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Ukraine Update


The article <a href="" source="CounterPunch" author="Michael Hudson">The IMF’s New Cold War Loan to Ukraine</a> provides some interesting insight into the IMF's machinations on behalf of its masters in Europe and the U.S. <bq>[...] the IMF signed off on the first loan ever to a side engaged in a civil war, not to mention rife with insider capital flight and a collapsing balance of payments.</bq> The IMF has hard and fast rules for loaning money and is famous the world over for being an exceedingly unforgiving creditor...<i>unless</i> the creditor is the European continent's newest <i>democracy</i>, the propping up of which is an opportunity to provoke the Russian bear that is just too good to pass up. <bq>Based on fictitiously trouble-free projections of the ability to pay, the loan supported Ukraine’s hernia currency long enough to enable the oligarchs’ banks to move their money quickly into Western hard-currency accounts before the hernia plunged further and was worth even fewer euros and dollars.</bq> Not only does propping up Ukraine's currency help keep that civil war alive---and keep Russia occupied---but it also---and this is purely coincidental, mind you---provides enough cash for all of the usual exceedingly rich suspects to continue being exceedingly rich. This by the usual mechanism of roping the collective taxpayers of the world into paying for said rich individuals' bad investments by their respective governments, most of which are also comprised of rich people or those who would like to be rich people or who are otherwise beholden to them. <bq>In practice, the IMF simply advances however much a government needs to bail out its bankers and bondholders, pretending that more austerity enhances the ability to pay, not worsen it.</bq> As the rulers of the world have realized that people are much more interested in bad housewives, cute cat pictures and an explosion of inanity on social media (first-world version) or are utterly distracted by the sheer misery that is every waking hour of their lives (third-world version), they make less and less of an effort to hide how they're ripping everyone off. <bq>Ukraine looks like a replay of the Greek situation with an exclamation mark! One official last year called its Debt Sustainability Analysis, “‘a joke,’ a [European] commission official described it ‘a fairy tale to put children to sleep’ and a Greek finance ministry official said it was ‘scientifically ridiculous.’”</bq> I mean, why even bother to expend any effort hiding what's going on when (A) very few are paying any attention at all and (B) no-one can really do anything about it. And the analysis that we do get on issues of merit are skewed by the authors' paymasters. Here, Hudson describes the obvious and reprehensible cherry-picking of history that an ostensibly serious analysis engaged in when she tried to declare some debt as "odious". <bq>The double standard here is that instead of labeling Ukraine’s entire series of post-1991 kleptocratic governments odious, she singles out only Yanukovich, as if his predecessors and successors are not equally venal. But an even greater danger in trying to declare Ukraine’s debt “odious”: It may backfire on the United States, given its own support for military dictatorships and kleptocracies.</bq> The designation "odious debt" carries with it a freight of baggage. As Hudson points out, the U.S. has instilled no small amount of such debt in its various puppets over the decades. This is, however, an argument that concerns Hudson, but not the original author he attempts to chastise. As they say, "if you have no taste, you can do anything". A useful corollary for today would be: "If you don't care about consistency or hypocrisy on your own part, you can write throw as many stones as you like". The article <a href="" source="CounterPunch" author="John Pilger">Gaza and the Threat of World War</a> contained another likely futile attempt to point out the parallels to even very recent debacles of failed diplomacy and deceitful motives: the most recent invasion of Iraq. Though the U.S. media has seemingly formed a diamond of fact out of the coal dust of rumors of Russian invasions and troop involvements, there are others who are a bit more gun-shy. <bq>What matters is a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine that seems difficult to prove beyond familiar satellite images that evoke Colin Powell’s fictional presentation to the United Nations “proving” that Saddam Hussein had WMD. “You need to know that accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence,” wrote a group of former senior US intelligence officials and analysts, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.”</bq> But what of those who are perhaps not so stupid, who make what, on the surface, seem to be cogent arguments in support of a free Ukraine and a liberated Russian people, free from the yoke of Putin? The article <a href="" source="Eurozine" author="Nikolay Koposov">Back to Yalta? Stephen Cohen and the Ukrainian crisis</a> is one such article. In this article, Koposov takes on Stephen Cohen, painted as a Putin-lover but who I've found to be relatively balanced and coherent in the few interviews I've heard. Anyway, let's let Koposov describe his thesis, <bq>For his part, Cohen presents himself as a "political realist" and an American patriot whose concern is the security of the United States, which according to him has been consistently undermined by US policymakers and experts whose incompetence and "Putinophobic follies" have deprived the United States of "the best potential partner we had anywhere in the world to pursue our national security".