Journalist Schools BBC on Russian Intervention in Crimea

A fellow blogger with substantial experience in Europe sent this BBC footage, which I believe readers will find instructive. There were several things I liked about this segment. First, in contrast to US TV, where two sides who hold strongly opposed views talk past each other, there was a real discussion. Each side actually went beyond its talking points while remaining civil. Second was that the Telegraph writer Liam Halligan debunked some popular perceptions about Russia and Putin.

This conversation also raised another issue about the situation in Russia. The BBC commentators seemed exasperated by the fact that Putin is popular, and kept stressing that his regime was authoritarian. The West has only itself to blame for Putin’s success. Western institutions like Harvard and the IMF turned post-Communist Russia into a great neoliberal lab experiment, and the results were disastrous. Not only did ex-government officials and their cronies engage in a massive plutocratic asset grab (with some well-placed Westerners making sure they got cut a piece of the pie), but conditions for ordinary people deteriorated to an extraordinary degree. Adult male life expectancy fell by four years, a shocking decline. After creating such a debacle, someone like Putin, who reined in the oligarchs and improved conditions for the population at large, would look like a big improvement.

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  1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    Lord save us from ideologues. Whether it’s the Susan Rice/Berkeley/Vichy Left variety, or the John McCain/never-met-a war-he doesn’t-like type. These journalists from the UK do show how to have a substantive, civil debate, avoiding info-phrases and opinion-polled weasel words. Bravo.

  2. BITFU

    So the Soviet Union didn’t collapse, per se. Rather, things were humming along quite nicely until Harvard and IMF decided to ruin everything and turn it into a “great neoliberal lab experiment”?

    That’s an interesting take.

    BTW, here’s an interesting article from 1995 about Russia’s plunging life expectancy.

    It wasn’t just adult males who suffered, but the entire population. The experts at the time actually described the situation by saying it was a “demographic disaster” and “there is no historical precedent for this anywhere in the world.”

    BTW: The biggest killer of the men–by a very long distance—was….?

    Which I’m sure was the result of Havard-IMF-Neoliberalism, as opposed to epidemic cancer and never-before-seen birth defects…which were caused by….?

    Economists from Chicago???

    1. Chris Geary

      I fail to see where anyone has claimed that Harvard/IMF caused the Soviet Union to collapse. What is indisputable is that the shock therapy/neoliberal imposed afterward was an unmitigated humanitarian disaster. The economic policies taken were not the only alternative.

      And pray, why do you think alcohol abuse became endemic? Is it just a coincidence that as a vicious economic environment was enforced, people turned to substance abuse? Seriously? How can you fail to see how economic collapse has knock on effects on society?

    2. SufferinSuccotash

      The neoliberal lab experiment didn’t begin until after the Soviet Union collapsed–“post-Communist Russia.”
      Read much?

      1. Vatch

        The neo-libs (or neo-cons — I get them confused) really did harm Russia’s recovery from the long disaster of communism. However, there are some problems in Russia and Eastern Europe that were caused by the communists, and which will be very harmful for generations to come: environmental pollution.

        Chernobyl is just the tip of the iceberg. The Dying of the Trees, by Charles Little, is mostly about U.S. forests, but it has a short section (pages 42-47) on some of the ecological catastrophes in the former Soviet bloc. The book is out of print, but it’s still available from public libraries and some used book dealers. Page 42:

        The Black Triangle, so named by its inhabitants, is a large industrial area bounded on the west by Dresden (in the former East Germany), on the east by Wroclaw, Poland, and on the south (at the apex of the up-side-down triangle) by Prague, Czechoslovakia.

        I’m not going to risk carpal tunnel syndrome by copying all the reasons why this is called “The Black Triangle”. I think you can imagine why. Page 43:

        “In one chemical plant,” Bruck told me, “six thousand workers are dying a slow chemical death.”

        What happened from 1917 to 1991 will have a noticeable effect on the death rate of Eastern Europe and Russia for generations to come. I hope the current Putin government is doing something to clean up the pollution.

    3. JohnnyGL


      According to the above data, GDP per head fell by more than 50% between 1989 and 2000. What do you think would happen to the USA if you crushed people’s living standards on that sort of level? Keep in mind there was a massive increase in inequality and crime during the same period, so the numbers probably understate what a hot job the West did to turn Russia into a failed state. Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ looks pretty tame by comparison.

      Yes, the economists who administered ‘shock therapy’ and privatized everything in site should take a huge chunk of the blame. They trashed a country and ruined people’s lives.

        1. Thor's Hammer

          The lab is being repeated again in the USA. Already we have a second world health care system and a third world pattern of income distribution, corruption, and failure of the rule of law.

          At least we have a first world military system, although search as it might it never seems to be able to start a war it can win, no matter small or poorly armed the opponent.

          1. Lonely_in_Dallas

            Check out the URL cited by Vatch. Notice how many “third world” countries have a more equitable income distribution (i.e., lower Gini coefficient) than the USA?

      1. Vatch

        Johnny, thanks for that information. You prompted me to search for the Russian Gini coefficient, and it looks like Russia is economically a bit more equitable than the U.S. This shows Putin in a favorable light.

        (0 represents perfect income equality, 100 perfect inequality)
        Various Third World nations: above 50
        United States: 45
        Russia: 42
        Sweden: 23 (very close to income equality)

          1. Vatch

            Thanks, Johnny. Clearly, the U.S. plutocrats are winning the class war against the rest of the U.S. population.

