Feeling the pains of economic crisis? Can’t find a suitable place for expanding market share? Don’t fret. There is one sure fire way to keep those exports up. Sell more weapons. President Medvedev seems to agree, according to comments he made on Tuesday. Russia sold 10 percent more weapons in 2008–a record $8.35 billion worth. The Russian President hopes that 2009 will be another bumper year despite the economic crisis. “We must treat markets more attentively, look in different directions, diversify our supplies, reach markets where we haven’t been present.” Or to quote Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross, “A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.” That means closing those sales to returning customers like China and India and increasing market share in Venezuela, Algeria, and Iran. It is this kind of success that makes Russia’s second to the US in the death market.
Second? Indeed, both AP and the NY Times point to Russia’s silver metal to the US’s gold. AP even goes so far to say that Russia is in “a close second” to the US, though how close isn’t mentioned. Actually, the Russia’s and the US’s arms market share isn’t close at all. The United States sold $36.4 billion in arms last year, a whopping 45% higher than 2007 and four times more than Russia. Sales are expected to top $40 billion in 2009. Take that you Russians! A-B-C! Such salesmanship has already catapulted the US over Russia’s 2008 record. The United States has already filled orders for $11.8 billion since October when the fiscal year began.
Money flows from the barrel of a gun bypassing the mouths of the destitute. Or as President Ike Eisenhower said in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.”
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By Sean — 9 years ago
The Ossetians are slowly creeping into view, though the articles highlighting their history, plight, and desire for self-determination are still relegated to the journalistic periphery. One article to recenter the Ossetian (and also Abkhaz) problem is Donald Rayfield’s “The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation” on OpenDemocracy.net. Rayfield opens with a point that I made a few days ago. Namely,
Much of the media reporting of the “short and nasty war” has been strong and detailed, with a good dose of scepticism in questioning the tendentious (and often downright mendacious) versions of events relayed by Russian and Georgians spokespersons alike. This is in contrast to the lack of attention among commentators to the essential task of exploring the roots of the conflict; indeed, a lot of the opinion-flood persists in ignoring completely the local and regional factors in favour of an instant resort to high geopolitics, as if South Ossetia and Abkhazia – which lie at the heart of what has happened – do not in themselves even exist. [Emphasis mine]
When the Ossetians and Abkhazians at the center, the answer to the problem is clear: recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s right of self-determination, whether that be independence or integration into Russia.
To get there, however, Rayfield suggests that the Georgians come to grip with the idea that losing South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not the end of the world.
Sadly, rationality and nationalism rarely mix well. When he came to power in 2003, Saakashvili put taming Georgia’s separatist regions at the center of his populist nationalism. It didn’t take him long to begin putting pressure on both Ossetia and Akhazia to comply. Under the auspicious of “decriminalizing” both regions of smuggling, corruption, and gang-like rule, Saakashvili ordered his navy to down all foreign ships (i.e. Russian) heading for Abkhazia and replaced his border police with US-trained Georgian troops, who quickly began trading small arms fire with Ossetian militias. As the New York Times‘ C. J. Chivers noted in August 2004, critics were already saying that Saakashvili’s antics were “showing his inexperience and flirting with war.” One wonders where such criticism in the Western press is now.
Or as Mark Ames says in his most recent article in the Nation,
At the root of this conflict is a clash of two twentieth-century guiding principles in international relations. Georgia, backed by the West, is claiming its right as a sovereign nation to control the territory within its borders, a guiding principle since World War II. The Ossetians are claiming their right to self-determination, a guiding principle since World War I.
These two guiding concepts for international relations–national sovereignty and the right to self-determination–are locked in a zero-sum battle in Georgia. Sometimes, the West takes the side of national sovereignty, as it is in the current war; other times, it sides with self-determination and redrawing of national borders, such as with Kosovo.
In that 1999 war, the United States led a nearly three-month bombing campaign of Serbia in order to rescue a beleaguered minority, the Albanians, and carve out a new nation. Self-determination trumped national sovereignty, over the objections of Russia, China and numerous other countries.
