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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  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)



    Anything official to back up your claim that US policy is directed towards a world of partnership?”


    You asked us a question, I answered it.

    “Anything official”? – I thought you distrusted everything “official”?

  • lysias

    Since I praised Miles Copeland on this forum a few days ago, I ought to reveal that in the past few days I have finished reading a book, A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, by Said K. Aburish, a deceased Palestinian-Egyptian journalist who seems to have been very well informed and outspoken, and who portrays Copeland as a charlatan and a liar.

  • Peter Beswick

    I think the best thing to do is ask the Equadorian embassy to keep an eye on Assange and then they can double the spending on not looking to Madeleine.

    When Craig nails a subject he really nails it then psychosis can take over.

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)


    “I think most observers would conclude that the US very certainly has plans for world domination.”


    You see to agree with them (please correct me if I’m mistaken).

    To use your own expression: anything *official* to back up your claim that the US very certainly has plans for world domination?


  • Peter Beswick

    “Which is not to say Russia is not a threat”

    Good point but who else can we question whether they are a threat or not.

    And its not the ones that are not say not a threat, they could be the worse or speak to us in words that can’t be heard.

    Or something else

  • Peter Beswick

    Before anyone else considers posting something important I suggest you consider the 2 pencil, 2 nostril underpants on head wibble meditating technique.

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)

    “And one has to wonder if the drops in the Chinese stock market are another U.S. countermeasure”


    And one also has to wonder if our Transatlantic Friend (the holder of several “higher degrees”) could perhaps explain to us in a little more detail how the US managed to bring about the sudden drops in the Chinese stock market.

    (Pause while he looks around for a good link which he can plagiarise)

  • Becky Cohen

    I’m not a fan of the Putin regime particularly with regard to its homophobic and transphobic policies, but isn’t it a bit hypocritical of Cameron to criticise Putin over his annexation of the Crimea when the British government is using basically the same pretext to claim sovereignty over the Falklands/Las Malvinas? Also, Britain is analogous to Russia with regard to the LGBT thing as it recently rejected expanding transgender rights to self identify and refused to allow legal recognition of non-binary gender. Argentina, on the other hand, along with a growing number of countries such as Germany, India, Australia and now Ireland have these more liberal and comprehensive protective laws in place which guarantee freedom of gender identity expression and, hey, they haven’t gone to hell on a handcart. Like the ending of Clause 28, such changes will happen eventually anyway as it’s called progress. However, it seems that this won’t be before certain reactionary elements such as a Ministry of Justice headed by a backwards looking Tory such as Michael Gove avail themselves of the opportunity to pointlessly try to turn back the tide like a bunch of modern day Cnuts.

  • fwl

    Overton window – i hadn’t heard the expression before and I am not sure how we got by without it. Thanks its good to be able to name a concept like that. What did we say before – public gullibility?

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)


    “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.”


    1/. Well, thank you for agreeing with me about President Putin.

    I suppose you know that when the USSR collapsed, a few senior heads in the KGB fell but the institution itself. albeit renamed, survived? Ie, it was not downsized and the vast majority of its operatives lived to “fight” another day in the merry old way. 🙂

    “2/. Re Bush senior, you know perfectly well that he was a political appointment and had no background in secret services work. He was like a number of American citizens who have no absolutely background in foreign affairs and/or the State Department but were (still are) given plum ambassadorial posts.

    Very unlike President Putin, whose entire career was spent in the KGB and who in fact ended up as the KGB boss-man (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Any other countries whose President spent his entire previous career as a spook?

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)

    “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.”


    The writer of the above is obviously more impressed that was Mr Varoufakis’s boss PM Tsipras, who got rid of Varoufakis as a liabilty and has since said some rather unkind (but true) words about him.

  • Peter Beswick

    Becky I wish I had written that any poor sop wnating to chase that hare would soon run out of puff.

    Sorry didn’t mean to say puff and she did say Ireland but didn’t show respect to King Billy.

    So the Syria / Russia / US/ RoW debate has been fully examined, discussed, discected and resolved but its not 11.30pm.

    What I suggest is if anybody can think of anything really realy stupid and then someone else can respond with something unrelated but equally stupid that should do the trick.

  • lysias

    I have no idea how the U.S. could manipulate the Chinese markets. I’m no expert in that matter. But I do remember how, shortly after books starting appearing a few decades ago saying that Japan threatened to surpass the U.S. economically, there was a crash in the Japanese markets, and decades following that of disappointing Japanese economic performance.

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)

    “Airey Neave was himself assassinated in a car-bomb attack at the House of Commons in 1979, allegedly by the Irish National Liberation Army”


    “Allegedly” ?

    What do your fellow-truthers say?


    “Lord Mountbatten, who according to some accounts took part in the conspiracies against Harold Wilson”


    And those “accounts” are wrong.

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)

    My Transatlantic Friend

    “I have no idea how the U.S. could manipulate the Chinese markets. I’m no expert in that matter.”


    So you have no idea, but that does not stop you from suggesting that they did.