      2. shtove

        I guess GDP collapse is to do with the price of oil.
        Governments often give themselves too much credit or are blamed unfairly

  3. Harry

    Interesting interview. I dont think I have ever liked one single participant of that interview. However, I have also been debating this issue with some Republicans and my points were echoed by all the participants of the debate except Andrew Neil. It seems that Wingnut Americans are peculiarly badly informed.

  4. MikeNY

    Very entertaining. Liam from The Telegraph knew his stuff.

    Though my American ears burned a bit when he mentioned something about “the third-world grubby fusion of money and politics”.

  5. Russian Patriot

    Somehow the perhaps valid dislike of everything that smells of neocon or washington consensus this blog is finding itself an apologist of cynical authoritarian regimes like Putin’s. You are smart enough to ser beyond the lies and smoke and mirrors, Naked Capitalism.
    5+ years reader and Russian patriot

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We have said repeatedly that Putin is a thug. We aren’t under any illusions about him. However, our issue is that the West is depicting him as a Hilter-style aggressor, interested in expansion. They leave out the fact that the West provoked Putin by reneging on the deal between Bush 1 and Gorbachev, that Nato would stay out of former Warsaw Pact members and then destabilizing the Urkraine, with the intent (among other things) of getting Nato in. Putin was provoked and his reaction was predictable.

      It’s possible for both sides to have lots of warts. Our point is that the West is not in the right on this one, regardless of what you think of Putin.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I must add that in this propaganda-dominated discussion, where Western officials and the media are trying to paint everything as black and white, that being anti-US propaganda and foreign policy blunders does run the risk of begin seen as pro-Russian.

      1. Jackrabbit

        The ‘enemy within’ charge is just intimidation meant to quell valid criticism and ‘provide space’ for TINA policy making.

  6. Vatch

    Liam Halligan said:

    [Putin] has taken on the oligarchs

    Okay, sure, but in what way has he taken on the oligarchs? He put Khordorkovsky in prison, which certainly frightened the oligarchs, but in what way did this change their behavior? I’m sure they stopped directly opposing Putin, but in what way did the Russian people benefit from Putin’s actions regarding the oligarchs? I suspect that little changed, other than that the oligarchs had to recognize Putin as their boss. He’s the tsar, and they are the boyars. What about the serfs?

    I would love to find out more about this — I read Naked Capitalism to learn!

      1. Vatch

        Oh, goody! Anti-semitism! “The Rise of Putin and The Fall of The Russian-Jewish Oligarchs” on Youtube. If it were 10 minutes long, I might try watching it. I’m not going to spend 50+ minutes of my life on what might well be an update of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. “Pogrom” is a Russian word, after all.

    1. JohnnyGL

      Agreed, if anyone has done a write-up on this, I’d be curious to see. I know the capital flight in the ’90s was massive. Not nearly so much during the Putin years.

    2. c1ue

      Read this if you want to understand the difference between a “Western” oligarch and a Russian one:

      Net net – one does what he’s told and is allowed to play with yachts and soccer clubs, the other tells the President/Prime Minister/King what to do.

    3. MRW

      If you wanted to know more about this, you should have been reading about this 10 years ago when all the good commentary was available. Putin, incidentally, put Khodorkovsky in jail–chased him across Europe–because he was trying to sell Yuko Oil to Exxon via Cheney. When Putin jailed him, Khodorkovsky handed his Yuko shares off to Lord or Baron Jacob Rothschild, who handling his oil affairs until Khodorkovsky got out of jail.

      Liam Halligan knows his stuff. Thanks for posting this, Yves.

      1. Vatch


        So please share some of what you learned when you read about this 10 years ago. I’m sure a lot of the commentary is still available on the internet; please point us to it.


        1. MRW

          I would be happy to if I had not lost a hard drive, Vatch. I PDF’d copious amounts of documents, none of which I can re-capture because they are gone. (Even if I could give you the URLs, you couldn’t read them because they are gone, and I would have to spend hours uploading them to some file service.) I became distressed at what happened in the 90s in the emergent new Russia, the suicides of ordinary people, the American interference in the former USSR’s efforts to handle the breakup. What Jeffrey Sachs, et al, did was repellent.

        2. MRW


          I’m sure a lot of the commentary is still available on the internet; please point us to it.

          If you think the commentary exists, and you really give a shit, then do your own homework.
          Or do you need help with search terms?

          1. Vatch

            I did find some things, but they don’t put Putin in a very favorable light. I guess I do need help with search terms. Here’s a recent example of how Putin is “helping” Russians:

            Russia blocks internet sites of Putin critics

            (Reuters) – Russia blocked access to the internet sites of prominent Kremlin foes Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov on Thursday under a new law critics say is designed to silence dissent in President Vladimir Putin’s third term.

            The prosecutor general’s office ordered Russian internet providers to block Navalny’s blog, chess champion and Putin critic Kasparov’s internet newspaper and two other sites, and, state regulator Roskomnadzor said.

            The move was the latest evidence of what government opponents see as a crackdown on independent media and particularly the internet, a platform for dissenting views in a nation where state channels dominate the airwaves.
            Wikipedia on Putin and the oligarchs

            The most famous oligarchs of the Putin era include Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska, Mikhail Fridman, Mikhail Prokhorov, Alisher Usmanov, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg, Leonid Michelson, Vagit Alekperov, and still Vladimir Potanin and Vitaly Malkin.

            Between 2000 and 2004, Putin apparently won a power-struggle with the oligarchs, reaching a ‘grand-bargain’ with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain most of their powers, in exchange for their explicit support – and alignment with – his government.

            The political power of oligarchs diminished significantly after Vladimir Putin became president, though others have become oligarchs during his time in power and often due to personal relations with Putin, such as the rector of the institute where he obtained a degree in 1996, Vladimir Litvinenko, and Putin’s childhood judo teacher Arkady R. Rotenberg (Russian).