Why, Russians and Ossetians (not to mention separatist Abkhazians in Georgia’s western region) ask, should the same principle not be applied to them?
It should but it’s not. What the Ossentians, Abkhazians and Russians have gotten in response is the worse chest pounding, slander, and great power blustering from the United States. The best example of this is Bush’s feeble attempt at continued relevancy by spouting tired rhetoric about how “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” “Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation,” he continued. Russia’s response? Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said the Americans had to chose between have a “real partnership” with Russia or a virtual one with Georgia.
The funny thing is that so much of this conflict has simply existed on the virtual plane. How people saw the war was skillfully crafted by their specific culture industry. Each side, whether it be the Russian or the Western press created its own villains, victims, historical parallels, and defense of grand historical ideas. The South Ossetian war was as much, if not more, about narrative than it was about bullets and bombs. The universal opinion is that Russia lost this war of narratives. Yasha Levine put it best in his analysis on the Exiled.
Even the most cursory look at this conflict shows that Georgia’s attack was an almost perfect textbook example of how modern warfare should be fought on the information front. The Georgians showed an amazing grasp of Info Ops concepts, pulling off counterpropaganda, launching disinformation campaigns and manipulating media perceptions as if they did this type of thing every day.
Oh, the Russians tried to do their part, too. But it still isn’t clear if they didn’t give a shit about what the world thought or just failed miserably. Either way, it was bad news for the Kremlin. Despite a military victory, they are going to have a heard time getting the world to go along with their plans for post-war Georgia. All because they failed to win over the hearts and minds of the world community. The Georgians knew the importance of a well-defined information war strategy. That’s because Georgia has had ample training by the masters of this art: America and Israel.
Saakashvili turned out to be a master at manipulating American narcissism. Perhaps his time at Columbia Law School taught him that Americans only react to codes. For example, in his “exclusive” interview with CNN on August 8, Saakashvili repeatedly said he loved freedom and democracy:
“We are right now suffering because we want to be free and we want to be a democracy multi-ethnic democracy that belongs to all ethnic groups and that’s exactly what’s happening there. So, basically, I have to – I mean, it’s not about Georgia anymore, it’s about America, its values. You know, I went to two U.S. universities. I always taught that these values were also those of my own. We have held them not because we love America although I do love America, but because we love freedom. And the point here is that I also taught that America also stands up for those free-loving nations and supports them.”
“We are a freedom-loving nation that is right now under attack.”
His 13 August interview on CNN, he laid the freedom on even thicker. He said the word “free” or “freedom” seven times. He also dropped “democracy” seven times. Perhaps this is why people like CNN’s Glenn Beck are so apt to believe after talking with Saakashvili for 30 minutes that “This is for America. This is for NATO. This is for Bush” was written on the Russian bombs falling on Georgia. Beck is an utter boob. And Saakashvili, well, he should get a fucking Oscar.
One can tell how effective freedom and democracy rhetoric is just by looking how American politicians deploy it themselves. If you can make the conflict about America, its people, and its values, the public will respond. This is why John McCain told a crowd in Pennsylvania that “Today, we are all Georgians.” This is why In Colorado, he said that he wanted to avoid any armed conflict with Russia, “but,” he emphasized, “we have to stand up for freedom and democracy as we did in the darkest days.”
McCain’s blustering has paid off politically. The New York Times, in an application of the “Rolled up sleeves theory,” noted that McCain displayed his “foreign policy credentials,” while Barack Obama “seemed to fade from the scene while on his secluded vacation.” Now American liberals are scrambling out of fear that McCain’s get tough on Russia stance will give him a bump in the polls.
But the narcissism on display is not simply relegated to Bush, McCain, or the American voter as such. American liberals, who pride themselves on seeing through the smoke and mirrors of the propaganda state, are no less myopic. Once upon a time, national self-determination was a principle of the American liberal left. National liberation movements were mark of internationalism and solidarity.