</bq> I fail so far to see the problem with Cohen's positions as described in this article. The conclusion implied by the tone is unsupported by the evidence provided. That the tone is so snide, disparaging and dismissive indicates strongly that the author will not be as even-handed as one might hope or as his introduction suggests. He seems to see everything as black and white, with poor Stephen Cohen seemingly incapable of doing anything right. If you don't support the U.S. in its crusade, you're a Putin supporter. The fact is that the U.S. has provably been a force for evil in the world---for pretty much everyone other than a small handful of the privileged. It has been an overall detriment for the people it bombs and for its own citizens, who are constantly short-changed by its policies. The changes proposed by the U.S. have come to tears for many other countries, Iraq being only the most recent and prominent victim. Afghanistan, Libya and Palestine may also have something to add about the effectiveness of U.S. policy for improving their countries. Should the U.S. get its way in Ukraine, there is every reason to believe---simply by looking at the history books, which are clear---that conditions will be worse for Russians than even the awfulness of the reality of today's kleptocracy. Said state of affairs being something for which the U.S. and its allies are largely responsible. It's not a coincidence that the rich and powerful did so well in the post-Glasnost years. <bq>Cohen blames Bill Clinton for beginning "NATO's eastward expansion", which hurt Russia. Is he suggesting Clinton's only legitimate concern should have been Russia's security, as opposed to say Estonia's? Did Russians occupy Estonia in 1940, or did Estonians occupy Russia? Who has better grounds for feeling insecure? Or is it the case that only nuclear giants may have legitimate concerns about their national security? </bq> Now I'm thinking that this guy is a facile idiot who seems to honestly believe that NATO has Estonia's concerns at heart. It's not that only nuclear giants can express their concerns, but that for the last twenty years we have heard only one voice: that of the U.S. Even when Estonia talks, it's either the U.S. or---hardly better---the EU that makes its mouth move. The U.S. and the EU have shown themselves to be self-interested to the core. They have every interest in portraying Russia as an intractable enemy and giving it the Libya treatment, if possible. That is the dream, anyway. If they could finally topple the Russian empire, Europe would finally have its resource problem under control, or would at least have cozier terms with a Russian territory under U.S. control. Let's not lie to ourselves, this is the dream. The U.S. doesn't give two shits for democracy in Estonia. It wants to build missile bases ever closer to its age-old enemy, the only country capable of resisting it with nukes. China would be logically next. Don't think that this is not the official policy of the U.S. It's probably even written down in no uncertain terms somewhere. NATO is a tool to be used to enact this vision; it is not there to protect European countries. To believe so is utter foolishness. Even the Yeltsin years, during which Russians had hope, despite the torrent of capital and power rushing out of their country at the time, would likely be a paradise compared to what is to come, should the U.S. get its way. But hope dies last, as the Germans like to say, and the author is eminently hopeful to lend the U.S. support in the hopes that <i>this time</i> it will be different. <bq>For all Yeltsin's imperfections, Russia had a moment of relative freedom (especially freedom of expression) in the 1990s, which did not end until the formation of Putin's regime. In a similar way, conflicts between Yeltsin's Russia and its eastern European partners over the interpretation of history were rare.</bq> Bullshit. There was never a democracy in anything but name in Russia. No more so than the purported democracy the U.S. enjoys in this, the second gilded age, the age of plutocrats. The Russian government was allowed to play at democracy like a little girl with her teddy bears plays tea party. Meanwhile, the country was stolen out from under the Russian people by rapacious so-called free-market capitalists, who differed in no way from the Huns or Ghengis Khan in their ruthlessness. With the approval of a handful of Apparatchiks who also benefitted, armies of lawyers and financiers dismantled the Soviet Union rather more efficiently than an invading army could have. The Russians went from a totalitarian occupation to an economic one. As mentioned at the top of this essay, the IMF is moving full steam ahead to do the same for Ukraine. Koposov goes on to describe the evils of Russian policy, <bq>The program of cultural conservatism includes a quest for stability and hatred of change, especially revolutions; an emphasis on traditional values and an alliance with the Orthodox Church; the revival of a Soviet-style anti-intellectualism and a crusade against "deviant behaviour" (including what is called "non-traditional" sexual behaviour). This politics is complemented by repression and new legislation that has considerably increased police control over Russian society.</bq> Is he writing about the U.S. or Russia here? Do people like the author have no sense of irony? No self-reflection whatsoever? Do they really see things only from one side, without any notion that their depiction of the world as black and white might be a touch simplistic? Anti-intellectualism, repression, gulags---doesn't that remind you of anything? How can you piss on Russia when Guantánamo is still open? They're both bad. But to promote the lily-white U.S. vision over the obviously evil Russian one is to lack all nuance and perspective. This lack of perspective colors everything. Even something relatively glaringly obvious like Crimea is described thusly: <bq>In a very profound sense, the annexation of Crimea is also an expression of cultural conservatism, with its pre-modern land-hunger and predilection for tangible symbols of power.