  7. Steven Greenberg

    We seem to have this uncontrollable urge to “do something”, even when there isn’t much to be done.

    Even I have the troubling thought that we can’t just sit there and do nothing, but the choice isn’t between doing something and doing nothing. The choice is between doing something to make the situation worse and doing nothing. In that case, doing nothing does seem to be the better alternative.

    With the empty threats that Obama has been making against Russia, it calls to mind Mark Twain’s statement, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

    Or as I have always said, “Never make a threat that you aren’t willing to carry out.” It would be the height of foolishness to carry out some of the threats that have been made.

    1. MRW

      We shouldn’t have done anything in the first place. What we need explained is how Victoria Nuland got the upper hand to operate in Ukraine.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      I think the urge to do something was the driving force behind U.S. intervention on in Libya, France and Italy are different matter, but beyond political points, there was no particular plan. The idea that European powers would run an orperation on their own was a threat to soft American hegemony, and if it appears the US is powerless, our local aparatchiks may have to get out of dodge or take a decidedly anti US position. I think our urge is to justify the empire whether through run of the mill greed or a post modern white man’s burden, a democratic favorite, and not being seen as able to do something frightens the DC and Big Business Elite for various reasons.

      How soon before Central and South American countries realize they can rid themselves of American based imperialism?

  8. mf

    I grew up in a soviet block, socialist Poland to be precise. The claims that Liam Halligan makes remind me strongly of claims made then by left leaning journalists who would periodically come to the soviet block, stay in a hotel, and then exude expertly opinions about how things were not so bad after all. You do not live in a country, particularly a tormented country, unless you live there as a subject with nowhere else to go. Coming with a passport and a ticket to go back home does not do the trick. I think he just likes to feel superior to the riffraff that follows the cold war groupthink, he thinks. This is his journalistic MO.
    Events in Crimea look extremely familiar to anyone who lived in a soviet block. This is just another fraternal intervention by the old USSR. The propaganda is extremely familiar (a fascist threat, now sprinkled with protection of Russian minority), as are the methods. While I have no proof (and I doubt there will ever be one), I strongly suspect that “mysterious snipers” in Kiev were in fact Russian. I base it on personal experience during the time of Solidarity in Poland. If you are an unarmed protester facing riot police and a prospect of military crackdown, the last thing you want to do is to shoot at them, and even laster thing is to shoot at both sides to create an appearance of out of control civil war. The only side that benefits from this is the government, if it wants an excuse for a crackdown. In Ukraine a small miracle happened, and Ukrainian army patriotically refused to suppress Maidan. This is exactly what you hope for as a civilian protesters. At this point the Quisling had to run back to Moscow, and Putin put in place Plan B, the Crimean Anschluss. Complete with sham referendum, staged in approximately one week. Reports of 95% approval are factually wrong, as Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum, and even for those who did vote the results were probably falsified. There are reports in regional newspapers that in one of the cities the vote count was 120% of the population (Moscow must have had old census data and was too lazy to even credibly fake reality). Regardless, how can you prepare a referendum on something this important in one week?
    We have to face the reality, that Russia is back to her old ways. Except now she has nukes on day one, and in some ways even more virulent ideology than the ideology of Bolshevik revolution. Back then, particularly in post-Stalinist era, the ideology of the state at least theoretically put the common man upfront. It was a theory, but it had some moderating effect after the death of Stalin. Today, there is not even that. The ideology domestically is raw fascism, a power structure based on a strong leader and oligarchs who control industries personally loyal to him, plus revanchist aggression abroad that keeps the masses entertained and enthralled by some sort of a feeling of national pride.
    It is a grave menace, at least as grave as the old soviet union. If the left in the US continues to defend this, as it has been ,the left will be back to “we saw the future and it works”. Kolyma, just a malicious rumor spread by imperialist propaganda.
    The thing to do here is not to start a war, but repeat the cold war thing. Unite and block any further advance. This will deflate Putin to a point when his own people tire of him and get rid of him. If he consolidates power further, we may have a really big problem within a relatively few years.

    1. allcoppedout

      Couldn’t agree more MF – the only players missing is my country (UK) bristling with battleships and Empire troops, and the Ottomans (pre-occupied with Twitter?)

      I knew the Marriotowski well. The academics were employed by the World Bank telling everyone the land of milk and honey would be in place in 150 days. The journos listen to these wuckfits in the bar and otherwise brown-nosed visiting dignitaries. Never saw anyone visiting real people totting on garbage tips under the blessings of transitional capitalism. A lot couldn’t even pick up on the microwave background of the Terror.

      The new ideology was seen as just like the old Soviet muck, only not as fair. Crimea is both Russian imperialism and (possibly) engineered by the USA. Part of me thinks it’s an attack on productive Europe (Germany mostly), the idea being to force up gas prices for American competitors.

      The public argument is between opposing bunglewits. RT has the best-looking women and fireworks. Argument over then …

    2. harry

      I would not describe Halligan or the Telegraph as particularly friendly to Russia. Neither would I describe Portillo as likely to be seen as a Russiaphile or secret Soviet sympathiser.

      I guess the main point is that the current claims in the US and UK media about the current situation are pretty absurd by even recent standards.

    3. BondsOfSteel

      Great comment. Except the bit about the “left” in the US defending Putin’s actions.

      1) There is no “left” in the US. There is only right and center right. The left has become a bugbear… just look at the word “liberal”. It’s only used as a pejorative.