Now those days are long gone and anti-imperialism has faded from the American liberal doxa. Now, they are probably the most egregiously narcissistic bunch that are so steeped in their own “it’s all about me” mentality. They call for the better management of empire rather than its ultimate dismantle. But what do you expect from liberalism? The South Ossetian War can’t be about well, the Ossetians and the Abkhazians (Who are they anyway?). Their struggles, desires, and agency doesn’t just has to, they must be a metynom for a much wider issue: American hegemony? Oil? Iran? McCain-Obama? Make your pick. Because, if the South Ossetians and Abkhazians can’t be molded into a reflection of one of a liberal cause, they might as well not exist. To not do this would require American liberals to actually realize that there is a world out there that isn’t a simple reflection of their values and concerns.
Instead, the South Ossetian and Abkhazian right of self-determination is erased in favor of some grand scheme of American Empire. Take for example, the Nation‘s Robert Sheer’s speculation that the Georgian War was some kind of neocon conspiracy, an October Surprise to influence the American Presidential Election. The logic is beautiful in its simplicity. Randy Scheunemann is McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser. He previously served as a lobbyist for the Georgian government. Scheunemann is also a neocon who championed the invasion of Iraq. Connect the dots people. Sheer does
There are telltale signs that he played a similar role in the recent Georgia flare-up. How else to explain the folly of his close friend and former employer, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in ordering an invasion of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which clearly was expected to produce a Russian counter-reaction. It is inconceivable that Saakashvili would have triggered this dangerous escalation without some assurance from influential Americans he trusted, like Scheunemann, that the United States would have his back.
Why did the US want a Russian counteraction? American needs a new enemy. A good enemy. Not one that hides in caves, blows himself up, and wreaks havoc in failed states with no targets. There’s nothing photogenic in all that. Perhaps this is why all the war on terror films have fallen so flat in the box office. Perhaps this is why there is no Rambo for this war. Even liberals need a simple, flat binaried world of “us” and “US” to make their unfettered political way in an otherwise complex world.
So for Sheer, the Georgia Crisis has been about us from the very get go. Or if you listen to Michael Klare, it’s “South Ossetia: It’s the oil, stupid.” Or if you really want a duesy, read Frank Shaeffer, who says that Russia actions in Georgia “is the slow-motion counterattack of the Orthodox world against the West’s latest crusade. Georgia is just a symbol for the counter-punch to the modern version of the West’s sack of Constantinople in 1204.” What? He’s kidding right? The fact that Georgia is also an Orthodox country (he admits this) doesn’t seem to matter.
Clearly, South Ossetian and Abkhazian bodies don’t matter unless they are used as canvas for sketching out larger and more sinister political designs. Someone should have done the decent thing and sent them the memo. No matter, the cultural industry and its managers will write them in as necessary. Or not.Post Views: 101
By Sean — 5 years ago
The financial crisis in Cyprus has put Putin in a bind. On the one hand, sitting silent and allowing Russian depositors take up to a 10 percent haircut on its $31 billion in Cypriot banks jeopardizes Putin’s standing with the Russian elite. On the other, if Putin is serious about anti-corruption and de-offshorization, the crisis gives him opportunity to make some modest headway. Either way, the Russian government’s hesitance in striking a deal with Cyprus reflects the schizophrenia between Putin the populist patriot and Putin the guarantor of the class interests of the Russian bourgeoisie.
The European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund have inadvertently accomplished a remarkable feat: prompting the normally disharmonious Russian bourgeoisie to suddenly sing in tune. Note some of the reactions from Russia’s bourgeois quarters. Putin furiously denounced the Troika’s plan as “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous.” Medvedev took the defense of the Russian bourgeoisie even further by red-baiting the EU with comparisons to Bolshevik expropriations. Oligarch and faux-oppositionist Mikhail Prokhorov warned the tax on Cypriot depositors could open “Pandora’s box.” Similar to Medvedev, neoliberal champion and effervescent Putin hater, Yulia Latynina blasted the EU’s “confiscation” as indicative of socialism. The crisis even has the Moscow Times running uncharacteristic op-eds imploring Putin to stand up for Russian capital against EU “bullying.” Even Andreas Aslund, who is ever dour on Putin’s Russia, believes that in this instance Putin “is undoubtedly getting strong advice to act from wealthy, smart, and daring Russian businessmen.”
