The Russian Conspiracy

It has been about a year since Trump got elected President of the United States. A lot of people were shocked by this decision of the american voter. Personally, I was not shocked, I expected it. But not because I wanted him to win. In fact I have been a very vocal critic of the Donald. Trump is far from being a libertarian. He is a consequent authoritarian, with a dangerously impulsive, and immature personality. It is a real problem to have someone like him in charge of the biggest army in the world.

And yet, despite my dislike for him, I constantly find myself in the awkward position of having to defend the man. There are very good reasons to criticize Trump, but a lot of the attacks on him are simply ludicrous.

The most bizarre idea is that Trump is somehow working for the Kremlin. Ever since he defeated Hilary Clinton, The media has been full of allegations that Putin and Trump are something like a team, and that the Russians actively, and successfully interfered in the election. Allegation reach from Putin blackmailing Trump with sensitive material, to the Russians hacking files from the Clinton campaign, and manipulating the voters with fake news. The evidence for all of this? Pretty much zippo.

The complete lack of evidence, however, does not seem to bother our journalist elites in the slightest. They have been busily reporting on this “scandal” pretty much non stop for the full year since the election. The level of misinformation reported is quite extraordinary. The only comparable example that I can think of in my lifetime, was the quite obvious lie that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Back then too, journalists seemed to have been more than keen to uncritically spread the lies being put out by the government.

In the Russian affair, just like with the WMD propaganda, the logic clearly is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Meaning, just because there is no proof that the Russians interfered in the election, does not mean it did not happen. Simply repeating these allegations often enough will eventually convince enough people that there must be at least something to them. And this tactic is working very well. Through the constant propaganda, few seem to be bothered by the lack of evidence anymore.

What are the allegations? Very early on we were told that Putin had sensitive material about Trump, with which he could blackmail him. Apparently, the Russians had filmed the Donald, having sex with prostitutes in Moscow. At least in this case, the absence of any evidence appeared to have bothered enough people, so that it never gained any traction. It also never made much sense. How exactly do you blackmail a character like Trump with such material? Who would care about him having sex with prostitutes? It is unlikely that even his wife would.

And so eventually, the deep state settled for concentrating on allegations, that the Russians were spreading fake news, with the help of the Trump campaign.

Let us not be naïve. Of course the Kremlin cares about who is in the White House. It would be odd if they did not. And it was an open secret that Putin favored Trump over Hilary. Trump openly, not secretly, campaigned on the promise to make the US get along better with Russia.

It is beyond me, why getting along with Russia, is such a terrible idea. Sure, Putin is a psychopathic gangster, who rules Russia autocratically. I would not want to live under his rule. At the same time, however, I do not think that regime change in Russia should be part of a western foreign policy. Whenever the west tries to better regimes, they tend to make things worse. So this is simply impractical. Ultimately, only the Russians can overthrow Putin.

But maybe, or probably, Putin’s autocratic rule is not really the reason why the west cannot get along with Russia. Russia is needed as a big enemy, to justify lots of government agencies. After all, conflict is the health of the state. That means the state does not really have an interest solving all conflicts.

This becomes obvious when we look at the hypocrisy of western foreign policy. The US is friends with far worse regimes than Putin’s. Right now, Washington is helping their dear ally Saudi Arabia to commit an outright genocide in Yemen. Our governments have de facto alliances with some of the worst political groups on the planet. These are groups, like Al Qaeda, who have committed acts of Terrorism, like 911. But we hear astoundingly little about these things. Instead, we are told that what we should be worried about is that the Russians, a country with the GDP of Italy, talked to the voters in the US during the election campaign.

And that is really what the allegations come down to. Russia is accused of using the open political debate in the US, to propagate their own political agenda. May I just ask the obvious question, so what?

Russia is not the only country that is doing this. Many countries have an interest in who is in the White House. Saudi Arabia for example regularly runs advertisement in the US, and talks to politicians, without anyone protesting. And every presidential candidate is always keen to demonstrate how well they get along with AIPAC.

The idea that there could be such a thing as an unbiased political debate is nonsense. The whole thing is even more bizarre, if we consider that most commentators of the issue would describe themselves as advocates of democracy. Isn’t the whole idea of democracy that the people are sovereign, that the voters are capable of making up their own minds? Surely, if the Russian bots are placing their comments in social media, the average Joe can see through that, or can’t he?

If you don’t believe that he can, then shouldn’t we question democracy altogether? In my personal view, absolutely, let’s do that. I am not a democrat at all, I am a libertarian anarchist. So let us question the legitimate role of the government, by all means. But let’s do it in an honest debate, not hypocritically.

The attitude currently spread in the media seems to be, it is democracy if the deep state’s agenda wins. If on the other hand, the voters vote against the establishment, than that is apparently not democracy. We saw the same argument after the Brexit vote. There too, the assumption was immediately that it was a defeat of democracy. Why, because, apparently, the people had been manipulated by evil forces to vote for the wrong policy.

