Zygar & Gladstone on Tucker’s Putin

14 02 2024

WNYC’s (NPR’s) On the Media has created a wonderful 17-minute segment examining the historical claims reiterated by Vladimir Putin in his recent interview (/monologue) with Tucker Carlson. The conversation between host Brooke Gladstone and Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar is well worth listening to. (I should probably specify “dissident journalist,” since “Russia” and “journalism” does not make for a persuasive combo these days. Zygar was the founding editor-in-chief of now banned Russian news channel TV Rain/Dozhd, which continues to broadcast from abroad.)

The conversation covers only a few of the 14 “tales” or “myths” related to the historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine that Zygar describes in his recent book War and Punishment: Putin, Zelensky, and the Path to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. Zygar’s book is one of the first serious efforts by a Russian journalist or historian to begin the process of decolonizing Russian history. (And perhaps the first time U.S. public radio has compared Taras Shevchenko to African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but it’s an apt comparison.)

The full radio segment can be listened to here.

‘Stand with Ukraine’ book

19 08 2023

An excellent collection of resources and documents called Stand with Ukraine: Debunking the Propaganda has been published by Bastille Press and is available as a Kindle e-book for $2.99 (or for free with a 30-day Kindle trial) here.

The book is edited by J. D. Everhard (a.k.a. Geof Bard) “et al.” and credited to the Ukraine Resistance Support Archives. Its 23 chapters and five appendices provide a variety of left-progressive responses to Putinist and “Campist” (Russia-justifying) claims made by people like Noam Chomsky, John Mearsheimer, Chris Hedges, Medea Benjamin, the late Stephen Cohen, musician Roger Waters, Marxist journal The Monthly Review, as well as the “red-brown” and “multipolar ideology” views that are influencing some of the Campist discourse.

Of the many insightful chapters, I found Michael Karadjis’s effort to tease apart elite and popular views on the war in the global South (chapter 16, “Behind the Neutrality of Reactionary Elites in the Global South”) and Vladyslav Starodubtsev’s analysis of the role of Russian money and the Wagner Group in Africa (chapter 17, “Africa and the War in Ukraine”) especially interesting.

Many of the pieces have been published before and are readily available online, but their collection into a single book of analytical pieces as well as documents — including statements and manifestos from the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign, the Ukraine Solidarity Network, the Feminist Initiative Group, and the Anarchist Black Cross of St. Petersburg — makes this a very handy reference and excellent “first stop” for correctives to misinformation about the Russo-Ukrainian war and the events leading up to it, including the 2013-14 Maidan revolution and its aftermath. It even includes a useful glossary that defines various acronyms, organizational names, agreements (such as the Budapest Memorandum and Minsk I and II), and (most entertainingly) terms like “Bothsidesism,” “Campist,” “Tankie,” “Kremlinsplaining,” and “Whataboutism.”

The book can be purchased and read on its Amazon site.

War fact sheet: rejoinder to Medea Benjamin

15 08 2023

Having just returned from a year in Berlin to my quasi-home in Vermont, I was struck by how quickly the Russo-Ukrainian war has come home with me. Twenty-five minutes up the road from the place where we are summering (before moving into a new home for this coming year) is the home of Bread and Puppet Theatre, a long-time countercultural institution known and loved by many of my fellow Vermonters. Just today, the New York Times published a lovely piece on Bread and Puppet and its founder, 89-year-old puppeteer and breadmaker Peter Schumann.

I have long loved the artistry and aesthetic of Bread and Puppet, as well as the way they have carved out a space in Vermont’s civic life while regularly updating their countercultural roots with their creative critique of militarism, capitalism, and the powers-that-be. They have stood true to their principles for close to six decades now, and certainly since moving to Vermont in the early 1970s. So I was saddened and disconcerted to hear about Peter Schumann’s take on the Russo-Ukrainian war, and that their current summer pageant refers to Ukraine as a “puppet state.” For the millions of Ukrainians fighting for their lives and for their homeland, that characterization is not only deeply offensive; it boggles the mind. You don’t expect pacifist puppeteers to be expressing support for genocide.

This week they are hosting speaker CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin, whose views on the war exemplify this kind of U.S.-blaming and Russia apologism, or “Westsplaining” as East Europeans call it. (Other Leftists call them “Tankies,” in the long tradition of justifying Soviet tanks in Budapest and Prague, and now Russian tanks in Kyiv.)