The great irony in all this is that we find the Russian elite, which normally has no problem cannibalizing each other’s assets at home, defending in Cyprus what they are unwilling or unable to institute in Russia: a working legal system that protects capital from predation. With Cyprus the Russian elite gets its cake and eats it too: capital extraction at home and a safe harbor for its storage in its safe Cypriot colony.
How did Cyprus become so important to Russian capital? As Business Insider explains, all roads lead back to the Cypriot-Russian 1998 Double Tax Treaty:
Additionally, according to Bloomberg Russia billionaire reporter Rich Lesser, there is no penalty for moving money out of Cyprus, so if you want to move your money to another tax shelter, say, The British Virgin Islands, you’re free to do that.
So some oligarchs do.
How does this work? According to the Christian Science Monitor‘s Fred Weir:
“For quite a long time, Cyprus has been the major offshore zone where Russian corporate earnings are banked, and then re-invested in Russia,” says Grigory Birg, co-director of research at the independent Investcafe equity research provider in Moscow.
It works like this: Russian companies and wealthy oligarchs set up shell companies in Cyprus, which then invest in Russian operations and “repatriate” their profits to Cyprus, where they pay a flat corporate tax of 10 percent compared to more than 20 percent in Russia. Since Cyprus adopted EU banking rules in 2004, experts say, the scrutiny has become a little tougher, but not enough to discourage most rich Russians.
According to Russian central bank figures, little Cyprus invested almost $14-billion in Russia in 2011, compared with barely $2.3-billion invested by Russia’s biggest European trading partner, Germany.
“Cyprus is really convenient place for Russians, because it’s in the EU, has a low tax rate, and has adapted itself to Russian customers. It offers infrastructure, proximity, and Russian-speaking staff. It’s about capital protection … but now, no matter what happens with this tax plan, that’s bound to change,” says Mr. Birg.
Basically, Cyprus is for Russians as Caribbean tax shelters are for American oligarchs: a means to squirrel money away from the prying eyes of government auditors and tax collectors.
At the same time, Putin’s allegiance to the Russian elite puts him at odds with his de-offshorization efforts. Again Weir:
“Russian authorities have long pursued a campaign of “de-offshorization,” declaring that this practice of cycling money through other countries is bad for Russia,” says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
“In practice, it has usually meant that money just gets shunted from one offshore destination to another…
The crisis certainly presents Putin with an opportunity to fight corruption, as Stefan Wagstyl of the Financial Times notes. Indeed, Russia’s first intervention into the crisis suggests that anti-corruption and de-offshorization is on Putin’s mind. Ten days ago, Kommersant reported that the Ministry of Finance considered giving Cyprus aid in exchange of the names of its Russian depositors. The hope is that even modestly depriving Cyprus as a Russian tax haven will stave off the capital outflow from Russia. Capital flight from Russia is already around $14 to $16 billion so far this year, exceeding Central Bank estimates of $10 billion for the entire year. Medvedev even floated the idea of creating an offshore zone in the Far East. The money would still be under a tax haven but in Russia where the government would know who’s depositing, how much, and ostensibly where the money came from. This would undoubtedly give Putin some leverage in keeping the increasingly fractured elite in line. However, given that a main reason Russians park their money abroad is to avoid government raiderstvo, I seriously doubt a Sakhalin tax haven will be much of a draw.
The Cyprus crisis has pitted Putin against himself. It opposes Putin the patriot against Putin the guarantor of Russian elite; Russian national interests versus Russian class interests. I can only speculate how this internal struggle has played in the recent ebbing of Russian-Cypriot negotiations.Post Views: 84