    You are a joke.

  • lysias

    Enoch Powell, whom some on this forum admire, considered the assassinations of both Neave and Mountbatten to be the work of the Americans (although he later also blamed MI6). Airey Neave:

    Whilst working in the House of Commons as Paddy Ashdown’s research assistant, Cahill claims to have had around six conversations with the security staff there. The most frequent remark was that “everyone knew” the story behind Neave’s death but that no one could talk about it in detail because it would have been too dangerous. Cahill claims they did not believe INLA killed Neave but that it was an “inside job”. Cahill concluded that Neave was killed by MI6 agents working with the CIA because Neave sought to prosecute senior figures in the intelligence establishment for corruption.[27]

    Another person who did not accept the generally accepted version of events was Enoch Powell, the Ulster Unionist MP. Powell claimed in an interview with The Guardian on 9 January 1984 that the Americans had killed Neave, along with Lord Mountbatten and Robert Bradford MP. He claimed the evidence came from a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with whom he had a conversation.[28]

    On 18 October 1986 Powell returned to the subject of Neave’s death in a speech to Conservative students in Birmingham. He told them that INLA had not killed Neave, but that he had been assassinated by “MI6 and their friends”.

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)

    Well, that’s our Transatlantic Friend disposed of rather satisfactorily this evening, I think.

    But I shall have to keep an eye on him, I fear – he will be back.

  • John Goss

    Becky Cohen, if you have not seen this you might find it interesting.

    Recently some Russian scammers pretended to be Putin’s administration and got Elton John to agree to a meeting with Putin. When he learned of it Putin said no he had not invited Elton John to meet him, but if he wished to meet, Putin would be happy to meet up with him.

  • Habbbakuk (combat cant)

    Transatlantic Friend

    Ah yes – Enoch Powell.

    Wasn’t he the chappie who, in his “rivers of blood” speech gave the example of the little old lady who was the only white living in a street of coloured people ans who had shit pushed through her letter box? The little old lady who was never found despite the best efforts of British journalists of all persuasions?

    As I said, you’re a joke.

    Over and out.

  • lysias

    Habbabkuk (La Vita È Bella)
    4 May, 2015 – 8:56 pm
    That classical scholar Enoch Powell (1st class Honours in Greats from Oxford) was very much opposed to referenda, believing that they were incompatible with the notion of the sovereignty of parliament.

    But it’s true that he didn’t hold any “higher degrees” in the subject 🙂

  • Peter Beswick

    Sometimes I wake up in the night and in the dimmest of available light I think something is moving but it turns out its not. Its not only not moving its not even there.

    How weird is that?

    Weird (Oldham Chron crossword puzzle question; answer Eerie

    If you keep saying not many times it starts to sound weird (but not eeire) so screw you Oldham Chron.

  • fwl

    Would be interesting to try and draw some Ven Overton windows showing the overlaps between countries, say between the Greek Overton window alongside the British. Its always good to see what others are saying eg Varufakis on QT.

  • John Goss

    Lysias, I could hardly believe Enoch Powell held no higher degrees, so I did a search. Not one university had offered him an honorary as far as I could see. Hmm.

    But then in those days there was a strong working-class (as we were known) totally opposed to racists. The univerities too.

    Today the quality of racists has deteriorated and Nigel Farage has not even received an honorary bachelor’s degree. 🙂

  • Herbie

    The NI conflict, including the killings of Neave, Gow, Mountbatten etc need to be seen against a background in which there is a struggle in Britain between British Atlanticists and what might be termed British Gaullistes.

    So, at that time, MI6 is mostly Atlanticist and MI5 is mostly Gaullist. At leadership level.

    Labour is mostly Atlanticist, The Tories mostly Gaullist. Ditto.

    Today, Corbyn is moving the Labour party towards Gaullism, and there is a significant but growing Gaullist group within the Tories.

    Atlanticism is looking a bit rubbish, for very obvious reasons.

    And not just in Britain. Germany and other of the western Europeans feel the same.


    This game isn’t over, and it’s important to understand how the teams line up, otherwise it’ll all get very very confusing.

    Some of them swap shirts mid-game. Often whole teams change side, and back again. Star players are sent off. Managers sacked etc.

    The game is that the US believes itself now in a position to push for its own total global hegemony.

    Those who know what that means, or have suffered under it will likely feel that a horrible prospect.

    If the US can be resisted in its plans then there will have to be a re-ordering of the world along lines everyone assumed was the case already.

    International summit. The US agreeing to take its place amongst the nations of the world and stop behaving like the school bully.

    International law and the UN resolving disputes and so on. The US hates that.

    Isn’t that what most people in the world want.

    Of course.

    Make sure you’re supporting the team you really want to support.

  • fwl

    Funny but QT is Question Time not Quantitive Teasing (which is a neat expression especially if it alludes to monet being printed but not reaching the public) anyway if a society sees that its neighbour’s Overton window looks like its own but also includes some other views it may become curious about that other view.

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