      2) No one outside of Russia likes Putin. Most of my more liberal friends were already boycotting Russia… refusing to buy Russian goods (mostly Vodka) or even watch the Olympics because of their state sponsored homophobia and their imprisonment of Pussy Riot.

    4. Vatch

      Thanks, mf. Your description of the Putin regime as fascistic is very insightful, and somewhat ironic, since so many people have been complaining about the fascists in Ukraine. Your evaluation of Liam Halligan’s probable hotel based expertise on Russia is very interesting. When I watched the video, I noticed more than once that he went out of his way to tell us about his frequent visits to Russia. It was as if he were sensitive about the gaps in his knowledge, and he wanted people to know how smart he is. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but that’s how it seemed.

    5. MRW

      The US doesn’t need to get involved in the animosities between Poland and Russia. You may have grown up with them. We didn’t.

    6. c1ue

      Thanks Zbigniew for your thoughts.
      After all, there were all sorts of Referendums in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, in Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1999, etc.
      Oh wait, there weren’t.
      Crimea looks far more like Kosovo in 2008.
      Shame the free West set such a precedent, but there you go: sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

    7. Yves Smith Post author

      I read Halligan as trying to counter the bad/incorrect anti-Russia propaganda, like the economy is totally dependent on oil or that Putin’s rule depends on his authoritarianism, when he’s popular domestically despite that. That makes Halligan look pro Russia/pro Putin in context. I would hope (but I don’t know) that he’d come off as more balanced if he weren’t pushing against the BBC extremists.

      1. Nathanael

        I don’t see any evidence that Putin is particularly popular domestically. Sure, he isn’t extremely *un*popular, but it’s not as if he won an honest landslide.

    8. Fiver

      No. the neo-Nazi are now now in charge in Ukraine, placed there with substantial US overt and covert support. An deal was reached between the illegitimate ‘interim’ Ukraine Government, Russia, with German and France participation that would’ve seen tensions drawn down, the prospects of a another fair election, and other goods for Ukraine and its new democracy. Those gains were trashed by armed neo-fascists in the heart of the Maidan group who went on to seize power in a blatant, brazen coup. This was about as stupid a move as the US has made since the invasion of Iraq. All those calling for ‘tough sanctions’ or ‘harsh punishment’ or even war have lost touch with reality. Russia did not start this. Its response was both predictable and effective, with minimal loss of life, or even disruption of a serious nature. The US destroyed several Arab/Muslim countries at the cost of millions of deaths/injuries/refugees, including the current horrors in Syria, and throughout violated just about every International or domestic law on the books in doing so.

      Putin as a leader in a very dangerous world under constant de-stabilization by the US makes the likes of McCain, or Kerry, of Canada’s Harper or virtually the enitre mainstream media look like silly little monkeys pretending to human affairs.

      1. Jackrabbit

        Yes. We _should_ be talking about neocon over-reach instead of pointing fingers at Putin.

        Like all ideologues, the neocons believe that the end justifies the means. They use/manipulate the US for their own purposes. Wasn’t Iraq enough of disaster to alert us to their vile agenda?

    9. Jackrabbit

      I grew up in a soviet block, socialist Poland to be precise.
      At least you are honest about your biased perspective.

      . . . stay in a hotel, and then exude expertly (sic) opinions . . .
      Actually he said that he had lived there.

      unless you live there as a subject with nowhere else to go.
      Raising the bar much? What you propose is a he-said-she-said where no on on the outside can have an opinion

      This is just another fraternal intervention by the old USSR.
      Confirming your bias. Live in the past much?

      The propaganda is extremely familiar . . .
      As is the “demonize the dictator”/”Red menace” propaganda that the west is putting out.

      While I have no proof [that the snipers were Russian] . . .
      My understanding is that the current Ukrainian govt has not even attempted to investigate. Why is that if they had (ANY) reason to suspect Russia?

      If you are an unarmed protester facing riot police and a prospect of military crackdown, the last thing you want to do is to shoot at them, and even laster thing is to shoot at both sides to create an appearance of out of control civil war. The only side that benefits from this is the government, if it wants an excuse for a crackdown.
      First, you’re frame of reference is laughable because by definition “an unarmed protestor” can’t shoot at anyone. But more importantly: no one is accusing the protestors of shooting – they are widely recognized as having been peaceful. The accusations are against the neo-nazi nationalist groups.

      . . . Crimean Anschluss. . . . Reports of 95% approval are factually wrong . . . Tartars boycotted the referendum
      Most people believe that since a majority of Crimeans are Russian/Russian-speaking the vote would’ve favored independence anyway. Isn’t that really why the Tartars boycotted? They did so ONLY as a attempt to discredit the results. And “95% approval” is purposely misleading – because vote results are not the same as “approval”.

      Regardless, how can you prepare a referendum on something this important in one week?
      Yes, that’s a good point. But your analysis on the whole lacks context and objectivity.

      We have to face the reality, that Russia is back to her old ways. . . . a grave menace . . .

      The ideology domestically is raw fascism, a power structure based on a strong leader and oligarchs
      Wait, which country are you talking about? Maybe you are not aware of developments in the US?

      If the left in the US continues to defend this . . .
      THE LEFT IS NOT DEFENDING PUTIN. Objections are directed at the role of the neocon protaganists like Nuland.

      Those who are trying to counter valid criticism are simply spreading ‘the enemy within’ propaganda. This is really despicable behavior that needs to be called out.

      The thing to do here . . .
      Your clear bias discredits any prescription you may make. And given your bias, it is not surprising that you push for a new cold war, nor that you do so as a TINA necessity.

