A Russian Bridge Too Far

An interesting story appeared on Russia’s state-sponsored ITAR-TASS newswire yesterday. It reported that Russia would attempt to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait in the Sea of Azov, giving it a land connection to its newly annexed territory in Crimea (which the whole world believes to be part of Ukraine).

The story begins this way:

Chinese companies will be first foreign investors in economy of the Russian Republic of Crimea after the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. A Chinese construction company and a private investment fund may be involved in construction of a transport corridor to Crimea across the Kerch Strait at the cost of $ 1.2-3 billion with some part of the project to be invested in yuan, Kommersant daily learnt.

There is great deal of fascinating information in this single paragraph:

(1) Russia can’t build this massive bridge itself, it needs to hire the Chinese.

(2) Russia thinks that hiring a Chinese contractor means that the contractor is “investing” in Russia.

(3) First the article says the Chinese “will be” involved then it says “may be.”  In other words, who knows.

(4)  ITAR-TASS can’t come up with this “story” itself, it relies on Kommersant to do so.

(5) Russia obviously thinks it needs this bridge, meaning that it doesn’t think it’s likely it will have a land corridor to Crimea through Ukraine.

It is, of course, totally laughable that Russia would think hiring a contractor constitutes investment by that contractor in Russia, and it’s a telling indicator of how desperate Russia is to find foreign investors of any kind.  Russia saw unprecedented capital flight in the first quarter of this year, and more than $100 billion in capital losses are expected by year’s end.  But this sort of neo-Soviet flight of ludicrous fancy is still surprising.

Putin has invested billions in upgrading the Russian army so it can conquer Russia’s neighbors, but he hasn’t developed Russian civil engineering to the point where Russians can build a major bridge like the one it needs over the Azov.  Or alternatively, Russia is so desperate to court foreigners that it is going to deny Russian companies the chance to profit from the enterprise. Either way, a harbinger of doom for Russia.

And the only reason Russia would need a bridge like this would be if it believes it won’t be able to seize “Novorossiya” from Ukraine.  If it can’t do so, that means it can’t deliver water and electricity to Crimea over land, which means that the residents of Crimea will be at the mercy of Ukraine for basic services for the foreseeable future.  Any attempt by Russia to squeeze Ukraine on gas will be met with proportional retaliation against the “Russians” in Crimea.

The ITAR-TASS article is Putin’s Russia in microcosm.  It neatly reflects all the fundamental weaknesses of this inherently failed state, now bent on a suicidal binge of aggression against its neighbors that has left it with the same status of international pariah held by such nations as Iran and Syria (nations of which Russia is the only significant friend).

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Russia Today gives up on Journalism

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker blog, LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld reports on how the Kremlin’s propaganda network Russia Today has given up all pretense of journalism and accuracy and given itself wholly over to militant lies in support of Putin’s cause in Ukraine. A big part of its content in this regard, of course, is virulent anti-Americanism.

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, has announced a boycott of Russia Today because he is so appalled by the gross distortions it is publishing, and many others have joined him. RT’s Marina Buinovskaya ‏ admits that it has become extremely difficult for the network to book foreign interviews.

Max Fisher Shows what he Knows about Russia

WaPo blogger Max Fisher

WaPo blogger Max Fisher

We feel this qualifies as the single most hilarious headline on an article about Russia that we’ve ever seen:  “Yes, Americans hate on Russia too much. This ‘Daily Show’ segment proves it.”

The headline appeared over a piece by The Washington Post‘s “foreign policy blogger” Max Fisher.

It’s so hilarious because (1) the “evidence” of the author’s conclusion comes exclusively from a frivolous TV comedy show and from leading Russia hater Julia Ioffe, who’s quoted in the body of the piece, and because  (2) Fisher himself had viciously bashed Russia just a couple of days earlier. Twice, One of his key quotes: “Maybe it’s not so surprising that Americans would be sour on Russia.”

There’s just something so amazingly sublime about an American who clearly knows absolutely nothing at all about Russia getting his information from a TV comedy and then purporting to illuminate “ignorant” Americans about the country after doing himself exactly what he’s now found it possible to criticize, and not noticing. It’s rolling-on-the-floor, good-times-for-all hilarious!

There’s so much ignorance in the author’s text it’s hard to know where to begin.

(1) Fisher finds it somehow laudable that the ‘Daily Show’ reported the fact that Russians don’t know about famous Russian villains in U.S. popular culture. He thinks this proves the U.S. is too hard on Russia. Exactly the opposite is true.  Russians have given Americans many, many valid reasons to fear and dislike them, from providing support to Hezbollah terrorists to aiding U.S.-hating regimes like Iran, Syria and Venezuela to choosing to hand unchecked power to proud America-hating KGB spy named Putin. Maybe if Russians knew how much they’ve antagonized the powerful USA, they’d change their ways.