The truth of the matter, however, is that we do not need to bring in the Russians to explain the election defeat of Hilary Clinton. She was very much capable of achieving that all by herself. If you are running as one of the worst candidates in the history of presidential candidates, you should expect to lose. The only real surprise is that she lost by such a small margin. But that can be explained by the fact that she too was running against one of the worst candidates ever, Donald Trump.

The only time the Russians seem to be accused of really having done something illegal is the hack of the DNC emails in July of last year. Hacking into a computer system is certainly a crime. But once again, the problem with that story is that there is zero evidence that the Russians did it. In fact, all the evidence points to the contrary.

Wikileaks has long claimed that the leak came from an insider. From the meta data of the download, we know that the data could not have been downloaded over the internet. The data was simply downloaded too quickly for that. That is to say the internet connection of the server was not quick enough to allow for such a quick download. It very much looks like the data was downloaded onto a hard drive. That however suggests that it was an insider who leaked the files to Wikileaks.

But let us forget the illegality of a possible hack for a moment. What is the allegation concerning the election here? It seems to be that someone informed the voters about the truth of Hilary Clinton. And the truth, as revealed in the leak, is that she is an evil, conniving cow, who stole the democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders. Does anyone want to argue that it is damaging democracy if the voters know the truth about a presidential candidate? In other words, if Russia did this, they did nothing more than to tell the voters the truth. How evil is that?

Quite evil from the perspective of the deep state in the US. As with every election, they were running a quite sophisticated misinformation campaign themselves. And they do not like competition, especially not if the competition is telling the truth. But having run similar campaigns too many times in the past, it appears the voters finally had enough of it. That, in principle, is a good thing. The only problem was that the only alternative was Donald Trump, of all people.

This charade of blaming the defeat of Hilary all on Russia, just because for once, the deep state did not get what it wanted, is a obvious attempt to win back control. And unfortunately, it is working. Being the clueless moron that he is, Trump is right back on track of the deep state agenda. Thanks to these misinformation campaigns, he appears to now be dancing to the tune of the establishment. I have said it before, and I say it again, it is a tragedy that all that precious anti-establishment energy was wasted on the worst possible candidate, Donald Trump. The problem is the establishment in the US, not the Russians.

Thursday Speaker: Michael Jennings

Michael grew up in Australia and lived there until he was 22. He initially travelled to the UK to study – to do a PhD in Mathematics at Cambridge. He moved back to Australia after that and spent five years in Sydney. Of his experience there he says “I love big cities, and I love travelling. None of Australia’s cities are anything like London, and Australia is too far from anywhere to go travelling, so I wasn’t happy in Australia”. This led him to move to London in 2002, where he has been ever since.

He has worked as an analyst for Citigroup and Credit Suisse and is now doing web development for an interesting start up that will “provide healthcare for those times the NHS isn’t there”.


A modified image from the collection of Brain Micklethwait

In person Michael has a certain down to earth niceness that is very obvious. I expect this is an asset to him abroad. Certainly, as a travel addict, he has accumulated a circle of international friends to whom he is very committed. He has recently been tidying up his flat in order to accommodate one of their relatives who has also come to study in the UK.

The travel obsession has led Michael to become a bit an expert on how globalisation has been experienced on the ground all around the world. He gave a talk on this topic at Brian’s Last Friday which was well reviewed and interesting. He is also, of course, a Samizdatista who has written extensively, usually to highlight the peculiar, fun or horrendous things that he has seen.

His topic at the Rose and Crown this Thursday concerns the Russian influence in the territories at it’s borders and that it once occupied, or encroaches upon still, in particular the Ukraine.

If the history of Russia is not your specialist subject then Michael has produced a primer, for you to read ahead of his talk on Thursday October 2nd.

Your Russian history homework

Michael Jennings writes:

I am giving a talk at a Libertarian Home meeting at the Rose and Crown pub in Southwark this Thursday evening the 2nd of October. (All welcome. Please come). The initial motivation for this talk was to attempt to shed some light on the causes of the current war in Ukraine. When I thought about is some more, I realised that while the Ukrainian situation is interesting (in an extraordinarily depressing way) the subject is more interesting in the broader context of Russian relations with the countries of the former USSR in general.

As it happens, I have spent a lot of time travelling in the countries of the former USSR. In the last year I have been to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Lithuania, as well as the two most significant countries that are now in NATO and the EU, but which were formerly communist and Warsaw pact (Poland and Romania). With the exception of Belarus and Russia itself, these countries were not new to me – I have visited all of the others multiple times in the last five years, as well as every other formerly communist country in Europe. I have also visited the breakaway / Russian occupied territories of Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia in Georgia. I have seen a lot, and learned a lot, and this helps greatly in trying to understand what is going on. (To my great regret, I do not speak Russian. I would no doubt have learned a lot more if I did).