    10. OIFVet

      I also was born in the former Soviet Bloc, Bulgaria to be exact. Your advocacy for a new cold war is beyond foolish, particularly since what is happening in Ukraine is exclusively the consequence of the actions and policies of delusional neocons who pushed Russia too far this time. All in all your fear mongering causes me to be scared not of Russia but of those like you whose extreme Russophobia renders them incapable of any objective and nuanced analysis and leads to extreme policy positions as evidenced by your post.

      PS Why is it that Poland seems to have a national commitment to antisemitism? Every time I catch a cab with a Polish driver I have to hear another version of how the Jewish conspiracy is responsible for everything from the financial crisis to Poland’s inability to repel any invading army.

  9. LizinOregon

    My favorite bit was where the politician was challenged to state what she would do instead of letting her natter on about the ineffectiveness of the govt. actions.

  10. Jackrabbit

    Its remarkable how they ignore the US and especially US neocons in this discussion. Liam talks of “the West” as having supported the demonstrators and the coup.

    As long as neocon tracks are covered they will remain in place – pushing their agenda behind the scenes.

    It appears that the media, even in formats like this one, does not want to ‘go there’ because the next question is: why has nobel peace prize-winning Obama backed neocons?

    1. Jackrabbit

      In general, the media wants to frame this as: “what do we do” instead of “how did we get here?”

      They’d say that this forward-looking bias is more relevant but it effectively covers up the screw-ups. Another example of crapification?

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        The MSM has been a stenographer outfit for decades. I blame journalism school for turning out a lobotomized labor pool, but the mm is sing plane story is in their wheel house. They get press releases which remind them the plane is still missing, and they don’t have to pretend to understand anything because the experts are just guessing.

        Have you noticed CNN’s Royal watcher is now an aeronautics expert?

    2. MRW

      I agree, jackrabbit: “As long as neocon tracks are covered they will remain in place – pushing their agenda behind the scenes.” Just what the hell are they they doing.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      Obama sought out Joe Lieberman to be his mentor. Obama claimed in 2004 he might have voted for the Iraq War if he received Senate briefings, and I think the lesson is that the man is a snake.

      I know his cultists love him and his bio reinforced liberal sensibilities among the NPR crowd, but the piece in Harpers about Barack Hoover Obama still hasn’t been replaced as the predictor of Obama’s behavior. To keep it simple, the neocons were tossed or marginalized by Dubya and de spiced by the DFHs which meant in Obama’s mind association with the neocons and more nuanced, yeah I know, versions of t heir policies would let him appear as the wise man above it all. I think his vanity and bloodlust aren’t given enough discussion in the article, but those are flavorings as opposed to what drives him.

      1. Nathanael

        Yep. Obama is a deceitful betrayer of the people who vote for him. So’s Andrew Cuomo for what it’s worth.

    4. OIFVet

      Spot on Jackrabbit. The “leftist” media is strangely silent about the neocon role in this fiasco. Its very scary that we learned nothing from past neocon disasters and that these morons are still in a position to cause more of them in the first place.

  11. Glen

    What a difference from when Georgia was invaded to now.

    I just didn’t hear all the war mongers braying like mad dogs to “do something”. Could it be because the President and PM were “their guys”?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      There was quite a bit of lunacy, but the financial market situation sapped their strength. Georgia was clearly the aggressor and tried to grab South Ossetia while the US was consumed with its beauty pageant. I don’t think Saakashkvii would have turned into a sympathetic character.

      I should point out that Banger who posts in these parts has suggested that Dubya himself put the neocons out to pasture as the Iraq War wore on, and Dubya was still popular with the GOP base which meant McCain had to stay under control. Obama had to toss Powers after her Hillary comments and was largely the Democratic nominee because h e wasn’t a senator in 2002.

      I don’t think it entered the President or Presidential candidates speeches, but Palin’s gibberish about Russia and Putin didn’t come out of no where. She was parroting concerns which were out there. There are no Presidential candidates at the moment except for Hillary who is from the deranged Clinton triangulation politics school which has only worked for Bill and against the really deranged and extreme GOP antics.

  12. diptherio

    Note how the host is respectful of the white male guest and lets him talk but is disrespectful (some might even say belittling) to the black female guest. Glad to see that soft racism/sexism isn’t just an American thing…{sigh}

    1. Michael G

      Diane Abbott (the black female guest) is well able to look after herself. Though as one of the last socialist Labour MPs, she is one of a dying breed. She and Michael Portillo are the left-right regulars on the programme.

    2. Michael G

      It is easier if you leave aside value judgements. Putin had three choices:
      1) Do nothing. Whatever else, this would have set a disastrous precedent for other border states.
      2) The Georgia solution, which he has adopted. Annex or set up a client government in the pro-Russian area of the country. Cheap and simple.
      3) The GW Bush solution. Invade. Very expensive and likely to lead to a quagmire.
      Western sanctions are more or less pointless. Germany needs the gas. London needs oligarchs for its money laundering industry.
      Nevertheless, there are consequences of the Georgia solution both for the West and Putin.
      The problem for the West is that at minimal cost, Putin can turn the screws on the rump of the Ukraine. If the West helps, it will be expensive. If it turns aside, it will send a powerful message to other countries that they should pay attention to Russia, rather than countries that just talk.
      Putin is left with two problems. Russia will be bordered by a hostile country, rather than a neutral country. And he has the risk that pro-Russian activists that he does not control, will create civil disturbances that force him to intervene and lead him into an expensive and unwanted GW Bush type mess.

      1. Nathanael

        Putin had much smarter choices.

        Actually, “do nothing” *was* the smart choice. But the other smart choice was to engineer a Bismarck-like annexation where he comes out looking like roses. Instead, Putin did it the dumb way.

