lost your self dignity in the process. Now with nothing left to lose you want to buy Cameron. Guess what you can have him you shit for brains scum of the earth.

  • Mary

    On now. BBC1


    David Dimbleby presents topical debate from Cambridge. On the panel are former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Conservative former chancellor Ken Clarke MP, Labour’s shadow leader of the House of Commons Chris Bryant MP, deputy chairman of UKIP Suzanne Evans and columnist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer.

    The usual. Yawn!

  • fedup

    derin devlet

    Can the etymology of the above be pinned to any particular period? Also if possible with some references. Not being lazy, only exercising parsimony on time spent on reinventing the wheel.

  • John Goss

    “But when it comes to the relative decency and trustworthiness of the Russians and the Americans, I simply don’t understand his views.”

    Tom Welsh, I have the same difficulty. He is spot on on Palestine, Iraq, torture and many other issues, all issues on which MSM present disinformation and misinformation aimed at indoctrinating the susceptible, thus getting rebuke from Craig. Yet over issues like Ukraine, Crimea, Russia he is in line with the spooks behind the NEWSPEAK indoctrination. He must know that that is what it is.

    Perhaps I should not criticise. I am just as opposed to the USA and my opposition takes the form of an irresistable force. I do not hate American people just as Craig does not hate Russian people. It is those in power. However, I believe there is much better reason for despising the US administration than the Kremlin. Craig is too smart to have been sold the indoctrination. So I can only assume he has other reasons which I wish he would share.

  • Peter Beswick

    Or the US are right and Assad would be better dead and ISIS asked to hand their weapons and funding back.

    Oh no the genie is out of the bottle.

    Turn the sand to glass Obama that will show them who is right.

  • lysias

    I wouldn’t call Varoufakis ordinary. I was very impressed by the two books of his that I read, and also by the profile of him that appeared in The New Yorker.

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