</bq> How can he fail to mention or address Sebastopol, one of Russia's largest naval bases. Can he not even bring himself to mention that this might be the most obvious reason that Russia would want to secure Crimea? It's not an honorable reason, but one understandable by the realities of a war-suffused world with belligerent entities crawling the earth, looking to pick a fight. Even in describing the Ukrainian culture, he given the current ruling party the benefit of a doubt that they have not earned, not even if we ignore all of the accusations of fascism and anti-Semitism. <bq>What has for decades been crucial about Ukraine is that most Ukrainians acknowledged their differences, but wanted to live together. This was a structural foundation of Ukrainian democracy (and one that made Ukraine so different from "monocentric" Russia but similar to countries such as Canada and the UK, among others).</bq> If most Ukrainians share these feelings of commonality, why do they put up with a new parliament whose first act was to vote to outlaw the Russian language for official purposes? When more than half of the country speaks that language as their primary language? Is this the kind of democratic inclusiveness that he's talking about? Did this fool of an author really just compare the the newborn civil-war--torn hemi-democracy/hemi-putsch--governed Ukraine to Canada? How can anyone take this seriously? And then Koposov trots out the old saw that he's simply trying to get Russia to help itself by trying to keep some friends rather than making everyone an enemy. <bq>Let me ask Cohen: is it in Russia's best interests to be a country without friends, except for a couple of other dictatorships?</bq> In honesty, Russia has friends, but they lie to the east and south rather than the west and north. With the U.S. bending all of its might---both miltary and fiscal---to ensure this outcome, what can Russia realistically do? It can strengthen its ties in Asia, I suppose, for which it will also be castigated. The only solution that will satisfy is a complete capitulation to western desires. <bq>However, Russia has to accept the right of eastern European countries to be suspicious of it and avoid making them choose between Russia and the West. <b>Whatever other countries' misdeeds may be</b>, Russia bears the lion's share of historical responsibility for the issues it has with its neighbours, simply because they were ruled from Moscow, and Russia was not ruled from Kiev, Tallinn or Warsaw. Russia has an obligation to take the lead in peacefully overcoming these issues. I think this would be the only democratic way of defining Russia's national interests "on its own borders". President Yeltsin's policy was at least for a while based upon this understanding. (Emphasis added.) </bq> While he's right that the only thing Russia can do is work with what it's got, that little emphasized sentence absolves the U.S. and Britain and others of their entire involvement at the geopolitical level, in general, and in Russia and Eastern Europe, in particular. Russia should, in effect, do what its armed-to-the-teeth NATO neighbors want. Make nice, in other words, do what the U.S. wants---expressed through its proxies. <bq>Stephen Cohen complains: "If Russia under Yeltsin was presented [by US media] as having legitimate [...] national interests, we are now made to believe that Putin's Russia has none at all." But this is fairly normal: democracies often cannot accept as legitimate what an authoritarian regime views as its rights.</bq> What is wrong with that complaint, if one doesn't accept <i>a priori</i> that Putin is evil incarnate? Or that Cohen is a shill for a new totalitarianism? That even Putin should get the same treatment as other leaders of his country is the heart of diplomacy. But diplomacy is a lost art. Putin's concerns cannot, by definition, be legitimate because he's a dictator---and not one of the good ones because he doesn't agree with the U.S. unilaterally. It has always been this way: we only keep the ones we like and we only like the ones who suck up. It's Putin's own fault for being so intractable. If, however, the Russians choose a different president, they better not choose one that does anything for <i>them</i>, else he'll follow in the footsteps of Mossadegh or Lumumba or those poor fools in Palestine who voted Hamas into power in a democratic election. Better to choose a manipulable puppet and see if you can get something for yourself. And to cap things off, <bq><b>Russian aggression against Ukraine has betrayed the general expectation of the major powers to pursue a responsible and, therefore, predictable politics, such that the world is spared major military conflicts.</b> This is why the current crisis, no matter what its outcome may be, has already created a new international situation. (Emphasis added.)</bq> That first sentence is utterly blind to U.S.---and possibly British---actions in the last half-century. It's utterly flabbergasting. How could anyone with a passing knowledge of history say that we have been "spared military conflicts"? Oh, I suppose he means that war no longer takes place on western soil. That it is waged by western powers seemingly everywhere else doesn't enter into it. And the subtlety of economic warfare is something not even worth raising, if this guy can't even see the bullets and bombs that are literally everywhere. Instead, this fool heaps his entire opprobrium on Putin's shoulders, putting a halo on the rest of the world and white-washing history to a degree that makes me think he's suffered a serious head injury. From that sentence alone, there is no need to take this guy seriously. A pity he put it all the way at the end of the article or I could have saved myself some time, I suppose.