I have been told to talk for 20 to 30 minutes. I have chosen a gigantic subject for this length. I only have time to give a quick impression of each country, I fear, and a brief attempt to tie things together. For these impressions to make any sense at all, some historical and cultural background is necessary. Therefore, I am writing this article as a brief primer, and hopefully something that people will find interesting in its own right. People who wish to add things, disagree with things, tell me I am completely wrong etc in the comments are most welcome. I a not going to talk about communism at all. I am going to talk about everything in terms of ethnic nationalism and territorial changes.

The USSR consisted of fifteen constituent republics. The dominant republic in the USSR was, of course, Russia. In addition to Russia, there were two other republics (Ukraine and Belarus) which contain people who are Orthodox Christian, and whose languages are Slavic and written using the Cyrillic alphabet. All three of these peoples are cultural descendants of the state of Kievan Rus’- a state that existed centred upon the city of Kiev – the modern capital of Ukraine – until the mid 13th century, when it was destroyed by the Mongol invasions and Rusian culture was in effect split in three. The Grand Duchy of Moscow further east became the most powerful state in the region upon the end of Mongol rule in the late 15th century, and this grand Duchy ultimately grew to regain control over the other two cultural successors to Kievan Rus’ and far more, and to become the Russian empire. Whether this was a reunification of one people who had been divided by outside forces, or annexation of foreign cultures by conquest, well that depends on your point of view. The southern, Black Sea coastal region of what later became the Ukrainian republic (including Crimea) was conquered by Russia and settled by Russian speakers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Despite its later becoming part of the Ukrainian SSR and independent Ukraine, the historical Ukrainian influence there is relatively weak.

The other twelve Soviet Republics are as follows.

Firstly, the Baltic Republics. Lithuania was once a mighty state itself and a rival to the Grand Duchy of Moscow in terms of importance. Latvia lacks the grand history of Lithuania, but is linguistically and ethnically similar to Lithuania. Lithuanian and Latvian are the only two surviving languages from the Baltic group of the Indo-European language family. The principal dividing factor between Lithuania and Latvia is religion: Lithuanians are Roman Catholic and Latvians are Protestant (Lutheran), due to historical Swedish influences. The third Baltic republic is Estonia. The Estonian Language is very similar to Finnish Estonians are culturally close to Finns.

Three Soviet Republics were in the South Caucasus. The Georgians speak several closely related languages from their own isolate group, are Orthodox Christian and a very proud and distinctive group. The Armenians have their own Oriental Orthodox form of Christianity, take great pride in being the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion, and speak an Indo-European language that forms its own branch. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country that speaks a language very close to Turkish.

Then there is Moldova. This borders on Romania and is mostly Romanian speaking. It’s rather difficult to categorise.

(Five Soviet countries were in Central Asia. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan speak languages related to Turkish, and Tajikistan speaks a dialect of Persian. I am not going to talk about them in this post as I lack the expertise and I have not visited them and I therefore lack the personal experience of them that I have of the other countries of the former USSR).

Prior to the first world war, virtually all of these places were part of the Russian Empire, and had been gained at various times during Russia’s expansion over the previous several centuries. (The border between the Russian and Ottoman Empires moved several times during the 19th century, and parts of Armenia and Georgia were at times controlled by the Ottoman empire). Not all of them were happy about this, and when the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, there were declarations of independence from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan. Control of parts of (in Russian eyes) Western Belarus and Western Ukraine was seized by the armies of the new Polish state. Upon taking control of Russia, Bolshevik forces regained control of Ukraine and Belarus, as well as the countries of the South Caucasus. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia retained their independence. Moldova west of the Dniestr river was annexed by Romania. Moldavia east of the Dniestr (Transnistria) was regained by the USSR. Significant areas of what had been Russian territory became part of the new Republic of Poland, after Polish armies inflicted a number of defeats on the Soviet armies.

Despite the fact that the Soviet Union was supposedly a communist state in which all human beings were the same and things like ethnicity did not matter, Stalin was highly mistrustful of the USSR’s non-Russian minorities after he came to power following Lenin’s death in 1924. (This despite the fact that he came from one of these minorities (Georgians) himself). In particular the Ukrainians were seen as being of questionable loyalty, and this had a significant amount to do with the fact that he engineered the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, in which several million Ukrainians starved to death. This famine was worst in the south and east of the country, which meant that these parts of the country were subsequently underpopulated, a gap that was partly filled by people relocated from Russia.