I’ve prepared a “fact sheet” offering rejoinders to Benjamin’s and her companions’ arguments, which are more or less shared by Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Jeffrey Sachs, Werner Wintersteiner, and other old-school anti-U.S. leftist “Westsplainers.” I plan to bring copies of it with me to Bread & Puppet, and am sharing it here for anyone who finds it useful. You can read it and download it here (click on this sentence).

For some of the ties between these people and organizations that whitewash China, Iran, and Russia, among others, in favor of blanket condemnation of the U.S., see this article in New Lines Magazine. As I’ve argued before (and restated in point 12 of the fact sheet), for anti-imperialism to be genuine, it must be anti-all-imperialisms and not a one-sided anti-my-imperialism-but-fine-with-all-the-others.

I’ll also be bringing the poster shared below, created by New Hampshire artist Bill Brown on promptings I sent him a few days ago. Both the fact sheet and the poster can be shared if you find them useful.

(This post was amended slightly, and a lightly modified poster substituted for the original one, on August 18.)

Russia’s eliminationist rhetoric

21 11 2022

New York University’s Reiss Center on Law and Security based Just Security web site has been maintaining an exhaustive (and regularly updated) list of quotes demonstrating the “eliminationist” intent of some in Russia’s political elite against Ukrainians. Entitled Russia’s Eliminationist Rhetoric Against Ukraine: A Collection, it can be read here. A Ukrainian version is available here.

While the quotes lack appropriate context, all include links to sources.

Taken collectively, they make for depressing, indeed exhausting, reading. These are the kinds of quotes you can often hear on some of Russia’s talk shows, which The Atlantic‘s Tom Nichols today aptly described as “a hallucinatory experience, a kind of febrile nightmare shot on sets that look like a dark mash-up of a manic game show, Fox News, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But the creepy star-chamber vibe and the vertigo-inducing camera work are perfectly suited to the deranged rantings of the hosts and guests.”

The media war

1 09 2022

WNYC’s On the Media stands out among media-analysis podcasts. Its latest program, “Russia’s War,” focuses entirely on Russia and the war in Ukraine, and it is excellent.

All three segments — on the crackdown on Russian independent media, “info ops” (information warfare), and one person’s (journalist Anastasiia Carrier’s) experience unlearning Kremlin narratives — are well worth listening to. The latter sounds a lot like the kinds of things people go through when they leave “cults” (religious or political), so there are even lessons here for how to deal with family members you may have lost to QAnon, MAGAworld, and their cousins in other countries.

The full 52-minute podcast can be heard here.

Meanwhile, they have just added an additional 15-minute segment on Ukrainian media called “Big Tech vs. Ukraine’s Local Media,” which examines how Facebook/Meta and Google/Alphabet (including YouTube) have, contrary to popular belief, been supporting Russian state media at the expense of independent Ukrainian media.

(You can support independent Ukrainian media by following, and donating to, Kyiv Independent, Ukrainska Pravda, and Hromadske, among other sources.)

Denazification, or “the solution to the Ukrainian question”

4 04 2022

The turns of phrase one finds in the echo chambers of the internet can be puzzling to newcomers. (Think of walking into a QAnon forum and hearing about the Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic, pedophilic babykillers of the U.S. Democratic Party.) That a state government might come to create its own alternate reality should, therefore, be not as shocking.

In the case of the current Russian invasion, the term “denazification” has played a puzzling role that some, like Timothy Snyder and Jason Stanley, have tried to demystify. But Russian neo-imperialist (and former Yanukovych advisor) Tymofei Sergeitsev, in his new RIA Novosti piece “Что Россия должна сделать с Украиной” (“What Russia Should Do to Ukraine”), has just provided a pretty clear demonstration that it is really just a Russian code word for “de-Ukrainization” — in other words, for what may simply be called genocide. The Ukraine Crisis Media Center has helpfully translated the piece here.

Sergei Sumlenny’s Twitter thread from a couple of days ago suggests that mass executions, of the kind found these last few days in places like Bucha and Trostyanets, seem to have been part of Russia’s “solution to the Ukrainian question” all along. (Russian responses to these revelations have of course involved further mystification.)

Adding together the mass production of “unreality” by Russian state media with Putin’s now explicit targeting of “the West” as its enemy means that war — informational, and therefore hybrid war, that is, the kind of war that is native to the twenty-first century — is already upon not only Ukraine, but all of us.

Edenborg: Homophobia as geopolitics

15 03 2022

Another piece of Putin’s claimed justification for his invasion of Ukraine, at least in terms of his main support base both within Russia and outside of it, is that of the threat posed by “the West” to Russia’s “traditional values.” Writing in the Boston Review, Stockholm University professor Emil Edenborg examines this in detail in “Putin’s Anti-Gay War on Ukraine.”