  13. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thank you for this BBC piece and particularly for the second paragraph of your introductory remarks. IMO the focus of U.S. foreign policy needs to be narrowed and redirected toward the interests of the American people.

    Setting aside the current situation in Ukraine and Crimea for a moment, has there been a single U.S. foreign policy success over the past two decades, and arguably much longer? By “Success” I mean a policy that has benefited the majority of the American people versus some narrow special interests… recalling the offshoring of jobs under ‘globalization’ policies, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.

    Now we have this. That the neoliberals with their Shock Doctrine and looting, and the neocons with their Cold War roots and ethos, retain any credibility at all is a tribute to the cleverness of their funding sources and structures, their propaganda and control of corporate media, and their ideological capture of key institutions. For the policies they have initiated based on their ideology are a recurring litany of massive failure that have cost the people of this nation trillions of dollars of our national wealth, resulted in lost and damaged lives for tens of thousands of people, deflected our attention away from important domestic and global policy initiatives (think infrastructure and carbon), concentrated wealth in the hands of a few, and hugely impaired our democracy.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Nuclear disarmament and until Obama needed another war the agreement with Gaddafi to disarm his chemical weapons seemed to be doing well, and I suppose it’s over 20 years ago, but the breakup of the USSR was probably handled about as well as could be expected. I think it could have been a whole lot worse. Certainly, there is better positive joint police activities, but those are overshadowed by the war on terror/drug wings. The case is similar with various NGOs operating with government assistance. The expansion of the internet, but many of the improvements came from the efforts of nameless bureaucrats and ngos as opposed to the power brokers.

      Getting American celebrities to better photo ops in crummy parts of the world? Angelina Jolie adopting children sounds better than a doped up Jane Fonda in Vietnam.

      More international baseball and basketball players?


      1. Nathanael

        Nuclear disarmament. Mostly the work of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, but the US government can be given credit for going along with it.

        Frankly, Macedonia was a US success, thanks General Wesley Clark!

        Yeah, can’t think of any other foreign policy successes since, damn, the Korean War I think.

    2. Fiver

      You neglect the millions of deaths, tens of millions of injuries, tens of trillions in property damage, etc., inflicted on other nations/peoples without any legitimate justification, and that’s only since WWII and the project of global Empire – looking back, the toll is if anything worse.

      The US cannot and will not meet its own challenges, and cannot and will not bet able to play a crucial role in shaping global solutions to global problems, until it faces down its enduring roots in violence as a means of acquisition.

  14. John Hemington

    I have rarely seen so much uninformed misinformation about what has transpired in the Ukraine and Crimea. For some straight answers read the following post from The Polemicist (Jim Kavanagh). Kavanagh does not live in the Ukraine but is extremely familiar with what goes on there. Read this then attempt to digest the massive misinformation being circulated in the British and U.S. media. /.(Charge of the Right Brigade). Short summation, there were no winners for the people of the region, only for the Oligarchs from wherever they may hail. Even the venerable Financial Times has been beating the drum for war — insanity is, it would appear, contagious.

    1. Nathanael

      It should be pretty obvious that there are no winners, given that we seem to be back to the era of blatant military land-grabs and coups. That’s *usually* a bad sign.

  15. Hugh

    I have always thought that the US and the West missed a singular opportunity to begin a new post-Cold War era by failing to give aid to Russia after the breakup of the USSR to transition away economically and politically from the authoritarian nature of that state. Instead they unleashed the Chicago Boys and promoted a rah rah up by your own bootstraps approach to the economy of the successor states, especially Russia. I think this was deeply cynical. The idea was under the guise of because free markets to weaken Russia to such an extent that it could never pose a threat to the US and West again. And if you look at the Russia of this period, it succeeded. I mean the dreaded Russian army couldn’t even put down a separatist uprising in Chechnya.

    Kleptocracy had already taken hold of the elites in the US and West for a good ten years by the time of the Soviet breakup. So there wasn’t a prayer that they were going to foster real democracy, which they had pretty much given up on, in a country with no tradition of it.

    I should note parenthetically that any agreements made between the US and the USSR lost force when the USSR went out of existence. They could be superseded by new treaties with Russia, or tacitly maintained as long as both parties saw an interest in doing so. But it was known from the outset that Poland, the European anchor of the Warsaw Pact and with its own long history with Russia, was going to push for membership in NATO and Europe at the earliest possible date. The Baltics too because of their history with Russia were going to go the same route. After that, the obstacles to eastern expansion were essentially gone. The Russians did not like this but they were not in a position to do anything about it.

    With the exception of the quagmire of the former Yugoslavia, this meant that the new border of Europe went up to Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and in the North some parts of Russia proper. The odd man out of these was Ukraine, split between its Ukrainian majority and Russian minority. It was corrupt and oligarchized like Russia with no democratic tradition, but it trended toward Europe until Yanukovych.