World War II commenced with the Molotov-Rippentrop Pact, Soviet invasion of eastern Poland, and subsequent Soviet loss of and regain of these territories. At the end of World War II (a war in which, incidentally, people in western parts of the USSR such as Belarus and Ukraine were much more likely to die than Russians, due to their areas of the country being occupied by Nazi Germany) the USSR annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as regaining large areas of Poland, and some pieces of Romania, including Moldova west of of the Dniestr, which was rejoined to Transnistria to form the Moldovan republic in the USSR. Russia also occupied and installed communist governments in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. During the Cold War, Russia relocated ethnic Russian populations to Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, the formerly German (East Prussian) region around Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg) that had been annexed by Russia, and various places in Central Asia.

19th All-Union Conference of the Communist Party  © Anders

19th All-Union Conference of the Communist Party © Anders

In the late 1980s when the USSR was under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Warsaw Pact collapsed, and Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria held democratic elections and broke free of communist rule. The Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia agitated for independence, and made declarations of independence in 1991. There was agitation for more autonomy in a number of of Soviet republics and Gorbachev made various concessions along these lines. In August 1991, an attempted hardline coup attempted to remove Gorbachev from power. This was defeated by Russian (not Soviet) president Boris Yeltsin gaining the support of the army, and followed immediately by a declaration of independence from Ukraine. (It’s very important in the light of subsequent events to understand that Ukraine played a key role in the dissolution of the USSR). Ukraine subsequently held a referendum on independence, which passed. An agreement was reached in which the USSR was dissolved on December 26, 1991, and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States, a largely toothless organisation that was brought into being as a face saving measure.

Suddenly, the 15 republics of the USSR were all independent countries. The three Baltic States immediately chose a pro-western path that ultimately took them to EU and NATO membership in the early 2000s. Belarus became independent, but remained close to Moscow. Ukraine was divided between its ethnically Ukrainian west and its more Russian east, and took a somewhat uncertain path because of this. Moldova had a civil war, and the largely Russian populated lands east of the Dniestr declared independence from Moldova with the help of Russian forces – Russian forces that remain there to this day – and declared themselves to be the independent country of Transnistria. (There is a significant Russian minority in parts of Moldova controlled by the Moldovan government, also). In the Caucasus, Georgia was unprepared for independence, and also had a civil war over who would control the country. Seizing the weakness of the Georgian government at this time, Russian forces assisted separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and these two regions also declared independence from Georgia as Russian puppet states. (Many Georgians were expelled from these regions at this time). Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a historically Armenian region that had been transferred from Armenia to Azerbaijan by Stalin in the 1920s. This resulted in an Armenian victory (with Russian support), another breakaway quasi-state, and an extremely resentful Azerbaijan. None of these breakaway states (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh) have significant international recognition.

In 2008 Georgia, by this point a coherent state, launched an invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia achieved significant early victories, but Russian forces intervened and (at significant cost) Russian regained these territories and made significant advances into other areas of Georgia. When a ceasefire came into force and Russia withdrew, there were more refugees, harder borders, some territorial gains by Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and greater division and resentment.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has been spending its oil money on building up its military – fairly obviously for some future attempt to regain Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has strengthened its alliance with Russia, hoping for Russian support in any such war.

This was the approximate situation before the events of the last 12 months. Russia, relatively flush with resources due to high oil prices in recent years. Various territories (particularly Belarus and Ukraine) that Russia sees itself as strongly connected to – including historical cultural ties to Kiev. Some other parts of Ukraine – especially Crimea and the parts of the Black Sea coast – without terribly strong historical connections to Ukraine, despite being part of that country. Ethnic Russian populations (many of them forcibly settled during the Soviet years) in various places, especially Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus. Frozen conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia/Azerbaijan.

In my talk on Thursday, I will give my impressions of each of these countries – including Russia itself – that I have formed from visiting, looking, and talking. I will discuss the conflict in Ukraine, and how it follows from previous conflicts – especially that in Georgia in 2008. I will also talk about how people in some other countries nearby with a history of Russian occupation (especially Poland and Romania) feel about all this. I may or may not reach any conclusions, because reaching conclusions about this stuff is hard. I hope to see some of our readers there.


Cross posted from Samizdata.

Russia fingered in FT hack

FT executive Andrew Betts put’s his hands up to letting some Syrian phishermen into his FT Gmail account. He publishes a statement from the SEA claiming that Syria “is simply defending its soil” and the the rebels aren’t a very nice bunch. There is actually not a lot new in the statement that anyone with ears hasn’t heard already, but Andrew shares this tidbit:

This is a technical post about security, so I won’t comment on the above apart from to say that the activity we see from the SEA comes from Russia as well as Syria.

He also mentions:

The emails contained a link, which appeared to be an article on, but was actually a link to an already hacked WordPress site (rather a high profile one but we thought it rude to name them

Well, I do know who’s blog that was, but there is, of course, no need to be rude.