When Putin entered office for a third presidential term in 2012, in the wake of massive protests and declining popularity, his government wholeheartedly embraced the notion of “traditional values” as official ideology guiding both domestic and foreign policy. While a usefully vague and often undefined concept, “traditional values” are seen as encompassing patriotism, spirituality, rootedness in history, respect for authority, and adherence to heteronormative and patriarchal ideals of family and gender. In the rhetoric of the Kremlin and state-loyal media, LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and atheism are identified not only as foreign to Russia’s values, but as existential threats to the nation.

This plays into the idea that Putin is “purifying” Ukraine by “denazifying” it, but it only does that if one accepts the hybrid discursive construct that Dugin has proposed of the “liberal-Nazi West,” a place that imperialistically imposes its own “decadent” cultural morés onto the world.

Describing the Kremlin’s position as a form of “homophobia as geopolitics,” Edenborg examines gender stereotypes, state cultural policies, myths of “national rejuvenation and the recovery of collective greatness,” and the complex politics of superiority, inferiority, and resentment:

On the one hand, Russia has pursued an imperial, “civilizing” mission against peoples seen as culturally and racially inferior, for example in the Caucasus and Central Asia. On the other hand, Russia is perceived as historically suffering under Western cultural, economic, military, and epistemological hegemony. 

He concludes:

These are not harmless skirmishes in the “culture wars” of late-stage capitalism: they are grave matters of life and death. Gender norms—tropes of masculine protection, women-and-children in need of saving, and sexual and gender deviance as a threat to the body politic—fuel and perpetuate authoritarianism, militarism, and, as Russia’s war on Ukraine now makes all too plain, state aggression. Without addressing the former, there is little hope of changing the latter.

Pomerantsev: beyond crying foul

21 02 2022

There are some deeply insightful nuggets in this interview with Peter Pomerantsev, who is among the best analysts of contemporary information warfare. Pomerantsev describes twenty-first century conflict as radically different from the form the U.S. and western countries are used to. Conflict now is multifaceted, mixing informational with political and economic strategies to create a murky terrain where the lines between war and peace are blurred.

“The Russian and the Chinese governments,” he says, “do it all the time. They’re doing army stuff, they’re doing their troll farms, they’re doing their TV channels, and they’re thinking about different audiences. So already,” with western governments calling him out for his planned invasion, “Putin is pivoting: ‘The West have cried foul. They said it’s war. We never said it was war.’”

“Putin likes to be in the murk. He likes to be in this ambiguous space where you can’t really tell what’s going on. And that makes it very hard for NATO and allies to get their act together.” That they are succeeding more than Putin might have predicted is a good thing, but insufficient. They may hope for an “off ramp” for Putin, but “It’s not about an off ramp. It’s an Escher staircase. It’s going to go round and round and escalating and de-escalating and on and on and on and on.”

Perhaps most importantly, Pomerantsev raises the real questions we ought to be answering collectively: “what is public diplomacy for the 21st century? What is our long term dialogue that we’re trying to have with the Russian people about Russia’s role in the world? What is our communication to specific audiences in Ukraine to explain what we’re doing? All that needs to be happening. It really means having a kind of communication statecraft policy and institutional capacity for the 21st century.”

Read “Ukraine, Russia, and the 21st Century Permanent Information War.

“These people are sick…”

15 11 2017

The border war in eastern Ukraine is, it turns out, also about art. Or so this video (below) suggests.

It was made in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, after its military occupation by the separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” a few years ago. The first interviewee is Leonid Baranov, head of a special committee that lodged itself on the premises of Donetsk’s Izolyatsia Art Center after its takeover by pro-Russian separatist fighters. The building housing the non-profit art center had previously been an insulating materials factory.

Baranov decries the art of the center and vigorously defends the DPR’s occupation of it: Read the rest of this entry »

Russian “infowar” & the U. S. elections

13 12 2016

As the story of the Russian state’s influence on the recent U.S. elections continues to unfold, here are some web sites that document various dimensions of it, and of Russian media strategies more generally. These are mostly critical analyses, which may carry their own biases. Those seeking defenses of Russian state media, or critiques of U. S. media, of the CIA, and so on, should look elsewhere, as that’s not what this page is about. This list will grow, so check back periodically if you’d like to stay up to date.

Read the rest of this entry »

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