(2) Fisher writes: “The popular American treatment of the Olympic games in Sochi drives home how unsympathetic Americans can be toward Russia, and makes this a perfect moment to call attention to that habit.”  Incredibly, Fisher doesn’t stop for a second to review Russian treatment of Americans. If he knew anything at all about Russian popular culture, he’d know it demonizes the USA and that Russian politics demonize it even more, going all the way back to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s demand that the USA surrender Alaska.

(3)  He writes: “When the opening ceremony featured a song by the celebrated Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, for example, many Americans seemed eager to point out that he was gay, as if those homophobic Russians would be unaware of this fact or must all support the country’s anti-gay laws.”  But Russians are unaware that Tchaikovsky was gay, because this fact like many others are suppressed in the Russian education system.  It’s totally outrageous that Fisher would claim they are not without even trying to document a source.  Russia is engaged in a furious crackdown on homosexuals because of its benighted ignorance about them, and Fisher is rationalizing this.

(4) He writes that foreign journalists didn’t criticize China’s human rights record as much as they are doing to Russia “even though the then-ongoing crackdown on Tibetan rights activists was arguably far more severe than anything happening in Russia today.”  Is Fisher really unaware of the savage litany of murders of Putin’s political opponents and critics?  Does he know that Russia has murdered more journalists (like him) than almost any other country, and far more than China ever dreamed of doing?  Is he really suggesting that Russia should get a free pass on human rights atrocities if China got one? Did he even try to look for coverage criticizing China during the games, which was in fact abundant? Does this “journalist” care about facts at all?

(5) He writes that there is “no countervailing narrative in the United States that maybe we’re too hard on the Russians.”  Here at last, he finally admits that this is “also a product of President Vladimir Putin’s own government, which after his disputed 2012 reelection and the ensuing protests has sought to whip up nationalistic sentiment.”  But is he really unaware of the vast array of Russia-funded media being pumped out on a daily basis? He’s never watched Russia Today? He’s never seen the Russia Beyond the Headlines supplement in the New York Times?  Has he ever heard of Professor Stephen F. Cohen, whose drumbeat of pro-Russia, anti-US screeds at The Nation magazine is endless?  Simply amazing stuff.

(6) Amazingly, Fisher openly admits that Russian officials are telling brazen anti-American lies to the Russian people about such issues as Afghanistan yet he does not directly criticize Russians as he does Americans nor does he call for any changes in Russian policy. He cannot point to anyone in Russia who is challenging these hostile anti-American attitudes towards the USA, yet he does call upon Americans to “question their views of Russia.”  Apparently, Fisher is one of those people who view Russians as helpless children incapable of taking any adult responsibility, and who therefore must be led towards it by Americans taking unilateral action.  Needless to say, that is the road to ruin.

Russia Beyond the Headlines Pumping out Lies about Sochi

This week the Winter Olympic Games commence in Sochi Russia, and the Kremlin’s propaganda vortex known as Russia Beyond the Headlines is going into overdrive pumping out propaganda designed to twist and pervert the facts about the games in the Kremlin’s favor, hoping to paper over the long list of hideous and embarrassing defects inherent in Russia’s effort as host. Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker blog, LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld has all the details.

More Hilarious Dishonesty from Russia Today

It’s really quite hilarious watching the scurrying Russophiles respond to the latest international survey that reveals Russia to be a barbaric outsider among the population of civilized nations. What to do?! Try to spin them, simply ignore them or attack them as blatant acts of “russophobia”? What to do, what to do?

In a recent web item, Russia Today puffed out its chest over the latest “doing business” rating from Bloomberg, in which Russia ranked #43.  You might think Russia would wish to sweep a result like that under the table, considering that it made Russia by far the worst-performing nation in the G-8, and considering that China came in at #28 and Brazil at #38.

But Russia Today considered it great news, since Russia’s ranking had improved from 2012 by 13 spots.  Jaw-droppingly, Russia Today reported the fact that Russia was ranked even with Oman and just below Bulgaria, just above Panama, as if the positioning were unremarkable.

Russia Today chose to conceal from its readers (not providing any link to the Bloomberg data) that four of the other five nations from Eastern Europe appearing on the list were rated higher than Russia (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and even Bulgaria easily bested Russia, with only Romania falling behind).

Bloomberg provides an interesting page of data on Russia that Russia Today also chose to ignore.  Maybe that’s because the data on inflation and stagflation is pretty horrifying:  Only 15 countries are more ravaged by inflation than Russia according to Bloomberg, and only 23 are more at risk of the onset of stagflation. Yet, despite these economic blows, Bloomberg also found that only 7 countries in the world were more decadent and vice-ridden than Russia. Another surprising Bloomberg revelation:  Only seven countries have fatter women than Russia.

The dishonesty with which Russia Today “reports” the “news” is truly breathtaking and neo-Soviet in character.  A person who relied on Russia Today for information about Russia would simply have no clue what the real place was like.

The NYT-Kremlin Conspiracy

It’s happened slowly and surreptitiously, but the Public Editor of the New York Times has undergone a metamorphosis. Today, she spends more time singing the paper’s praises than calling it to task. Call her the Public Cheerleader.