    Given Russia’s post-Soviet history, it was no surprise that Russians would turn to a strongman and pine for the days of the old USSR. Putin did not suppress the oligarchs. Rather he came to a modus vivendi with them. The re-emergence of Russia was fueled by an energy hungry West. It may have residual industries from the old Soviet era, but its real status comes from being a big commodities producer, especially in energy. This has led to a resurgence in Russian nationalism/imperialism. The Sochi Olympics were an important symbol of this. The seizure of Crimea is another. It is, of course, completely hypocritical given Putin’s brutal suppression of the Chechens. But even if Crimea is an economic drain. It is a great geostrategic win for Putin since it secures the naval base at Sevastopol and with it Russian naval access to the Mediterranean and the Mideast. But it is not an unmitigated success for Putin. The election of Yanukovych presented a golden opportunity for Putin to make a move to fold that country back into the Russian hegemonic orbit, but Putin misplayed him. The Europeans offered Ukraine a lousy deal which most Ukrainians would still have opted for. Putin should have offered a better deal on easy terms, before the European deal was announced. Instead he did his deal in reaction and too late. This sparked a revolt in Ukraine, no doubt cheered on by American neocons, and the removal of Yanukovych. While this was a popular uprising, it was primarily a northern (Ukrainian nationalist) one. That it was going to feature prominently “fascist” elements in light of the Ukrainian political scene was a given. If you think a successful street revolution is not going to have a lot of street fighters in it, dream on. As it is, Putin now has a deeply divided neighbor with what looks like a strongly anti-Russian government in perpetuity. He can take his winnings, go home, and deal with the new realities he has helped create in Ukraine. Or he can risk further incursions, now in the east of Ukraine, and provoke a US and European backlash which he has so far managed to avoid and which they don’t really want to make.

    The danger for Putin is that he might again miscalculate (just as the US and Europeans have also miscalculated to date). Personally, I think he is. I don’t think he has an exit strategy for this. He is stirring up Russian nationalist sentiment in East Ukraine which he may not be able to control. I don’t know if his game is to annex these areas or seek greater autonomy for them (essentially making them Russian satellites), weakening the Ukrainian state, and slowing its turn to Europe. The danger here is, as I said, provoking a Western backlash. And in this, re-awakening vast stores of anti-Russian sentiment across Eastern and Central Europe.

    1. Jackrabbit

      . . . resurgence in Russian nationalism/imperialism . . .
      Resurgence in nationalism seems understandable since it was so low after the end of the cold war. It seems that what you are calling ‘imperialism’ is the free trade zone that Russia wants to set up with the former Russian republics. I’m not sure what is so wrong with that other than that a large number of Western Ukrainian may prefer to be in the EU. But as you’ve pointed out previously, the EU is NOT very keen on incorporating a struggling Ukraine into its ‘club’.

      Putin misplayed him . . . cheered on by neocons . . .
      Was ‘misplaying’ Yank Putin’s miscalculation or underestimating the ire of the Obama Administration after Snowden and Syria? Nuland would not likely be serving cookies to Ukrainian protestors without approval. And neocons did more than ‘cheering’ – Nuland has admitted to $5 billion of support.

      The danger for Putin is that he might again miscalculate . . . He is stirring up Russian nationalist sentiment in East Ukraine which he may not be able to control. I don’t know if his game is to annex these areas or seek greater autonomy for them . . .
      A more balanced view is: either side may miscalculate. Russia has suggested a federated government that would provide some degree of autonomy in different regions. By supporting Russian nationalism in the east and south he may just be hedging against a US/West ‘miscalculation’ and/or a ‘miscalculation’ by the regime in Kiev.

      Putin has struck me as rather rational and cool-headed, if ruthless. Your musings suggest that you may be somewhat affected by the ‘crazy dictator’ propaganda. In my opinion, its the neocons and Ukrainian neo-nazi’s ideologues that are most worrisome as they have agendas that that they might believe are well served by a ‘miscalculation’. (for which Putin would be the scapegoat).

      If you haven’t already, I highly recommend The Charge of the Right Brigade (ht John Hemington). Its a bit long but well worth it.

    2. Fiver

      The US has been after Putin from the moment he stopped Obama in his tracks from raining death on Syria by vigorously contesting the evidence vis a vis the alleged Syrian forces’ chemical weapons attack in August 2013, then brokering a completely reasonable solution. The neocons were absolutely out of their minds with rage that anyone could dare to dispute the absolute right of the American State to do whatever it wanted, law or no law – and do it showing real leadership rather than howling for blood.

      The anti-Russian campaign began immediately, with every effort made to destroy the Sochi Olympics, kicking off with several fortuitously timed-and-placed terror attacks. No matter that the Russian position was correct in Syria, and again in Ukraine. It was the EU that put an “us” or Russia proposition forward, one Putin rightly addressed in one of his speeches and countered with adult talk and offers to negotiate. Putin’s at every point offered a way to de-escalate, but the US would not, and apparently, will not, have it.

      There was a good-faith, negotiated settlement on Feb. 22, with France and Germany as participants, that addressed any and all legitimate concerns of Ukrainian opposition groups. Rather than act democratically, neo-fascist Yats entered into agreement with the most rabid and violent neo-Nazi groups to break the agreement, and set off mass violence including fire from snipers that a good many commentators believe were neither Russian, nor from the Yanukovitch Government, but a third force of some kind – there is taped evidence to this effect, but of course, the US media mind shields went up much earlier, and any but Official talk marginalized.

      In any event, Putin had no choice, and the key US players knew it – so did every other government on the planet. This was and is a deliberate provocation, a deliberate effort to damage or destabilize Russia, and as important for Beltway egos, an effort to ‘get Putin’ that now has neocons braying themselves into hoarse dementia. As if hitching US policy to a bunch of goons who will certainly ruin Ukraine, and essentially attacking Russia was a smart idea for a global ‘leader’.

      Nothing could’ve been better calculated to accelerate the drive of Russia, China and other major emerging States into an alternative geopolitical and economic alignment beyond the ambit of the institutionally bankrupt G-7 – except it wasn’t calculated to do that, as the only participation of the mind took the form of a titanic, toddler tantrum rooted in an unremitting unilateralism the globe can no longer tolerate. That and the criminally insane desire of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to finish off Syria and disable Iran permanently, deal or no deal.

      The neocons are crazy, simple as that.

      1. Nathanael

        You’ve written a piece of Putin apologism. Putin’s behavior with respect to Syria was both unconscionable and, in the long term, quite detrimental to Russian national interests. Given weapons to tinpot dictators to support carpet bombing of civilians is crap when the US does it in Vietnam, and it’s crap when Putin does it in Syria.

  16. b4real


    What exactly can the west do?

    I think many americans misjudge Putin by applying western reasoning to his actions. He certainly has contingency plans. I believe he tried to thwart the coup by releasing the Nuland tape. What is happening is he is not allowing the west to set the timetable. Every sanction will be counter sanctioned.

    Putin does not like the oligarchs, the west has forced the oligarchs to put their wealth within Putin’s grasp.
    The neo-nazis act up in Kiev, Putin will foment rebellion in the more valuable south and east Ukraine.
    Release oil from the spr, saudi, russia and venezuela will slow production.

    The west only has a strong military, which hasn’t won a war in 4 evah even though they have been picking on little countries.

    Truth be told, U.S. does not have a strategy. Expect a pivot to another part of the globe populated by poor (most likely brown) people like Africa in the near future.

    If you haven’t, please read Putin’s speech at the Duma. I wish it were an American leader speaking those words. I travel the world via different blogs, and the sentiment is not uncommon.

    America is long overdue for its come-uppance. The american people have become sheep. Not a banker in jail, but rewarded with an 85billion a month stipend. Assasinate american citizens, not a word. Militarization of the police force, don’t call 911, you may die. We pay for own enslavement. Change the system by going to the poll and vote in the next puppet the corporatocracy has determined is fitting.

    A young ukrainian on reddit said the best way to fix their democratic system was to hold an election, then hang all the winners. Hold another election and hang all the winners again, maybe by the third election he hoped they would only have to hang half of the winners. This is what we need in the U.S.A.

    1. Nathanael

      Putin’s a lying sack of shit. This does not mean that American politicians are any good either.

      We face a situation where the leaders, all over the world, on all sides, are dangerous power-drunk madmen. The last time we faced this situation, we got World War I.

  17. Ramon

    I don’t get it that commentators get exasperated by Putin’s popularity. That’s like getting exasperated by the sky being blue. There is a reason the sky is blue. There is a reason Putin is popular. An entire population isn’t more stupid than the ill informed Western commentator; they understand the reason. An intelligent observer should interpret their own exasperation as exceptionalism coupled with ignorance, take a step back, and inform themselves.

  18. The Polemicist

    Whatever one thinks of Yanukovych, the idea that, by not signing the EU deal in November, he committed some horrible, treasonous act that compromised Ukraine’s independence, is the opposite of the case. Indeed, one or the ways Yanukovych dug his own grave was his attempt to institute the very unpopular economic “reforms” of the kind demanded by the EU deal. He—like all the Ukrainian rulers since 1992—had already been pursuing measures similar to those the EU/IMF would impose

    So, here’s the perfect, “democratic” solution Ukrainians have got: The popular discontent generated by EU austerity measures led to a popular movement which overthrew Yanukovych, in favor of a government that vows to institute those same EU austerity measures! Discontent against an unpopular elected president has led to his overthrow in favor of an unelected government whose prime minister says: “I’m going to be the most unpopular prime minister in the history of my country.”
    Now, for the first time since WWII, fascists have come into a European government, and have been greeted as “democrats” by US and Western European leaders. (If radical leftists had been the fighting vanguard in the maidan, Yanukovych would have been America’s “democratic” hero.)
    Also shocking is the seeming Western cluelessness to the fact that Russia would not be good with that, or with the loss of its only warm-water port.
    A couple of commentators here (h/t John Hemington & Jackrabbit) have already referenced my detailed analysis of Ukraine events at: Charge of the Right Brigade:Ukraine and the Dynamics of Capitalist Insurrection

    1. Nathanael

      Utterly wrong.

      For starters, you seem not to have noticed that fascists took over Hungary several years ago. The party name is Fidesz. So, not the first time since WWII….

  19. c1ue

    The facts on the ground: Russia/Putin have been advocating for a federalized Ukraine – i.e. a nation in name, but with largely autonomous regions, since well before the present Kiev regime took power – even to the point of having a mutually agreed upon document with the EU. The agreement included both economic and military neutrality in the new Ukrainian Federal Republic (or whatever).
    This hardly seems like a Rossiya Uber Alles.
    What is happening instead is a possibly illegal/rump parliament which has appointed an entire troop of unelected members of Svoboda, Pravy Sektor, and so forth into the prime Ukrainian cabinet posts – followed by successive waves of lower down trophy positions changing hands. This includes the physical beating down of recalcitrants into resignations.
    Thing is – while Crimea was an object lesson in Russia’s ability to “do a Kosovo”, with the East and South Ukraine as the next step – the real whip hand is Iran.

    Russia and China are presently supporting the US sanctions on Iran. Should the idiocy proceed from the present posturing into real sanctions (and how moronic is sanction by name?), then the rollback – full or partial – of sanctions on Iran will occur. Soon after that, the EU will start screaming as visions of Gazprom and CNOOC running rampant through Iranian oil and natural gas concessions electrifies a response from ELF and so forth, not to mention Exxon and her sisters.

    1. Nathanael

      China’s the country to watch. As far as I can tell, the Chinese government has been successful at practicaly everything it has set out to do since the mid-1980s.

      Russia is dangerous because of the possession of nuclear weapons, but fundamentally not functional, and Putin is deeply incompetent. Which is scary, of course, but it means that he isn’t going to accomplish his goals.

      Whereas China is a Great Power which actually seems to be run by halfway competent people.

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