In May of 2011, the Russian government began inserting a color supplement known as “Russia Beyond the Headlines” into the pages of the Times.  Masquerading as news, RBTH has weekly regaled Times readers ever since with all manner of Kremlin propaganda.  Only if you were a seasoned Russia watcher or read the fine print and then started Googling would you have any idea about the true origins of the supplement.

Yet three years later, the Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan claimed to be blithely unaware that the supplement even existed, much less had she or anyone else in the Public Editor’s office investigated the propriety of the Gray Lady’s conduct in regard to it.

In a January 2014 column, Sullivan wrote: “Just last week, The Times began a careful foray into native advertising — paid content that looks something like news.” Her statement was simply false: The “foray” began three years ago, when RBTH first appeared.  Indeed, Sullivan had “reported” in December of 2013 that native advertising was “about to arrive” at the Times “after months of preparation and scrutiny.” In fact, it had already been in place for quite some time.  What is Ms. Sullivan reading, if it’s not the New York Times?

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Pro-Kremlin Disinformation at HuffPo

An extraordinary new low in the annals of online journalism was plumbed by the Huffington Post on 12/27/13.  It wasn’t just the fact that it was a commercial masquerading as an op-ed piece masquerading as a news story that was so shocking, but that the purpose of the commercial was to bilk Americans out of their hard-earned incomes in order to line the pockets of the corrupt, America-hating Russian Kremlin.  Happy New Year’s from HuffPo, Mr. and Mrs. America!

The author of the piece in question was one Shai Baitel, identified on the HuffPo website as an expert on Middle Eastern politics. So, quite predictably, the topic of the article was the Russian economy.

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Russia’s Neo-Soviet Media Crackdown

“When this reporter met Nina Solodayeva, a former Uralasbest security guard and her husband, Ivan Solodayev, who had stage-four lung cancer, a car with the company’s security detailed pulled up to stop the conversation taking place. Solodayeva lost her job that day.”

That’s an excerpt from an article published by ace Russia reporter Anna Nemtsova in Newsweek detailing the collapse of Russia’s Stalinist monotowns.  After visiting many of them, she concludes:  “It is the same story in every monotown I visited. Only freedom of speech and action can provide the sort of jobs needed to replace the old smokestack industries built in Soviet times. But instead of encouraging openness and innovation, the government stands by as dissent is punished and optimism snuffed out.”

In other words, instead of opening facing the problem and trying to solve it, just as in the time of Stalin the Kremlin is seeking to sweep the problem under the carpet and destroy anyone who reports on it.

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker website, LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld has more on the story of Putin’s neo-Soviet crackdown on the media, focusing on the often hilariously dishonest “reporting” by Kremlin-controlled TV concerning the Ukrainian uprising.

Kremlin Declares War on Levada

In the very same week that the Kremlin declared all-out war on Levada,  the last remaining pollster operating in Russia with an independent voice, the Kremlin’s own publication, Russia Beyond the Headlines, featured Levada data prominently in its color insert distributed with the New York Times.  It was yet another bizarre act in the tragicomedy known as Russia.

The May 22nd issue of RBTH had its entire second page plastered with information obtained from Levada regarding Vladimir Putin’s latest purported initiative against corruption.  First a news story by Olga Doronina entitled “Russians see Official’s Money as the Root of All Evil”  featured a  huge color graphic reporting Levada’s poll results concerning the question of whether Putin’s measure to ban foreign ownership of assets by government officials was serious or a sham (the data favored the Kremlin, indicating 58% of Russians thought it was serious, although nearly half that group saw it as merely a way to gain control over wayward officials as opposed to actually purifying them).  Then an op-ed from Georgy Bovt made repeated reference to Levada polling concerning Russian support for the measure.

How is it possible that at one and the same time the Kremlin can be attacking Levada as an unreliable “foreign agent” with the clear possibility that its operations would be shut down and also quoting from Levada as if it were the most reliable source of public opinion information in the country?

Because we’re talking about Russia, that’s why.  Obviously, RBTH was slightly behind the curve and didn’t get wind of the Kremlin’s plans for Levada until its issue had already gone to print.

Oops.  Good luck finding the news story from the NYT insert on the RBTH website. Now that Levada is under attack it seems to have been purged.  Good luck, for that matter, finding reports by RBTH about Putin’s crackdown on Levada.  None of it is anywhere to be found, the whole thing seems to have been swept under the carpet by this neo-Soviet publication.  Weirdly, the Bovt piece was more than a month old, having been sitting on the RBTH website all that time and been published long before RBTH learned Levada was persona no grata, and that’s why it can still be found on the website, apparently.

But surely, RBTH must have known that Levada was a foreign agent all along, didn’t it?  Apparently not, because RBTH found lots and lots of data published by Levada to be helpful to the Kremlin’s cause.  Seven RBTH items in May alone quote Levada.

It’s so typical of Russia for the right hand not to know what the left hand is doing.  RBTH thinks it’s free to use helpful data it finds in Levada reports, hardly suspecting that the data was being produced by a “foreign agent” committed to Russia’s overthrow. Then it finds itself with egg on its face as the news is suddenly announced.